Excerpts from
Carolyn Johnston Pouncy
The "Domostroi" : Rules for Russian households in the time of Ivan the Terrible

[SAC editor has “Americanized” spelling, regularized footnote numbers, and emphasized certain words with boldface to suggest relevance to our course and to guide further student work with the full text in the library]

Contents [pp.57-61]
[Hypertext identifies excerpts on this webpage.
Most material is taken from the Short Version of the Domostroi.
Titles given in italics indicate material from other versions]

Introduction (by Carolyn Pouncy)
  1. Father's Instruction to His Son
  2. How Christians Should Believe in the Holy Trinity, the Immaculate Mother of God, the Cross of Christ, the Holy Heavenly Powers, and All Holy Relics, and Must Worship Them
  3. How One Should Partake of the Divine Sacraments, Believe in the Resurrection of the Dead, Prepare for Judgment Day, and Treat Holy Objects
  4. How One Should Love God with One's Whole Heart, and One's Brother Also. How One Should Fear God and Remember Death
  5. How One Should Revere Bishops, Priests, and Monks
  6. How One Should Visit Monasteries, Hospitals, Prisons, and the Unfortunate
  7. How One Should Honor Tsars and Princes, Obey Them in Everything, and Serve Faithfully. How to Act Toward All People—Whether Great or Small, Unfortunate, and Weak. How One Should Keep Watch Over Oneself
  8. How One Should Decorate One's Home with Holy Icons and Keep a Clean House
  9. How One Should Make an Offering to Churches and Monasteries
  10. How One Should Invite Priests and Monks to One's House to Pray
  11. How One Should Express Gratitude to God While Entertaining Guests
  12. How a Man Should Pray at Home with His Wife and His Servants
  13. How Men and Women Should Pray in Church, Preserve Their Chastity, and Do No Evil
  14. How Children Should Honor Their Spiritual Fathers and Submit to Them
  15. How to Raise Your Children with All Learning and in Fear of God
  16. How to Amass a Dowry for a Daughter's Marriage
  17. How to Teach Children and Save Them with Fear
  18. How Children Must Love Their Fathers and Mothers, Protect and Obey Them, and Make Their Lives Peaceful
  19. How Every Person Must Begin His Craft or Any Work with a Blessing
  20. In Praise of Women
  21. Instruction to a Husband and Wife, Their Servants and Children, on How They Must Live Well
  22. What Kind of People to Hire and How to Instruct Them in God's Commandments and Domestic Management
  23. How Christians Should Heal Themselves of Illness and Every Affliction
  24. On the Unrighteous Life
  25. On the Righteous Life
  26. How a Person Should Live by Gathering His Resources Together
  27. If Someone Lives without Considering His Means
  28. If Someone Keeps More Slaves Than He Can Afford
  29. A Husband Must Teach His Wife How to Please God and Her Husband, Arrange Her Home Well, and Know All That Is Necessary for Domestic Order and Every Kind of Handicraft, So She May Teach and Supervise Servants
  30. How a Good Woman Supervises Her Domestics' Needlework. What to Cut Out and How You Should Keep the Scraps and Snippets
  31. How to Cut Out a Robe. How You Should Keep the Scraps and Snippets
  32. How to Maintain Domestic Order
  33. [How] the Mistress Must Oversee Her Servants' Domestic Work and Crafts Every Day. How She Must Watch Her Own Behavior
  34. [How] a Wife Must Consult Her Husband and Ask His Advice Every Day. How a Woman Should Act While Visiting and What She Should Talk about with Guests
  35. How to Teach Your Servants to Run Errands
  36. Instruction to Women and Servants on Drunkenness. And on Secrets, Which You Should Never Keep. How You Should Not Listen to Servants' Lies or Calumnies without Correcting Them. How to Correct Them with Fear, and Your Wife Also. And How to Be a Guest and How to Manage Your Household in Every Way
  37. How a Woman Should Care for Clothing
  38. How to Arrange the Domestic Utensils
  39. If a Man Does Not Teach His Household Himself, He Will Receive Judgment from God. If He Acts Well Himself and Teaches His Wife and Servants, He Will Receive Mercy from God
  40. How the Master or His Deputy Should Buy Supplies to Last the Year
  41. What to Do with Goods from Faraway Lands
  42. On the Same Subject. How Someone Who Has No Villages Should Buy Supplies for Summer and Winter. How to Raise Animals at Home and Always Have Enough Food for Them
  43. How Order Depends on Storing Supplies Needed throughout the Year, and for Fasts as Well
  44. How One Should Lay in Supplies in Advance
  45. How to Cultivate a Kitchen Garden and Orchard
  46. How a Man Must Keep Liquor Stored for Himself and His Guests. How to Present this Liquor to Company
  47. A Brewing Lesson for That Same Young Man. How to Brew Beer, Make Mead, and Distill Vodka
  48. How a Steward Must Supervise Cooks and Bakers
  49. How a Man Must Consult His Wife Before Giving Orders to the Steward concerning the Dining Area, Cooking, and Breadmaking
  50. Order to a Steward: How to Arrange a Feast
  51. Instruction from a Master to His Steward on How to Feed the Family in Feast and Fast
  52. Concerning the Care of Goods Stored in Granaries and in Corn Bins
  53. How You Should Manage the Drying Room in the Same Way
  54. How to Preserve Food in the Cellar and the Icehouse
  55. How the Steward Must Arrange Items in the Storerooms and Barns according to the Master's Instructions
  56. How You Should Arrange Hay in the Haylofts and Horses in the Stables, Stack Firewood in the Courtyard, and Care for Animals
  57. What to Do with Waste Produced in Kitchens, Bakeries, and Workrooms
  58. How the Master Should Often Check the Cellars, Icehouses, Granaries, Drying Rooms, Barns, and Stables
  59. How the Master, Meeting with His Servants, Should Reward Them as They Deserve
  60. Concerning Traders and Shopkeepers: Check Their Accounts Often
  61. How to Maintain a Homestead, Shop, Barn, or Village
  62. How the Homestead Tax Should Be Paid, and the Taxes on a Shop or Village, and How Debtors Should Pay All Their Debts
  63. Instruction to a Steward, How to Store Preserved Food in the Cellar: Food in Tubs, Boxes, Measures, Vats, and Pails; Meat, Fish, Cabbage, Cucumbers, Plums, Lemons, Caviar, and Mushrooms
  64. A Father's Epistle Instructing His Son
  65. [64 in Pouncy]. Books That Tell What Foods People Put on the Table throughout the Year
  66. [65 in Pouncy]. Recipes for All Sorts of Fermented Honey Drinks: How to Distill Mead; Make Juice, Kvass, and Beer; Brew with Hops and Distill Boiled Mead
  67. [66 in Pouncy]. Recipes for Various Vegetables, Including Turnips Wedding Rituals

Politics and Society in Muscovy
by Carolyn Pouncy
[pp. 4-21]

Although St. Basil's, built to commemorate emergent Moscow's victory over the Tatars (i.e., Mongols) of Kazan in 1552, was not completed until later, it nonetheless aptly symbolizes the period in which the Domostroi began to circulate. The colloquial Russian in which most of the text was written dates no earlier than the accession to the throne of Ivan III in 1462 and probably not much later than the death of his grandson Ivan IV in 1584. For several reasons—including terminology used, customs described, and the inclusion, in early manuscripts, of a chapter written by Sil'vestr, a priest who served in the Kremlin Cathedral of the Annunciation from 1545 to 1556 (approximately)—it most likely appeared sometime in the 1550s.3 Overall, the years between 1462 and 1584 were prosperous and stable, the 1550s particularly so. The Muscovite government expanded and consolidated, confirmed its ascendancy over the other Russian principalities, achieved its final liberation from Mongol control, and began its reintegration into European politics. Although the 1530s and the last third of the sixteenth century were plagued by political and economic crises, as a whole the period was marked by the attainment of the goals of the early Moscow princes. Italian architects in the Kremlin, Russian diplomats in the Vatican, and English ships in the White Sea attested to Russia's renewed vitality. The parochialism of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries began to disappear as Muscovy defined its imperial mission— Moscow the Third Rome, heir of Byzantium, head of the One True Church.

The Domostroi thus reflects the life enjoyed by the fortunate few of a new nation at a time of relative calm and comfort. This group made up only a small part of a complex social hierarchy. The rules of the system determined both the privileges and the obligations by which they lived; these same rules in turn underlie the principles expressed in the Domostroi. To evaluate the Domostroi, therefore, we must first understand the system.

The political and social system that became Muscovy evolved under unfavorable circumstances: in response to the need to create a viable, independent state in a northern land where agriculture operated at a subsistence level, politics were fragmented, and the country was subject to a foreign overlord (the Mongols). Although it drew on Kievan, Byzantine, and even Mongol sources, Muscovy seems to have developed for the most part in isolation [CF=LOOP on "isolation"]. The fundamental assumptions in its political culture included the absolute centralization of authority in Moscow, government by consensus among a small and select group headed by the grand prince (later tsar), a political hierarchy based on birth and personal ties, control of information about how the system operated, and intense concentration on the performance of limited goals.4 The government was supported by a strict social hierarchy in which, with rare exceptions, a man's father's profession determined his own and a woman's status depended on her husband's. By the middle of the fifteenth century, the bases of this system were in place. Through it and a combination of luck, ruthlessness, and quick thinking, the Muscovite princes had expanded their tiny original holding to encompass most of Russia, in the process forcing or persuading each new neighbor to adhere to their system. By the 1560s, Moscow had expanded still further, into the lands of its erstwhile conquerors, absorbing the Khanates of Kazan' (1552) and Astrakhan (1556); by 1582 Siberia too had fallen, at least nominally, under Russian control. As Moscow's hold over the Eurasian landmass strengthened, however, its administrative problems increased.

The linchpin of the political system was the tsar, a member of the Daniilovich clan, connected through Daniil's father, Alexander Nevsky, to Riurik, semilegendary Viking conqueror of Russia.5 For much of the sixteenth century (1533-1584), the throne was occupied by Ivan IV, known popularly as "the Terrible"—a ruler who moved from brilliance to ineffectuality to cruelty and paranoia, then back again. Although no one has yet advanced an explanation for Ivan's behavior on which everyone can agree, it is clear that his unpredictable temperament caused a progressive disintegration in society that culminated in civil war and chaos.6 Military success and government reform in the 1550s gave way to military defeats and internal terror in the 1560s, setting up the conditions for social unrest and dynastic instability after Ivan's death. At the same time, and despite his apparently determined efforts to destroy the Muscovite political system at its roots, Ivan offers an example of its strength, for the system survived both him and the interregnum to return stronger than ever.

The system survived because the tsar relied on the corps of elite cavalrymen known as boyars.7 Not quite an aristocracy but certainly more than the "tsar's slaves" that contemporary Western observers often called them,8 boyars earned their standing through hereditary service to the crown. They, and only they, counseled the tsar on a regular basis and participated in royal decision making. Scions of families who, through farsightedness or luck, chose to ally themselves with the Moscow princes in the fourteenth century, or of families that once had owned independent principalities, the boyars ruled Russia when the tsar was too young, too sick, or otherwise incapable. Although most lacked any formal education, they seem to have competently fulfilled their main functions: to command the cavalry and to set government policy. Their commitment to government service was lifelong, for their careers usually began at fifteen and ended only with incurable illness, extreme old age, or death. Their numbers were small, for like most European monarchies before 1800, the Muscovite government operated on personal relationships and recognition by the sovereign. Yet without them [Boyars], Muscovy would not have survived, for the accidents of succession by primogeniture left the government vulnerable for long periods. Although in theory an autocratic tsardom, in practice Muscovy functioned as an oligarchy, with the ruler apart and above, moderating the fierce competition for power among the elite.

Boyars competed, first arid foremost, for the survival and advancement of their rod (clan, lineage group: the descendants of a common ancestor). Individual abilities and preferences played a decidedly secondary role in their lives. Marriage alliances, essential for the propagation of the clan, also served political purposes. Here, too, families expected their individual members to bow to the needs of the lineage.

Because marriage and family ties determined political alliances, the Muscovite political system in large measure depended on the seclusion of elite women to prevent personal attachments between men and women and maximize the clan's freedom to arrange politically and economically appropriate marriages. Except on special occasions, women ate and lived apart, leaving the house only to attend church or to visit other women. Women played an important role within the household, managing its numerous and varied operations, running both urban and rural estates single-handedly while the men waged war, producing new heirs for the clan, and maintaining the emotional links between families on which the political system depended, at times even venturing into the women's quarters [Terem] of other families to approve or veto a prospective bride.9 They had, however, no public role.

Social mobility within the Muscovite elite depended on a combination of talent, skillfully arranged marriage alliances, patronage networks (in part determined by marital ties), and the ability to attract favorable attention from the tsar. The ultimate political prize was marriage into the royal family. In keeping with the personal nature of Muscovite politics, the tsar's in-laws had the greatest access to the ruler and consequently benefited the most from royal patronage. The royal connection made members of their family desirable political and marriage partners and assured them high status among the elite. The sixteenth century experienced extremes of political stability and crisis. When marriage alliances were clear, the boyars could moderate their rivalries and maintain stability. When Ivan IV ascended the throne at the age of three, however, crisis ensued; power struggles among noble families waged unabated during the decade that passed before his marriage could be negotiated. Stability returned when the elite consolidated around the Romanov (also called lur'ev or Zakhar'in) family after the tsar's marriage to Anastasia Romanovna in 1547, only to be threatened by Anastasia's death in 1560.10 Ivan married six more times; boyar infighting preceded each wedding, leading to renewed crises that Ivan's bizarre policies only exacerbated. The century ended in social, economic, and dynastic chaos [ID], from which the Romanovs emerged after a fifteen-year civil war to forge a new coalition, again solidified through royal marriage.

Although marriage alliances among the royal and noble families were perhaps the most important determinants of status, the boyars' concern for clan advancement expressed itself in other areas as well. It lay behind, for example, their preoccupation with honor, exemplified by a system of precedence called mestnichestvo [ID]. Only the elite participated in the system, which ranked clans in relation to one another and the male members of the clan in relation to their fathers and brothers. Because of mestnichestvo, a Russian nobleman could not accept a court position lower than that to which his rank entitled him, lest he and his descendants be permanently dishonored. Disputes over these and similar issues (for example, seating at court functions and attendance at royal weddings) led to endless squabbling among families and between individuals over precedence. Precedence not only affected one's "honor" in terms of reputation and position but also provided economic privileges to accompany position: ownership of land and people to cultivate it.

Less privileged and wealthy were the cavalrymen known as "boyars' sons" (deti boiarskie) and dvorianstvo (usually translated "gentry" to distinguish them from their more aristocratic colleagues), who assisted the boyars in their military duties. Scholars once saw gentry and boyars as locked in an irreconcilable competition for power, in which the boyars represented the old feudal order and the gentry the new absolutist one, but the reality seems to have been more complex.11 " The boyars had little difficulty retaining control over Muscovite politics through the end of the seventeenth century [ID], and the gentry devoted more energy to becoming boyars than to destroying the existing political system. Whatever issues may have divided them, boyars and gentry had much in common; both served the state on which they depended.

Within the ranks of the gentry, however, social position and economic resources varied greatly. Although in general less well-off than boyar families, some had considerable means; others lived hardly better than the peasants on their lands. Their importance lay in their numbers: they provided a kind of "middle management" for the army in a period when cavalry was still crucial; by the time artillery and infantry replaced the cavalry units, the gentry's virtual monopoly on military command experience ensured that, with retraining, they continued to provide most of the officers the new standing army required. They had by then also acquired a social role (controlling the now enserfed peasantry) and an administrative role (the state needed more people to staff its growing bureaucracy). Tsar and boyars formed the government, and together they made use of the gentry, denying them the ultimate rewards of status and a say in policy making but granting them land for subsistence and peasants to work it.12 Whereas boyars had always been largely Moscow-oriented, the gentry became increasingly provincial during the seventeenth century. Even they, however, could not afford to separate themselves entirely from urban life, for Russians typically divided their property equally among their children, and in a few generations even vast landholdings could dwindle to nothing. Acquiring new properties depended on connections with the capital, usually obtained through service to the central government.

The gentry had their civil counterparts in those who staffed the Muscovite chancery system.13 The chancery system began as the private administration of the royal estates, staffed by elite slaves, and expanded steadily, if in a somewhat piecemeal fashion, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As it expanded, free labor replaced slaves; the resulting demand for literate personnel severely taxed Moscow's limited educational resources. In its way, however, the chancery system represented the triumph of ingenuity over nearly impossible odds. Completely informal, it benefited from extreme flexibility: chanceries appeared and disappeared as needed, some lasting no more than a few months, others—such as the Treasury or Foreign Office—enduring for centuries. The apparent disorganization allowed the government to target specific populations and goals and to concentrate its resources on those areas that seemed most likely to yield results, a pragmatic approach that permitted Moscow to control vast territories despite the difficulties created by poor transportation and communications.

In the sixteenth century, literacy was the most important characteristic used in selecting the career bureaucrats who organized the collection of taxes, reports of military campaigns and genealogical records.14 Muscovy still had no formal educational system to draw on, and the demand for personnel was pressing, so a candidate's abilities loomed larger than his social origins. Former slaves', priests' sons who did not wish to take [religious] orders, and foreigners with shady pasts were all welcome in Muscovite administrative service as long as they could read and write a fair hand. In this traditional, hierarchical society, chancery service offered one of the few paths to upward mobility: with enough talent, discretion, and luck a man could begin life as an apprentice and end it as the Muscovite equivalent of secretary of state.15 This freedom lasted only a short time: as soon as the system became firmly established, those families who had discovered chancery service first began to exclude others. Eventually, the bureaucracy too became a closed caste.

In the early years, however, it was quite fluid. The bureaucrats, as a nouveau-riche group of mongrel origins in a well-defined and vertically organized society, were placed in a curious position. Chancery officials, for example, could own populated rural lands (a privilege they shared with other state servitors), but few of them did, presumably because owning rural landholdings was closely associated in the public mind with gentry status, which they lacked. Unlike their military colleagues, therefore, chancery personnel were predominantly urban, living by preference in Moscow and visiting the provinces only for the duration of a particular post. Within their own setting, they lived luxuriously; they may even have surpassed many of their social superiors in wealth, but they could never equal the elite cavalrymen in social standing. This ambiguity appears also in their official duties: they carried out policy but did not decide it, for the power to make decisions lay with the tsar and the boyars. Yet their input must often have been influential, for they held the knowledge and the experience on which good decisions depended.

In addition to those actively involved in administration, elite merchants often served the state. Merchants turned up with particular frequency in the Treasury and the Foreign Office, where their expertise clearly served state interests. Informally as well, however, wealthy merchants often operated on behalf of the state. Out of their ranks came the gosti, a handful of privileged servitors who controlled international trade and administered the royal monopolies on such items as vodka, salt, and copper.16 Great fortunes were made in the international trade, for it concentrated almost entirely on luxury goods: exchanging furs and wax, for example, for rare and expensive fabrics, unusual foods, precious metals, or jewelry.

Those who traded domestically in food and handicrafts were more diverse. The vast majority of Russian merchants typically came from the peasant and artisan classes. Peasant and urban traders at times found themselves in conflict, for the peasants needed trade to supplement their subsistence income from farming, and the urban traders feared that the sheer number of peasant entrepreneurs undercut their prices and ruined the sales on which their lives depended. Occasional outbreaks of animosity, however, had no significant impact on the number of peasants trading in the cities, for without food from the countryside no city could survive. The two groups therefore had little choice but to accept each other, however grudgingly.

Contemporary accounts portray Russian merchants of all levels as illiterate but shrewd, notorious for their dishonesty (caveat emptor!) and fond of bargaining.17 The Domostroi explicitly argues that merchants should be both honest and fair, although most people of the time do not seem to have considered the traditional practices to be flaws of either character or judgment. More serious to the long-term health of the merchant classes were the destabilizing effects of illiteracy, the absence of any commercial credit or banking system, and the inherent dangers of sixteenth-century life. Many a prosperous commercial house collapsed because it lacked heirs, failed to pass on in time the details of its business ventures, or suffered a series of disasters (ships lost, crops failed, and the like) which its economic resources could not withstand. Even excessive government attention could prove catastrophic. When such misfortune struck, the members of a merchant family could quickly disappear among the artisans from whom they sprang.

Artisans occupied the lowest levels of the free urban population and practiced many trades. The Domostroi mentions, among others, carpenters, bookmakers, ironmongers, masons, icon painters, gold- and 1 silversmiths. Women practiced dressmaking and related trades such as embroidery and weaving. Training occurred through apprenticeships, but unlike their Western counterparts, Russian artisans had no formal contracts or intricate guild structure to protect their interests.18 They depended on their wits, their connections, their ability to attract patronage, and their trading skills to survive. Without these, they might be forced to sell themselves into slavery and practice their trade on behalf of a great lord, for slavery was the social welfare program of the day.

The rural counterparts of the artisans were the peasants. Although reliable population figures for the sixteenth century do not exist, peasants made up the overwhelming majority of the populace—easily 70 to 80 percent of the whole. (For comparison, in the eighteenth century, when the government began to take censuses, peasants were counted as more than 90 percent of the population, but by then the categories of slave and peasant had merged.) Despite their numbers, the peasants' social and economic status declined steadily between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries. As Moscow consolidated its hold on the other Russian principalities, the government's demands for military recruits and money to support them increased. So did its ability to collect what it demanded. To reward its military servitors, the state offered populated land; to nobles who had no interest in agriculture, unpopulated land had little value. Peasants who had known freedom thus became subject to boyars and gentry, forced to pay both state taxes and private dues. As the century progressed, state and lords increasingly required payment in cash, severely straining the resources of peasant households in cash-poor Russia.

For most of the sixteenth century, peasants still held a legally guaranteed right to leave their landlords once a year, during the two weeks around the autumn St. George's Day (November 25), if they had paid all their dues. For practical reasons, many peasants did not choose to leave their homes at the beginning of the Russian winter; others who might have wished to do so could not afford to pay their obligations. Many, however, apparently did take the opportunity to move to larger (or simply more congenial) estates whose owners paid the necessary sums; the most fortunate and adventurous could leave altogether to start a new life.

Gradually, however, the government curtailed the right to leave. The economic disaster that followed Ivan IV's decision to terrorize his own subjects and the costly yet ultimately futile war against Livonia (1558-1583) sent many peasants in flight to the fertile southern steppes. Faced with a dwindling labor supply, the nobles demanded state decrees to tie the remaining peasants to the land. In 1649, the state removed the statute of limitations that had to some extent protected peasants from recovery by their landlords and effectively made all peasant movement illegal.19 By 1700, the legal distinction separating peasants from slaves had disappeared; both were designated serfs.

In the sixteenth century, however, slavery still filled several rungs on the social ladder, for not all slaves held equal status. Slavery existed in Russia from earliest times, although the country never had a major slaveholding system comparable to that of Classical Rome or the American antebellum South.20 Slaves made up about 10 percent of the population (in contrast, Mississippi in 1860 had a slave population of 55 percent).21 Some of these, such as the estate stewards and highly trained military slaves, had considerable value and prestige. Most benefited to some extent from the social standing of their masters, since slavery tended to be concentrated among the Muscovite elite; all, however, also suffered from the limitations imposed by slavery, for their status could never approximate that of free men with equal responsibility or resources.

Muscovite slavery differed in several respects from the American slave system with which most of us are more familiar. Slaves in Muscovy served primarily as domestic servants, not in a productive capacity; owners saw them as dependent family members, not as chattel. Because slaves often ate more than they produced, slavery served in part, as Richard Hellie has noted, as a welfare system for Muscovites with no other means of support.22 As well as a flexible and undemanding work force, the slave owner received psychological and social benefits: honor among his peers (who valued the conspicuous consumption exemplified in supporting many underemployed servants), the opportunity to exercise authority within his household, and appreciation of his own freedom from control.23

Muscovite slavery also differed from American slavery because it depended on people from its own culture who sold themselves into slavery to escape hard times.24 Russian slaves shared their masters' ethnicity, religion, and culture. This similarity lessened the social distance between the two groups and seems to have ameliorated, at least to some extent, the harshness inherent in slavery.

Perhaps for this reason, Muscovite slavery was relatively mild compared to other slave systems. Slaves had certain legal rights; slave marriages were honored and their families generally kept intact; as far as we can tell, society expected masters to feed and clothe their servants adequately and not to punish them too severely (by Muscovite standards, which tolerated corporal punishment even for the elite).25 At the same time, slaves remained subject to abuses of power. Because most slaves were domestic servants, for example, free domestic servants could be forcibly converted into slaves.26 Certain occupations, such as estate stewardship, required that the holder become a slave. Throughout the sixteenth century, moreover, most were still full, hereditary slaves; only toward the end of the century did the more limited debt service contract, which bound the signers for the life of the lender and prohibited sale or transfer, predominate.27

Women's roles in Muscovite society were determined by a combination of gender and social status. Women among the gentry, chancery personnel, and elite merchants tried as far as possible to imitate the life-style of the boyar elite (sometimes to the latter's distress). These richly dressed and lavishly painted women lived largely private lives, although the wives of military servitors, in particular, might find themselves responsible for managing the family estates for long periods while their husbands waged war. Widows, too, enjoyed a certain independence, and married women retained their right to own property. Peasants and artisans, however, could not afford to seclude their wives; women among them had a broader range of responsibilities, although a sexual division of labor prevailed and women bore primary responsibility for tasks within the home. Slave women, like slave men, worked mostly as domestic servants; most slave women in Muscovy seem to have been spared the degradation of serving as concubines (the Orthodox church severely condemned such practices), but they did suffer in comparison with their male counterparts: Richard Hellie has found a significant discrepancy in the sex ratio between male and female slaves, suggesting both a preference for males and the possibility of female infanticide. Prices were lower for female slaves than for male ones.28

Marriage and childbearing formed the common boundaries of women's existence. Up and down the social pyramid, women married young in arranged matches, bore children as frequently as nature would permit, and took primary responsibility for child care, at least the early years. Society considered the virginity of brides, like their “honor" (chastity) after marriage, to be crucial; at all levels, a woman's health, character, disposition, and family connections took precedence over issues of personal compatibility. Older women—mothers, grandmothers, and widows—acted as matchmakers and so controlled the destiny of the young. Women also achieved prestige through their children, especially their sons.

The cloister offered the only exception to women's almost universal dedication to marriage and the family. Unlike their contemporaries in western Europe, the Russian nobility do not seem to have used convents as dumping grounds for unwanted or unmarriageable daughters, although unwanted wives sometimes "discovered," against their wills, a religious vocation that freed their husbands to seek a younger, more fertile, or more congenial bride. Russian convents did not match Western ones as places of learning, nor did they offer women a national platform; in accord with the principles of female seclusion, the cloister was always strictly enforced. Nevertheless, at least until well into the seventeenth century, Russian nuns enjoyed considerable freedom from supervision, so that within their small communities, individual women could wield extensive authority as abbesses. In this way, the convent, in Muscovy as elsewhere, offered women a rare, if limited, alternative to the patriarchal society that surrounded it.29

Outside and above the cloister, and separate as well from the secular hierarchy, stood the male clergy. These men were divided by their marital status. The vast majority of clerics were parish priests, almost invariably married.30 Most lived in small, remote villages and supplemented their incomes with farming. Parish priests were generally dependent on their parishioners for their livelihood, which made them reluctant to oppose the villagers who supported them. Often barely literate, acting much like the peasants they served, parish priests made at best poor instruments for enforcing church policy.

The most highly educated and best-connected priests attained places in urban cathedrals or as private chaplains. These men lived more relaxed and secure lives than village priests and had more opportunities to augment their salaries with trade or book-copying. Still, they remained low in the church hierarchy; although Orthodox clerics need not be celibate, the prelates must. Priests who became monks, usually because their wives died.31 could continue their old duties as monastic priests.

Monks applied skills developed in the secular world to the administration of their communities and lands. But becoming a monk was only a first, if necessary, step to advancement. Most monks lived quiet lives in small communities, although monks in urban monasteries sometimes played active roles in the outside world. The most ambitious and gifted eventually became bishops, archbishops, even metropolitan of Moscow. Through these leaders, especially the metropolitan,- the church fulfilled its traditional functions in Muscovite politics. It provided a place of exile for barren wives and uncooperative nobles; it legitimized the claims of the Moscow princes; it influenced, or tried to influence, the tsar through confession, pleading, and threats. Some metropolitans maintained independence from state control; others did more or less what the tsar required. Except for humanitarian concerns or in its own interests, however, the church had little impact on policy making and enforcement. It supported the government but did not try to rule it; its influence was more cultural than political. [? Consider these 5-hops on the Church LOOP]

The church, for example, supervised and funded the great literary and artistic projects of the sixteenth century. These projects, in turn, illustrate both the strengths and weaknesses of the Russian church's approach to culture—in a phrase, "more is better." The creations of the sixteenth century generally took older art forms (chronicles, hagiography, icon painting) to their greatest extent, with little latitude for interpretation or innovation. Metropolitan Makarii of Moscow (1542-1563) [ID] exemplified the spirit of the age with his Illustrated Chronicle Codex (Litsevoi svod) and his Great Lexicon (Velikii Chet'i Minei), which compiled as many chronicles and saints' lives, respectively, as his assistants could find.

At the same time, new technology and ideas, if accepted only begrudgingly by the ecclesiastical powers, began to arrive in the sixteenth century. They accompanied the foreigners who started to appear during Ivan Ill's reign and whose numbers grew along with Muscovy's emergence onto the European stage. A printing press opened briefly in Moscow in 1564 [ID], publishing a Gospel and an Apostol (Acts and Epistles of the Apostles) before a local mob, believing the press the work of the Devil, burned it. New forms of icon painting brought charges of heresy in their wake, embroiling, among others, Sil'vestr, priest of the Annunciation Cathedral in the Kremlin and contributor to the Domostroi32 Herbals, agricultural manuals, and other secular works were translated from various European languages, particularly Latin and Polish. I. S. Peresvetov [ID] and others began to theorize about the proper form and function of government. Old genres, unused for many years, were revived, resulting in, for example, the 1497 [ID] and 1550 [ID] law codes. The church produced a similar code of conduct for its own employees and, by extension, believers, with the recommendations of the "Hundred Chapters" (Stoglav) Council in 1551 [ID]. Within this peculiar mix of new and old, this fascination with categorization, encyclopedic knowledge, and order, belongs the Domostroi.

Domestic Life and the Domostroi

To the Domostroi's author, life was simple: "a place for everything, and everything in its place." Didactic, in love with detail, he exemplified the legalistic mind. In his view, belief in the Trinity, the cross, Mary, and the saints—along with regular church attendance, frequent confession, and communion—marked the good Christian. Obedience to superiors (tsar, princes, boyars, husbands, parents, masters, priests) made a good citizen. Paternalistic kindness to inferiors characterized a good master or mistress; abundant household supplies, a good manager. Care for the poor and the clergy, avoiding sorcery and "the Devil's games" (that is, folk medicine and popular entertainment) were considered the signs of a good person.

Depending on their station, people incurred additional responsibilities. A good wife, for example, was chaste, modest, abstemious, quiet, and obedient to her husband, firm and knowledgeable with children and servants. These same children and servants had to do what they were told, be content with what they had, and protect the interests of their households by refraining from gossip, theft, bad manners, drunkenness, promiscuity, and other sins.

Together, these well-ordered people created a good house: clean, well-stocked, neatly organized ("like entering Paradise," as the author says in a rare lyric moment—Chapter 38). For in the Domostroi's universe, pickled mushrooms and clean straw reflected the soul as clearly as acts of charity. Everyday details became symbols of one's moral state, bringing concomitant rewards or punishments. "If everything," says the author—whether he means dowering a daughter, stocking the larder, or professing one's faith—"is done in accordance with these recommendations," the family with all its dependents can look forward to eternal happiness; if not, eternal damnation will surely follow.33

Imperfections, individuality, and the complexity of human experience the Domostroi honors mostly in passing. Thieving servants, ladies dabbling in sorcery, dishonest tradesmen, disobedient sons, drunken guests, and negligent masters offer sometimes welcome relief from the relentless advice giving. The Domostroi does not say which behaviors were more typical of Muscovite households; it expresses ideals, not reality. Its definitions of good and evil, however, expose the foundations of its culture, a perspective fundamentally different from our own. This worldview prizes religious orthodoxy, reliance on tradition, absolute interpretations of virtue and vice, hierarchy, obedience, and the subordination of the individual to family and state—ideals to which most sixteenth-century Muscovites unquestionably subscribed.

The Domostroi, then, reveals much about how Muscovites translated the general principles of their culture into an ideal of family life. It also provides a wealth of domestic detail unparalleled in other sources. Principles and details together yield a composite—not, perhaps, of a typical household, but one to which sixteenth-century Russians aspired.


  1. ....
  2. ....
  3. For example, the Domostroi mentions people sleeping on the stove, hardly possible before the mid-sixteenth century, when flat-topped stoves replaced the older round ones. It also mentions distilling vodka (or brandy, the usage is unclear), a process introduced in the sixteenth century. Other examples appear in notes to the translation.
  4. On the genesis of the Muscovite political system, see Edward L. Keenan, "Muscovite Political Folkways," Russian Review 45 (1986): 115-181. For a different interpretation, placing more stress on Mongol influence, see Charles J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde: The Mongol Impact on Russian Medieval History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985).
  5. According to the Russian Primary Chronicle (also known as the Tale of Years Gone By, Riurik accepted an invitation to rule Novgorod in 862. His lieutenants and descendants extended Riurik's principality, considered the first Russian state, by uniting Novgorod and Kiev in 882. See Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor, trans. and eds., The Russian Primary Chronicle, Laurentian Edition (Cambridge, Mass: Medieval Academy of America, 1953), pp. 59-61.
  6. For biographies of Ivan IV, expressing various points of view, see Edward L. Keenan, "Vita: Ivan Vasilevich, Terrible Tsar: 1530-1584," Harvard Magazine 80, no. 3 (1978): 48-49; S. F. Platonov, Ivan the Terrible, trans. and ed. J. L. Wieczynski (Gulf Breeze, Fla.: Academic International Press, 1974); R. G. Skrynnikov, Ivan the Terrible, trans. and ed. Hugh Graham (Gulf Breeze, Fla.: Academic International Press, 1981).
  7. For more on the boyars, see Nancy Shields Kollmann, Kinship and Politics: The Making of the Muscovite Political System, 1345-1547 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987); Robert O. Crummey, Aristocrats and Servitors: The Boyar Elite of Russia, 1613-1689 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983); Ann M. Kleimola, "Patterns of Duma Recruitment, 1515-1550," in Essays in Honor of A. A. Zimin (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1985), pp. 232-258; and Gustave Alef, Rulers and Nobles in Fifteenth-Century Muscovy (London: Variorum Reprints, 1983). A good overview of Muscovite social hierarchies and their interrelationships can be found in Richard Hellie, Slavery in Russia, 1475-1725 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 4-18.
  8. See, for example, Giles Fletcher, "Of the Russe Commonwealth," in Lloyd Berry and Robert O. Crummey, eds., Rude and Barbarous Kingdom: Russia in the Accounts of Sixteenth-Century English Voyagers (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968), p. 138. Fletcher echoes the views of most European visitors when he classifies the Russian government as "plain tyrannical" (p. 132). In this, he adhered to the propaganda assiduously disseminated by the Muscovite government and described by Keenan ("Muscovite Political Folkways").
  9. On women in Russia in pre-Petrine times (before 1682), see Barbara Evans Clements, Barbara Alpern Engel, and Christine D. Worobec, eds., Russia's Women: Accommodation, Resistance, Transformation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), pp. 17-95 (articles by Pushkareva, Levin, Kollmann, and Kivelson); the special issue of Russian History 10, no. 2 (1983); and Dorothy Atkinson, Alexander Dallin, and Gail Warshofsky Lapidus, eds., Women in Russia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1977).
  10. The composition of the boyar elite did not change much after Anastasia's death, and the Romanovs continued to be an important political force. Ivan IV's various attempts to break out of the system and establish an area in which he had complete control, however, unsettled the elite and effectively canceled attempts at reform—inflicting tremendous personal and economic suffering on his subjects as well.
  11. For more information, see the works listed in note 7.
  12. On the gentry, their part in enserfment, and the impact on both of changes in military technology, see Richard Hellie, Enserfment and Military Change in Muscovy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971).
  13. On the chancery system in the sixteenth century, see Peter Bowman Brown, "Early Modern Russian Bureaucracy: The Evolution of the Chancery System from Ivan III to Peter the Great, 1478-1717" (Ph, D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1978).
  14. For more information, see Borivoj Plavsic, "Seventeenth-Century Chanceries and Their Staffs," in Walter M. Pintner and Don Karl Rowney, eds., Russian Officialdom: The Bureaucratization of Russian Society from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), pp. 19-45.
  15. See, for example, the ludins [Yudins] and the Gur'evs, both of whom began as merchants in chancery service and ended as gentry. Both families owned copies of the Domostroi. See Carolyn Johnston Pouncy, "The Domostroi as a Source for Muscovite History" (Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1985), pp. 269-270.
  16. On the gosti, see Samuel H. Baron, Muscovite Russia (London: Variorum Reprints, 1980).
  17. On Russian trading customs, see, for example, Fletcher, "Of the Russe Commonwealth," pp. 245-246. Fletcher's attitude is more disapproving than those of Westerners who themselves engaged in commerce.
  18. The few guilds that existed were for merchants: the gostinnaia sotnia. sukonnaia sotnia, and others.
  19. Within the vast literature on enserfment, historians generally fall into two camps, one holding that peasants were enserfed by state decree beginning around 1582 and ending with the 1649 Law Code, the other arguing that enserfment resulted from a long, slow deterioration in the peasants' economic position. For an example of the "decree" school, see Hellie, Enserfment and Military Change, introduction. For the economic argument, see Jerome Blum, Lord and Peasant in Russia from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), pp. 219-276.
  20. The most extensive discussion of Russian slavery is Hellie, Slavery. Hellie also compares and contrasts Muscovite slavery with other slave systems. For an analysis of slavery as an institution, see Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death (Cambridge. Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982).
  21. The estimate of Russian slaves comes from Hellie, Slavery, pp. 681-689; the data for Mississippi from Patterson, Slavery, p. 483.
  22. Hellie, Slavery, pp. 692-695.
  23. Both Hellie and Patterson mention these often overlooked rewards of slavery for the master—particularly obvious in a domestic slavery system like the Muscovite one, in which slaves provided few economic benefits and, in fact, were economic burdens. See Hellie, Slavery, pp. 690-692; and Patterson, Slavery, pp. 77-101.
  24. Muscovy fit Patterson's definition of an extrusive slave system (Slavery, pp. 38-45).
  25. On the treatment of servants, see Hellie, Slavery, pp. 503-510.
  26. The legal right to convert slaves postdates the Domostroi, for it was only after 1597 that a master had the legal right to convert anyone who served him for six months or longer into a limited service contract slave, even against the servant's wishes. Records, however, indicate that the practice was not new. See Hellie, Slavery, pp. 39-41; Patterson, Slavery, p. 34.
  27. Hellie tracks the shift from full to contract slavery in Russia between 1450 and 1725. The shift presaged the eventual abolition of slavery or, more accurately, its merging with the institution of serfdom. See Slavery, passim.
  28. On male-female ratios, price differentials, and possible female infanticide, see ibid., pp. 415-422, 442-459.
  29. For more on women within the Muscovite family, see Christine D. Worobec, "Accommodation and Resistance," in Clements, Engel, and Worobec, eds., Russia's Women, pp. 17-28; and N. L. Pushkareva, "Women in the Medieval Russian Family of the Tenth through Fifteenth Centuries," ibid., pp. 29-43,
  30. Byzantine canon law stipulated that priests and deacons could not marry after ordination. In the Slavic world, this ordinance became a requirement that all priests and deacons be married, on the grounds that they lived in the world and were subject to temptation. Thus all priests and most deacons had to marry before ordination (some deacons married after their ordination as deacon but before they were ordained as priests). On Russian Orthodox attitudes toward clerical marriage, see Jack Edward Kollmann, "The Stoglav Council and Parish Priests," Russian History 7 (1980): 65-91, pp. 69-74; ar"i Eve Levin, Sex and Society among the Orthodox Slavs (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), pp. 248-253.
  31. The Slavic Orthodox churches did not permit second marriages for priests until 1667. The Orthodox church viewed marriage as a concession to human weakness and held that its servitors should not receive multiple concessions but instead offer a good example to the laity. The church's attitude toward widowered priests who remained in the world, however, was suspicious in the extreme; in the Russian church, especially, priests whose wives died were barred from singing mass and pressured into finding a monastic vocation. See Kollmann, "Stoglav Council," pp. 70-71; and Levin, Sex and Society, pp. 264-269.
  32. The dispute over the icons focused on renovations to the Annunciation Cathedral, supervised by Sil'vestr. It is known as the "Viskovatyi Affair," after the chief complainant, I. M. Viskovatyi. For more on this controversy, see David B. Miller, "The Viskovatyi Affair of 1553-1554: Official Art, the Emergence of Autocracy, and the Disintegration of Medieval Russian Culture," Russian History 8 (1981):293—332; and Pouncy, "Domostroi as a Source," pp. 232—240.
  33. For examples of this philosophy, see Chapters 1, 15, 39, and 64 and the additions to chapter 17.


7. How One Should Honor Tsars and Princes.
Obey Them in Everything, and Serve Faithfully.
How to Act Toward All People—Whether Great or Small, Unfortunate, and Weak.
How One Should Keep Watch Over Oneself
[pp. 71-2]

Fear the tsar and serve him faithfully.1 Always pray to God for his health. Do not say anything false to him, but tell him the truth, deferentially, as though you spoke to God Himself. Obey the tsar in all things. If you serve the earthly king righteously and fear him, you will learn to fear the Heavenly King also. This ruler is temporary, but the heavenly one is eternal; He, the impartial judge, rewards each according to his deeds.

In the same way submit yourself to a prince and give him the honor due him. "[F]or they are God's agents of punishment, for retribution on the offender" [Romans 13:4], showering approval on those who do good [paraphrase of Romans 13:3].

Love your prince and your superiors with your whole heart. Do not think evil against them, for the Apostle Paul says,

Every person must submit to the supreme authorities. There is no authority but by act of God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him; consequently anyone who rebels against authority is resisting a divine institution. [Romans 13:1-2]

The Lord will destroy all those speaking falsely, slanderously, or deceitfully to the tsar, a prince, or any boyar.2 Rumormongers and slanderers are damned among men.

Give honor to those older than yourself and make obeisance to them. Honor those equal to yourself as brothers and greet the poor with love. Love those younger than yourself like children.3

Do not act falsely toward any part of God's creation. "Do not set your hearts on the godless world or anything in it" [i John 2:15], but ask God for eternal blessings. Bear every sorrow and trial with gratitude.4 Do not revenge yourself upon those who offend you. Pray for blasphemers. Do not render evil for evil.5 Do not judge those who sin; remember your own sins, worry a lot about these." Turn away from the advice of wicked men; associate with the righteous, write down their deeds in your heart and act as they do.

  1. Even when not quoting directly, most of this chapter is paraphrased from the Pauline Epistles. See, for example, Romans 12:9-14:13, Ephesians 5:25-32, and Thessalonians 5:12-23.
  2. A reference to Psalm 12:2-3: "One man lies to another: they talk with smooth lip and double heart. May the Lord make an end of such smooth lips and the tongue that talks so boastfully!" Orthodox and Catholic Bibles do not always number chapter and verse in the same way as Protestant Bibles, especially in the Psalter. Numbers given here follow the New English Bible.
  3. This paragraph is an extension of 1 Timothy 5:11 "Never be harsh with an elder; appeal to him as if he were your father. Treat the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger as your sisters, in all purity."
  4. A reference to James 1:1-3: "My brothers, whenever you have to face trials of many kinds, count yourselves supremely happy, in the knowledge that such testing of your faith breeds fortitude."
  5. This and the two preceding sentences refer to Romans 12:17-19. The concept of not rendering evil for evil, in particular, has a long biblical heritage. See, for example, Proverbs 20:22: “Do not think to repay evil for evil, wait for the Lord to deliver you.”


20. In Praise of Women 1 [ pp. 102-3]

Who can find a capable wife? Her worth is far beyond coral. Her husband's whole trust is in her, and children are not lacking. She repays him with good, not evil, all her life long. She chooses wool and flax and toils at her work. Like a ship laden with merchandise, she brings home food from far off. She rises while it is still night and sets meat before her household. After careful thought she buys a field and plants a vineyard out of her earnings. She sets about her duties with vigor and braces herself for the work. She sees that her business goes well, and never puts out her lamp at night. She holds the distaff in her hand, and her fingers grasp the spindle. She is open-handed to the wretched and generous to the poor. She has no fear for her household when it snows, for they are wrapped in two cloaks. She makes her own coverings, and clothing of fine linen and purple. Her husband is well known in the city gate when he takes his seat with the elders of the land.... When she opens her mouth, it is to speak wisely, and loyalty is the theme of her teaching. [Proverbs 31:10-23, 26]

Again, no athlete can win a prize unless he has kept the rules.2 [2 Timothy 2:5]

A good wife makes a happy husband; she doubles the length of his life. A staunch wife is her husband's joy; he will live out his days in peace. A good wife means a good life; she is one of the Lord's gifts to those who fear him. [Ecclesiasticus 26:1-3]

For a good woman makes her husband more honorable: first, she will be blessed by having kept God's commandment; second, she will be praised by other people.3

"A capable," long-suffering, and silent "wife is her husband's crown" [Proverbs 12:4, combined with Ecclesiasticus 26:14].

If you, husband, find a good wife, she will bring blessings on your house. A man is blessed by such a wife, and his years will be filled in good repose. Praise and honor come to a man by means of a good woman. A good wife, like the blessed Empress Theodora, saves [others] after the death of her husband.4

  1. In the Mediate and Long Versions, this title has been changed to emphasize the male role, becoming A Paean for Men about Women, or just A Paean for Men. O. On the versions, see the Introduction and Pouncy, "Origins of the Domostroi," pp. 366-373.
  2. "Win a prize": older versions of the Bible say "be crowned," as does the Domostroi, because the athlete's prize was a crown of laurel.
  3. A reference to Proverbs 31:30-31: "It is the God-fearing woman who is honored. . .. and let her labors bring her honor in the city gate."
  4. In 842/843 St. Theodora, empress of Byzantium, ended the iconoclast controversy by permanently reinstating icons into Orthodox worship. See Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 39.
  5. A reference to Luke 10:7, quoted in i Timothy 5:18: "The worker earns his pay."

21. Instruction to a Husband and Wife, Their Servants and Children, on How They Must Live Well [pp. 103-4]

The master must himself learn and must teach his wife, children, and servants not to steal, live dissolutely, lie, slander, envy, offend, accuse falsely, quarrel with others, condemn, carouse, mock, remember evil, or be angry with anyone.

Be obedient and submissive to your superiors, loving to your equals, welcoming and kind to inferiors and the poor. Then everyone will meet your demands without delay.

Most of all, do not deny the laborer his wage.1 Suffer any insult, abuse, or reproach with gratitude for God's sake. Others may scorn and revile you because of your work, but eventually they will turn away from such madness and receive you with love. Do not seek revenge for their offenses against you; for your restraint, you will receive a reward from God.

Teach your servants the fear of God and all the virtues. Act well yourself; together, you and the servants will receive mercy from God.

If you yourself, from carelessness and neglect, or your wife, because she lacks a husband's correction, or any of your servants—men, women, and children—because of your failure to instruct them, engage in evil deeds (such as carousing, theft, or lechery), you will suffer eternal torment together. But if you act well and live in a manner pleasing to God, you will inherit eternal life in the Heavenly Kingdom.

  1. A reference to Luke 10:7, quoted in i Timothy 5:18: "The worker earns his pay."

22. What Kind of People to Hire and How to Instruct Them in God's Commandments and Domestic Management [pp. 104-111]

People should keep servants of good character in their houses.l The servants should be handy at that craft for which they are fitted and in which they have been trained. A manservant should not ever have been a robber, carouser, gambler, petty thief, brigand, lecher, sorcerer, drunkard, or swindler. One who serves a good master should be knowledgeable, God-fearing, wise, humble, given to good deeds, far-sighted, and well-versed in domestic management. He should not lie, rob, or offend anyone. He should be diligent in performing good deeds, with humility and in accord with his master's instruction, as the Apostle Paul commanded when he wrote to Timothy:

All who wear the yoke of slavery must count their own masters worthy of all respect, so that the name of God and the Christian teaching are not brought into disrepute. If the masters are believers, the slaves must not respect them any less for being their Christian brothers. Quite the contrary; they must be all the better slaves because those who receive the benefit of their service are one with them in faith and love. This is what you are to teach and preach, [1 Timothy 6:1-2]

Teach them by imposing limits on them, using terror.2 That apostle also wrote to Titus:

Tell slaves to respect their masters' authority in everything, and to comply with their demands without answering back; not to pilfer, but to show themselves strictly honest and trustworthy; for in all such ways they will add lustre to the doctrine of God our Saviour. [Titus 2:9-10]

A slave should feed and clothe himself with funds awarded by his master or gained by his own efforts. He should be content with whatever his master gives him—a robe, a horse, clothes, a small field, an item to trade—and should supplement it with whatever he can acquire by his own labors.3 He is responsible for its care from then on.

A good servant keeps his better clothes—outerwear and undergarments, shirt and boots—for holy days and to wear in the presence of his betters when the weather is good. Everything should always be dean. Such a servant will not wear clothes that have been thrown on the floor, muddied, stained, or crumpled. But if someone is stupid, crude, ignorant, and careless, whether his clothes form part of the wages he receives from his master or are made by his own hands, he will be unable to care for them. The master, or whoever he commands in his stead, must care for the best clothes of boors like these. When it is time for the servant to wear his good clothes, the master should hand them out; when the servant has taken them off, the master cares for them again.

Here is an instruction for all domestic servants: When at work, wear old clothes; when you come before your master and his guests, wear clean everyday dress; but on holy days, or when appearing before important people, or when visiting somewhere with your master or mistress, wear your best clothes. But even on such occasions, protect your good clothes from mud, rain, and snow and, when you arrive home, take them off, dry them, iron out the wrinkles, and remove any bad odor, then put the clothes away neatly in their proper place. Such behavior brings lasting profit to both servants and master: honor from others and pleasure to themselves.

Servants must not, through intimidation or by banding together, steal from other servants, nor should they imperil others, anywhere, with such deeds. They should act as one to protect that which is their master's. They should not lie to their master and mistress, nor slander anyone in any way. Nor should their masters indulge tale-telling, but should investigate straightaway by confronting the accused. They should not let the wicked man escape but should punish him, albeit with compassion, so that the other servants will fear to do evil. They should reward the good servant, so that the others will envy him and seek a similar reward from their master; all will then serve righteously and well. By means of the master's admonition and good teaching, the servant will live long, save his soul, serve his master, and please God.

Most of all, instruct those in service always to go to church, and to listen to the services on holy days and in the household, and especially to pray together. They should preserve their bodies from all forms of lechery, drunkenness, and greed. They must keep themselves from drinking and eating at forbidden times, for this is gluttony and drunkenness. They should invite their father-confessors and the priests' wives to their homes. They should go to confession.

When single youths and maidens reach full adulthood, arrange marriages for them. For the apostle says:

Marriage is honorable; let us all keep it so, and the marriage-bond inviolate; for God's judgment will fall on fornicators and adulterers. [Hebrews 13:4]

If single people fornicate with one another because of your carelessness, even if it is kept secret from you, you will be tormented with many and great ordeals. You will be dishonored by such affairs. If you keep servants, but have no care for their souls; if you make them work overly long hours, whether in preparing food or making clothes or in any other form of service, you yourself will answer for their souls on Judgment Day. As the apostle wrote in his epistle:

Do not ruin the work of God for the sake of food. [Romans i4:2o] 4

God's work is restraining the flesh, caring for the soul and things eternal. This, too, the apostle said:

If we have food and covering, we may rest content, [i Timothy 6:8]

Those who are married should live lawfully with their wives according to the teaching of their father-confessors.5 Husbands should not lust after women other than their wives, nor wives after men other than their husbands.

A servant should teach his wife what he himself has learned from his master—that is, the fear of God and all forms of knowledge.6

A good female servant should heed her mistress and obey her in everything, serving with all the effort and skill that she possesses. She should not steal, lie, live dissolutely, or drink. Nor should she listen to old women,7 who tempt young women into evil—that is, they introduce them to young men who are strangers to the area and who teach the young women to steal, to drink, and to indulge themselves in evil. Many women and girls keep company with these young men, listen to old crones, steal property from their master and mistress, and run away. Then they8 take the property from your woman and kill her, or she commits suicide by drowning herself; either way your property is lost.

If you don't routinely think about these old women, an unknown man will someday come to your house, or your women and girls will go out for water, or to wash clothes, and will begin to speak to a man. Even if he is known to them, they shame and spoil themselves by speaking with this man who is not one of their own.9

But a crone [is even more dangerous, as she] can more easily spend time with them. Whenever she sees your women chatting, she will organize a little trading, questioning them about what you or your lady may need. Then they will ask her what she has, saying, "Give it to us. We'll show it to our mistress." The crone will reply, "I have sold this item to such and such a woman of good standing," and will even supply names, but it is all lies. "I will go to my child's godmother," she will say, "I will take it from her and bring it to you." Then your women will plead, "Bring it to us before supper, or how will they sing vespers?"10 The crone will say, "From my child's godmother's house, I know how to get to your place. But beware of your master." Then she leaves them and does not return for a day or two. Through one day, and throughout another, she does not come to the house, but watches how they go to the river for water or to wash clothes. When the old woman finally approaches them, they cry out to her and ask why she did not visit them, why she did not bring the object that she wanted to bring. The old woman expresses great surprise, and tells them, "Yesterday and the day before I was visiting this and that woman of good standing," and she gives the other woman's husband's name. "They had a feast," she says, "and the lady fed me and would not let me go, so I spent the night there with her servants. I was there and could not leave, because many respectable women pleaded with me." Then your women reply, "Come to our house," despite your absolute prohibition and no matter how often you beat them.

By these means old crones get to know your serving women and girls. Once such an old woman has made their acquaintance, there is nothing to stop her standing and talking to them, meeting them at the river. Even if the^master notices them, his women are talking to another woman, not to a man. But then she will start to visit them at your house, and they will make her known to their mistress. Woe is me, all are enthralled by our common enemy, the Devil; we are conquered by our own weaponry. As blessed Theodora of Alexandria bravely said,

Do not be charmed by women. Do not protect your husband's bed, but make yourself worthy, by means of repentance and great patience, to be a chosen vessel of God."

We must keep quiet about others, because otherwise we will displease our listeners.

Let those who have ears to hear, hear and ponder the words in the depths of their hearts.12

But now let us go back to these servants.

A good servant should not come to her mistress bringing wicked tales, or wizards with roots or herbs. If anyone else contemplates such a thing, a good servant will refuse even to recognize her. Nor should servants discuss their masters around such people, for these are servants of the Devil. Good servants serve their masters faithfully and justly, with good deeds and righteous works.

The master and mistress should bestow goods on their people (men, women, and children); they should also feed them, clothe them, and let them live in warmth, peace, and prosperity forever. Then the master—with his soul and his house well-ordered, his servants free of sorrow, and the poor, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan likewise cared for—may rest from his righteous labor and bring alms to the churches, the parishioners, and the monasteries.13 If you have nothing to give, at least say a comforting word; if that is not enough, do not become embittered, nor grieve because of your poverty, because you have nothing to give to the poor. Remember the words of the Lord:

Where a man has been given much, much will be expected of him. [Luke 12:48]

That is to say, if you have much, you must give a lot.

Where a man has been given little, less will be expected, [extrapolated from above]

By less is meant a little cup of water, or a comforting word. For the least shall be first.14 Also, the good man will invite to his home those who are pleasing to God and useful to his soul. Nothing will be found within his house that was procured by coercion, pillage, vengeance, pledges, calumny, sharp practices, tale-telling, or false judgment. If God guards its owners from such evil, this house will be blessed now and forever.

The master and mistress of the house, with their children and their domestic servants—men and women, young and old—should, every year during Lent, visit their father-confessors and make confession. Those who are worthy should take communion also. If they go more often than once a year, they will receive an even' greater reward from God.15 The father-confessors should explain this to the master of the house and his dependents. The master, especially, should take great care to do this for the sake of his own soul and those of his dependents.

Give nothing in alms to a slave, for the sake of his soul. Instead, give to the master, for all who are in his household and all who will demand alms of him. To do otherwise is evil.

Throughout the year, on Sundays, Wednesdays, Fridays, the Lord's holy days, and during all the holy fasts, abstain from sexual intercourse. Occupy yourself with good deeds of all kinds. Do not get drunk. Go to God's churches with an offering, to pray for your health and peace of mind, and—if you are ready spiritually and are following your father-confessor's advice—touch the holy objects. You will find more on these subjects in Chapters 38 and 32 [in this edition, 35 and 28].

  1. The domestic servants discussed in the Domostroi are full, hereditary slaves. In this translation, I use the more general term "servant" except where the discussion centers around the rights and responsibilities of ownership, then "slave."
  2. Terror: groza. See Preface, note 4.
  3. A reference to the peculium: in most slave systems, masters grant slaves some property for their use (although legally the peculium remains the master's property and can be confiscated at any time). On the peculium in Russia, see Hellie, Slavery, pp. 132-133, 519. On the peculium in general, see Patterson, Slavery, pp. 182-186.
  4. Although it is accurately quoted, the original context of this passage gave it a very different meaning. St. Paul was arguing against traditional Jewish dietary laws, saying that Christians should not provoke conflicts by refusing to eat with people who did not keep kosher. Here, the author uses the passage to urge that servants not be kept from devotions so that their masters may eat on time.
  5. This means not only that husbands and wives should refrain from adultery but that they should observe clerical prohibitions against intercourse on fast days and holy days, and should not adopt "unnatural positions." For more information, see Levin, Sex and Society, pp. 161-179.
  6. In the Long Version, this reads: "Servants should teach their wives what they have learned from your [tvoego] correction and their father-confessors' instruction: the fear of God, knowledge, and humility" (Domostroi OIDR, p. 73).
  7. Old women: babki. Babka is a pejorative term for a married woman or widow. Although such a woman is not necessarily old, the word in this context carries associations of "crone" or "witch." The power of postmenopausal women is much feared in preindustrial societies, as manifest in the numerous tales of Baba Yaga and other versions of the Great Mother Goddess in her devouring aspect. For a fuller discussion of the Divine Feminine in Russia, see Hubbs, Mother Russia.
  8. Whether "they" refers to the crones or the young men is unclear. The runaway slave is also, of course, lost property as far as her master is concerned.
  9. An example of the (by our standards) exaggerated Muscovite concern with female virtue. Even among slaves, a woman was dishonored if she spoke to a man who belonged to another household.
  10. Again, this reference is unclear. Perhaps the author means to suggest that the object they are discussing is needed for vespers, but more likely the young women are indicating their excitement (as in, "how can we live without this?").
  11. Theodora of Alexandria reportedly lived during the reign of Emperor Zeno (474-491). She was the wife of Paphnutius, a nobleman known for his piety, but was seduced into adultery through the Devil's wiles. In penance, she took monastic vows, as a man, under the name of Theodore, living a holy and ascetic life (Raya and Vinck, Byzantine Daily Worship, p. 445).
  12. This is a concatenation of and variation on two biblical passages. The first, "If you have ears to hear, then hear," appears frequently in the synoptic Gospels as an introduction to or conclusion of Christ's parables. See Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:21; Mark 4:9, 4:23, 7:16; Luke 8:8, 14:35. The second phrase, "and ponder the words in the depths of their hearts," seems to be a reference to Luke 2:19: "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered over them [in older Bibles, 'pondered them in her heart’]."
  13. This sentence reads somewhat differently in the later versions: "The master and mistress, if they live according to this admonition, as written here, will save their souls and manage their household, and their servants likewise. Both spiritually and physically, they will live painlessly. The master and mistress should also have care for the poor and the stranger, the destitute, the widows and orphans, and should ameliorate their lot—that is, their lack of spiritual and worldly goods—from the givers' own righteous labors. Think about their spiritual health, and watch over their bodily health. Also, take and send alms to God's churches, to the parishioners, to monasteries and prisons—as much as you can afford."
  14. A slightly garbled reference to Matthew 19:30: "But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
  15. This advice reflects the standards of most sixteenth-century Orthodox more accurately than the recommendations given in Chapters 12 and 13.