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(bōyärz`), upper nobility in Russia from the 10th through the 17th cent. The boyars originally obtained influence and government posts through their military support of the Kievan princes. Their power and prestige, however, soon came to depend almost completely on landownership. The boyars occupied the highest state offices and through a council advised the prince. When political power shifted to Moscow in the 14th and 15th cent., the boyars retained their influence. However, as the Moscow grand princes consolidated their power, the influence of the boyars was gradually eroded, particularly under Ivan IIIIvan III
or Ivan the Great,
1440–1505, grand duke of Moscow (1462–1505), creator of the consolidated Muscovite (Russian) state. He subjugated (1478) Great Novgorod, asserted his sway over Vyatka, Tver, Yaroslavl, Rostov-Suzdal, and other territories, and
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 and Ivan IVIvan IV
or Ivan the Terrible,
1530–84, grand duke of Moscow (1533–84), the first Russian ruler to assume formally the title of czar. Early Reign

Ivan succeeded his father Vasily III, who died in 1533, under the regency of his mother.
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. Their ancient right to leave the service of one prince for another was curtailed, as was their right to hold land without giving obligatory service to the czar. The political turmoil of the so-called time of troubles further weakened the boyars, and in the 17th cent. the rank and title of boyar was abolished by Peter IPeter I
or Peter the Great,
1672–1725, czar of Russia (1682–1725), major figure in the development of imperial Russia. Early Life

Peter was the youngest child of Czar Alexis, by Alexis's second wife, Natalya Naryshkin.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) Along with the grand princes and appanage princes, the upper stratum of feudal society in the Russian state in the tenth through 17th centuries. The boyars occupied the most important position in state administration after the grand princes. The origin of the word “boyar” has not been completely determined. Some researchers think it is derived from boi (warrior) or bolii (big); other researchers believe it comes from the Turkish bajar (nobleman, wealthy man, or gentleman); still others from the Icelandic boearmen (noble), and so forth. The appearance of the boyars dates to the time of the disintegration of the Slavic genealogical unions in the sixth to ninth centuries. In the tenth and 11th centuries the boyars were divided into two strata: ognishchane (prince’s men) and the so-called zemskie boiare (city elders), who were descendants of the genealogical nobility.

The boyars were vassals of the prince who were obligated to serve in his army. However, they had the right to leave for a new suzerain. They were full masters (seigniors) in their own patrimonies, with the right of immunity, and they had vassals. With the weakening of princely authority in the period of feudal fragmentation in the 12th to 15th centuries, the economic power of the boyars grew, and their political influence and striving for independence increased. In the Galician-Volynian principality in the 13th century and in the Novgorod feudal republic the boyars settled all matters through the boyar councils.

The influence of the boyars in Chernigov, Polotsk-Minsk, and Murom-Riazan’ principalities was so great that a strong grand princely power could not establish itself there. In its struggle against the seignorial boyars, princely authority relied on military feudal lords—courtiers and service boyars. An increase in the power of the grand princes in the second half of the 14th century led to the appearance of the boiare putnye, who administered individual territories in the prince’s household that were given to them as a livelihood. (Boiare putnye often served as senior equerries, falconers, cupbearers, and so forth.)

As a unified, centralized state evolved in the 14th and 15th centuries, the property and political rights of the boyars were limited; there were immunity restrictions, curtailments, and abolition by the end of the 15th century of the right of vassals to leave their suzerain. Changes took place in the social composition of the boyars. With the formation of a centralized Russian state at the end of the 15th century, the socioeconomic and political privileges of the boyars were substantially reduced. The authority of the grand prince (the tsar, beginning in the mid-16th century) persistently suppressed the activities of those boyars who resisted its centralizing policy. Ivan IV’s oprichnina dealt an especially heavy blow to the boyar aristocracy.

In the 17th century the composition of the boyars changed drastically. Many noble boyar families died out, and others became economically weak. The untitled boyars and the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry) assumed great significance. Because of this, in the 17th century the differences between the boyars and nobles were obscured. This process was promoted by a trend toward the amalgamation oipomest’ia (fiefs) and votchiny (patrimonial estates), a trend that became law in 1714.

(2) Beginning in the 15th century in the Russian state, the highest rank of the “sluzhilye liudi (military service class) inheriting the father’s status.” The title of boyar gave a person the right to participate in meetings of the Boyar Duma; it was the highest rank in the Boyar Duma. The abolition of the mestnichestvo system in 1682 finally undermined the influence of the boyars. The title of boyar was abolished by Peter I the Great in the early 18th century.

(3) In the everyday sense, boyars in 17th-century Russia were all feudal pomeshchiki (fief holders) in relation to the population dependent on them. Later, the word “boyar” was modified into the concept of bare or barin (master).

(4) Boyars in Rumania (Rumanian, boierii)—a class of feudal lords that evolved around the 14th century. The boyars were divided into patrimonial boyars, who owned baştinǎ (patrimonial estates), and landed boyars, who owned moşiē (fiefs). This distinction gradually disappeared. In the age of capitalism, the composition of the boyars was broadened by the inclusion of former important merchants and officials. The boyar class was liquidated in people’s democratic Rumania as a result of the implementation of the law on agrarian reform (Mar. 22, 1945).


Kliuchevskii, V. O. “Istoriia soslovii ν Rossii.” Sochineniia, vol. 6. Moscow, 1959.
Pavlov-Sil’vanskii, N. Gosudarevy sluzhilye liudi: Proiskhozhdenie russkogo dvorianstva. St. Petersburg, 1898.
Grekov, B. D. Kievskaia Rus’. Moscow, 1953.
Tikhomirov, M. N. Drevnerusskie goroda, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1956.
Zimin, A. A. “O sostave dvortsovykh uchrezhdenii Russkogo gosudarstva kontsa XV i XVI vv.” In the collection Istoricheskie zapiski, vol. 63. Moscow, 1958.


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