Estates of Urban Residents in Russia Empire
| In this Page the estates (social groups) of urban residents
in the Russia Empire are discussed. It is expected you have reached this
Page from the general overview of the estates.
The urban residents were those city inhabitants who were free persons except nobles or clergymen.
According to /Brambe/ there were in Rīga 6 estates or subestates of urban residents in the first half of the 19th century::
All these estates kept their own lists (oklady), where their members were registered. These lists were revised during revisions, and the revision lists were created.
This estate was introduced in 1832 as a new kind of privileged estate, the second one in the hierarchy after nobility. It came in the place of the eminent citizens (in Russian imeņityje graždane) that was also a kind of estate but not defined sufficiently in the Law.
There were hereditary and personal honorary citizens. The honorary citizens were neither recruited (up to 1874), nor punished corporally, nor they paid the personal tax. Actually their privileges were almost the same as for the merchants, but the estate of the honorary citizens was for ever, unlike the estate of merchants that could be easily lost, if the business was not successful more. This was the main reason why this estate was attractive for the merchants.
A lot of rules existed for awarding the estate /Svod vol.9/. I am informing here on the situation at 1910 and about those rules that seem relevant to the region of Latvia.
The persons belonging to the following groups (including Jews) were entitled the estate of hereditary honorary citizens:
The personal estate of honorary citizens was conferred on persons belonging to the following groups (including Jews) according to the legislation at 1910:
A special case of granting the estate of honorary citizen could be learned from the inscription on a photograph of Bergmanis from Liepāja [Libau] that I have seen in a shop but could not afford to buy. It was written on the picture that he was decorated with the soldier variant (cross) of St. George order 8 (eight!) times; in fact the order had only 4 degrees and normally the soldiers were awarded up to these 4 degrees. Presumably he was a sailor on one of the first submarines that took part in Russia-Japan war (1904) and got an order for each submerged cruise. This soldier variant of the order did not bring the nobility like other orders, and Bergmanis signed the photograph as a hereditary honorary citizen.
The merchants was an estate which depended on the well-being of the holder. It was lost quite easy, if the business was unsuccessful and it was easy to get, if the business brought enough money. The estate was hereditary as far as the successful business was hereditary. To become a merchant at the beginning of the 19th century, it was necessary to declare the capital the person owned.
Here the Roubles in assignations are meant. The Patent with the rules set forth in 1807 is also available on this site.
Quite clear that there were no problems to declare the capital a merchant had. The most difficult thing was to pay taxes in amount 5.225% of declared capital per year. And it was not obligatory to be busy with commerce in the reality, if the taxes were paid regularly. The officials did not check what was the real capital a merchant had, and they even were not allowed to investigate denunciations about capitals eventuallly hidden.
Initially Jewish merchants were to pay twice as much taxes, and the declared capital they should have had to become a merchant was also two times greater, but this rule was abandoned rather soon - in 1807, and later Jewish merchants were charged in the same amount as the Christians. It was really important to a Jew to become a merchant by estate, because the merchants and especially the merchants of the 1st guild had some privileges and much better business possibilities compared with other Jews especially to the end of the 19th century.
In 1863 the new system of two merchant guilds was introduced. The rules were the following:
1. The persons who have had taken out the certificate for at least one of the following enterprises::
and were paying basic taxes for these enterprises more than 500 Roubles yearly, could become merchants of the 1st guild.
2. The persons who have had taken out the certificate for at least one of the following enterprises:
and were paying basic taxes for these enterprises 50 - 500 Roubles yearly, could become merchants of the 2nd guild.
Here the Roubles in silver were meant (at the moment of the introducing of the new system in 1863 the difference between silver Roubles and assignations did not exist more, however). The Law contained no rules about the special income or the tax level for Jews.
To become a legally accepted merchant by estate, one had to take out the estate certificate. In the certificate there were listed the holder and his/her family members, whom the holder might and wished to include in the certificate. All the persons included in the certificate acquired the estate of merchant.
The holder of the certificate was allowed to write in this certificate his wife, but if the wife applied for or held the certificate, she could not include in it her husband. Other family members, who might be included in the certificate:
The certificate was not free of charge. I do not know how much a merchant paid for it before 1863. The Law of 1863 stated that a merchant of the 1st guild should pay 50 Roubles and one of the 2nd guild 25 Roubles for the certificate yearly. In 1906 the payment was increased to 75 and 30 Roubles accordingly.
All the persons included in the certificate could be involved in the family business without special permissions and without labor contracts.
The persons who wished to be engaged in commerce but could not satisfy the requirements for the estate of merchants had to take out a producers certificate (in Russian - promyslovoe svidetelstvo). This certificate gave no estate rights.
The merchants of the 1st and 2nd guild were not punished corporally, the merchants of the 3rd guild, when they existed, could.
The merchants in Riga were united in their community called The Great Guild. It was necessary to have permission of the Guild in order to join it, however.
The literates were the city inhabitants of a high education level who were busy in so called free professions - physicians, lawyers etc. The literats had the right to be registered in the Great Guild, if it agreed to. I am not quite sure but may be it is possible to suppose that a Literat was an educated person who, not being a merchant, was registered in the merchant community - the Great Guild. Each educated person acquired the estate of honorary citizen since 1832 (see above) that was high enough, but a member of the great Guild had additional privileges to take part in the decision making at the city level and to take a position in the city government.
Artisans, members of Zunfts;
Artisan is a word used here for a person, who has acquired skills in a handicraft, has proved these skills to the community of that handicraft called Zunft and was accepted as a new member of the Zunft. The Zunft members had exclusive rights to offer appropriate services until 1866, when this privilege was liquidated and everybody could offer the services they wanted to. Prior to 1866 a person with appropriate skills, but not a member of the Zunft, paid Zunft for permission to do the job. He could also not be registered as having the estate of artisans - he was only a petty bourgeois (see below).
The way to become an artisan was not short. Firstly, the candidate was to study the skills for at least 3 years as an aprentice at a Zunft member. If he had acquired the profession well enough, he could become a journeyman (in Latvian - zellis, in German - Geselle, in Russian - podmasterje) and receive a special certificate of apprentice. Now he was to work and to study the handicraft for at least another 3 years at the same artisan or at other ones. The Zunft included him in its lists of journeymen, handed to him a journeyman booklet, and in this booklet each artisan he worked at wrote how long was the period of employment, how good was his work and his behavior. A journeyman was allowed to do only the job that was proposed by his master - any work by initiative of the journeyman himself was prohibited. After 3 years of journeymanship, if he was of lawful age (21), he could present his handmade items to the Zunft and ask it a) to evaluate the items whether they correspond to the standards of the Zunft and b) to examine him in the skills of the handicraft.
From migration point of view it is rather important that journeymen and newly certified artisans followed a custom to wander around from one master to another and even from one country to another (see, for example, the way of life of millers in the memories of A.Stubendorff, (in German)). By the way, journeymen could not be married - this was an important rule.
All this was the theory, but in practice the Zunfts decided if a journeyman should be evaluated or not, and they freely rejected any candidate they did not want; sometimes it was even obligatory, because the rules insisted that only a limited number of the artisans of some handicrafts could be allowed. This politics caused that the Zunfts and handicrafts were divided by ethnicity. It was really difficult for a Latvian to be certified in a German handicraft and vice versa. The certification in Riga was impossible for Jewish craftsmen, therefore there they usually offered services that were not covered by Zunfts. It may be added that if a journeyman married a widow of a Zunft member, he got the business and the Zunft membership of the deceased artisan.
A Zunft was an estate community with its own organization. It was responsible for the quality of the work, it introduced the prices for services, the salaries for employees etc. A Zunft also supported the members in a case of illness and in old age, it was busy with organization of some social life for the members and their families. In Riga the Zunfts were united in the so called Small Guild.
The artisans, who were not members of a Zunft, could work with permission of the Zunft or without permission - illegally. They could also belong to a handicraft that had no Zunft. Some documents concerning the people of various estates speak about artisans of Zunfts and artisans out of Zunfts as different estates.
The Zunfts lost their importance in 1866 when in the Russia Empire a Law was adopted which allowed anybody to offer any services, if appropriate permission was made in the state institutions, of course, on payment. The Zunfts continued to exist, however, and to certify persons in their skills, but now this certification could be useful only for the marketing of goods and services.
May be it would be convenient to begin with some linguistic information. Petty bourgeois is the term used here to translate: - meščane from Russian, sīkpilsoņi, mazpilsoņi from Latvian, Kleinbürger from German. May be the most important is the German term. Its history is the following:
Until the end of the 18th century the community of plenipotentiary city inhabitants in Rīga consisted of the members of the Great Guild, who were the merchants, and of the members of the Small Guild, who were the artisans. These inhabitants were called in German - Bürger and as a rule they owned a real estate in the city. Many other people lived in there, quite frequently without any hope to become a Bürger. They were the journeymen of the artisans from Zunfts, the artisans not accepted by the Zunfts, the day-laborers and so on. This people were called Kleinbürger what means a small bürger, or a petty bürger, if you like better. In 1785 a new Law of the Cities was adopted in the empire, and now all the city inhabitants, who were registered in the city, were included in the city community, with different rights, however. The additional city inhabitants were called Kleinbürger and now the word became the name of the estate.
The situation in the Western Europe was similar, and there the French term bourgeois was used for bürger and petit bourgeois for petty bürger what finally became an English word in the form petty bourgeois. Sorry, I was so lengthy about these words, but I needed to explain their meaning in the 19th century at least for myself, because in the Soviet time the word bourgeois was one of the worst words for the exploiters of human beings, and the petty bourgeois were not much better, though they exploited nobody; but it was never explained what these words actually meant.
The situation in the city communities just described allows to generalize /Belovinskis/ that at the beginning of the 19th century the petty bourgeois were all city inhabitants excluding the nobility, the clergy, the merchants, the members of Zunfts and the civil servants. This definition seems rather eroded, but the formal Law is not much more specific.
To 1910 the following groups of the population were allowed to join the estate of petty bourgeois /Svod/:
In general the registration in a community of the petty bourgeois was by permission of the community. Some categories of candidates, mainly the persons choosing the way of life, could register without permission, except in the capitals of provinces and in some other cities including all the towns of the Baltic provinces. In Riga city a candidate for petty bourgeois paid good money - 70 Silver Roubles /Brambe/ according to the rules of 1840.
The petty bourgeois were not considered as a privileged estate. They paid taxes, could be recruited and punished corporally, but evidently these privileges changed in time, because different sources inform about a bit different privileges in different time periods. For example, at the beginning they could be recruited, later they were not, but paid a special tax instead of recruitment. The Law on Estates does not specify the privileges of particular estates.
I have in my document collection the text of permission to petty bourgeois to register themselves in the estate of peasants that was issued in 1811 by Tzar Alexander I. It was allowed, if they could not earn their living in cities and had some agricultural skills. As you see, the changing of an estate was considered very seriously in the Empire.
Workers, home servants
I think this estate should be clear. They were free persons who lived in cities, had no certified profession and worked as home-servants. Later, when factories began to arise, this people could become workers there.
The first factories of Riga city had some shortage in labor force, and they frequently hired serfs from Russia proper where the serfdom existed up to 1861. Of course, this was done in agreement with the owners of the serfs. When the serfdom was abolished, many of these workers remained in Riga and joined the community of free workers.
© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002