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Court rank used in pre-Petrine Russia.

The term okolnichy (pl. okolnichie ) meaning "someone close to the ruler," is derived from the word okolo (near, by). The sources first mention an okolnichy at the court of the prince of Smolensk in 1284. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, okolnichie acted as administrators, judges, and military commanders, and as witnesses during compilation of a prince's legal documents. When a prince was on campaign, okolnichie prepared bridges, fords, and lodging for him. Okolnichie usually came from local elite families. By the end of the fifteenth century, the rank of okolnichy became part of the hierarchy of the Gosudarev Dvor (Sovereign's Court), second after the rank of boyar. Unlike boyars, who usually performed military service, okolnichie carried out various administrative assignments in the first half of the sixteenth century. Later, the okolnichie conceded their administrative functions to the secretaries.

Under Ivan IV, the majority of okolnichie belonged to the boyar families who had long connections with Moscow. For most elite courtiers, with the exception of the most distinguished princely families, service as okolnichie was a prerequisite for receiving the rank of boyar. The rank of okolnichy also served as a means of integrating families of lesser status into the elite. By the end of the sixteenth century, the distinction between boyars and okolnichie was based largely on genealogical origin and seniority in service. From the middle of the seventeenth century, the number of okolnichie increased because of the growing size of the court. Many historians believe that all okolnichie were admitted to the royal council, the Boyar Duma, though in fact only a few of them attended meetings with the tsar.

See also: boyar; boyar duma


Kleimola, Ann M. (1985). "Patterns of Duma Recruitment, 15051550." In Essays in Honor of A. A. Zimin, ed. Daniel Clarke Waugh. Columbus, OH: Slavica.

Poe, Marshall T. (2003). The Russian Elite in the Seventeenth Century. 2 vols. Helsinki: The Finnish Academy of Science and Letters.

Sergei Bogatyrev

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