Boyars

Boyars. The upper ruling class of Kyivan Rus'. The class consisted of landed boyars and senior members of the princes' armed retinues and courts (ie, the boyar-warriors). This distinction disappeared in the 11th century as the warrior nobility acquired estates and the landed nobility served in increasing numbers at the princes' courts. Yet differences in social status gave rise to a new distinction between the older and the younger armed retinue. The boyars never constituted a separate estate with its own special privileges. Membership in the group was open to anyone who held a high post at court or in the administration or who had amassed a large fortune. The boyars formed their own council (Boyar Council), which, together with the prince and the popular assembly (viche), composed the supreme power of a principality or a territory.

After the decline of the Kyivan state the wealthier and hereditary part of the boyars entered the closed estate of the Polish and Lithuanian nobility. The poorer boyars lost some of their privileges and were reduced to the status of a seminoble estate called thepantsyrni boyars and putni boyars (branch nobles), who administered parts of the prince's land, and later even to the status of peasants. In the Polish-Lithuanian period the upper stratum of the boyars adopted the title of lord (pan) or landowner (zemian), while the old title of boyar was used by petty officials. The lower stratum of the boyars and the petty nobility struggled for their rights for a long time. When the various editions of the Lithuanian Statute were published in 1529 and 1584 and the Polish-Lithuanian union was concluded, the petty boyars won equality before the law with the rich nobles and the right to trial in the nobility's land courts on an equal footing with the lords (pany). This lasted to the end of the 18th century on Ukrainian territories ruled by Poland. The surviving members of the Ukrainian boyar class who switched their allegiance to the Cossack state and the Zaporozhian Host received only the rights based on military service, regardless of lineage. The title of boyar in the Russian Empire was abolished by Peter I. By that time most of the boyars had been reduced to peasants.

Yaroslav Padokh, Andrii Yakovliv

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]




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