• kewal sethi

 serfdom in russia

 serfdom in russia

in keeping with the traditions of the middle ages, wars occupied the rulers of russia also. for this they needed manpower. one of the methods was to call for volunteers but this was not enough. land was allotted to gentry who were obliged to contribute to the army requirements in times of war. when the burden of wars and need for revenue increased multifold, the demand on the tillers also increased manifold. there were frequent reports of tillers deserting the land to flee to the frontier for military service. when they fled, the tax burden on those remaining became heavier and this led to problems. the alternative available was slavery in which possession of land and consequent taxes were not involved. the gentry was also threatened with ruin in the absence of tillers. many could not afford the military service recruits they were expected  to offer. some of them chose slavery, the only alternative.

in view of this situation, a law known as ulozhenie was passed in 1649 which prohibited anyone to leave their allotted task. this legalized the bondage which created serfdom. this law lasted almost two centuries. ulozhenie prescribed that there would be no time limit on the land owners to track down the deserters and bring them back. the police power would assist them in doing so. the law prescribed punishment for those who sheltered the run away and even more punishment for the deserters. the serf could not sell his land to any one but his landholder. the landholder could sell his serfs, lose them in gamble or just give them away. the tillers were bound to their lord and not to the agricultural land they tilled. he alone dispensed justice and even owned the personal effects of the serfs. in due course serfdom became hereditary.

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