Third Section

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Third Section


(full name, Third Section of His Majesty’s Own Chancery), an organ of political investigation in Russia. It was founded by Emperor Nicholas I in 1826. The head of the Third Section also served as chief of the gendarmerie; from 1839 to 1871, the director of the section’s chancery was chief of staff of the Separate Corps of Gendarmes. The institutions and military units of the Separate Corps of Gendarmes were charged with carrying out the Third Section’s work.

The Third Section consisted of five bureaus, a general archive, two secret archives, and a printing office. The first bureau, which was secret, carried out surveillance of revolutionary and public figures and organizations, conducted investigations on political matters, and composed for the tsar annual “reports on activities, ” which were surveys of public opinion and political activity in the country. The second bureau conducted surveillance of religious sects, collected information on counterfeit money and documents, and administered the Peter and Paul and Shlissel’burg fortresses. The third bureau conducted surveillance of foreigners living in Russia and collected information on the domestic political situation, revolutionary parties, and organizations affiliated with foreign states. The fourth bureau collected information on the peasant movement, on the government’s measures concerning the peasant question, on “all events without exception, ” and on prospects for the harvest. This bureau was abolished in 1872, and its functions were transferred to the first and second bureaus. The fifth bureau was in charge of censorship and of overseeing periodical publications. In 1865, these functions were transferred to the Main Administration for Matters of the Press within the Ministry of the Interior.

During the revolutionary situation of the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, the Third Section proved ineffective in the struggle against the revolutionary movement, and the government created special interdepartmental agencies with extraordinary powers, such as the Supreme Administrative Commission. The Third Section was abolished in 1880, and its functions were transferred to the Police Department of the Ministry of the Interior.

The directors of the Third Section were A. Kh. Benkendorf (1826–44), A. F. Orlov (1844–56), V. A. Dolgorukov (1856–66), P. A. Shuvalov (1866–74), A. L. Potapov (1874–76), N. V. Mezentsov (1876–78), A. R. Drentel’n (1878-March 1880), and P. A. Cherevin (March–August 1880).


Lemke, M. K. Nikolaevskie zhandarmy i literatura. [No place] 1908.
Trotsky, I. M. Tret’e oldeleniepri Nikolae I. Moscow, 1930.
Eroshkin, N. P. Istoriia gosudarstvennykh uchrezhdenii dorevoliutsionnoi Rossii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968.
Orzhekhovskii, I. V. “Tret’e otdelenie.” Voprosy istorii, 1972, no. 2.
Derevnina, T. G. “Iz istorii obrazovaniia III otdeleniia.” Vestnik MGU: Seriia Istoriia, 1973, no. 4.


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