“A Medieval Society Existing in a 19th Century World”- How Accurate is This Statement With Reference to Russia by 1855? During the 19th Century, Russia was often viewed as being ‘behind’ other European countries in the world of technology and through it’s rather harsh Capitalist government ruled by the Tsar, a tradition which had lasted for centuries. At this time there were many areas of Russian society which were old fashioned in comparison to other countries, for instance serfdom, popular during the dark ages, was long since abolished in most other European countries, yet it was ongoing in Russia.
However it is wrong to say that Russia was not developing, as it was, just at a much slower pace than the rest of Europe. Economically, Russia was definitely developing, but much slower than the rest of Europe. In the early 19th Century there was significant progress in Russia’s cotton industry which developed rapidly due to the use of modern technology imported from England. The Napoleonic Wars managed to help protect the Russian cotton industry from English competition and further high tariffs were put up in 1822.
After 1815 cheap spinning machines and yarn were available from England which helped boost the Russian cotton industry further. The cotton industry was also relatively new which meant it suffered less from the usual restrictions, and by 1850 Russia had the 5th largest cotton industry in the world. This shows that Russia was not totally behind other countries in Europe at this time, but was developing along side them, and progressing instead of reflecting medieval times.
In terms of money, Russia was ahead of medieval society due to the introduction of paper money, and coins were no longer based on their metal value as they were in medieval times. Although not a dramatic change, it still shows a clear difference between Russian and medieval society. There are also many significant social differences between Russia and Medieval times. In the 1800s Moscow was home to many famous influential writers, such as Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. However writing and language itself was still very much evolving during the medieval period.
Books were not nearly as common as they were in Russia at this time, as in the medieval period they were very expensive and techniques such as printing had not been invented. There were also obvious medical advances in Russia at this time. Although medicine was not brilliant in Russia and many medical operations were still far from successful, since the medieval period there had been several breakthroughs in the world of medicine. Education was also far ahead of the medieval era, yet somewhat behind the rest of Europe at this time.
In 1804 the Education Statute saw the beginning of a western approach to education. Several new universities were opened, 40 secondary schools were created as well as numerous other schools. Whereas in medieval times there was barely any education at all. Between 1801-15 Alexander II saw significant legislation for the serfs of Russia. The right to own estates was extended to ‘ Free Russians’ and not just nobility. In 1803 the law permitted the voluntary emancipation of serfs by their masters, and by 1850 100 000 male serfs had been emancipated with their families.
This was a big step in Russia and was not common in medieval times. Politically there were also differences to medieval times. In the medieval period there was a centralised monarchy, which was forced to ally with the middle class in order to diminish the power of the church. However in Russia, politics and the church were very closely linked as the church formed a firm theological basis for the Tsarist autocracy. The higher-ranking clergy were financially supported by the state, but the church did not interfere with laws or legislations.
Whereas in medieval society, the church was very involved in certain laws, for instance the laws surrounding heresy. In medieval times, people lived in small communities and often appointed ‘chieftains’ to act as arbitrators in disputes between kindreds due to no common law. As these small communities often consisted of a small number of extended families, the chieftains were usually a group consisting of the heads of these families. However by 1855 in Russia, this was not how the law was run. Instead, Russia had, the same as most other countries at this time, a common law in place throughout the country.
There were many other small but obvious differences between the medieval era and Russian society of 1855. For instance there was a greater awareness of hygiene, a more relaxed approach to religion for instance people were no longer hunted and accused of heresy or witchcraft for not attending church regularly and other small but significant cultural differences. The medieval times saw the era of the knight and myths of slaying dragons whilst wearing heavy armour and fighting with simple swords.