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  • Reconstructing the Late 16th-and 17th-Century Muscovite State Budget
  • Dmitrii Liseitsev (bio)
    Translated by Richard Bland

In recent decades, scholars have renewed their interest in the history of the 17th-century Muscovite state. The evolution of the Muscovite fiscal system (and the development of the Russian economy in general) in this period has, however, yet to attract sufficient attention from scholars. Admittedly, we have almost no information on the Russian budget in the 16th and 17th centuries that rests on a firm foundation of bureaucratic recordkeeping. As a result, works on the history of pre-Petrine Russia abound with fantastic figures, taken as a rule from narrative sources the accuracy of which has not been subjected to serious criticism. Such a deficit of research on the economic history of pre-Petrine Russia severely constricts our chances of analyzing historical trends in the 16th- and 17th-century Muscovite state. We are unable to assess not only the general tendency of state development but also the effectiveness of individual fiscal measures: for example, the significance of the imposition of extraordinary taxes in this or that period (such as interrogation [zaprosnye] and fifths [piatinnye] money, which S. B. Veselovskii wrote about more than a century ago).1 International comparisons are also difficult.2 It is characteristic that the author of the most recent survey of Russia as a military-fiscal state does not even attempt [End Page 5] to provide a quantitative or qualitative assessment of that state’s financial resources prior to 1680.3

It seems, therefore, that we must at least try to approximate the size of the Muscovite state budget in the late 16th and 17th centuries. This article undertakes such an attempt: to reconstruct the Russian government’s budget for this period. With this goal in mind, we must understand that in those centuries the very idea of a state budget did not exist. The term authentic to the period, the sovereign’s treasury (gosudareva kazna), corresponds to the modern idea of a state budget only in part, since the sovereign’s treasury, because of its specific material content, was in a sense a “virtual” idea. In the 16th and 17th centuries, neither a single fiscal system covering the whole state nor a single authority acting as the final destination of tax revenues existed. Monetary (and not just monetary) funds at the disposal of city authorities were dispersed among the central agencies of state administration—the chancelleries, of which there were about 30 in the mid-17th century (not counting small court service bureaus, which in fact did not enjoy complete autonomy or their own budgets). Many chancelleries had, in accordance with their functions, certain revenues set aside for them (individual territories or categories of taxable population from which a given chancellery collected this or that tax). In simplified form, the “state budget” of the Muscovite tsardom was the aggregate of its chancelleries’ budgets.

The dispersal of the Muscovite state’s budget among its central agencies of administration complicates the modern scholar’s task, because the chancellery system was extremely flexible: throughout the system’s existence in the 16th–17th centuries some chancelleries were created, others abolished or combined. Simultaneously, territories or fees subordinate to chancelleries were changed. For example, in the mid-1660s the Ambassadorial Chancellery collected money intended to ransom captives, which, according to the undersecretary (pod´iachii) Grigorii Kotoshikhin, brought in 150,000 rubles per year.4 But when a special Captives Chancellery was established in 1667, ransom money ceased to be placed at the disposal of the diplomatic corps. Ten years later, the Captives Chancellery was abolished, and the Postal Chancellery took over the collection of ransom money. Altogether, this chancellery, which had collected about 50,000 rubles in the mid-1660s, according to Kotoshikhin, [End Page 6] increased its revenues in 1680 to 235,000 rubles—that is, by four to five times.5 As a result, the dynamics and changeability of the chancellery system make it impossible to extend conclusions based on documents of one period to the situation in other decades or the 17th century as a whole.

I would also note that even aggregating the monetary revenues allotted to the...


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