Abduction of Women in Early Modern Russia: Modernizing the Empire

In: Russian History
Marianna Muravyeva Professor, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia;

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The abduction of women is closely connected with traditional or primitive societies. Anthropologists tie it with alternative marriage arrangements, characteristic of those systems where marriages are arranged by parents; historians tend to view the abduction of women as part of early history of developed nations, mostly the Middle Ages. In Russia, recent historiographical discussion of abductions always starts with descriptions of customary practices in Siberia to highlight the steppe and frontier experiences in the framework of colonization and underline ‘savage’ or ‘backwardness’ of Siberian populations. However, scholars almost never talk about the abduction of women within the European part. In this article, female abductions are analyzed within the framework of citizenship and modernization of the Russian Empire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It focuses on the notion of consent and how it contributed to the founding of a new social unit, that is the family, in which women and men acquired their rights and duties in relation to outside society and wider polity. The lack of consent jeopardized the legitimacy of such a union and compromized the citizenship status of its members. On its way to build the country as a modern empire, Russian authorities localized the abduction of women as a ‘customary’ practice of ‘backwards’ people to preserve the modern European core of the Empire.

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