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Literally, "patrimony" (the noun derives from Slavonic otchy, i.e. belonging to one's father); in medieval Russia, inherited landed property that could be legally sold, donated or disposed in another way by the owner (votchinnik ).

In the eleventh through thirteenth centuries, the term mainly indicated the hereditary rights of princes to their principalities or appanages. Thus, according to Nestor's chronicle, the princes who gathered at Lyubech in 1097 proclaimed: "Let everybody hold his own patrimony (otchina )." It was in this sense that Ivan III later applied the word votchina to all the Russian lands claiming the legacy of his ancestors, the Kievan princes.

In the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, as land transactions became more frequent, the word votchina acquired a new basic meaning, referring to estates (villages, arable lands, forests, and so forth) owned by hereditary right. Up to the end of fifteenth century, votchina remained the only form of landed property in Muscovy. The reforms of Ivan III in the 1480s created another type of ownership of land, the pomestie, which made new landowners (pomeshchiki) entirely dependent on the grand prince who granted estates to them on condition of loyal service. In the sixteenth century, Muscovite rulers favored the growth of the pomestie system, simultaneously keeping a check on the circulation of patrimonial estates. Decrees of 1551, 1562, and 1572 regulated conditions under which alienated patrimonies could be redeemed by the seller's kinsfolk. The same legislation stipulated that each case of donation of one's patrimony to a monastery must be sanctioned by the government. (In 1580, the sale or donation of estates to monasteries was totally prohibited.)

Historians have stressed the growing similarity between votchina and pomestie. On the one hand, as Vladimir Kobrin points out, pomestie from the very beginning tended to become hereditary property; on the other hand, the owners of patrimonies were obliged to serve in the tsarist army (legally, since 1556), just as pomestie holders did. S. B. Veselovskii cites some cases from the 1580s, when the authorities ordered the confiscation of both pomestia (pl.) and votchiny (pl.) of those servicemen who had ignored the military summons.

But some difference between the two forms of landed property remained: In the eyes of landowners, votchina preserved its significance as the preferable right to one's land. As O. A. Shvatchenko put it, votchiny formed the material basis of the Russian aristocracy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In spite of governmental regulations and limitations and severe blows of the Oprichnina, the votchina system survived the sixteenth century, and after the Time of Troubles experienced new growth. Beginning with Vasily Shuisky (1610), the tsars began to remunerate their supporters by granting them the right to turn part of their pomestie estates into votchiny. Thus, new types of votchina appeared in the seventeenth century. The Law Code of 1649 also stipulated the possibility of exchanging pomestie for votchina, or vice versa. Finally, pomestie and votchina merged during the reforms of Peter the Great: specifically, in the 1714 decree on majorats.

See also: grand prince; ivan iii; law code of 1649; oprichnina; peter i; pomestie

Mikhail M. Krom