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Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Russia


  • Page extent: 506 pages
  • Size: 229 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.75 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9781107699762)

This is a magisterial account of the day-to-day practice of Russian criminal justice in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Nancy Kollmann contrasts Russian written law with its pragmatic application by local judges, arguing that this combination of formal law and legal institutions with informal, flexible practice contributed to the country's social and political stability. She also places Russian developments in the broader context of early modern European state-building strategies of governance and legal practice. She compares Russia's rituals of execution to the 'spectacles of suffering' of contemporary European capital punishment and uncovers the dramatic ways in which even the tsar himself, complying with Moscow's ideologies of legitimacy, bent to the moral economy of the crowd in moments of uprising. Throughout, the book assesses how criminal legal practice used violence strategically, administering horrific punishments in some cases and in others accommodating with local communities and popular concepts of justice.

• Microhistorical approach to case law offers a detailed account of legal practice in daily life in early modern Russia • Argues against interpretations of Russia as violent or despotic, directly addressing an enduring myth about the state • Addresses debates about violence in early modern European state-building and governance more generally


Introduction; Part I. Judicial Culture: 1. Foundations of the criminal law; 2. The problem of professionalism: judicial staff; 3. Staff and society; 4. Policing of officialdom; 5. Procedure and evidence; 6. Torture; 7. Resolving a case; 8. Petrine reforms and the criminal law; Part II. Punishment: 9. Corporal punishment to 1648; 10. Corporal punishment, 1649–98; 11. To the exile system; 12. Peter I and punishment; 13. Capital punishment: form and ritual; 14. Punishing highest crime in the long sixteenth century; 15. Factions, witchcraft and heresy; 16. Riot and rebellion; 17. Moral economies: spectacle and sacrifice; 18. Peter the Great and spectacles of suffering; Conclusion: Russian legal culture; Appendix: punishment for felonies; Bibliography.


'Kollmann deftly describes what a typical Muscovite criminal procedure looked like.' The Times Literary Supplement

'Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Russia is without doubt the best recent book on the administration of justice in pre-1917 Russia, and it seems unlikely that it will be superseded anytime soon. Indeed, it sets a new standard for how this topic should be approached and researched. Engaging in the important theoretical and historiographical debates surrounding the sociology of punishment (Foucault, Elias, Spierenburg [and so on]) and the formation of early modern statehood, it is also compelling reading for a much broader community of scholars.' Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

'Nancy Kollmann's account of crime and punishment in Russia from the sixteenth century through Peter's reign is the fullest and most sophisticated study of the subject in existence … the achievement here is immense … a fundamental and ground-breaking work … Nancy Kollman has been reconstructing our understanding of the state and society of early modern Russia for nearly three decades, and Crime and Punishment is only the latest and most powerful contribution to that effort.' Paul Bushkovitch, The Russian Review

'I thoroughly recommend this exceptional piece of scholarship for those interested in the legal history of early modern Russia, as well as the complex socio-political dynamic at work in matters of crime and punishment. What is more, Kollman's analysis of criminal law in Russia provides a valuable addition to our wider understanding of European state-building.' Robert Collis, European History Quarterly

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