The Traditional Ranks in the Petrine Epoch: Between Afterlife and Innovation

Keywords: Russian history, nobility, Peter I, Moscow ranks, promotion in rank, Tsar’s court, boyar lists


The ranks and awards of Russian service elites and nobility have been a historiographical issue since the eighteenth century. G. F. Miller reflected on the psychology of the Tsar’s subjects, who asked Peter the Great to keep some of the old ranks during the introduction of new ones and described two such cases. Soviet historians of the 1980s discovered several appointments to the old ranks made in the early eighteenth century and registered in archival documents. These curious cases were interpreted by researchers as isolated exceptions or the result of the inertia of old practices. The study of mass historical sources has since led to the discovery of more than 1100 cases of this kind and provided different contexts in which these awards were granted. It was previously thought that Tsar Peter ridiculed the old ranks, giving them only to his jesters. Modern research on Peter’s innovations leads to a different view. For example, the introduction of the Hungarian dress and beard shaving was carried out in several steps, with backtracking. There has also been some oversimplification of the comparative pairs of epithets, such as “Muscovite-Imperial”, “old-new”, “ and “boyars-nobility”, which reflects nothing but the didactic attitudes of historians themselves. This article demonstrates that there was no dearth of official awards or withdrawal of the Duma ranks until the 1710s, at least. The introduction of The Table of Ranks did not abolish the ranks of “courtiers” (tsaredvortsy), as the earlier Muscovite ranks were called, which became the basis of the nobility. Peter I introduced several innovations to the traditional service hierarchy. Before the beginning of the Great Northern War, hundreds of the Tsarina’s stol’niki and court servitors were transferred to the Muscovite ranks, following which the Zhiletsky List continued being replenished for some years afterwards. The drama of ranks was aggravated by the enhanced status of the regular army ranks, which were outside the Moskovsky Spisok (the hierarchy of traditional ranks). The course of events was accelerated by the Tsar’s intention to implement European analogues of court and civil titles. Nevertheless, the popularity of the traditional ranks outside the army remained high. According to many sources, the traditional ranks of Muscovy were kept in check and re-registered throughout Peter’s reign. The Tsar’s decrees raised the status of military service. He sometimes approved petitions for the Duma ranks by several of his subjects and had his unique way of indicating the prospects for advancement to other petitioners. The low-level Muscovite ranks within the traditional hierarchy proved to be more stable than previously assumed. Muscovite ranks were not included in The Table of Ranks because the only rank of mass appointments by the early 1720s was that of a d’iak.

Author Biography

Andrey Zakharov

PhD (History), Associate Professor, Senior Researcher, Digital Humanities Laboratory, Chelyabinsk State University.

129, Bratyev Kashirinykh Str., 454001, Chelyabinsk, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-7827-8585


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How to Cite
Zakharov, A. (2021). The Traditional Ranks in the Petrine Epoch: Between Afterlife and Innovation. Quaestio Rossica, 9(1), 236–253.
Problema voluminis