Monastyrskie Krestiane

Monastyrskie Krest’iane


(monasterial peasants), the feudally dependent population on the lands held by the Orthodox Church in Russia from the 11th to the mid-18th century. The monastyrskie krest’iane were subjected to the same forms of exploitation as the feudally dependent peasants on secular lands.

According to the title deed issued by Metropolitan Kiprian in 1391, the monastyrskie krest’iane were obliged to pay quitrent and to perform corvée. All agricultural labor was to be done by them. With the intensification of serfdom in the 15th and 16th centuries, the condition of the monastyrskie krest’iane grew worse. As early as the second half of the 15th century, the movement of the starozhil’tsy (peasants who had occupied the same land for several generations) was heavily restricted on a number of votchiny (patrimonial estates) of the St. Sergius Trinity Monastery. Monastyrskie krest’iane who tried to flee but were caught were settled on the monastery’s land by the officials of the grand prince. The onerous condition of the monastyrskie krest’iane was aggravated by debt servitude, which caused the peasants to become even more dependent on the ecclesiastical lords. The monastyrskie krest’iane expressed their opposition to feudal exploitation and serfdom by participating in uprisings. Disturbances are known to have occurred at the Adrianova Pustyn’ (a hermitage) in 1550, at the Monastery of Joseph of Volokolamsk in 1594–95, and at the Antonii-Siia Monastery in 1577–78. During the 17th century many monastyrskie krest’iane took part in the peasant war under the leadership of S. T. Razin.

According to data compiled by G. K. Kotoshikhin, by the mid-17th century there were 118,000 households of monastyrskie krest’iane, of which 86,000 lived on monasterial lands. By the time of the first census (1719) there were 791,000 male monastyrskie krest’iane; by the second census (1744), 898,471; and by the third census (1762), 1,026,930.

From the 17th century through the second half of the 18th, the formalization of serfdom and redoubled feudal exploitation worsened the condition of the monastyrskie krest’iane. Thus, in 1753 the peasants of the Trinity-Kaliazin Monastery were obliged to cultivate the monastery’s arable land, pay quitrent in cash, and supply workers for the monastery. In addition, the monastyrskie krest’iane fulfilled many petty obligations in kind. The retention of onerous forms of the corvee hampered their economic activity and impoverished them. Harsh treatment and extortion by the monasterial authorities complicated matters. The monastyrskie krest’iane of the St. Ambrose Novo-Spasskoe Monastery complained that the steward “kept them in chains and irons for five weeks and more.”

Limitations on landownership by the church, which were promulgated in the interests of the secular lords beginning in the early 16th century, resulted in the creation of the Monastyrskii Prikaz (Office) in the 17th and 18th centuries, the elimination of the patriarchate, and the establishment of the Synod and prepared the way for the secularization of church lands. Mass uprisings by the monastyrskie krest’iane contributed to the decision to secularize all church lands, which was formalized in Catherine II’ Edict of Feb. 26, 1764. Under the edict, about 2 million monastyrskie krest’iane were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Collegium of the Economy. They became known as ekonomicheskie krest’iane (“economic peasants”; those formerly owned by church institutions).


Miliutin, V. A. O nedvizhimykh imushchestvakh dukhovenstva v Rossii. Moscow, 1862.
Semevskii, V. I. Krest’iane v tsarstvovanie imp. Ekateriny II, vol. 2. St. Petersburg, 1901.
Grekov, B. D. Krest’iane na Rusis drevneishikh vremen do XVII v., 2nd ed., books 1–2. Moscow, 1952.
Cherepnin, L. V. Obrazovanie russkogo tsentralizovannogo gosudarstva v XIV–XV vv. Moscow, 1960.
Milov, L. V. “K voprosu ob evoliutsii barshchinnykh otnoshenii v monastyrskom khoziaistve serediny XVIII v.” In the collection Problemy genezisa kapitalizma. Moscow, 1970.


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