Polnoe sobranie zakonov

In her inaugural post on the Russian History Blog, historian Alison Smith discusses her recent work with the Polnoe sobranie zakonov (Complete collection of the laws), “a process made much more pleasant because of the utterly fantastic fact that the Russian National Library has scanned the whole thing and put it up online.”  The site quite easy to navigate, the indexes are available, but there is no search function as far as I could tell.  But as the rest of Dr. Smith’s post reveals, there is some beauty in not skipping straight to what you’re looking for.  (This reminds me of the time my first meaningful history teacher, Lee Nichol, introduced his class to the word ‘ruminate’ by describing the process of finding books in a library before the card catalogue was computerized.)  Smith writes,

Even when I’m looking for something specific, though, I find myself randomly reading other laws in large part because they tell me things I didn’t know.  I learn that Peter the Great made a law to restrict the sale of wax candles for use in churches to the churches themselves, and forbade the practice of random other people selling such candles on the street outside churches. Or I learn that Anna was so upset to hear that people were being trampled by people galloping through the streets of St. Petersburg (on horses, of course) that she banned galloping in the city–and furthermore announced that anyone caught galloping would be punished by being beaten with the cat-o-nine-tails “mercilessly.”

And then there’s Catherine the Great. Now, obviously, she was a woman who liked laws, what with her famous “legislomania” and all that. But she also had a thing for commemorating major events (military victories, putting up the Bronze Horseman [yes, really]) by releasing Manifestos to All Her People, granting them all sorts of things.  One in particular shows up in a number of discussions of her reign.  On March 17, 1775, in honor of making peace with the Ottoman Empire, she released a Manifesto giving “mercies to various sosloviia” in recognition of God’s mercy in granting her and her state victory, peace, and the respect of other nations. She wondered (she wrote) how best to honor that divine intervention, and decided that according to the Lord’s words, He preferred mercy to sacrifice, and so mercy she would give.  Forty seven “mercies” then follow…  (see the original post for citations).



May 19, 2011. 18th Century, Full-text, Late Imperial, Primary Sources. Leave a comment.