August 25, 2022
September 8, 2022

Aristocratic Life in Pre-Revolutionary Russia (1917)

Photo by Ivan Obolensky

According to my grandfather, Serge Obolensky, and contrary to popular belief, aristocratic life in Russia under the Czar was not a life of luxury. One sees photographs of the aristocracy in jewels and tiaras but those were used only for state occasions. Instead, life during that time was agrarian and family oriented with a tendency toward frugality and simplicity. Most of the wealth of the time was held in the form of land and real estate. In my family’s case it was a home in St. Petersburg, a house in Moscow, and two farms: one called Krasnaya Gorka (Red Hill), and another named Jerichovo (Jericho). Both were extensive and primarily oriented to raising horses. Estates often took days to cross and visiting a neighbor was an all-day ride and would often mean staying the night.

Relationships with those who worked on the farms was close and collaborative. All the children on the properties grew up together regardless of background, and that included my grandfather. Everyone knew everyone. In addition, the term peasant didn’t carry the stigma that was attached to it in Western Europe. As a footnote, International Harvester (the American Company that made Harvesters and Combines) did an extraordinary business in Russia during that time. Agriculture was gigantic business.

If relationships were so amiable, one might ask, how come there was a revolution? According to my grandfather there were two reasons: the first had to do with the way land was inherited. By law, every twelve years the land of a village was split up among the men of the village. The problem was that the holdings became smaller and smaller as the land was divided up over the years and the population grew. Economies of scale matter, and the parcels became too small to be run profitably and this led to trouble.

The second reason my grandfather gave had to do with the number of students at university who had taken up the law, rather than other careers such as the sciences, engineering, and the military. In the end, there were too many lawyers with nothing to do, and if there is one thing that can be counted on regarding human beings, they never do nothing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *