Timetable of Legal History logoAlexei Mikhailovich (1629-1676; pictured below) was only 16 when he inherited the throne of Russia in 1645. His regent Boris Morozov was ruling in his stead and corruption was rampant. Anarchy was so widespread that the priod pre-Ulozhenie is formally known to Russian historians as "the time of trouble".

The educated knew that other places in the world had addressed corruption by articulating national uniform of law in written form; a legal or civil code. The influence of Justinian's Institutes had reached the borders of Russia and those living on the borders envied the logic, accessibility and fairness of the Corpus Juris Civilis.

The original Russian Pravda was mostly a legend a thousand years old and by 1648, still lost in ancient scrolls.

Their had been earlier, and unsuccessful attempts at drafting a national civil code.

But this didn't discourage a group of Moscow citizens who drew up a petition to their Tsar demanding a Russian law code. On June 2, 1648, they tried to present it to Alexei but soldiers tore it up before it reached the Tsar.

This enraged the citizens and a riot ensued which spread to other cities of Russia.

On July 16, 1648, the Tsar announced that he was creating a law reform commission to draft a Russian law code.

Nikita Odoyevsky was appointed to head the committee of five.

First, they asked the major districts for a complete copy of their respective written laws then in existence, as well as any available written judicial decisions. The legal legacy of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian was a major contributor to the new Russian civil code, the 1649 Sobornoye Ulozhenie, usually shortened to simply Ulozhenie.

In a feat of almost unbelievable proportions, Odoyevsky's committee finished it first draft of a Russian civil code by October of 1648.

The scope was ambitiously comprehensive covering all aspects of law such as the church, criminal law, slavery and serfdom, landholding, inheritance, travel and military service.

Tsar Alexei summoned an Assembly of the people to consider the first draft of the Ulozhenie. The delegates approved or disapproved of the proposal in a clause by clause study, as well as proposing some of their own.

Tsar AlexeiOn January 29, 1649, the delegates to the Assembly each signed the final version, except for some priests who were upset that the Church would be subject to and totally bound to the terms of the new civil code. In the Ulozhenie, most church powers were taken away and given to state officers.

The Ulozhenie Tsar Alexei wasted no time in sending the document to the scribes. 2,400 copies were printed and sold out before the year was out. Some excerpts:

"If a member of another faith, regardless of which faith, or a Russian, should blaspheme our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, or His Mother the Holy Queen, Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, or the honourable cross, or its holy servants, each such case should be investigated thoroughly, using all possible means. An inquiry about it should be organised, and the blasphemer of God should be burned at the stake.

"Should anyone think maliciously about the Sovereign's health, and should another person report him concerning this malicious thought, there should be made an inquiry into his malicious thought and intended action against his Tsarist Majesty, and such person, upon investigation, should be executed.

"If mint masters should make either copper, or tin, or economical money [that is, adulterated money], or if they should add copper, tin, or lead to silver and thereby cause harm to the Sovereign's treasury, such mint masters should be executed by pouring molten matter down their throats."

The Ulozhenie served Russia as a national civil code until it, too, served as primary source for, and was replaced by the 1830 Speransky Code of 1830.

It worked out well for the Tsar as well. By a series of national reforms of which the Ulozhenie was the highlight, Tsar Alexie managed to salvage his reign and go on to rule a prosperous Russia until his death in 1676. His son was Peter the Great.