An Economic History of Russia - Vol. 1

By James Mavor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE AGRICULTURAL PEASANTS IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

2. THE CHURCH PEASANTS

NEXT to the peasants of landowners, in the time of Katherine II, the most important group numerically was formed by the peasants of the Church. In 1760 these peasants numbered nearly one million souls, or about 14 per cent. of the village population of Great Russia and Siberia.1 Nearly two-thirds of the monasteries possessed populated estates;2 and the Holy Synod, the bishops, and other high clerical dignitaries, many cathedrals and other churches, also possessed them.3 Bondmen were even devoted to the service of certain ikons.4 The lands of the clergy, which had been secularized in 1649 by the Tsar Alexis, had afterwards been resumed by the clergy, had again been secularized in 1701 by Peter the Great, and after the Swedish war had been handed over to the Church, were destined to be once more secularized. Peter III began in 1762, and Katherine II continued in 1764, the secularization of the clergy lands for the third time, and established an Economical Collegium for their administration. The million peasants of the Church thus passed into the hands of the State. From the name of the department under whose care they were placed, these peasants were henceforward known as Economical Peasants.

With exception of the comparatively brief intervals mentioned, the ecclesiastical authorities controlled the peasantry belonging to the votchini which had been bestowed upon them by the Crown, or had been given or bequeathed to them by private devotees. The Church peasants were not less burdened with obligations, and were

____________________
1
Semevsky, op cit., ii. p. 195.
2
Of 822 monasteries and convents, 457 had "populated" estates, or estates with bonded peasants. Ibid., ii. p. 197.
3
Five hundred and sixty-six cathedrals and parish churches.
4
As, for example, the ikon of the Iberian Mother of God at Moscow.

-233-

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