Table of Ranks

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The Table of Ranks [or rankings] of all official posts (Tabel' o Rangakh Vsekh Chinov) divided government service into three vertical columns: military (voinskie ), civil (statskie ), and court (privdvornye ). The military column was further subdivided into infantry, guards, artillery, and navy. These vertical columns were divided horizontally into ranks or classes (klassy ), from rank fourteen up to rank one, each containing a variable number of posts or offices (chiny ). The most crowded ranks were the civilian ones, with sometimes a dozen or more posts packed into each to accommodate newly created central and provincial officials, whereas each rank in the guards column contained just one post. Nineteen explanatory points accompanied the chart.

Like many of Peter I's modernizing reforms, the Table of Ranks rationalized changes that had already occurred piecemeal and replaced the old over-lapping ranking systems inherited from the seventeenth century, which did not differentiate between civilian and military posts. It incorporated titles such as general, major, and colonel that had been in use in certain regiments since the 1630s, new offices such as chancellor and vice-chancellor, and court grades introduced after Peter's marriage in 1712 for use in the new tsaritsa's court. The 1722 edict also contained points from foreign ranking systems, especially from Prussia, Denmark, and Sweden. Peter himself edited the final version and incorporated suggestions from the Senate and governmental departments.

As the grid layout made plain, one of the purposes of the Table of Ranks was to correlate status across different branches of service. For example, chancellor in the civil service and field marshal-general in the army both held rank one. To occupy a position on the table at all was to be privileged, for the fourteen ranks related only to the officer class in the armed forces and its equivalent in the civil service. Noncommissioned officers, regular troops, and their civilian equivalents were not included. The table was strict about qualifications for jobs. Neither post nor rank could be inherited or bought. At the same time, birth and marriage continued to confer privilege. The first of the accompanying explanatory points confirmed the precedence of princes of the blood and royal sons-in-law. Point eight allowed sons of princes, counts, barons, and other aristocrats free access to places where the court assembled before others holding lowly office (chin ), but the sovereign still wished to see them distinguish themselves from others in all cases according to their merit. Even the highest born would not be awarded any rank until they had served the tsar and the fatherland. Conversely, non-nobles who managed to enter the table received hereditary noble status upon attaining military rank fourteen or civilian rank eight. Civil offices in ranks nine to fourteen conferred personal noble status only. Women were ranked according to their husbands or fathers, depending on their marital status, apart from ladies-in-waiting, holding court service ranks in their own right.

The Table of Ranks endorsed the belief that nobles were the natural leaders in a society of orders composed of categories with unequal rights. It did not demonstrate a consistent commitment to meritocracy to the detriment of lineage, nor did it specifically raise commoners at the expense of nobles. Nobles who failed to attain a post on the table did not lose their noble status. The Holstein envoy H. F. de Bassewitz writes: "What [Peter] had in mind was not the abasement of the noble estate. On the contrary, all tended towards instilling in the nobility a desire to distinguish themselves from common folk by merit as well as by birth." The final explanatory point specified that people were to have clothing, carriages, and livery appropriate to their office and calling.

Peter did not intend to diminish the traditional elite in principle, nor did he do so in practice. In 1730, of the 179 army and navy officers and officials in ranks one through four of the table, ninetenths were descended from old Muscovite noble clans and a third from men who recently had been boyars. Over the centuries, some posts on the table were abolished and others were created to accommodate the staff of academies, universities, and other new institutions. Orders and medals became associated with various grades. It became harder for non-nobles to enter the table. But the basic principles established by Peter I continued until 1917, and consciousness of rank and striving for promotion and honors left a deep imprint on Russian society and culture.

See also: peter i


Hughes, Lindsey. (1998). Russia in the Age of Peter the Great. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Meehan-Waters, Brenda. (1982). Autocracy and Aristocracy. The Russian Service Elite of 1730. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Lindsey Hughes