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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.4 (2002) 653-684

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Cultural Categories, Councils and Consultation in Muscovy*

Charles J. Halperin

Andrei L'vovich Iurganov, Kategorii russkoi srednevekovoi kul'tury. Moscow: Moskovskii institut razvitiia obrazovatel'nykh sistem (MIROS), Institut "Otkrytoe obshchestvo," 1998. ISBN 5708401885. 448 pp.
Aleksandr Il'ich Filiushkin, Istoriia odnoi mistifikatsii: Ivan Groznyi i "Izbrannaia Rada." Moscow: Voronezh State University Press, 1998. ISBN 5858150659. 352 pp.
Sergei N. Bogatyrev, The Sovereign and His Counsellors: Ritualised Consultations in Muscovite Political Culture 1350s-1570s.Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennicae, 2000. ISBN 9514108744. 297 pp.

The differences in methods and topics of the three monographs reviewed here reflect a healthy diversity of approaches to Muscovite history. One topic, the Izbrannaia Rada, has been much studied; the second, the Blizhniaia Duma, has been little studied; and the third, the cultural categories of medieval Russia, has barely been studied at all. Regardless of the degree of previous study of his theme, each author has made a serious contribution to our knowledge of Muscovite history.


In his innovative and original monograph, Kategorii russkoi srednevekovoi kul'tury, as Professor Nancy Shields Kollmann aptly categorizes it in her introduction to translated excerpts, 1 Andrei L'vovich Iurganov of the Russian State Humanities University in Moscow presents an analysis of four concepts (or pairs of concepts) from medieval Russia, in Kollmann's translation, pravda ("justice") and vera [End Page 653] ("faith"), blagoslovit'("to bless") and pozhalovat' ("to bestow"), gosudar' (sovereign) and kholop (slave), and Strashnyi sud (Judgment Day). This book is a major achievement that has stimulated considerable discussion. 2

In his "Introduction" (3-32), Iurganov discusses his methodology. 3 He is interested in "categories" of medieval Russian thought, smyslopologaniia ("human perceptions of meaning" in Kollmann, "presumed meaning" in Filiushkin/Waugh), characteristic (tipologicheskii) of the time and place. For this reason, Iurganov excludes categories such as "sanctity" which would also apply to prior and subsequent periods of East Slavic history. 4

Chapter 1 discusses "The Christian Faith [vera] and Justice [pravda]" (33-116). 5 Iurganov begins with Peresvetov's unexpected conclusion that God loves pravda more than vera, unexpected because pravda is far more an Old Testament term, vera a New Testament term, even allowing for the prevalence of multiple meanings (polysemanticism) of medieval texts. 6 Iurganov suspects that [End Page 654] modern historians who see Peresvetov's view as secular have modernized the text, so he examines these two concepts in a long series of other sources: Stoglav, works by Maksim Grek, Ermolai-Erazm, Afanasii Nikitin, Fedor Karpov, the Domostroi, the ideas of Maksim Bashkin and Feodosii Kosoi (the latter presented by Zinovyi Otenskii), Iosif of Volokolamsk, Ivan IV's reply to Jan Roktya, and Avvakum. 7 Sometimes the terms were used interchangeably; not every text used them the same way, but the relationship of "ritual" and "belief" did excite medieval Russian authors. Iurganov concludes that by pravda Peresvetov meant what we nowadays mean by "faith" and by vera what we nowadays mean by "truth," both strongly rooted in notions of salvation and eschatology; Peresvetov was actually discussing the superiority of heavenly belief to earthly religious observance. Peresvetov's ideas differed from those of Kievan (Drevniaia) Rus', where to Ilarion, baptism itself was enough to guarantee salvation (103-4). The medieval Russian categories of pravda and vera ceased to be meaningful, except to the raskol'niki, at the end of the 17th century, when the Muscovite state declared that no one could predict the end of the world.

Chapter 2 deals with blagoslovit'and pozhalovat'and primarily concerns the relationship of vlast' (authority) and sobstvennost' (property). Close textual analysis of the use of the terms "to bless, to endow" and "to bestow, to grant" in grand-princely and tsarist wills (especially Ivan IV's, which Iurganov redates) 8 shows that only members of the ruling Kalita clan could inherit appanages (udely), everyone else received only conditional "grants" of land. The entire realm was the collective property of the dynasty. This notion might have had its roots in Kievan Rus', but the decisive influence...


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