General Land Survey

General Land Survey


in Russia, the precise demarcation of the boundaries of the landholdings of individuals, obshchiny (peasant communities), towns, churches, and other landholders. The General Land Survey was begun in 1766 and completed in the mid-19th century. It was prompted by frequent boundary disputes. Verification of centuries-old landholding rights aroused the stubborn resistance of the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry), because by the mid-18th century numerous lands that had been seized from the state without authorization were included in the property of pomeshchiki (fief holders). The survey was preceded by the creation of the Commission for the General Land Survey on Mar. 5, 1765, and the publication of the Manifesto of Sept. 19, 1765, with General Regulations appended to it. Under the manifesto the government granted the pomeshchiki an enormous supply of land, amounting to nearly 70 million desiatinas (76.3 million hectares). According to the manifesto all de facto landholdings of the pomeshchiki as of 1765 were granted de jure recognition, as long as they were uncontested. (The number of disputes over the General Land Survey was insignificant—approximately 10 percent of all land grants were contested.)

In 1766 on the basis of the General Regulations instructions were published for surveyors and the provincial land survey offices and bureaus. During the survey, lands were not registered in the names of the individual landholders but were assigned to towns and villages. The instructions gave detailed regulations on the conditions for the allotment of the lands to institutions and various categories of the population. Plans for individual land grants were drawn up on a scale of 100 sagenes (700 feet) to an inch (1:8,400). These were then incorporated into general district plans on a scale of 1 verst (1.07 km) to an inch (1:42,000).

The General Land Survey was distinguished by its use of boundaries of centuries-old grants registered in the cadastres as the basis for the configuration of a given property. As a result it was not unusual for a surveyed grant of land to contain within its boundaries the holdings of several individuals or holdings owned jointly by a pomeshchik and state peasants. The sale of unoccupied state lands at low prices accompanied the survey. This was done on a particularly large scale in the southern chernozem and steppe regions, to the detriment of their nomadic and seminomadic populations. The typically feudal character of the survey was revealed in its treatment of town lands and plots that had been seized. For each sagene of common pasture land on which, as confirmed by recent cadastres, the towns had erected buildings, the towns were compelled to pay a fine. The survey was accompanied by a massive theft of the lands of odnodvortsy, state peasants and peoples who paid the iasak (tribute).

The survey embraced the whole empire and was compulsory for landholders. It was accompanied by a study of the economic situation of the country. All plans contained “economic notes” on the number of male serfs, the quitrent and corvée, the quality of lands and forests, occupations, and industrial enterprises, places of historical interest, and so forth. The unique collection of plans and maps of the General Land Survey totals nearly 200,000 items. The field notes of the surveyor, the field journal, and the book of boundary markings were appended to the special plans. The defects of the General Land Survey were corrected by the so-called special land survey, which was carried out in the 1830’s through the 1850’s. The special land survey eliminated land grants owned jointly by two or more individuals, establishing the principle of individual ownership of holdings. By 1861, 178,295 plots—an area of 275,378,747 desiatins (about 300,162,834 hectares) had been demarcated by the General Land Survey in 35 provinces.

The General Land Survey formalized and strengthened the landholding position of the dvorianstvo, and it legalized the seizures of lands and forests carried out by the pomeshchiki. Until the October Revolution, issues in civil law that affected property rights in land were decided on the basis of the results of the General Land Survey.


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