The legitimacy of Tsarist authority over the peoples of Siberia in the late 16th to early 18th centuries

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The article studies the methods that substantiated the legitimacy of the power of the Russian monarch over the vast territories of Siberia. The context of this study is the Russian political culture of the late 16th to early 18th centuries. Based on information from chronicles as well as diplomatic and administrative documents, the authors identify and systematize the main political, ideological, and legal arguments that were most often used by the Russian government to justify the Tsars’ rule over Siberia. The arguments can be divided into two groups according to the target audience: the first group was intended for conversation with the heads of foreign countries, the second one addressed the Siberian peoples and also the Russian people broadly. In foreign policy, the representatives of the Moscow Tsar emphasized the “antiquity” and the “strength” of the bond between these territories and the Russian state. The diplomats tended to exaggerate the scale of the Russian military, socio-economic, political, and cultural (religious) development of the new territories. At the same time, they were silent about the resistance of the local population to the tsarist servicemen. At home the authorities applied other legal arguments to bolster their legitimacy. In interaction with indigenous populations, the Russian governors and service people usually forced the communities (in the form of an ultimatum) to accept the claim that the Tsar owned the Siberian lands as a fiefdom. With this the socio-political status of the Siberian peoples radically changed: they became subjects to the Russian Tsar, as kholops or yasak-payers. The Russian combatants and colonists, in direct contact with the indigenous population, informed the Siberian peoples about recent government directives and fully identified with the official claim to authority. In the eyes of the Russian population, an additional element was the religious and political idea that the Tsar had been chosen by God, from which followed the duty to expand the Russian Orthodox tsardom.

About the authors

Andrey S. Zuev

Novosibirsk State University

Author for correspondence.

Doktor Istoricheskikh Nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Professor, Head of the Department of Russian History, Director of the Institute for Humanities

1, Pirogova Str., Novosibirsk, 630090, Russia

Viktoriya A. Slugina

Institute of History SB RAS


Kandidat Istoricheskikh Nauk [PhD in History], Research Scientist of the Sector of Archeography and Source Study, Institute of History SB RAS; Assistant of the Russian History Department, Institute for Humanities, Novosibirsk State University

8, Nikolaev Str., Novosibirsk, 630090, Russia


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Copyright (c) 2021 Zuev A.S., Slugina V.A.

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