Posadskie Liudi

Posadskie Liudi


a term applied to the merchants and artisans in Russian cities and in some settlements: the posady (merchants’ and artisans’ quarters) and slobody (tax-exempt settlements). It originates from the word posad and appears in documents beginning in the 1440’s. In historiography, however, the term refers to Russia’s urban merchants and artisans of the tenth to 18th centuries.

The posadskie liudi evolved as Russia’s cities became centers of economic life. There were more than 60 types of artisans in the cities of ancient Rus’. The urban merchants and artisans founded their own territorial and professional organizations, such as the sotni (merchants’ organizations), the various quarters in Novgorod, and artisans’ organizations similar to guilds. Documents of the 14th and 15th centuries usually use the terms liudi gorozhane or grazhan ‘skie liudie (city dwellers), and distinguish between merchants and common people within this group.

The posadskie liudi supported the policies of the grand princes, which aimed to throw off the Mongol Tatar yoke and unite the Russian territories. They opposed the intensification of feudal oppression (Moscow uprisings of 1382 and 1445 and the Novgorod uprisings of 1418 and 1446–47). Their numbers increased considerably during the second half of the 15th and the first half of the 16th century, mainly owing to confiscation of the properties of appanage princes and to an extent of monasteries located in the cities of the Muscovite state. Most of the urban population subject to the appanage princes and to the monasteries became posadskie liudi. New urban type centers were also being created, such as posady, slobody, and riadki (merchants’ and artisans’ settlements), and their inhabitants too were listed by the government as posadskie liudi. The obligations of the posadskie liudi to the state were clearly defined at this time: artisans’ and trade taxes, services, and participation in city projects, particularly the construction of fortifications. The posadskie liudi constituted communes headed by zemstvo (local self-government) elders responsible for paying taxes and for imposing them on each member of the commune.

In the 1570’s and 1580’s, the government selected a small group of merchants from among the posadskie liudi and united them into privileged corporations of gosti (merchants)—the gostinye sotni (merchants’ corporations) and sukonnye sotni (cloth merchants’ corporations)—which it charged with commercial and financial commissions. Most of the posadskie liudi —merchants, middle- and small-scale tradesmen, producers of commodities, artisans, and persons subsisting by means of labor and alms—remained in the common, or “black”, taxed communes. In the 16th and 17th centuries, these persons were divided into categories called best, middle, lower, and sometimes lowest posadskie liudi.

Severe blows were dealt to the posady by increasing taxation and other obligations, by the economic hardships caused by the Livonian War (1558–83), by the oprichnina, and later by the Polish and Swedish interventions of the early 17th century. The posadskie liudi left the communes and either joined the military service class, placed themselves under the protection of rich secular and church feudal lords, or fled from the cities to the border areas of the state. The remaining members of the commune offered stubborn resistance to the secular and church feudal lords, who seized the posady lands and settled their own vassals on them. These vassals paid no state taxes and competed with the posadskie liudi in the urban marketplace.

Disturbed by the depopulation of the posady, from 1600 to 1602 the government returned those posadskie liudi who had pledged themselves to the lords to the commune “according to the old ways” and registered in the commune various groups of the urban population “according to their trade and occupations.” The government of Tsar Mikhail Romanov carried out searches for posadskie liudi who had abandoned the commune, and attempted to bring them back and attach them to specific posady. Major urban uprisings took place in Moscow, Novgorod, Pskov, and other cities in the mid-17th century; during their course, the posadskie liudi demanded that the slobody and houses of white-land settlers (inhabitants of the lands of secular and church feudal lords; persons exempt from paying state taxes) within city limits be torn down and that their own financial obligations to the government be reduced. These demands were met: the government confiscated all urban houses and posady owned by feudal lords and registered their inhabitants in the posady. As a result of the posadskoe stroenie (posad reform) of 1649–52, the number of posadskie liudi increased from 31,500 to 41,600 households, and the class received a trade and commercial monopoly in the cities.

The number of posadskie liudi increased in the second half of the 17th and in the 18th century, mainly because former state artisans, the military service class, and other urban categories were now registered in the posady. There were approximately 183,000 posadskie liudi of the male sex in the 1720’s, some 212,000 in the 1740’s, and approximately 228,000 in the 1760’s. In the 1720’s the government referred to them as the merchantry (kupechestvo), but the old designation of posadskie liudi was still most commonly used.

As capitalist relations emerged in Russia in the second half of the 17th century, social and property stratification intensified among the posadskie liudi. Their upper strata began investing capital in commercial undertakings, and the number of posadskie liudi who sold their labor increased. Further development of capitalist relations was impeded by the feudal system of serfdom and in particular by the increasing burden of taxes and services placed on the posady; capitalism thus developed slowly.

The posadskie liudi opposed the intensifying of feudal, serf-owning oppression. Urban insurrections took place in Moscow in 1662, 1682, and 1771 and in Astrakhan in 1705 and 1706; some posadskie liudi fought in the peasant wars of the 17th and 18th centuries. In order to ensure broader social support for autocracy, as well as for fiscal reasons, in 1775 the government divided the posadskie liudi into guild merchants and mesh-chanstvo (townspeople). The Charter of the Cities (1785) applied the term posadskie liudi to one of the six categories of city dwellers earning their living from trade and crafts. However, their property status excluded them from the first five categories. This group of posadskie liudi gradually merged with the meshchanstvo.


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Goroda feodal’noi Rossii: Sb. st. Moscow, 1966.
Smirnov, P. P. Posadskie liudi i ikh klassovaia bor’ba do serediny XVII v., vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947–48.