To the Memory of Arcadius Kahan, 1920–1982
Ever since the publication of V. L. Ianin's study of the Novgorodian mayors (posadniki) in 1962, the commonplace image of republican Novgorod with its political institutions grounded in the sovereignty of the veche—the “democratic” assembly of the city's free male population—has undergone considerable change. It is now generally conceded that Novgorod was essentially a boyar oligarchy, but controversy still surrounds Ianin's contention that the veche from its inception was primarily composed of boyars and other wealthy landowners, who in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were known as the well-to-do (zhit'i liudi). Most scholars are willing to accept the view that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the veche was dominated by a boyar oligarchy, but some, including Knud Rasmussen, Henrik Birnbaum, and Jörg Leuschner, believe that the composition of the veche in the twelfth century was more complex and that Novgorodian “democracy” was more evident, at least until the late thirteenth century, when the boyars working through the Council of Lords (Sovet gospod—first recorded in 1291) usurped the “rights” of the populace. Following the work of Klaus Zernack, Leuschner believes the veche was composed of all the free males including those from the subordinate towns (prigorody) outside Novgorod. But in the last two centuries of the republic's existence, certainly following the reforms of 1416 and 1417, Novgorod changed, in Birnbaum's words, “from a quasi-democratic form of government based on the veche to a purely oligarchic rule determined exclusively by the feudal lords.“ Having admitted that representation in the veche became limited to some forty “feudal” clans, Birnbaum accepts the contention of Carsten Goehrke that Pskov, the political and legal institutions of which are thought to have approximated those of Novgorod, retained its genuinely democratic veche throughout the fifteenth century. Thus Pskov is brought to the front lines to debunk the “extreme views” of Ianin, characterized by Goehrke as increasingly dogmatic and speculative, and is now caught in the controversy surrounding Novgorod.