Peasants and agriculture

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Imperial Russia had an overwhelmingly peasant population and its economy was largely agricultural. The Russian Empire was not able to compete economically and militarily with the more ‘developed’ states of north-western Europe, North America and Japan in the last few decades of its existence. Over the preceding two or three centuries, however, Russia’s autocratic state had been able successfully to exploit its peasant population and agricultural economy to generate the resources, in particular tax revenues and military conscripts, to consolidate and maintain its power at home and build a vast empire that came to dominate eastern Europe and northern Asia. Imperial Russia’s peasants were, thus, at the bottom of an exploitative social order. For much of the period, moreover, between a third and a half were the serfs of noble landowners in a system of bonded labour that emerged in the late sixteenth century and lasted until its abolition in 1861. Most of the rest of the peasantry lived on state lands and were subjected to slightly less onerous restrictions and demands. The subordinate and exploited status of all Imperial Russia’s peasants is one of the wider contexts in which their ways of life can be examined. Another wider context is the natural environment in which they lived and worked. In the northern half of Russia, which was covered in forests, the soils were not very fertile, and the winters long and cold. In the southern half, in contrast, the black earth of the steppes was very fertile, the climate warmer, but the rainfall was low and unreliable.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Russia Volume 2
Subtitle of host publicationImperial Russia, 1689-1917
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781139055437
ISBN (Print)0521815290, 9780521815291
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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