Fugitive peasants

Fugitive peasants (also runaway peasants, or flight of peasants) are peasants who left their land without permission, violating serfdom laws. Under serfdom, peasants usually required permission to leave the land they lived on.[1]

Running away was seen as the ultimate form of passive, non-violent peasant resistance (with the peasant rebellions being on the other end of the spectrum).[2][3] Escape was a highly effective form of resistance, as it was difficult to prevent, damaging to the landowner, and difficult and costly in addressing.[4] It was also one of the most common form of peasant resistance, a regular occurrence in the societies with serfdom.[3] It is difficult to estimate the scale of the problem, but it was regarded as significant; in 18th century Russia for example tens of thousands of runaway peasants were captured every year, but that number likely represents only a fraction of those who successfully eluded recapture.[3][5] Jezierski described the phenomenon of fugitive peasants as commonplace in medieval Poland.[6] In most countries with the institution of serfdom, leaving one's land was illegal. However, where regulations existed, they were often poorly enforced, disputed by various stakeholders, and changed back and forth over time. In medieval Poland, for example, there were laws against the flight of peasants, but their enforcing was usually left in the hands of the landowners.[4] As escape was sometimes encouraged by other landowners, who needed labor and promised better working conditions, even if such attitude was illegal and penalized by a fine, this compounded the problem.[4][7][6] Similar problems existed in medieval Russia[8][9], Ottoman Empire[10], Germany[11], and other places. Stanziani writes about 17th century Russia: "For a few few fugitives who were returned to their 'legitimate owners', millions of other peasants were left in their new places".[5] Legal cases involving run-away peasantry represented a significant part of legal proceedings in many countries, for example Duchy of Livonia.[12]

Peasants chose to escape if they felt they had little to lose, suffering from heavy taxation and exploitation, theft and hunger; they could also do so to avoid military conscription or religious persecution.[2][4][3] Peasants usually ran away to neighboring provinces, or rarely, to foreign countries.[2][4] Sometimes, however, differences between serfdom regimes in various countries encouraged international flight; law professor W.J. Wagner for example writes describing 18th century situation: "The situation of the peasants in Poland was better than in most other countries. In France and Germany, for example, the owners of landed estates had unlimited jurisdiction over them, including the power to punish by death. In Russia, their economic oppression was notorious, and one of the reasons Catherine II gave for the partition of Poland was the fact that thousands of peasants escaped from Russia to Poland to seek a better fate."[13]

In Eastern Europe, the lands of the Cossacks were seen during the Early Modern Period as a refuge for many runaway serfs.[14] This is reflected in a folk Russian saying "С Дону выдачи нет!" ("There is no extradition from the Don!"), in reference to Don Cossacks.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Pennington, Donald (2015). Europe in the Seventeenth Century. Routledge. p. 98. ISBN 978-1317870982.
  2. ^ a b c Colburn, Forrest D. (2016). Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 978-1315491448.
  3. ^ a b c d Kahan, Arcadius (1989). Russian Economic History: The Nineteenth Century. University of Chicago Press. pp. 161–162. ISBN 978-0226422435.
  4. ^ a b c d e Colburn, Forrest D. (2016). Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 978-1315491448.
  5. ^ a b Stanziani, Alessandro (2014). After Oriental Despotism: Eurasian Growth in a Global Perspective. A&C Black. p. 55. ISBN 978-1472522658.
  6. ^ a b Jezierski, Andrzej (2003). Historia gospodarcza Polski (in Polish). Key Text Wydawnictwo. p. 43. ISBN 978-8387251710.
  7. ^ Moon, David (1992). Russian Peasants and Tsarist Legislation on the Eve of Reform: Interaction between Peasants and Officialdom, 1825–1855. Springer. p. 26. ISBN 978-1349118335.
  8. ^ Moon, David (1992). Russian Peasants and Tsarist Legislation on the Eve of Reform: Interaction between Peasants and Officialdom, 1825–1855. Springer. p. 25. ISBN 978-1349118335.
  9. ^ Wenzer, Kenneth (2003). Land As an Economic Factor and Its Biblical Origins. iUniverse. p. 222. ISBN 978-0595299812.
  10. ^ Sluglett, Peter (2011). The Urban Social History of the Middle East, 1750–1950. Syracuse University Press. pp. 127–128. ISBN 978-0815650638.
  11. ^ Pennington, Donald (2015). Europe in the Seventeenth Century. Routledge. p. 101. ISBN 978-1317870982.
  12. ^ Pihlajamäki, Heikki (2017). Conquest and the Law in Swedish Livonia (c. 1630–1710): A Case of Legal Pluralism in Early Modern Europe. Brill. p. 163. ISBN 978-9004331532.
  13. ^ Wagner, W.J. (1992). "May 3, 1791, and the Polish constitutional tradition". The Polish Review. 36 (4): 383–395. JSTOR 25778591.
  14. ^ Moon, David (1992). Russian Peasants and Tsarist Legislation on the Eve of Reform: Interaction between Peasants and Officialdom, 1825–1855. Springer. p. 24. ISBN 978-1349118335.