The Character of the Russkaia Pravda
Slavic Review: Interdisciplinary Quarterly of Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies
We should be thankful to Samuel Kucherov, and to the editor of the Review, for reminding us about an important and neglected field of study. If I may venture an outsider's opinion, I think it is unfortunate that American students of Russian history have paid so little attention to the Kievan period. The legal history of early Russia, in particular, offers interesting challenges to creative scholarship. In this brief comment on Kucherov's paper I should like to suggest some lines of inquiry. The
... nes of inquiry. The central problems have already been stated-the source of the legal rules (including the question of possible foreign influence), the dating of the texts, and the relation of law and custom. But in addition there is the more general problem of developing a proper legal understanding of these materials, and first of all of the Russkaia Pravda. What exactly was the Russkaia Pravda? It was not one document but several, and Soviet scholars refer not to different "versions" but to various izvody (redactions) of these old legal texts. The student must rely on the work of linguists to discover some of the basic facts. The view of Tikhomirov, perhaps the leading Soviet specialist, that there were three different documents composed at different times but all called "Russkaia Pravda" now seems convincing. 1 The earliest part-the first ten articles of what Kucherov calls the "Brief Version"-was composed in Novgorod in 1016, possibly on the authority of the prince. The second part also originated in Novgorod, probably in 1036. The third section of the Brief Version is the Pravda of Iaroslav's sons, which Tikhomirov dates at 1072. His conclusion that the earliest parts of the Russkaia Pravda were written in Novgorod is based primarily on linguistic evidence. Only two copies of the Brief Version have survived. They have been published, along with all the known copies of later versions, by the USSR Academy of Sciences. 2 These facts are only a beginning, and the analysis of legal sources cannot be left to the linguists alone. The Russkaia Pravda is a source of legal history, and legal analysis can help further to classify the various versions and discover the role they played in early Russian society. A knowledge of comparative legal history may help to answer some of the questions about the Russkaia Pravda.