Boyar Duma

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Boyar Duma


the highest council of the prince (tsar, beginning in 1547) in the Russian state from the tenth to the early 18th century.

The Boyar Duma was composed of representatives of the feudal aristocracy. The work of the Boyar Duma was legislative and deliberative. It participated in discussions of problems of legislation, foreign policy, the internal organization of the state, religion, and so forth. In Kievan Rus’ the Boyar Duma was the consultative body composed of the prince, members of the druzhina (prince’s men or advisers), and zemskie boiare (city elders), who were descendants of the local genealogical aristocracy. Sometimes representatives of the higher clergy also participated. The Boyar Duma had no permanent composition. It was convoked as often as necessary. Beginning in the 11th century, after the prince’s men had been allotted land and made equal to the zemskie boiare, the Boyar Duma was composed only of boyars.

In the period of feudal fragmentation, the Boyar Duma was a feudal curia of the seignior (council of the feudal lord). It was made up of the grand prince and his vassals, and it had definite political power. In northeastern Russia in the 14th and 15th centuries the Boyar Duma included the boiare putnye, who were in charge of different branches of the prince’s palace administration, and persons in the prince’s administration (chiliarchs, courtiers in the immediate entourage of the prince, majordomos, and others). From the early 15th century the Boyar Duma included the boiare vvedennye (great boyars), who were representatives of the highest stratum of boyars, the prince’s permanent advisers, and the executors of his most important assignments.

From the late 15th century the Boyar Duma became a permanent consultative body of the supreme power. It was composed of the Duma ranks—boyars, courtiers in the immediate entourage of the prince, Duma noblemen (beginning in the early 16th century) and, a little later, Duma secretaries. The boyars of the titled aristocracy had the predominant influence in the Boyar Duma.

The power of the reactionary princely boyar aristocracy was greatly weakened by the reforms of the 1550’s and especially by the oprichina. However, under the feudal monarchy in the second half of the 16th and the 17th centuries, the Boyar Duma shared power with the tsar to some extent. According to V. I. Lenin, the distinctive feature of the Russian state organization in the 17th century was an autocracy with a Boyar Duma and boyar aristocracy. In the 16th century and especially in the 17th century, the central power enlarged the Boyar Duma with persons of a lower rank who represented the bureaucratic element. They were obedient tools in the hands of the autocracy. In the latter half of the 17th century the importance of the Boyar Duma declined. When the Senate was established in 1711, the Boyar Duma was abolished.


Kliuchevskii, V. O. Boiarskaia duma Drevnei Rusi, 5th ed. Petrograd, 1919.
Vladimirskii-Budanov, M. F. Obzor istorii russkogo prava, 5th ed. St. Petersburg-Kiev, 1907.
Sergeevich, V. Drevnosti russkogo prava, Vol. 2: Veche i kniaz’: Sovetniki kniazia, 3rd ed. St. Petersburg, 1908.
Smirnov, I. I. Ocherki politicheskoi istorii Russkogo gosudarstva 30–50-kh gg. XVI v. Moscow-Leningrad, 1958.
Iushkov, S. V. “K voprosu o soslovno-predstavitel’noi monarkhii ν Rossii.” Sovetskoe gosudarstvo i pravo, 1950, no. 10.
Zimin, A. A. “Sostav Boiarskoi dumy ν XV-XVI vv.” In the collection Arkheograficheskii ezhegodnik za 1957. Moscow, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.