Old Muscovite Amnesties: Theory and Practice

in Russian History
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Abstract

The modern Russian term for amnesty is amnistiia. Like its English counterpart, it comes from a Greek word meaning "oblivion": a sovereign who grants an amnesty officially "forgets" certain crimes or political offenses committed by his subjects.1 The word amnistiia does not appear in Russian documents of the pre-Petrine era, and some purists even claim that the Muscovites knew no concept of amnesty.2 Yet most of the practices we shall be discussing here-practices which began shortly after Byzantine Christianity came to Rus'-easily fall within modern definitions of amnesty.3 The topic turns out to be so vast that in this short paper we can deal with only a handful of Old Russia's historically-significant "amnesties." We shall briefly examine the circumstances which produced them, the consequences which followed their promulgation, and the tension between lofty principles and practical objectives which accompanied some of the most important amnesties.

Old Muscovite Amnesties: Theory and Practice

in Russian History

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