The solution to the problem of
mobilizing the necessary resources was found in the creation of
a specific service system. Under this system each stratum of
society, or each social estate, had the right to exist only if
it performed a certain set of duties and obligations or, to use
the contemporary term, service.
of the service system was
conditional land tenure. It was
conditional, because the government granted the land, with
peasants living on it, to members of the chief serving class - the
nobility - on the condition that they perform military or civil
service for the State. The main advantage of this system was that
the State could always have substantial military forces at its
disposal without spending any money on their upkeep. The
conditional nature of this type of land tenure meant that, in
principle, it was not hereditary or even life-long but depended
solely on the landowner giving service to the State. Not only did
the landowner have to join the country’s military force himself. He
was also obligated to bring with him a certain number of his
peasants adequately equipped as foot soldiers.
of land tenure (known in Russian as the pomestie system) took
shape towards the end of the fifteenth century when the governments
of Ivan III and then Basil III allocated a considerable part of
newly conquered lands for the distribution to the serving nobility.
By the mid-sixteenth century pomestie had become the most
common type of land-tenure in Russian central regions.
seventeenth century the pomestie system had evolved into an
important administrative and economic institution of the State. The
State did not have a sufficient number of administrators in the
localities, therefore it came to rely on the serving class of the
pomeshchiks (i.e., pomestie landowners) to help collect
taxes, recruit for the army and, finally, perform certain police
functions. In other words, as Russia’s social organisation
developed, the social estates came to perform specific functions and
were given certain obligations and rights connected with the
execution of those functions.
take the noble estate as an example, its chief legal characteristics
were the right to own land and peasants on it, as well as the
obligation to perform service for the state, first of all, the
military service. In the seventeenth and, particularly, in the
second half of the eighteenth century, the nobility sought to
consolidate its privileged status on the economic basis of the
ownership of land and peasants and actively lobbied for the
legislative transformation of the conditional land tenure (when
manors were given in exchange for state service) into unconditional,
hereditary land tenure. The government gradually yielded to the
wishes of the service nobility. The decree of 1714 by Peter I
conferred hereditary status on the manors of the service nobility.
However, the obligation of government service remained in force.