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Russian Boyar: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn all about the Kievan and Muscovite boyars, the noblemen of the Slavic countries and Russia's equivalent of Western Europe's knights. Then take the quiz and see what you learned.

What is a Boyar?

When we think of a knight, most of us might imagine a man in full armor, on a horse, with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. This image might go hand-in-hand with the concept of chivalry, or honor to peers, courtesy to women, and homage to superiors. The boyar was the Slavic equivalent of the knight, though they didn't practice chivalry. They were a lot like the knights, though, in that they were the fighters and the nobles in Russia.

A Russian Boyar in full dress
Russian Boyar

The boyar was a title that was used all over the Slavic countries in Europe. They're first mentioned in the ninth century in Bulgar sources. There, they are called nobles. The Byzantine Empire used the words for aristocrats, which was pretty much the same thing as far as Medieval Europe was concerned.

How Did They Become Boyars?

In the Early Middle Ages, Germanic tribes swept over Western Europe in small and large war-bands, eventually taking land. Each chieftain parceled out his kingdom to his most trusted warriors. In time, the lands they were given became hereditary. That's how the knightly class was born.

In Kiev, the first king was Rurik, a Viking and a man of Germanic descent. He began the Rurik Dynasty in 862. He probably had his own war-band, and those men and their descendants would become boyars. The Muscovites and most of the other Slavic kingdoms in the area, including the Bulgarians, claimed Kiev as their cultural ancestors and so probably learned about boyars that way.

What Did They Do?

The boyars were second only to the kings in power and status. They owned the land and they fought during wars. Some of them were also chosen to be in the Duma, or council. The Duma acted as the king's advisors, but they were also the main legislators in both Kiev and Moscow.

In the West, the nobility had a ranking system of knights, lords, barons, counts, marquis, earls, and dukes. The boyars weren't divided up by any more specific titles. A boyar's service, wealth, and reputation was what established his rank among the boyars.

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