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The Russian Empire 1450-1801$

Nancy Shields Kollmann

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199280513

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199280513.001.0001

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Towns, Townsmen, and Urban Reform

Towns, Townsmen, and Urban Reform

(p.375) 18 Towns, Townsmen, and Urban Reform
The Russian Empire 1450-1801

Nancy Shields Kollmann

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter surveys towns and cities across the empire in the eighteenth century. Small towns continued to be the norm, but major centers grew with the expansion of export trade. A new social group—the “people of various social ranks” or raznochintsy—emerged to fill the needs of the expanding economy; they were literate teachers, artisans, and traders. Peter I and Catherine II instituted urban reforms with the dual goals of enhancing tax revenue and creating a more vigorous bourgeois class and more autonomous municipalities; the latter goals remained elusive. The chapter showcases several towns as examples of urban variety: small towns such as Bezhetsk and Tula, trade centers such as Riga and Reval, and the major trade, political, and cultural centers of Kyiv, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. It ends with a profile of merchant Ivan Tolchenov as exemplar of the dynamism of eighteenth-century trade.

Keywords:   towns, raznochintsy, social hierarchy, urban reforms, Reval, Riga, Kyiv, Moscow, St. Petersburg, merchants

Russia’s rulers in the eighteenth century believed cities and middling estates to be essential for a flourishing economy. Peter I returned from his first embassy to Europe (1697–8) convinced that Russia needed the sorts of urban autonomies and bourgeoisie that he had seen there. His advisors’ conceptual framework of a “well-ordered police state” explicitly mandated intermediary social bodies to promote the state’s vision. Catherine II personally wrote the section in her Instruction of 1767 extolling the benefits of the “middling people,” a group “founded upon Virtue and Industry, and productive of them,” encompassing “neither Nobles, nor Peasants [who] are employed in Arts, Sciences, Navigation, Trade and Manufacture.” Russia’s rulers tried to create more energized cities and bourgeoisies because of an Enlightenment appreciation of the Third Estate and pragmatically because of their constant search for better tax structures for productive entities such as towns.

Russian political and economic reality made it difficult to achieve these goals. Traditionally the empire’s population was regarded as a collection of discrete social groups: peasants were to farm the land; townsmen and merchants had exclusive right to trade; landed serf owners were military servitors; native peoples paid iasak and carried on traditional lifestyles. As noted in Chapter 17, social change in the eighteenth century undermined these categories, producing a whole new social category (raznochintsy, or people of various social status). Nevertheless, a strong middle class and dense urbanization did not evolve, in part because Russian rulers granted the nobility rights once exclusive to the merchantry—trade, industry, monopolies. The empire’s cities were cacophonies of different social, ethnic, and legal groups, all engaging in trade or civic society, but not combining to create true municipalities.


One of the most striking developments in eighteenth-century Russia was the generation of skilled experts to serve as international and empire-wide merchants, entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, cartographers, teachers, and intellectuals. Military and naval reform, mining, metallurgy, and other industry, village-centered manufacturing, bureaucratic expansion, cultural Europeanization—all generated people with specialized skills who transcended old categories. Catherine II’s policy navigated a tension between controlling taxpaying groups and encouraging the emergence of new social energy.

(p.376) Muscovite society had always known people who escaped fixed social statuses despite the state’s efforts to record and tax them; sources call them “wandering people” (guliashchie) or “people of various ranks” (liudi raznykh chinov). These generally were poor vagrants. By the early eighteenth century a new designation was becoming current, initially derogatory but ultimately official—raznochintsy (people of “various social statuses”). Documents from as early as 1701 and 1718 use the term to refer to lower class people not registered in taxpaying communes or not members of the clerical estate. Raznochintsy generally avoided the poll tax since they hailed from non-taxed groups. They could be literate sons of clergy, often seminarians; they were civil servants who did not reach ennobling ranks in the Table of Ranks; they were children of people who had achieved personal, not hereditary, nobility. Retired soldiers, soldiers’ wives, and soldiers’ sons also fit here, although they were technically in a social/military category of their own; soldiers’ sons could serve in the army or do artisanal or bureaucratic work needed by regiments. Soldiers’ wives were in a much more difficult situation; technically “free,” as Elise Wirtschafter has discussed, their separation from commune and community generally condemned them to poverty, labor in manufacturing, or even prostitution. Even iasak payers in Siberia found the term applied to them. But the term became particularly appropriate for the increasing number of educated non-nobles in all walks of life: traveling traders, shop assistants and laborers, successful merchants, university professors, and artists. Never formally legally defined, the term was nevertheless used in the 1767 Instruction. At the time of the first poll tax (1719) raznochintsy constituted 1.6 percent of the population, and grew to 2.6 percent by 1795, as noted in Chapter 17.

Even small towns reflected such social change: Aleksander Kamenskii found a small number of raznochintsy in early eighteenth-century Bezhetsk, including peasants and landless peasants (bobyli) who had moved from local monastic villages, retired soldiers and their widows, retired officials and children of clerics, all of whom sought employment and sustenance by working for townsmen or setting up in trade. A particularly fertile field for such social transformation was opened up by cultural Europeanization. Even though schools were founded for nobles (Cadet Schools and other regimental schools) and noble families tutored at home and educated their sons abroad, education was by no means limited to the nobility. Peter I’s vocational schools produced engineers and surveyors. Founded by Empress Elizabeth in 1757, the Academy of Arts offered a rigorous training program for artists, greatly in demand by the rulers’ court and courts of wealthy nobles, along with musicians, singers, theatrical troupes, architects, poets, and panegyricists. From the mid-eighteenth century and particularly with Catherine II’s patronage of the Enlightenment, venues for literary publication and theatrical presentations proliferated.

While many of Russia’s literary leaders—Aleksandr Sumarokov, Denis Fonvizin, Alexander Radishchev—and most of the intellectuals in the capitals and provincial centers were noblemen, their numbers were enriched by many people who transcended their social categories of birth. Russia’s great poet and theorist of language and versification, V. K. Trediakovskii (1703–69), was born the son of a priest in (p.377) Astrakhan, where he was educated in a Catholic school. His move to Moscow, where he studied at the Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy, followed by studies in The Hague and Paris, prepared him for a career in the Russian Academy of Sciences as translator and professor. In the next generation novelist and poet Mikhail Chulkov (1734?–92) was born a raznochinets in Moscow and worked as an actor and in the household staff at the St. Petersburg court before taking up a civil service career and writing on the side; the poet Vasilii Petrov (1736–99) was born the son of a priest and educated at the Moscow Academy where he became a teacher until Catherine II installed him at court as her favored odist. The great poet Gavrila Derzhavin (1743–1813) was born the son of an army officer and served in military and civil service through his life, even as he also published exquisite odes that transformed Russian classical verse. Other notable writers of humble background included the poets M. N. Murav’ev (1757–1807), son of a military engineer, and S. S. Bobrov (1763–1810), son of a priest.

In science as well as literature, humbly born men made careers. Ivan Kirillov, whom we discussed in Chapter 16 as explorer, surveyor, cartographer, and compiler of Russia’s first Atlas, was born in 1689 in a bureaucratic family and parlayed his literacy into education in a Petrine naval school. Born a half-century later in 1750, Ivan Mikhailovich Komov was the son of a village priest sent to the school of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. A specialist in agriculture, he spent years in England studying agricultural reform that he then disseminated in Russia as a member of the Free Economic Society. Even more spectacularly, Russia’s celebrated polymath, M. V. Lomonosov (1711–65), represents the social opportunities of the age. Son of a fisherman who prospered in trade and shipping in the White Sea, Lomonosov received a religious education in his childhood village; when he moved as a young man to Moscow, still a state peasant, he presented himself as son of a nobleman and won admission to the Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy. Luckily, by the time his deception was found out, he so excelled in his studies that he was not dismissed. Rather, he found support to study sciences, languages, and literature there and in Kyiv, St. Petersburg, and the University of Marburg. He spent his career in St. Petersburg at the Academy of Sciences. In the physical sciences Lomonosov made contributions in physics, chemistry, geology, geography, and astronomy. He, along with Trediakovskii, contributed fundamentally to the theory of Russian versification; he wrote odes and panegyrics and engaged in a spirited and patriotic polemic with Gerhard Friedrich Muller over the latter’s “Normanist” theory of the origin of the Kyiv Rus’ state (whereby the state was founded by Viking traders). Lomonosov’s work was discussed and reviewed in scholarly journals in Paris and London. Few surpassed the social bounds of his birth as did Mikhail Lomonosov.

Urban Reform from Peter I to Catherine II

By and large the skills and energies of Russia’s raznochintsy were an urban phenomenon, clustered in the few cosmopolitan cities of the realm: by 1782, five (p.378) towns in the empire were larger than 20,000 in population and Moscow and St. Petersburg exceeding 100,000. But overall the empire did not become much more urbanized in this century. As we saw in Chapter 11, by the late seventeenth century only 2 percent of the empire’s total population was living in towns, compared to 40 percent of the Dutch Republic’s population and 20 percent in England. As before, towns were sprawling settlements of homes with courtyards of gardens and livestock. Boris Mironov points out that 54 percent of all towns of any size in European Russia in the eighteenth century were farming towns, with the majority of the population doing agriculture rather than manufacturing or trade. As in eastern Europe, small towns dominated: in 1678 93 percent of towns had fewer than 5,000 in population, and in 1782, 72 percent. Many towns were much smaller, but here eighteenth-century demographic growth shows its mark: in 1678 35.5 percent of the population lived in towns with fewer than 1,000 people, but that number had fallen to 12.9 percent by 1782.

Statistically speaking, Russia developed more cities over the century, but not always by economic growth. By 1727, Russia had around 340 towns and cities; conquest added more, as did the provincial reform of 1775, in a paradoxical way. The reform more than doubled the number of gubernii (from 19 to 50), increased the number of districts (uezdy) from 513 to 585, and mandated that gubernii and districts each should have a capital city. Where such a center did not already exist, it was appointed by government committee, often transforming a village into district capital overnight and its peasant residents into townsmen. Between 1775 and 1785, 216 new towns were founded, primarily district seats, constituting nearly 40 percent of all recognized cities in the empire in the 1780s. By 1800, with territorial increases in the partitions of Poland and reforms of Paul I, Russia had 46 gubernii with about 550 district seats; most new towns survived to become modest regional centers of trade and administration.

As before, towns were patchwork quilts of many jurisdictions; European-type autonomous urban space was non-existent, save for Magdeburg Law towns in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Baltics that Russia conquered. Reforms across the century struggled to create such urban and bourgeois autonomy. After two unsuccessful initiatives on city government (1699, 1708), in the early 1720s the Magistracy reform created the urban model that lasted until the 1775 reforms. City government became parallel to, and separate from, the rural network of governors (with the exception of 1727–43, when the Main Magistracy was abolished and governors resumed oversight over towns). Magistrate government was defined narrowly, with jurisdiction only over merchants and urban taxpayers; it consisted of a council of burgomistry and ratmany elected from the highest merchantry by assemblies of taxpaying townsmen. Service as a magistrate was both a burden and an opportunity to cultivate business interests from the inside. The council’s size was proportionate to the urban taxpaying populace.

Juridically town councils maintained a commercial court for disputes over contracts, promissory notes, bankruptcy, and the like; a Main Magistracy in St. Petersburg provided an appeals court. These were among their most successful enterprises. In 1767 reports to the Legislative Commission, merchants across the (p.379) realm requested that their courts be more empowered, while the nobility (like their seventeenth-century counterparts) complained of corruption and inefficiency in their courts.

In the spirit of the “well-ordered police state,” magistracies were expected to found social welfare institutions such as schools, hospitals, and homes for illegitimate children until they became of age to join the army or navy, just as governors were supposed to do in the countryside. Consciousness of such needs in the 1720s reflects a broader European problem of the urban poor (illegitimate children, unwed mothers, the elderly, disabled, and other needy): many, primarily Catholic, countries responded by relying on religious and state funding to create foundling homes, orphanages, and services, while Protestant countries passed “poor laws” that assessed a tax on local communities to care for their own poor. In Russia, neither towns nor governors found the resources to fulfill these mandates for social responsibility.

Socially, the magistracy reform renamed but did not fundamentally transform the urban taxpaying stratum. In Muscovite times, taxpaying townsmen (posadskie liudi) were ranked into three numbered groups based on wealth, topped in a few large trade centers by three merchant corporations (gosti and two “hundreds”). The magistracy reform reorganized these categories into three “guilds” of “regular citizens” according to wealth and occupation ranging from merchants to artisans. They were trade corporations, not craft guilds on the medieval European model, which tradition Russia lacked. Below these categories were “irregular” citizens, or laborers. The “first guild” of wealthiest merchants was like the old gosti; they carried out large-scale foreign and domestic trade and were settled primarily in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the industrial center of Tula. The Magistracy initiative freed guilds of the onerous burden of conscription (they were allowed to buy their way out), but all remained burdened with poll tax, taxes on shops and sales, billeting, and onerous service obligations.

At the same time towns remained conglomerations of people of different social class with different rights and privileges, such as nobility, soldiers, and military men. In the eighteenth century urban taxpayers amounted to 40 percent of the average city’s population, nobles and clergy each consistently amounted to fewer than 5 percent of the urban population, military and people of various social estates (raznochintsy) were each less than 15 percent, and the percentage of peasants living in towns grew to almost equal taxpaying townsmen. As we have seen, these disparate forces undermined townsmen’s supposed exclusivity in trade and manufacturing over this century. In 1755 the nobility was granted exclusive rights to production and wholesale sale of alcohol, although merchants ran retail taverns; in 1762 merchants lost to the nobility their 1721 right to purchase populated villages for industry and had to resort to hired labor (which would often be serfs and state peasants from quitrent-paying villages). Some of Catherine II’s Physiocratic moves undermined merchants’ privileges as well: a March 1775 decree allowed anyone to set up a manufacturing enterprise without formal state permits; in 1782 retail trade was declared open to all but serfs, and in the late 1790s even they received that right in the capitals for a fee, affirming existing practice.

(p.380) Urban space in Russia’s magistrate towns, then, was not a single municipal arena, as is well exemplified by the challenges of day-to-day governance and law and order. Many central government offices retained jurisdiction over aspects of urban life, such as the Colleges of Manufacturing and Commerce overseeing workshops and marketplaces and other government departments overseeing specific populations, such as postal workers. Policing was formally in the hands of police under the supervision of the provincial governor, but in practice was done in neighborhoods as unpaid state service. Principal among these duties was the night guard, selected from the community. Fundamentally responsible for street safety and law and order (they hauled in drunks, chased down thieves), men on guard also surveyed for illegal distilling and maintained fire safety by checking to see that ovens were not lit during dry months. Should fire (the scourge of towns constructed of wooden homes) break out, there was no formal fire department; the magistrate kept equipment and all able-bodied were expected to respond to the fire alarm. Townsmen also maintained city infrastructure (street pavement, bridges); neighborhoods removed garbage; the magistracy tried to maintain public health by keeping butcher operations to the edge of town. Echoing Muscovite tradition, taxpaying townsmen were called upon for such tasks as apportionment and collection of taxes, management of recruitment, registration of town dwellers, and policing of markets. Merchants with skills and means served as state accountants, book-keepers, appraisers, inspectors, managers of liquor and salt monopolies, helpers in tax and customs collections. Boris Mironov estimates that in the first half of the eighteenth century a quarter of taxpaying townsmen could be drawn away from their own work for such state service. After 1754, when internal customs were abolished, thousands of merchants and artisans were freed to engage more energetically in trade, but other service tasks continued, becoming a source of complaints in townsmen’s responses to the 1767 Legislative Assembly.

The 1720s magistracy reform had created neither an autonomous urban physical space nor a middle class. City people were still servitors of the state; towns were mosaics of legal jurisdictions and economic immunities; town councils by and large enforced policies set by the state. At the same time, some merchants, artisans and towns prospered in the eighteenth century with a rising economy. Entrepreneurial merchants took on state business, they won contracts to produce or ship government goods, such as weapons, uniforms, or provisions for the army. Some succeeded in manufacturing, including the Demidov, Evreinov, and Tretiakov families. Russian merchants still faced the competition of foreign merchants with better capital and equipment, but protectionist tariffs endeavored to help them.

Catherine II saw cities as central to her mercantilist goals of creating a more prosperous economy and created in the 1775 administrative reforms a more autonomous urban community. The reform redefined urban society according to wealth rather than social estate. It defined by wealth three guilds of “merchants” (kuptsy), who paid 1 percent of their declared capital as annual tax in lieu of the poll tax: members of the first claimed more than 10,000 rubles in capital; the second, 1,000–10,000 rubles; and the third, 500 to 1,000. They were also freed of recruitment obligations. Below them were craftsmen (tsekhovye) in guilds that (p.381) sustained their own corporate organization and standards of production; they continued to pay tax and recruitment. Catherine’s goal was to differentiate the entrepreneurial bourgeoisie from small traders and artisans, and in this she succeeded: only 11 percent of those who had been previously listed in the “merchant” guilds actually qualified as “merchants” according to declared capital. Mobility in and out of the merchant group became dynamic: men who accumulated the capital to qualify as a “merchant” rose, others who fell on hard times sank to taxed status; wealthy entrepreneurial peasants declared merchant status, bypassing guilds for which they lacked technical skills. These reforms, however, still left large portions of most cities’ populations in different estate categories.

The reforms created a Town Council composed of representatives from the merchant and artisan propertied classes that handled day-to-day governance; the gubernia governor had general supervision over the administrative, finance, and judicial organs mandated by the reform. Following up the administrative reform, the Police Ordinance of 1782 intensified and regulated policing in towns around the realm, mandating that towns be divided by population into uniform police districts and within them wards, all overseen by a governing Board of Good Order. More policemen in small wards were to provide a wide range of services from courts for dispute resolution to street patrols and public welfare. An assembly of citizens met once every three years to elect officials such as judges and councilors for the Police board; each city’s Town Council was to oversee and fund the Board of Good Order.

The 1785 Charter to the Towns created a unified urban society populace by recognizing all urban residents as citizens, grouped into six groups by wealth and role in a way that potentially cut across estate identity (noble, clergy, etc.). Each group—owners of real estate; merchants; artisans; foreign merchants; distinguished citizens; unskilled workers, traders—was to have its own corporate organization, with the highest groups freed from corporate punishment. All these citizens elected a municipal council from the most propertied strata; executive authority was in the hands of a six-man board that oversaw everything from fiscal affairs to adjudication to law and order to regulating the marketplace. Thus, Catherine’s vision was of the city as an island of urban citizenship and autonomy.

Catherine also took up the unsolved issue of the urban needy which had become only more exacerbated by social change over the century. Mass recruitment into the army often left soldiers’ wives and children adrift; moving thousands of peasants as ascripted labor also disrupted social ties and contributed to vagrancy. Although magistracies and governors were enjoined to care for the needy, and monasteries and parish churches continued to provide alms and care, nothing systematic had been done. As part of a broad-reaching vision to educate Russia’s youth in Enlightenment values and civic responsibility, Catherine II commissioned Ivan I. Betskoi to create a variety of educational institutions—schools for daughters of nobility and of townsmen and for sons of merchants, preparatory schools for the Arts and Military Academies, and foundling homes in each of the capitals intended to educated a new middle class. (Betskoi’s homes also supported themselves with successful investments in savings banks and insurance companies that specifically (p.382) addressed the needs of widows and children.) In his day Betskoi’s two immense homes in the capitals took a path that had proven perilous in European experience, that of large homes supported by private and state endowments instead of by local taxation with more local oversight and care on a smaller scale. As David Ransel has chronicled, they failed miserably both in keeping infants alive (over their first 36 years, they experienced only a 13 percent survival rate among over 42,000 admitted children) and in educating them as useful, middle class citizens. Reformed in the nineteenth century to foster infants in villages and to raise and educate only a limited number in the homes, they achieved greater success.

St. Petersburg and Moscow were not the only urban centers struggling with social problems; Betskoi attempted to create foundling homes in thirty provincial towns, but, lacking private endowment, they failed. The 1775 administrative reforms addressed this issue anew; it created boards of social welfare in each gubernia capital to create hospitals, workhouses, schools, and other charitable organizations. Here, success varied according to the energy and resources of each gubernia.

Despite progress towards defining urban society as an autonomous entity, in practice through the eighteenth century Russian towns remained social pastiches. Cities were still embedded in the centralized, bureaucratic structures of the empire. Police powers in most towns according to the 1775 reform, for example, were in the hands of an appointed official (gorodnichii), usually a nobleman; towns were nominally under the oversight of provincial governors. Most noblemen and clergy with residences in towns did not take part in urban self-government, continuing to identify with their own estate institutions, such as newly created noble assemblies. But the upper merchant ranks of townsmen had been emancipated from the commune, freed of poll tax and conscription. Even more significantly, throughout the century the ability of townsmen to own property steadily grew. In 1700 they were in effect granted ownership of their homes in towns, as well as of shops, workshops, and other enterprises. These property rights were affirmed in the 1785 Charter. In 1801 town citizens received the right to purchase rural land without serfs, which opened up de facto practical ownership because throughout the century merchants had been buying land and serfs through intermediaries.

Varieties of Urban Life and Governance

Bursting beyond the magistracy’s framework governing “city people,” Russia’s cities in the eighteenth century were teeming assemblages of the empire’s diversity. Government service brought nobility, officialdom, and bureaucrats; soldiers and officers were stationed in towns, in great numbers in the capitals. Common laborers filled crowded neighborhoods, doing the hauling, cartage, and construction. Peasants that their village could spare worked seasonally as day labor, factory labor, stevedores, and even barge haulers on the river and canal networks. Some peasants found their way into the legal status of taxpaying townsmen; after Catherinian reforms entrepreneurial peasants could enroll in merchant guilds if they possessed (p.383) enough capital. Most peasants in towns, however, simply stayed peasants and worked in trade. Understandably, in 1767 merchants and townsmen complained of unfair competition in their cahiers to the Legislative Commission. There was no single “city” in eighteenth-century Russia, but many varieties, as suggested by several case studies.

Alexander Kamenskii’s study of daily life in Bezhetsk (about 300 km northwest of Moscow) before the Catherinian reforms reveals a modest provincial small town. Bezhetsk’s population was probably no more than 2,000 in most of the century, perhaps half urban taxpayers and the other half soldiers, peasants, and raznochintsy; a third of them in 1709 paid no taxes because of declared poverty. The town was decidedly rural—people grew vegetables and raised small numbers of poultry, goats, and sheep. Bezhetsk had no major manufacturing, but families produced foodstuffs and small items for the marketplace. About a quarter of the households engaged in selling meat, fish, cheese, baked goods and bread, kvas and vegetables, hides, shoes and boots, clothing, and wax. Others hunted and fished but did not sell directly; many were laborers.

By contrast, Vologda, Velikii Ustiug, and Tula in the last decades of the century were less sleepy, as profiled by geographers Judith Pallot and Dennis Shaw. Vologda was an old Russian town on the route north to Arkhangelsk and still an important trade nexus in the eighteenth century. By the end of the century 38.7 percent of all Russia’s exports and 16.8 percent imports passed through here. It and the area’s other main town, Velikii Ustiug, were of modest size, a population of 7,500–10,000 in Vologda and less than 7,000 in Velikii Ustiug. Light manufacturing—textile dye work, tanning, brewing, soap production, tallow making, spinning and weaving of linen, milling rye and timber, metalwork, boat building—flourished in Vologda and Velikii Ustiug; the latter’s artisans were known for fine silver work and metalwork. Agriculture provided for local needs (rye, barley, oats, flax); hunting supplemented the diet. Peasants not engaged in manufacture or farming hired out for rafting timber downriver, worked on river craft, or traveled farther for work.

Tula, on the other hand, was capital of a transitional province whose black earth southern end provided agricultural bounty. Here 80 percent of the rural population were serfs engaged in field labor (rather than paying quitrent) on noble estates. The province’s northern end, where Tula was located, tilted towards the manufacturing economy of the forested center, with handicrafts dominating over subsistence agriculture. The city of Tula was famous as an industrial center: metallurgy and armaments had thrived here from its founding in the late sixteenth century. By the 1780s Tula had a population of 25,000, many of whom produced famed Tula samovars, other ornamental items, tools, and arms. The town also hosted lighter manufacturing—hats, gloves, silk, rope, tiles—staffed by townsmen and surplus peasants from the province’s villages.

Small towns like these were the norm across European Russia and Siberia; imperial conquest added great, vibrant cities. Major Baltic towns joined the empire, Kyiv thrived on the Dnieper, Kazan and Astrakhan on the Volga, Bakhchisarai in Crimea. These urban centers reflected the unique historical circumstances, ethnic (p.384) communities (often many), religions, and political structures of their regions. A few examples demonstrate the empire’s urban diversity. Riga and Reval/Tallinn, for example, were old Baltic ports: Reval on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland and Riga at the confluence of the Riga and Dvina Rivers. Ancient settlements, each had been ruled by various sovereign powers from medieval times (the Livonian Order until 1561, Poland-Lithuania 1581–1621, Sweden 1621–1710, Russia thereafter), but each endured as an island of urban self-government, their privileges affirmed by each successive sovereign.

Riga and Reval were German trading towns that had joined the Hansa in the 1280s; they exported hemp, linen, butter, beeswax, lumber, and furs. The surrounding rural areas were governed by German Junker nobility, the towns by German merchants using German law. Riga used Magdeburg Law, the predominant code across central and east European trading cities, while Reval used Lübeck Law, somewhat more oriented towards coastal, maritime cities. Each code provided the framework for autonomous, self-governing municipalities, ruled by a city council elected from among propertied merchants. Reval’s early modern town council numbered about fifteen, plus four burgomeisters with specific authority over areas such as budget and finances, court records, tax collection, and real estate records. The council’s authority was broad: it arranged the town’s defense (a militia, a hired prince in medieval times) and its foreign policy; it held civil and criminal court, with particular emphasis on property and commercial law; it maintained real estate records and attended to maintenance of roads, public hygiene, and the like.

In the Russian empire since 1710 (Peter I affirmed each city’s charter), these two centers flourished, Riga becoming the state’s major export port for much of the century. Riga was a heady center of art and culture in the eighteenth century, with a German-language theater, opera and symphony companies, and a natural history museum, as well as major sugar and textile manufacturing sites. For ten years (1786–96) these cities’ long tradition of urban self-government was replaced with the Russian Charter to the Towns, but Paul I reverted to tradition in 1796. In the 1840s Russia included the German legal codes for Baltic noblemen and towns in the codification of laws of the Russian empire, and the monopoly of German-speaking elites in these town governments was eroded only in 1877, culminating in abolition of their town councils in 1889.

Kyiv, unlike Riga and Reval in history and ethnicity, resembles in some ways their autonomous self-government, stemming from a common heritage of European urban development. Awarded Magdeburg Law privileges by Polish kings in the fifteenth century, the city’s Orthodox burghers ruled themselves with an elected town council. In the eighteenth century Kyiv flourished as the political and trade center it had always been and also as an important outpost for Russia’s expansion towards the Crimea and Ottoman empire. It was small by European standards, with a population of about 15,000 in three neighborhoods: the merchant lowland of Podil (with about 8,000 inhabitants); upland from the Dnieper river the Pechersk district (about 6,000 population), home to the Cossack government (until 1782), a Russian fortress and garrison dating to the time of Peter I and the ancient and prosperous Caves Monastery; and the somewhat deserted Old Town (p.385) where the eleventh-century Sophia Cathedral and St. Michael Golden-Domed Monastery stood in semi-ruins.

With the creation of the Hetmanate, Poles, Armenians, Catholics, and Jews were expelled, but the city’s multi-ethnic character quickly rebounded. Over the eighteenth century Greek and Armenian merchants took up residence in Podil; the city featured a settlement of Serbs engaged in viticulture and the silk industry, a regiment of Montenegrin hussars, and Germans arriving in Catherine II’s settlement project. The city’s bustling merchant center and administrative center, Podil, harbored the Magistrates’ rococo Town Hall (built in the 1690s), more than half of the city’s Orthodox churches as well as a fifteenth-century Armenian Orthodox church and shops and markets galore. So teeming with humanity, prone to flooding, disease, and disorder was it that Catherinian city planners in 1787 proposed to raze the neighborhood and move it to higher ground. This never happened, and others commented on the urbanity and prosperity of the neighborhood, with shops offering the finest in fashion, furnishings, china, and luxury goods. Always a major trade center, the neighborhood hosted at least six major markets across the year, bringing merchants from all around the Pontic steppe to the city. Kyiv became a major international trade hub when the important Contract Fair was moved there from Dubno in 1797. A cattle auction and universal emporium, this annual January fair brought Jews, Poles and Russians, Armenians and Greeks, Tatars, Bukharans and Turks, Persians and Indians, landlords and merchants, peddlers and peasants, Gypsies and minstrels. Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Turkish, Greek, German, Yiddish, and Persian echoed in the market’s alleys and shops.

Administratively, through the eighteenth century Kyiv’s burghers fought tenaciously to preserve their political privileges against Cossack officials, merchants, and Russian officials. Magdeburg Law, affirmed repeatedly by tsars (in 1654, 1700, 1710, 1802) included exclusive access to lucrative city offices for burghers, the right to maintain a town militia (although a Russian garrison generally took over this role), freedom from some taxation, service, and billeting obligations, and most importantly a monopoly over distilling and selling alcohol (a principal component of city income). These privileges were constantly under attack, none more voraciously than the alcohol monopoly: Cossacks, monasteries, and peasant villages all got into the business. Catherine II’s era significantly cut into the city’s autonomies; with the abolition of the Hetmanate in 1764, a governor-general oversaw the city; the 1785 Charter to the Towns introduced a new form of town council, but the city fathers managed to maintain control of offices and town finances, and after Paul I’s retrenchment of some of these reforms, the city’s Magdeburg Law privileges were affirmed in 1802. After the last partitions (1793, 1795), when neighboring Right Bank Ukraine joined the Russian empire, significant numbers of Poles moved into the city and into city government.

Finally, the empire’s two capitals, each different in history and visage, but each in the eighteenth century shaped by prosperity, social change, and urban planning. Catherine II vocally preferred St. Petersburg to Moscow, but was critical of each town’s disorder, unpaved and filthy streets, polluted waterways, and crowded (p.386) neighborhoods ripe for unrest. In fact, Moscow had rioted during the 1771–2 plague, giving the empress yet more incentive for urban reforms and Enlightenment improvements.

Moscow in the eighteenth century hardly suited Catherine’s Enlightenment model of a modern city. Not only was it disorderly, smelly, and muddy, it had continued to grow in its medieval circular shape, radiating out from the Kremlin on the high bank of the river. Winding and narrow streets were packed with wooden houses, relieved only by walls and firebreaks separating the city’s main neighborhoods—the Kremlin, Kitaigorod (home to nobility and location of many government buildings), Belyi gorod (a residential area for elite and merchants), and Earthen (Zemlianyi) gorod (home to artisans and taxpayers). A trading area across the river and suburbs for musketeers, postal workers, and others ringed the town. In the eighteenth century the city grew exponentially; numbering about 200,000 in 1763, the population rebounded from the loss of up to 70,000 in the 1771–2 plague to at least 300,000 in the 1790s (swelling to an estimated 400,000 in the winter with market, political, and social activity). Geographically the city absorbed suburban villages, reaching a sprawling size and semi-rural composition that foreigners commented on. The city and its surrounding region boomed as the center of the empire’s main textile-producing region; in the city textile workshops and factories (silk, linen) particularly clustered in the northeastern neighborhoods of Pokrovskoe, Preobrazhenskoe, and Semeonovskoe. In 1787 Moscow hosted over 300 manufactories and heavier factories; by the end of the century the number had risen to 500. Industry was supported by a huge influx of peasants: about 54,000 peasants were registered in Moscow in the 1730s, but over 115,000 in the 1780s, constituting more than 60 percent of the city’s population.

Governing Moscow seemed to a rational thinker like Catherine II a nightmare, but in actual fact its overt diversity masked a basic governing order that functioned well through most of the eighteenth century. The magistrate government had authority over the taxpaying and merchant populace, offering a helpful court but otherwise had little governing impact. Central offices had jurisdiction over discrete groups of population or activities, and the governor oversaw the police force for Moscow, which divided the city into eighteen police districts in which police recruited neighbors to take care of lighting, roads, bridges, cleanliness, fire safety, and basic law and order. But fundamentally, before Catherine II’s reforms, the city was governed from within by the more than 150 subdivisions (slobody and sotni) of the city’s districts. Some of these neighborhoods were officially assigned to chanceries—Iamskaia for postal workers, Main Court Chancery for people and crafts associated with the court—while the rest were nominally under the governor’s oversight, but they self-governed in the age-old tradition of communal cooperation, selecting councils of elders to manage policing, public works, and tax collection. They set up night watch on gates and ovens, they distributed the tax burden, they repaired municipal buildings and roads, they resolved petty conflicts. For the residents, this system worked. As Lindsey Martin has shown, it provided face-to-face, responsive government in line with community norms. Meanwhile residents had a wide array of networks to turn to for conflict resolution—chancery (p.387) courts, neighborhood courts, church courts, the Main Magistrate court, social estate courts, and the neighborhood council. Moscow neighborhoods maintained order and stability without recourse to a single, unified urban administration or identity.

Catherine II came to power in 1762 with a vision of urban governance far different than this heady cocktail of neighborhood autonomies. With a 1768 Police Statute she tried to enforce tighter supervision over neighborhoods and encountered significant resistance, sometimes violent, sometimes reasoned. Responses from Moscow delegates to the Legislative Commission, for example, petitioned to maintain neighborhood distinctness and privileges, even while they welcomed initiatives for social services, public hygiene, and urban construction. Catherinian reforms of the 1780s and 1790s, however, combined with economic and social change, gradually created a more cohesive urban space. As we have seen, the 1775 reform and 1785 Charter to the Towns defined a single urban citizenry (divided into groups generally according to wealth) and created governing institutions for the entire city. Each capital and its Town Council was to be governed by an appointed Oberpolitsmeister.

Neighborhoods in Moscow became more amenable to the services of the expanded and energized city government and policing from the 1770s on because of other reforms and changes in the aftermath of the 1771–2 epidemic. As a result of the 1775 reform, virtually all chanceries were abolished, putting neighborhoods once proprietarily run by chanceries directly under city government. Furthermore, the huge loss of population and subsequent influx of newcomers disrupted old neighborhoods and traditions, making them more reliant on new institutions of city government and policing. Finally, social and economic legislation, such as 1782 decrees allowing state peasants to enroll as merchants and gain social and economic privileges, made more Muscovites more responsive to city government. Administratively practices of neighborhood autonomy were being eroded and the idea of city space and city identity as an autonomous status had been planted.

Spatially, Catherine II’s reforms also helped to promote the vision of Moscow as a unified space. A key vision to reconstruct Moscow as an “enlightened metropolis” was to break down its interior walls and unify urban space. Moats were filled in, streets widened and paved, and plans called for the wall surrounding Belyi gorod to be razed to create a graceful boulevard (a long-enduring project launched under Paul I). Alexander Martin identifies a “three-fold modernization”: Moscow was to have the infrastructure of a modern European city (better policing, schools and hospitals, paved streets with ample lighting); it was to have a culturally Europeanized middle class; it was to present a more modern image to the world. Indeed, by the end of the century Moscow matched European capitals in some public works, such as an aqueduct for fresh water inaugurated in 1779 (finished in 1804) and street lights (powered by hempseed oil), whose number was mandated to double from 3,500 to 7,000 by 1801. Public buildings and homes were constructed in masonry in neoclassical style; street paving was improved.

Not as multi-ethnic perhaps as St. Petersburg, where foreign diplomats and merchants clustered around the court and trading center, Moscow’s population by (p.388) the 1790s consisted of about 14 percent nobles, clerics, and elite, 15 percent townsmen, 4 percent soldiers (as opposed to St. Petersburg’s 20 percent), 1 percent foreigners, and the remaining 65 percent peasants and other taxpayers. Not only the trade hub of the empire in the eighteenth century, culturally the city’s elite considered itself the traditional heart of Russia, a sense of identity that would only grow with romanticism and national feeling in the early decades of the next century. Moscow had, as Martin points out, far more clergy than soldiers as well as Russia’s only university (founded 1755), and was the publication site of almost 40 percent of Russia’s books. The weekly newspaper Moskovskie vedomosti appeared from 1756. The city also boasted a small but glittering noble elite in the eighteenth century, noted not only for their urban palaces but for their suburban estates. St. Petersburg’s ring of royal suburban palaces was paralleled by the density of palatial noble estates around Moscow. The Sheremetevs enjoyed at least two exquisite suburban residences: Kuskovo featured an artificial lake (see Figure 13.7), a grotto and orangerie, formal gardens, and a neoclassical palace in wood constructed to appear as stone; equally palatial Ostankino was home to their renowned serf theater. The Golitsyns developed Arkhangelskoe in collonaded Palladian style; the Saltykov family built a classical estate at Marfino, reconstructed after destruction in 1812 in the Neo-Gothic. Moscow province in the eighteenth century was studded with such gems.

Nothing could match St. Petersburg, however, in opulence in the eighteenth century, simply due to the imperial court. The city was renowned as a model of urban planning, called later by Fedor Dostoevsky the “most intentional city.” Created by Peter I in 1703 on Swedish land in the midst of war, Peter designed it to embody the rational, practical, and European values he so desired for Russia. His architect Jean-Baptiste Le Blond designed St. Petersburg with straight, radial boulevards, grids of neighborhood streets, and prescribed styles for masonry homes. Neat, rational city plans drawn up by Peter I’s architects, however, disguise the complexity of the urban conglomerate that developed here over the century.

By the end of the eighteenth century St. Petersburg was one of the empire’s largest cities, in population and size. Already a sprawling 20 square km in the 1750s, by the 1790s the city had expanded to incorporate what had been suburbs. As George Munro remarks, the city center stretched 8 km wide in all directions and its circumference was nearly 26 km. Its population rose from around 100,000 to about a quarter million in 1796, by which time a quarter were peasants. They, as in Moscow, worked in factories, shipyards, and workshops, labored on construction and at the ports, were domestic servants, or hawked merchandise in open air markets. St. Petersburg’s social composition was more varied than Moscow’s: military men (and often their families) constituted a steady quarter of the population, the Guards regiments barracked near Mars Field and the rank and file garrison barracked at the Peter Paul Fortress or billeted in the city. The third most populous group in the city were raznochintsy, who served in state offices, taught at schools, carried out research in academies, and worked as artisans and merchants. Officially registered merchants and artisans constituted about 19 percent of the population; another 13 percent were domestic servants. Nobles were 6.5 percent of the (p.389) population and, in sharp contrast to Moscow, only half of a percentage were clergy. The city had a major convent and monastery and numerous Orthodox churches, but Orthodoxy had hardly the presence of old Moscow.

Unlike traditional circular cities, St. Petersburg built its center around the Neva, mapping on paper a cohesive urban ensemble oriented around impressive neoclassical state buildings on either side of the river. The Peter Paul Fortress with its impressive spire faced the ever extending rococo facade of the Winter Palace, completed by Catherine II’s more classical Hermitage Theater in 1787. The eastern tip of Vasilii Island and its embankment with a glittery array of Academy of Arts, Menshikov Palace, Twelve Colleges, Academy of Sciences, and Kunstkammer faced the immense Admiralty building and its active shipyard, the Senate Building, and Catherine II’s tribute to Peter I, the Bronze Horseman statue (1782). On written maps the city’s famed radial boulevards and planned streets strike the eye, but in many ways it was water that shaped neighborhoods in St. Petersburg. Over the century the city center developed with about five administrative districts, surrounded by less densely settled areas. Most prestigious was the Admiralty neighborhood, between the Neva and the Fontanka Canal, home not only to shipbuilding but also to impressive imperial residences, noble palaces, and the English Embankment with opulent urban townhouses of British merchants. Most foreigners, however, lived across the river at the eastern tip of Vasilii Island, where ports, a commodity exchange, custom house, and warehouses served international trade. Here also lived the many state servitors in the colleges and academy. Farther south along Nevskii Prospect were the Foundry and Moscow Districts, on either side of Nevskii Prospect and east of the Fontanka; these were places of industry and emporia for domestic trade and home to merchants and middling gentry. The center’s final major districts were the St. Petersburg and Vyborg sides north of the Neva, also places of industry and home to middling people.

As in Moscow, beyond the city center stretched a myriad of less neatly developed areas. To the north were more open spaces used for court gardens, pasture, and noble estates; some neighborhoods attached to chanceries (slobody) in the first half of the century had been absorbed into the city by Catherine II’s time. To the south and east along the Neva teemed squalid neighborhoods of artisans and peasants who provided basic labor and services for the burgeoning city. Industry was scattered throughout the city, in the Admiralty and Foundry neighborhoods, Vasilii Island, and increasingly by the end of the century in the Moscow District down Nevskii Prospect.

Urban government in St. Petersburg was even less cohesive as that of Moscow, given that St. Petersburg had no traditional artisan and merchant commune (posad) to provide the backbone of city government. Neighborhoods were less cohesive than in Moscow, with tremendous population turnover, but as in Moscow for most of the century the basic structures of governance were the Magistracy (for merchant and artisans) and neighborhood self-government. Neighborhoods did the familiar tasks: they maintained streets and street lighting, carried out night watch, took care of sanitation. In Catherine II’s time, however, St. Petersburg developed some more (p.390) efficient approaches to governance, such as instituting taxes on residents in the 1760s to pay for trash collection and to buy out billeting and neighborhood service obligations. The reforms of the 1770s introduced more coherent fiscal, urban, and judicial organs, and intensified urban policing. The city’s five police districts were expanded to ten with a city-wide total of forty wards within them, each staffed by ward supervisors, chimneysweeps, and contractors for neighborhood streets and lights (selected by a mixture of appointment and neighborhood approval).

St. Petersburg benefited directly from Catherine II’s personal involvement in modernizing her beloved capital. After ravaging fires and floods early in Catherine II’s reign, the city imposed intensive fire-fighting responsibilities on each neighborhood and individual households, and created flood warning and rescue services in the lowlands. The Commission for Masonry Construction in St. Petersburg and Moscow (1762) focused intensely on St. Petersburg; by the early 1770s it had produced at least four urban plans that achieved impressive results. They straightened streets that had meandered from original Petrine plans and filled in residential space to accommodate the city’s burgeoning population and make the city less rural. For aesthetic and functional reasons the plans mandated that the new structures front on streets, fit height standards, and be constructed in brick or stone with sheet metal roofs to reduce fire hazard. By the end of Catherine’s reign the city had increased its masonry houses from about 460 in 1765 to about 1,800, with only a small increase in wooden structures.

Another impressive achievement of Catherine II’s reign beautified and improved the city: for aesthetic and hygiene improvement the Neva River and major canals were fronted with granite and adorned with distinctive wrought-iron railings. Some canals were widened, deepened, or straightened and many wooden canal bridges were rebuilt in graceful granite. Better pontoon bridges traversed the Neva, and permanent bridges linked Vasilii Island to the Vyborg and St. Petersburg sides across narrower Neva offshoots. Hygiene was a principal concern: canals and rivers were cleaned, underground and surface sewage and drainage systems were introduced in the 1770s along with trash and manure removal services. Decrees steadily imposed order on congested canal traffic in this beehive of trade. Across the city the number of streetlights was doubled to over 3,000 and a system of paid lamplighters was created. Paving the city streets posed such a challenge in this humid climate and boggy terrain that in 1792 the Free Economic Society proposed a contest to identify the most durable paving material; nothing satisfactory was found, but massive paving projects (constantly renewed) from the 1770s steadily improved travel around the city.

Over the century St. Petersburg developed into a glittering political center, studded with opulent tsarist and noble palaces and surrounded by impressive tsarist summer residences, all extensively built or remodeled in Empress Elizabeth’s preferred rococo or Catherine’s II’s beloved neoclassicism: Peterhof, the Catherine Palace (named by Elizabeth I in honor of her mother Catherine I but a favorite of Catherine II), Oranienbaum, and Pavlovsk. European visitors found the city familiar, a place where they could make the rounds of fashionable salons and balls as if they were home, as John Parkinson attests in his memoir of shepherding (p.391) young Edward Wilbraham-Bootle on the Grand Tour in 1792–4. St. Petersburg was an international city with sizeable European and Asian foreign communities. The city hosted German, Finnish, English, Swedish, Polish, and Armenian churches; in Catherine’s time the city saw a German-language newspaper and German- and English-speaking theaters.

Finally, Catherine II’s Commission on urban planning shaped Russia’s urban environment around the realm. From the time of Peter I, Russian rulers had understood the importance of rational order in towns, if only for fire safety purposes. Peter I had ordered that towns should be rebuilt after fires with wider and straighter streets, stone homes and tile roofs, for safety and utility. Catherine wanted to bring Enlightenment rationalism, morality, and civilization to Russia’s urban environment, but the occasion of fire gave her an early opportunity to implement her vision.

Fire that devastated the city of Tver’ in 1763 prompted the newly founded (1762) Commission for the Masonry Construction of St. Petersburg and Moscow to apply its standards empire-wide; based on its plans for Tver’, it created a standard planning document that, like contemporary European urban reform, disrupted old towns’ concentric pattern. It proposed razing walls and creating broad boulevards and radial streets connecting the whole. Parts of neighborhoods, particularly wooden buildings, were to be razed where necessary to open up a municipal focal point, often a landmark like a medieval cathedral that would be set off with a square, connecting by a radial street to another square with government offices and an enclosed marketplace (gostinnyi dvor). Where possible, towns were to develop neighborhoods distinguished by wealth and class and marked as such architecturally. The center would be densely packed with impressive public buildings and churches, and wealthy merchants and noblemen, each in their own new neighborhood, were to build new homes on the new arteries using a prescribed, two-storey stone style (their old property having been razed). Beyond the center, less prosperous people were to settle with single-storey wooden homes; polluting factories, state stables, cemeteries, and the like were pushed to the outskirts.

Towns, Townsmen, and Urban Reform

Figure 18.1 Urban reforms in the Volga city of Iaroslavl’ created open space to appreciate the beauty of the seventeenth-century Church of Elijah; its interior featured frescos painted in a slightly more realistic (than iconographic) style, showing influences of European printed books and art. Photo: Jack Kollmann.

The Commission’s plan of socially segregated neighborhoods did not come to fruition, but many towns were rebuilt in these modes. Tver’, for example, was rebuilt with a neoclassical palace and Ascension church. Iaroslavl’s lovely park for strolling on the high embankment over the Volga and the spacious square opening up the seventeenth-century Church of Elijah (Figure 18.1) epitomize Catherine’s vision. When plans for redesign were executed after fire had ravaged a town, the process was relatively orderly; when it was ordered from on high, endless foot-dragging and lawsuits over lost land and property ensued. Many towns were only partially transformed for lack of funds and administrative commitment; the governors of Dmitrov, for example, received plans in 1782 to impose a grid of new streets on its medieval town center, but it took the forceful will of a new governor-general of the province in 1790 to start the process. All in all, however, plans were developed and implemented to one degree or another for 416 towns around the realm as well as in the two capitals. (p.392)

The Culture of Merchants

As noted, Moscow’s merchants faced a lot of competition—from state peasants and serfs, noble investors, and foreign entrepreneurs. They never developed the wealth and status of some of their European counterparts in trade and finance. Many have lampooned Russia’s merchant class as backward, illiterate, and unethical. Foreign travelers like the sixteenth-century British envoy Giles Fletcher and the seventeenth-century German scientist Adam Olearius perpetuated a trope of Russians as deceptive in trade, and eighteenth-century noblemen looked down on merchants as insufficiently cultured. Modern scholars lament Russia’s lack of a proper middle class—entrepreneurial, thrifty, and successful. But Elise Wirtschafter has argued persuasively that early modern Russia had not so much a “missing” bourgeoisie as “an indeterminate, ambiguously delineated one.” Everyone could trade, from noblemen to peasants to raznochintsy; typical of this crossing of social boundaries is the fact that Catherine II tried both to legally define a bourgeois corporate estate in 1785 and at the same time to open up access to trade to more social groups.

But the cliché of Russia’s merchantry being a moribund, backward class should be laid to rest. The weakness of the merchant class was not the personal fault of the members of the group, but the absence of necessary infrastructure—contract, (p.393) property and bankruptcy law, insurance, banks and credit, communication systems. But they did enjoy legal protections through commercial courts for promissory notes (veksely), contracts, and to a lesser extent bankruptcy, allowing large-scale trade. And they could attain success. Contemporary tales and proverbs depict merchants as honorable and hardworking, crafty perhaps but not corrupt. One of the most popular themes in popular tales of the eighteenth century concerned merchants; one characteristic one, echoing themes common in world literature, tells the tale of the virtuous wife of merchant Karp Sutulov who deflects the advances of nefarious suitors while her husband is away on business, all the while craftily amassing wealth. Russian proverbs extolled the skill that success in trade required: “With brains you can trade, and without them, you’ll despair.” Russian merchants lived a culture different from the nobility; their education was on the job, practical and not classical and their dress was modest. In portraits merchants favored what David Ransel calls “plain” style, almost two dimensional with somber black suits, beard, and simple haircut (in contrast to the powdered wigs, silk clothes, and Imperial orders of noble portraits in academic style). Merchants were intelligent and accomplished, entrepreneurial and energetic, and they were absolutely essential to creating and maintaining the intricate and booming trade networks of imperial Russia’s eighteenth century.

Since European merchants were legally prohibited from engaging in retail trade in Russia and were allowed to set up wholesale shops in only a few major centers, they needed to work with Russian merchant partners. Those who prospered often took pride in their home towns, patronized cultural institutions, and served in public life. As Elise Wirtschafter argues, merchants actively worked with the state to advocate for their interests and participate in reform. Businessmen in provincial capitals in the late eighteenth century together with local noblemen supported educational, cultural, and social organizations such as theaters, salons, and balls. The Moscow Merchant Club was a bustling center of social and political exchange. Robert E. Jones has argued that they were comparable to central European merchantries (Poland, Prussia, the Habsburg lands), their family dynasties lasting about the same time and their struggles about the same. David Ransel presents as a model the merchant, Ivan Alekseevich Tolchenov, whose life in some ways sharply contrasted with that of the Muscovite merchants Vasilii Shorin and Gavril Nikitin, surveyed in Chapter 11.

Tolchenov was born in 1754 into a family of prosperous grain merchants in the provincial town of Dmitrov, 80 km north of Moscow. His father Aleksei had earned the rank of “first-guild” merchant, and with it the esteem of his community and eventual election to responsible posts—delegate to the Legislative Commission of 1767 and mayor of Dmitrov. Ivan followed in his father’s footsteps. He began traveling with his father on business trips at around age 11 and took up his active apprenticeship in the grain trade at age 14 in 1768. Under the watchful eye of his father’s agents he traveled in the winter through the Middle Volga to purchase grain; in the summer he escorted barges loaded with grain through canals to St. Petersburg. He oversaw sales at market; he transported grain to his father’s mills and brought the flour to market; in times of famine his father dispatched him to search their usual supply areas for the cheapest grain. It was a rough and (p.394) challenging life; he noted in his diary that he spent more than half the time away from home in the early years of his career, in conditions that were certainly uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous (many was the time he jumped into a shallow stream to haul his barges out of silt banks). He prospered in the grain trade into the 1780s and achieved social distinction—first guild status, elected to the magistracy council, and eventually mayor of Dmitrov like his father.

Like the Muscovite Shorin, however, Tolchenov also suffered business setbacks, now as much because of a new eighteenth-century burden—cultivation of an expensive lifestyle that he could not sustain—as from bad luck or poor business acumen. As a businessman he was resourceful and canny, but he suffered his share of misfortunes. He invested in a successful playing card factory, only to find the entire industry declared a state monopoly that was sold to a rival entrepreneur. He bid several times unsuccessfully on franchises to sell alcohol. He unwisely let an incompetent business manager in St. Petersburg run through his assets. He overspent on accoutrements of a fine life (gambling debts, fancy home, the best education for his eldest son). With mounting debts and bankruptcy inevitable in the 1790s, Tolchenov unethically used his business savvy to protect his assets: he transferred ownership of his home to his in-laws, declaring his wife and minor children legally a separate household from his own and having his married son declared a member of his wife’s household and thus immune from Ivan’s creditors. His sons’ fates mimic that of the father: the eldest, raised during Tolchenov’s most successful years, well educated and trained in business, prospered as a merchant; two others never made it in the merchant world, one becoming a horticulturalist to noble families and the other an actor. Tolchenov’s demise worked just the way that Catherine intended: he fell in status as his capital declined. He ended his career in the ranks of simple, taxpaying townsmen, working as a factory manager in Moscow.

The tremendous variety of the empire’s urban experience and Ivan Tolchenov’s personal experience testify to the eighteenth century’s dynamic economy and rapid social change. Many people benefited directly or indirectly from Catherinian reforms, Tolchenov among them. He, for example, achieved a respected social status by dint of his accumulation of capital. He and his father’s business dealings for decades facilitated a growing and complex trade network across central Russia. He took advantage of solid business instruments for purchase and exchange, suffered high rates but found creditors, and played a significant role in the essential grain trade. He participated in the most autonomous version of city government that Russia had yet developed, well on the road to municipal autonomy. Others—peasants, townsmen, and nobles—also prospered like him, but many, like he, fell victim to a trading system poorly supported by credit, insurance, communications, and other buffers against the vulnerability of an agrarian economy. Individual entrepreneurs flourished in this century, if not a social class. Furthermore, the ground was laid in urban institutions, concepts of urban autonomy, economic policy, and economic opportunity for the more cohesive merchantry and middle class that emerged in the next century.

(p.395) On raznochintsy: Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter, Social Identity in Imperial Russia (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1997). For a brief biography of Mikhail Lomonosov, see Michael D. Gordin, “Mikhail Lomonosov (1711–1765),” in S. M. Norris and W. Sunderland, eds., Russia’s People of Empire (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2012), 71–9. On towns and townsmen, see J. Michael Hittle, The Service City: State and Townsmen in Russia, 1600–1800 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979); B. N. Mironov and Ben Eklof, The Social History of Imperial Russia, 1700–1917 (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2000).

An English translation of Catherine II’s Instruction of 1767 is Vol. 2 of Paul Dukes, Russia under Catherine the Great, 2 vols. (Newtonville, Mass.: Oriental Research Partners, 1977); on the “middling people,” arts. 377–8. Translation of the 1785 Charter to Towns is in David Mark Griffiths and George E. Munro, Catherine II’s Charters of 1785 to the Nobility and the Towns (Bakersfield, Calif.: C. Schlacks, Jr., 1991).

On Moscow and its environs: Alexander M. Martin, Enlightened Metropolis: Constructing Imperial Moscow, 1762–1855 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Lindsey Martin, “Policing and the Creation of an Early Modern City: Moscow under Catherine the Great, 1762–1796,” Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 2015; Priscilla R. Roosevelt, Life on the Russian Country Estate: A Social and Cultural History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995). On St. Petersburg: George E. Munro, The Most Intentional City: St. Petersburg in the Reign of Catherine the Great (Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2008). Michael F. Hamm provides a brief introduction to eighteenth-century Kyiv: Kiev: A Portrait 1800–1917 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014). For small towns: A. B. Kamenskii, Povsednevnost’ russkikh gorodskikh obyvatelei: Istoricheskie anekdoty iz provintsial’noi zhizni XVIII veka (Moscow: Rossiiskii gosud. gumanitarnyi universitet, 2006); Judith Pallot and Denis J. B. Shaw, Landscape and Settlement in Romanov Russia, 1613–1917 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).

On urban planning, see Robert E. Jones, “Urban Planning and the Development of Provincial Towns in Russia, 1762–1796,” in John Gordon Garrard, ed., The Eighteenth Century in Russia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), 321–44; D. O. Shvidkovsky, Russian Architecture and the West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

On the economy, see Robert E. Jones, Bread upon the Waters: The St. Petersburg Grain Trade and the Russian Economy, 1703–1811 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013); Arcadius Kahan and Richard Hellie, The Plow, the Hammer, and the Knout: An Economic History of Eighteenth-Century Russia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); Gilbert Rozman, Urban Networks in Russia, 1750–1800 and Premodern Periodization (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976).

On merchants and townsmen: David L. Ransel, A Russian Merchant’s Tale: The Life and Adventures of Ivan Alekseevich Tolchënov, Based on his Diary (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2009) and his “Neither Nobles nor Peasants: Plain Painting and the Emergence of the Merchant Estate,” in Valerie A. Kivelson and Joan Neuberger, eds., Picturing Russia: Explorations in Visual Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 76–80; Jones, Bread upon the Waters. Tale of Sutulov’s wife: Basil Dmytryshyn, ed., Medieval Russia: A Source Book, 850–1700, 3rd edn. (Fort Worth and Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1991). On foundling homes: David L. Ransel, Mothers of Misery: Child Abandonment in Russia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). John Parkinson’s memoir: A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 1792–1794 (London: Cass, 1971).