The gosti (singular: gost) were great merchants who enjoyed high social status. They are encountered in the Kievan and later Mongol period, but are best known as a corporate group that emerged in the sixteenth century and figured prominently in the economic, political, administrative, and court life of seventeenth-century Russia.
In the last half of the sixteenth century, the leading merchants of Muscovy were organized into three privileged corporations: the gosti, the gostinnaya sotnya, and the sukonnaya sotnya. They were obliged to render services to the government and were compensated with certain privileges. The gosti, whose number averaged around thirty throughout the seventeenth century, stood at the top of the merchant hierarchy. The rank was not hereditary, so the government periodically designated replacements for those who had died or became incapable of rendering service.
They were obliged, among other burdensome duties, to serve as the tsar's factors, to collect customs at the port of Archangel and at Moscow, to oversee the state liquor monopoly, and to participate in ceremonial functions at the court. In return for the exercise of these duties, the gosti were freed of the obligation to quarter troops, and permitted to brew and keep stocks of liquor. They were not required to pay taxes imposed on other townsmen, and they were the only Russian merchants permitted to travel abroad on business.
Representatives of the gosti participated in the land assemblies (zemskie sobory) and advised the rulers on questions of war and peace. They were leaders of a long-running campaign to abolish privileges granted to foreign merchants and to secure uncontested control of the domestic market. Peter the Great, dissatisfied with their perceived want of dynamism, phased them out in the first quarter of the eighteenth century.
See also: gostinaya sotnya; merchants; sukkonnaya sotnya
Baron, Samuel H. (1980). "The Fate of the Gosti in the Reign of Peter the Great." In Muscovite Russia: Collected Essays, ed. Samuel H. Baron. London: Variorum.
Baron, Samuel H. (1980). "Who Were the Gosti?" In Muscovite Russia: Collected Essays, ed. Samuel H. Baron. London: Variorum.
Samuel H. Baron