By Axe, Rope and Bullet: A Brief History of the Death Penalty in Russia

By Demourova, Dasha | Russian Life, May-June 2004 | Go to article overview

By Axe, Rope and Bullet: A Brief History of the Death Penalty in Russia


Demourova, Dasha, Russian Life


160 years ago, in May 1744, Tsarina Elizabeth imposed a ban on the death penalty. It was the first such ban in Russia and it lasted sixty-nine years. The anniversary offers a pretext for reviewing Russia's history of the death penalty.

Pagan Rus' did not know the death penalty as such, but tribes did engage in private vendettas. Blood feuds were later replaced with a system of fines that varied by social rank.

The Charter of Dvina (1389) is the first written Russian law that mentions the death penalty. The penalty was imposed only for the third incidence of theft.

In the Charter of Pskov (1467), the death penalty was enacted for the crimes of treason, theft from churches, arson, horse stealing, and three convictions for theft. The absence of murder from the list is easily explained: it was more profitable to impose fines for murder than to apply the death penalty.

In the Sudebniks ("Codes of Law") of 1497 and 1550 the list of crimes punishable by death was significantly lengthened. It now included treason, robbery, murder, riot, surrendering a city, falsification of documents, arson, and more.

By the second half of the 16th century, punishment for crimes began to have the motive of deterrence, rather than simply punishing the criminal. This, combined with the cruelty of Ivan the Terrible's reign, led to the torturing of condemned criminals before they were put to death.

In the Penal Code of 1649, crimes covered by the death penalty again spread. There were now 63 crimes punishable by death, including blasphemy, theft, treason and arson. Under Peter the Great (1696-1725), 123 crimes brought the death penalty. The methods of execution were regulated in detail and differed depending on their purpose: they were either aimed at torturing a criminal and making an example of him or at safeguarding society from the criminal.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Against this backdrop, Tsarina Elizabeth's decree of May 7, 1744, temporarily banning the death penalty, was a path-breaking reversal of centuries of state policy. A permanent decree abolishing the death penalty was issued in 1753.

Still, not all was as it seemed. Elizabeth replaced the death penalty with other (often horrendous) types of punishment (like beating and drubbing) that nonetheless lead to death. And, in the 18th century, the death penalty was often used extra-judicially, in response to peasant revolts.

The moratorium came to an end in the Penal Code of 1813, which introduced new systems of punishment, including the death penalty, deprivation of all political and civil rights (so called "civil death"), fines, etc. Rulers began to use the death penalty to rid themselves of political enemies. The execution in December 1825 of five Decembrists, aristocratic conspirators who attempted a coup against the tsar, shocked society. Noblemen were previously largely immune from the sentence of death.

At the Decembrists' hanging, the ropes tore, and the condemned, including Sergey Muravyov, fell to the ground. While Muravyov's injured leg ached severely, he moaned: "Poor Russia, they can't even hang a person properly here!"

The Penal Code of 1832 (introduced in 1835), restricted the death penalty to military crimes, treason and crimes committed during quarantine situations. In general, there were few death penalties in the 19th century, even revolutionaries and terrorists were rarely sentenced to death (Lenin's brother, Alexander Ulyanov, being a notable exception; in 1887--he was hanged for conspiring to assassinate Alexander III).

Revolution changed everything. From 1905 on, the number of executions increased. Statistics show that, between 1826 and 1905, 612 persons were executed, while between 1906 and 1912 the number grew to 4,098. In the beginning of 1906, 6,791 persons were executed.

Of course, these numbers pale in comparison to the victims of Lenin and Stalin's terror. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

By Axe, Rope and Bullet: A Brief History of the Death Penalty in Russia
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.