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. However in Russia 1855 there was a more advanced approach to fighting as soldiers, not knights, used weapons such as rifles and explosives.
In many ways it appears that Russia 1855 was very different to medieval times due to obvious changes in culture and technology. However to say that Russia was as advanced as any other country in Europe at this time would be far from true. Perhaps one of the greatest differences to exist was the fact that medieval times saw the renaissance, a period of the development of fast and forward-thinking ideas. However in Russia in 1855 things were still very much the same as they had been for many years. There was little change occurring in Russia at this time but instead old traditions and old technology were still present.
Many other countries in Europe were struck by the wave of the industrial revolution, which saw the internal migration of thousands into inner cities to work in newly developed factories with modern technology. Although there was an initial boost in Russia’s cotton industry at the beginning of the 19th century, Russia never did reach higher than 10% of England’s production of cotton. By 1850 England was producing 12 times as much iron as Russia, as Russian Iron was becoming too expensive. Firstly this was because the cost of transporting the iron from the Urals into the cities was becoming very expensive.
Russia embarked on a policy of protectionism, which maintained the high price of Russian iron encouraging other countries to import it from elsewhere. Investment in Russian industry and modernisation just did not take place which inevitably held Russia back from the other fast growing and developing countries in Europe. An industrial revolution was not occurring in Russia at the same time or pace as it was in the rest of Europe, as rapid industrial expansion cannot occur without available capital, administrative flexibility, and an established entrepreneurial class, which simply was not present in Russia at this time.
Although there was improvement in the rights for serfs, or ‘free Russians’ as they became known, the very fact that serfdom existed in any sense in 1855 shows a total reluctance to move forward in Russia, as most other countries had abolished serfdom toward the end of the medieval era. It could be said that the standard of living was somewhat similar to working class people from inner city areas in other European countries as they were both rather terrible and the lower classes were not much cared for. However the working class people living in inner city slums were technically free, they were not ‘owned’ by their landlords despite how awful the conditions were.
The government were increasingly being made aware of the poor hygiene and sanitation and did begin to make changes to the accommodation. However in Russia people became the property of their landlords and had virtually no civil rights, and Tsars of the time were never really made fully aware of the conditions people were living in. Serfdom was dated and held Russia back from developing socially.
There are also definite correlations and similarities in the social structure of medieval times and Russia. During the industrial revolution, many sociologists claim the extended family began to die out with the introduction of the nuclear family (2 adults and a few children) as it was more geographically mobile. As the industrial revolution did not hit Russia when it did the rest of Europe, the extended family continued to be the dominant operative unit of society.
This is similar to that of medieval times, as the extended family was most common then. The most common form of social scattering would be to have occasion bursts of habitation consisting of a small community of a number of extended families, whereby people would live from subsistence farming. This was still the way most people were living in Russia 1855, unlike other countries, which were experiencing the industrial revolution.
Around 96% of the population were living in the countryside unlike the many people living in inner cities in the rest of Europe. Of that 96%, 83% were peasants. Although there was a common law in Russia, it was still relatively new, yet common laws were being adopted in other European countries towards the end of the medieval period. The common ‘chieftains’ which were common during the medieval era were still being somewhat reflected in Russia in 1855, as small communities appointed a group of representatives to make decisions concerning allotting land to members, rents and taxes.