Monuments of Imperial Russian Law: Codification

Michael Widener

Polnoe sobranie zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii [Complete Collected Laws of the Russian Empire]. 1st series. 48 vols. St. Petersburg, 1830. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library

Svod zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii [Digest of Laws of the Russian Empire]. 16 vols. St. Petersburg, 1904-1905. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library

Emperor Alexander I laid the ground work for major law reforms. He introduced ministerial reforms to supplant the collegial model of Peter the Great, accompanied by an expansion of the educational system, founding of new universities, and introduction of civil service examinations. Foreign law professors were gradually replaced by Russian-trained candidates. With the abandonment of codification models based on foreign schemes, codification work fell into desuetude. When revived in the spirit of von Savigny, progress was slow.

Nicholas I (1796-1855) acceded to the throne in 1825 and immediately accelerated the pace and altered the direction of systematization. Drawing upon the presence and talents of a small group of lawyers at St. Petersburg University, M.A. Balugianskii (1769-1847), of Hungarian origin, and M.M. Speranskii (1772-1839) brought to completion the most ambitious and comprehensive systematization of legislation attempted in the world.

First to appear was the volume exhibited here, the Complete Collected Laws of the Russian Empire (known by its Russian acronym: PSZ), a chronological collection of Russian legislation (more than 30,000 enactments) commencing with the 1649 Sobornoe Ulozhenie to 1825. The second series of the PSZ was published annually from 1826 to 1881, and the third series from 1881 to 1916. A four-volume addendum to the PSZ includes illustrations such as the guide to weights and measures shown here.

The PSZ formed the foundation for the next stage of systematization, the Digest of Laws of the Russian Empire.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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