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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 8.2 (2007) 231-270

Secular Power and the Archbishops of Novgorod before the Muscovite Conquest
Michael C. Paul

Novgorod the Great was one of medieval Europe's preeminent cities. It stood apart from the other cities and towns of medieval Rus´ because of its "special political order and the de facto autonomy of its church administration."1 Instead of a local princely dynasty establishing itself, Novgorod had a veche with a rather raucous and obstreperous political milieu. The city's storied wealth from the fur trade meant that the most powerful princes of Rus´ vied for control of it, but none was able to establish hereditary title or control over the city. Instead, the nominal prince of Novgorod—beginning in the 13th century he was almost always the prince of Vladimir—was usually off at the Horde or in his home city (usually Tver´ or Moscow). In his absence, an aristocracy drawn from the most powerful local clans monopolized the elective offices of posadnik (mayor) and tysiatskii ("thousandman"),2 sharing power with the veche, if not controlling it.3 [End Page 231]

Ecclesiastically, too, Novgorod differed from the other episcopal sees of Rus´. Beginning in 1156, its archbishop was frequently chosen locally, often by the drawing of lots, and not appointed by the metropolitans or grand princes as were the other bishops of Rus´.4 From the office's elevation to the archiepiscopal dignity in 1165,5 Novgorod's was almost the only archbishop [End Page 232] in the Russian Church until the late 14th century, when the bishops of Rostov and Suzdal were elevated to archiepiscopal dignity as well.6 Some scholars have argued that the title of archbishop made Novgorod autocephalous from Kiev,7 but Iaroslav Shchapov rejects this contention:

The title was well known in the Christian Church, being granted to those episcopal sees which by virtue of historical conditions or some special relationship with the Patriarchate were not subordinate to the geographically closest metropolitan and came directly under the hand of the patriarch. The enumeration of 12th-century archbishoprics lists [End Page 233] 40 to 50 sees that possessed this advantage. But neither these nor later enumerations listed Novgorod as an archbishopric because the only Rus´ archbishopric was merely titular, an honorary archbishopric, whose relationship with superior centers did not relieve it of subordination to Kiev.8

Indeed, the Novgorodian archbishops' presence in synodal documents (appearing immediately after the metropolitan), their consecration by the metropolitan, and other evidence clearly indicate their continued subordination to the metropolitans in Kiev, Vladimir, or Moscow.9 In addition to their honored place within the Russian Church, the archbishops stood among the secular rulers of Novgorod the Great and wielded civil or secular powers not normally seen among the Orthodox episcopate. Indeed, their powers domestically, their often antagonistic relationship with Moscow's grand princes and metropolitans, and their role in Novgorod's foreign relations have led a number of scholars to argue that they were the real power in Novgorod. A number of general studies of Russian history have seized on the archbishops' economic, social, cultural, and political powers to argue that the archbishops were in some ways like the prince-bishops of the West. Thus, in his lectures on Russian history, Vasilii Kliuchevskii argued that the archbishop was "the permanent president [postoiannyi predsedatel´] of the Sovet gospod,"10 or Council of Lords, which Henrik Birnbaum defined as "a delegated and executive organ of the veche."11 The council acted as an executive committee [End Page 234] (or Politburo if you will) of the veche and carried out the day-to-day duties of the government when the veche was not convened, and it usually met in the archbishop's chambers and later the Palace of Facets.12 Indeed, Kliuchevskii contended that the archbishop, "by presiding over the Council of Lords … came to occupy first place in the secular hierarchy of the city."13 George P. Fedotov echoed Kliuchevskii and...


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