Serfdom IV: Stories of Serf and Master – Russian History

What was the relationship like between serf and master? Hear chilling first-hand accounts from 19th-century serf autobiographies!

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Co-hosts: Nick and Anna

Time/place: Russia, 1834 CE

Dead Idea: Russian serfdom

A Map of Russia, 1834 CE, by Adam McKithern


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Glossary of Russian Words and Spellings

  • aul (ah-OOL) – a Caucasian mountain hut
  • bárshchina (BAHR-shchee-nah) – dues paid in labor to landlord; corvée
  • brat na braty (BRAT na BRA-tee) – the “brother for brother” system in which half the adult laborers of a commune worked the landlord’s fields on any given day.
  • burmistr (BOOR-mee-stur) – bailiff, manager of an estate
  • chernaia (CHUR-nai-yuh) – chimney-less hut
  • desiatina (DEE-syah-tee-nah) – a unit of area equal to 2.7 acres
  • izbá (eez-BAH) – hut
  • kholop (hah-LOHP) – slave
  • krepostnoi (kray-PAHST-noy) – serf
  • mir (MEER) – peasant commune; also means “world”, “peace”
  • obrók (ahb-ROHK) – dues paid in kind or money to landlord
  • oprichnina (ah-PREECH-nee-nah) – secret police of Ivan the Terrible
  • poméshchik (pah-MYEE-shuhk) – servitor landlord
  • Pomórskaia (POH-mohr-skai-yuh)– Old Belief, referring to liturgical forms retained from before the reforms of 1652-1658
  • saklya (SACK-lee-yuh) – a Caucasian mountain hut
  • sótskii (SOHT-skee) – peasant/serf assigned to keep order on an estate; lit. “hundredth” and in charge of 100 households
  • stárosta (STAH-us-tuh) – village elder
  • tiaglo (tee-ah-GLUH) – husband-wife work team
  • upravitel (oop-rah-VEE-tul) – steward, bailiff
  • versta (vyeer-STAH) – a unit of distance equal to 0.663 miles or 1.067 km

Main Sources

Avakkum. (1950/2003). “The Life of Archpriest Avakkum.” In: Fedotov, G. P., Ed. (1950/2003). The Way of a Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality. Iswolsky, H., Trans. Mineola, NY: Dover.

Buggle, J. C., and Nafziger, S. (2015). “Long-Run Consequences of Labor Coercion: Evidence from Russian Serfdom.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Domar, E. (1970). “The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom: A Hypothesis.” The Journal of Economic History, 30(1): 18-32. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Fedotov, G. P., Ed. (1950/2003). The Way of a Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality. Iswolsky, H., Trans. Mineola, NY: Dover.

Gogol, N. V. (1834). Taras Bulba and Other Tales. Cournos, J, ed. Retrieved Mar 16, 2017, from:

Gorshkov, B. B. (2005). A Life Under Russian Serfdom: The Memoirs of Savva Dmitrievich Purlevskii 1800-1868. New York: Central European University Press.

Hoch, S. L. (1986). Serfdom and Social Control in Russia: Petrovskoe, A Village in Tambov. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kolchin, P. (1987). Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Lincoln, W. (1994). The Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and the Russians. New York: Random House.

MacKay, J. (2009). Four Russian Serf Narratives. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Markevich, A., and Zhuravskaya, E. (2016). “The Economic Effects of the Abolition of Serfdom: Evidence from the Russian Empire.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Moley, H. (1866). Sketches of Russian Life Before and During the Emancipation of the Serfs. London: Chapman and Hall.

Nafziger, S. (2013). “Russian Serfdom, Emancipation, and Land Inequality: New Evidence.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Nafziger, S. (2011). “Serfdom, Emancipation, and Economic Development in Tsarist Russia.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Nafziger, S., and Lindert, P. (2013). “Russian Inequality on the Eve of Revolution.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Rosa, J. (2011). “The Causes of Serfdom: Domar’s Puzzle Revisited.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Semyenov, Y. (1944). The Conquest of Siberia. Dickes, E. W., Ed. London: G. Routledge & Sons, Ltd.

Tolstoy, L. (1887). A Russian Proprietor and Other Stories. Dole, N. H., Trans. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.

Tolstoy, L. (1852). The Cossacks. Maude, L., & Maude, A., Trans. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Wirtschafter, E. K. (2008). Russia’s Age of Serfdom 1649-1861. Maldon, MA: Blackwell.

Maps, pics, references, and more at Music and graphic design by Rachel Westhoff. Map by Adam McKithern.

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