Russkaia Pravda

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Russkaia Pravda


(Russian Law), the collection of laws of Kievan Rus’ and appanage Russia. The code has been preserved in copies made in the 13th through 18th centuries; it exists in the short, expanded, and condensed versions. Parts of the Russkaia Pravda have been incorporated into the Kormchie Knigi (collections of ecclesiastical and secular law) and the Merilo Pravednoe (Just Measure), as well as in collections of legal sources and chronicles. The Russkaia Pravda is a codification of customary law, princely statutes and enactments, and court procedures. The short version includes the Pravda of Iar-oslav (the Oldest Pravda, purported to originate in legislation of Iaroslav the Wise) and the Pravda of Iaroslav’s sons.

The text of the Russkaia Pravda reflects the evolution of early Russia’s social relations in the 11th through 13th centuries. In addition to feudal norms, the Pravda of Iaroslav includes a number of archaic norms originating in the primitive communal system. The Russkaia Pravda underwent further development during the reigns of Iaroslav’s sons and grandson Vladimir Monomakh. Important additions were enacted by Iaroslav’s sons after revolts in the Kiev, Novgorod, and Rostov-Suzdal’ lands in the years 1068–71. The Pravda of Iaroslav’s sons increased the commune’s responsibility in the case of murder committed against any of the prince’s druzhinniki (counselors), tiuny (stewards), starosty (elders), otroki (junior members of the prince’s men-at-arms), or other servants on the commune’s territory. There were heavy penalties for the malicious burning of farmsteads, willful harm done to livestock, and collective encroachment on the property of the rich. After the riots in Kiev in 1113, Vladimir Monomakh introduced a regulation on rates of interest that served to limit usurious practices.

The Russkaia Pravda perpetuated a system of feudal relations characterized by material and social inequalities. An increase in the feudal dependence of smerdy (free peasants), zakupy (indentured laborers), and kholopy (slaves) can be observed from the 11th through 13th centuries. The text of the expanded version contains special sections dealing with the status of zakupy and kholopy. The Russkaia Pravda reflects the growing role of the prince’s court, the increasing differentiation in penalties, and the increase in the proportion of the fines allotted to the prince and his administration with a corresponding decrease in compensation for the victim. In attempting to suppress blood feuds, the Russkaia Pravda limited the exercise of the right of vengeance to the closest relatives of the victim. In the absence of avengers, the murderer was obliged to pay a vira, or fine, to the prince and amends to the relatives of the victim. Free members of the commune were obligated by the rule of collective responsibility to help the murderer pay off the vira. The fine for the murder of a woman was only half as great as for a man.

The Russkaia Pravda protected the person and honor of the free members of feudal society and provided for fines to be paid for mutilation as well as for physical assault. There was a detailed system of penalties for stealing, both in the cities and in rural localities, and for trespassing, poaching, and willfully destroying beehives. Much attention is paid in the Russkaia Pravda to the regulation of debts. The code also contains a section devoted to inheritance and family law.

The legal procedures used in the Russkaia Pravda included calling witnesses, administering oaths, and subjecting the accused to ordeal. Testimony and clues were used in establishing the identity of criminals. Provisions existed for verifying testimony to guard against perjury. Rudimentary forms of judicial expertise can be observed.

The Russkaia Pravda, which remained in effect until the end of the 15th century (until the introduction of the Sudebnik [Law Code] of 1497), formed the basis of the charters containing rules on legal procedures used in Pskov and Novgorod; they were also the basis of the law codes of the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Lithuania.


Pravda Russkaia, vols. 1–3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940–63.
Tikhomirov, M. N. Issledovanie o Russkoi pravde: Proiskhozhdenie tekstov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941.
Grekov, B. D. Kievskaia Rus’. Moscow, 1953.
Iushkov, S. V. Russkaia pravda. Moscow, 1950.
Romanov, B. A. Liudi i nravy Drevnei Rusi, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1966.
Cherepnin, L. V. “Obshchestvenno-politicheskie otnosheniia v Drevnei Rusi i Russkaia pravda.” In Drevnerusskoe gosudarstvo i ego mezhdunarodnoe znachenie. Moscow, 1965.
Zimin, A. A. “Feodal’naia gosudarstvennost’ i Russkaia pravda.” In the collection Istoricheskie zapiski, vol. 76. Moscow, 1965.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Thus, the Decembrist Pestel wrote in his constitutional project, Russkaia pravda, that "one should not be concerned with broadening the boundaries but to care solely about bringing well-being to this vast domain." (34) It should be mentioned, however, that Pestel considered "good boundaries" an important condition for a safe and prosperous state, and his idea of "good boundaries" included not only those parts of the Caucasus and Transcaucasia that belonged to Russia at the time of his writing, but also certain additional annexations, such as the Caucasian coast of the Black Sea that at the time belonged to Turkey, which he claimed were vital for the Empire.
Similarly, the head of the Southern Society, Pavel Pestel, in his constitutional outline of future reforms, Russkaia pravda, stated that it was necessary to "make every effort in order to eliminate all those numerous obstacles and inconveniences that presently so hamper commerce and oppress traders." (118) In his opinion, "the most unfortunate peoples [in the Russian Empire] are those who are under the government of the [Russian-] American company.
(13) Pavel Pestel', Russkaia pravda: Nakaz vremennomu verkhovnomu pravleniiu (St.