Was the Tsar's property on land separated from state property in Russian Empire in early 19th century? I mean, were there Tsar's serfs who were not state serfs?

  • 5
    What has your preliminary research shown?
    – SPavel
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 8:07
  • In this question, I would ask what kind of difference the post assumes between the Tsar's personal domain and the state. From the early days of Tsardom, those two ideas were one and the same: everything was a personal domain of the ruling house. The Tsar and the State were one. This was largely still the case in the time period in question, except that more bureaucracy was appearing between the Tsar's immediate house and the land in question.
    – Smith
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 4:30

2 Answers 2


Depends on how you would define this "separation".

Technically, land and property of the Russian royal family was treated as any private property in the Empire at the time, although, of course, with some notable differences: for example it was governed by the Ministry of the Imperial Court and was exempt from some taxation laws. Serfs, attached to these lands, were legally considered as udelnye, or appandage serfs. Their position was somewhat better that that of regular landowners' serfs, since they were supervised not as strictly, were granted the rights to solve some of their local problems by forming rural communes, had more lenient restrictions on purchasing property, and were usually first in line to feel the effect of any state welfare or other social programs (e.g. first peasant basic schools or regional hospitals were established in udelnye villages). Naturally, the Emperor managed affairs of the Ministry of the Court personally, and all revenues from the Ministry's lands were going into the royal pocket.

On the other hand, in 1837 the Ministry of State Property was established. Among other things, it administered land that was legally considered in the Ministry's possession, and, consequently, managed the serfs who were attached to this land. Such serfs were called kazyonnye, or, well, state serfs. The management was direct: there were no landowners and almost no middlemen bureaucrats who served the landowner's function, the Ministry's regional departments negotiated directly with rural communes, which administered most of the local affairs. State serfs were the most privileged of all Russian serfs, if you can call the possession of most of the basic human rights a "privilege": kazyonnye could own any property or real estate, engage in commerce, open and run businesses and even sublease the land they were attached to. All income from those lands went to the state treasury. At the top of the hierarchy was, of course, the Minister of State Property, and although formally he answered before the Imperial Senate, we are still talking about Russian total Autocracy: both senators and the minister could be appointed or relieved from their offices by the Tzar at any moment.

So it really comes down to the definition of this 'separation'. Yes, udelnye and kazyonnye lands were administered by different people and authorities, and had different rules and laws applied to them, but the Russian Emperor still had the last word in both instances' doings.



From the times of the early Tsars, the nation was part of the holdings of the ruling house. It would be easiest to conceptualize this state as where the household slaves formed the bureaucracy that ran the state, and the household itself consisting of the nobility, rolling up to the Tsar. It was all a personal domain.

This system was rolled back in the 1700s and 1800s and filled out with a somewhat fuller nobility-come-bureaucracy, split into two general halves: the dvorianstvo (upper bureaucracy/nobility) and chinovnik (lower house/bureaucracy). The upper house sought to codify their gains, since previously the Tsar could give and take at a whim. Thus they sought and obtained legal land ownership, among other perks. The lower bureaucracy also sought to confirm their gains, usually getting it in the form of job seniority ("tenure" would be a better modern term for it). The Tsar and their immediate house agreed to respect the seniority system, and therefore they could not just slot in anybody at a whim.

There was also the Orthodox Church, which was usually closely affiliated with the Tsar and relied upon him/her for their patronage and indeed very survival, being unable to compete against the Catholic power to the west and having endured the loss of their southern cousins in Byzantium.

As such land ownership in the time period in question was breaking away from the old model of being the personal property of the ruling house and being codified as titles to a wider swath of nobility.

Of course, the views of who owned the land varied. The peasantry and serfs believed that ownership was linked to direct usefulness: if you needed something that was being otherwise unused, it was yours. Thus they felt entitled to the land because they were the ones who worked it. But technically, the serfs belonged to the Tsar, who assigned them to the land, from which the title owner - some sort of nobility of high or low class - was entitled to the output of that land. The serfs understood it backwards: they believed they owned the land and that the landowner owned them. A favorite saying of theirs was "we are yours, but the land is ours." This was never really corrected because most landowners ruled in absentia, and certainly all the smart ones did.

Now, after the time period in question, serf land ownership did rise significantly. By 1905, peasants owned 61.8% of private land in Russia, and was about 90% by 1916. Whereas before the serf was required to work the landowner's land first and their own second, by the time of the revolution the serf was concentrating on their own land.

Statistics from Richard Pipes, Russia under the Old Regime, 1974.

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