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The Republic of Novgorod
By Rider, 1 November 2006; Revised
Category: Medieval Europe: Political History
The Republic of Novgorod was situated around the city of Novgorod and nearby territories. The main areas of the Republic were around the Lake Ilmen. Later on, when the power of Novgorod grew, she joined areas that were far north, behind the lakes of Onega and Beloje. In the east, during some times, the power of Novgorod stretched to the Northern Urals. The people in Novgorod dealt with agriculture, fishing, hunting, pottery and with the producing of salt.
The capital of Novgorod was known as Great-Novgorod or Novgorod. The city was situated on an important trade route from Russia to the Baltics and to the Western Europe. The settlements around the trade route were surrounded with walls over time. The River of Volhov passes through Novgorod and already during the medieval times, it split the city in half. On the right bank, there was the trade yard, where all merchants and traders sold and bought objects. On the right bank, there was the Church of St. Sofia. The mansions of the boyars were all around the lands of Novgorod.
In the marketplace, people traded the goods from Novgorod to those of foreign lands. The most usual goods that was imported, was wheat. The German traders that visited Novgorod, built a trading house into Novgorod and situated it with a high wooden wall. Sometimes, merchants arrived from Persia and India, but such occasions were quite rare.
The boyars were quite numerous in Novgorod. They held all the main offices and posts. The few remaining posts were filled by merchants who were usually very rich. The boyars and merchants together called themselves ’the better people’. All peasantry had to obey the boyars and merchants.
In the ruling of Novgorod, a part of unusual size, compared to other Principalities of Russia, was played by the veche. The veche was a meeting of all independent men. Grown up sons, who yet lived with their father, had no right to go to the veche. No women were permitted there either. The veche gathered usually by the calling of the veche-clock in the tradeyard. The veche declared peace and war and discussed important political issues. Still, no one counted any votes, and the right came to the man, whose voice was the loudest.
The veche elected the posadnik who was the highest official in Novgorod. The posadnik led the governing and was elected only from amongst the more important boyars. His aid was the „thousand’s“ who were the commanders of the armies of citizens. Also, the metrolpolitian bishop had a large role in everyday life. He was usually a boyar and profited from trading. The metropolitian bishop was the exchequer. These important men made up the Council of the Lords or Masters which led Novgorod, sometimes even against the decision of the veche.
Novgorod also had a prince. The prince was also elected and therefore the title could not be inherited to one’s sons. The prince was the master and commander of the druzhina. The actions of the princes were limited, as the citizens prohibited the prince to buy himself some land or to distrupt the office of the posadnik. The prince lived in Gorodishtshe, near Novgorod. The prince couldn’t even choose the times he wanted to go hunting himself. The veche could also banish princes from Novgorod.
In Novgorod, one could often see uprisings against the boyars and merchants by the ordinary people. In such cases, there would be called two veches, either one on one side of the river and the two met on the bridge over River Volhov. There they would fight and the winners would kill the others and distribute their property. During the 13th and 14th centuries, over 50 of such uprisings have been mentioned.