Pskov Feudal Republic

Pskov Feudal Republic


a medieval Russian state that lasted from the second half of the 13th to the early 16th century. After the disintegration of Kievan Rus’ in the 12th century, Pskov and adjoining areas along the Velikaia River, Lakes Chudskoe and Pskov, and the Narva River became part of the Novgorod Feudal Republic. Pskov, however, preserved a certain degree of autonomy, such as the right to build suburbs. (Izborsk, the oldest suburb, is first mentioned in the chronicles under the year 862.) The importance of Pskov Land increased after the citizens of Pskov took part in the struggle against the Livonian Order in 1240 and 1242. From the mid-13th century, particularly after the defeat of the Order at Rakovor (Rakvere) in 1268, the Pskov area became virtually independent. The independence of the Pskov Feudal Republic was given legal recognition by the Bolotov Treaty of 1348, under which the boyars of Novgorod agreed to cease sending posadniki (governors) and other officials to Pskov. Only in ecclesiastical affairs did Pskov remain subordinate to Novgorod.

Crop cultivation was practiced in the Pskov area from ancient times, and fishing was also well developed. The most important crafts were blacksmithing, building, and jewelry-making. The development of trade within Pskov Land, as well as with Novgorod, other Russian cities, and the towns along the Baltic coast and Western Europe, made Pskov one of the largest artisan and commercial centers of Russia. In contrast to the Novgorod Feudal Republic, Pskov Land did not have large feudal landowners, and the estates of lay feudal lords, as well as those of the Pskov monasteries and churches, were smaller and more fragmented than in Novgorod.

The social relations that had evolved in the Pskov Feudal Republic were reflected in the Pskov Sudnaia Gramota (legal code). The distinctive features of Pskov’s economy, its age-old close ties with Novgorod, and its position as a border town and vulnerability to attack stimulated the development of government by the veche (town assembly). In Pskov the princes played a secondary role. The veche elected the posadnik (governor) and sotskie (officials) and regulated relations between the feudal lords, the posadskie liudi (artisans and tradesmen), izorniki (quitrent peasants), and smerdy (corvée peasants). The Council of Boyars, which met in the entrance hall of Trinity Cathedral, had a great influence on the decisions of the veche. Trinity Cathedral also housed the veche chancellery and archive, where important state and private documents were kept. The right to hold elective offices became the privilege of a small number of aristocratic families. However, in the most dramatic moments of Pskov’s history, the “lesser” posadskie liudi played an important, sometimes decisive, role in the veche. Pskov’s acute class conflicts, particularly the struggle between the boyars and the smerdy and between the “greater” and “lesser” folk, were reflected in the appearance of the Strigol’niki heresy in the 14th century, as well as in the veche disputes of the 1470’s, 1480’s, and 1490’s, which often ended in bloody conflict.

The strengthening of Pskov’s ties with Moscow—promoted by its economic development, the class struggle, its foreign policy objectives, the participation of the citizens of Pskov in the battle of Kulikovo of 1380, and the successes of the joint struggle with Moscow against the Teutonic Knights and the Lithuanian feudal lords—paved the way for the end of the republic’s independence. The Pskov boyars and some merchants tried to prevent the unification with Moscow, but they found no support among the masses. In 1510, when Grand Prince Vasilii III Ivanovich of Moscow rode into Pskov and declared it to be his “patrimony,” the Pskov Feudal Republic ceased to exist as an independent state. The veche was abolished. Some 300 rich families were “led away” from the area, and their lands and houses were granted to members of the Muscovite service nobility. Thereafter, Pskov Land, although it retained certain distinctive economic and cultural characteristics, developed as part of the centralized Russian state.


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