How recruits appeared in Russia


Alexey Kivshenko, “War games of the amusing troops of Peter I near the village of Kozhukhovo.” 1882 year

315 years ago, on February 20 (March 3, new style), 1705, the Russian Tsar Peter Alekseevich introduced recruitment, a prototype of universal military service. This system was not invented from a good life. Peter mobilized the entire Russian state and people for the Northern War – a confrontation with Sweden for domination in the Baltic.

The first military experiments of Peter

Young Peter began to create his own army from “amusing” regiments in the 1680s. They recruited both volunteers (fugitive, free, etc.), and on a compulsory basis (guys from the palace servants, forced peasants). These regiments became the core of the Preobrazhensky and Semyonovsky regiments, the future Russian guard. The officers were mostly foreigners, the term of service for the soldiers was not determined. In parallel, there was the old Russian army – local cavalry, rifle regiments, soldiers ‘regiments of the new system, gunners’ detachments, etc. These troops were formed on a voluntary basis, received monetary and material rewards. The nobles were the service class, they were required to serve permanently and were called up during the war.

Preparing for war with Sweden, in November 1699, Tsar Peter I issued a decree “On admission to the Great Sovereign’s service as a soldier from all sorts of free people.” The new army was originally built on a mixed principle (like the first regiments of Peter). Free people were enrolled in the army and forcibly taken “tributary” people – serfs who belonged to landowners and monasteries. We took 2 recruits from 500 qualified people. The recruit could be replaced by a contribution of 11 rubles. The soldiers took people from 15 to 35 years old. The soldiers were given an annual salary and provisions. In the course of recruiting “direct regular troops”, three divisions were formed. The beginning of regular cavalry was also laid – dragoon regiments were formed.

Subsequent events showed that such a system is imperfect. The protracted Northern War devoured many people, they were not enough. A large army was needed for military operations in the Baltic and in the western direction (Poland). It is clear that more than 30 thousand recruits, who were recruited by the decree of 1699, were not enough. There were few “free” ones. And the landowners and the church preferred to pay money, an adult worker was economically more profitable than a lump sum.

Recruitment set

Therefore, on February 20 (March 3, n. Art.), 1705, Tsar Peter Alekseevich issued a separate decree “On the recruitment of recruits, from 20 households per person, from 15 to 20 years of age”, which introduced recruitment in the country. Responsibility for the implementation of the decree was assigned to the Local Order, which was in charge of service land tenure in the country. Unmarried young people of all classes, including nobles, were subject to conscription. But for the nobles it was a personal obligation, while for the rest of the estates it was a communal obligation. The service was originally lifelong. The conscription existed in Russia until 1874. Recruitment was carried out irregularly by decree of the king, depending on the need.

Peter’s methods were brutal, for example, before arriving at the duty station, each team of recruits lost up to 10% of their composition (dead, escaped, etc.), but effective and cheap for their time. For the first six sets, the army was replenished by 160 thousand people. This measure, together with others (Russification of command personnel, the creation of a system of officers and soldiers’ schools, the construction of the fleet, the development of the military industry, etc.) gave its effect. In 1709, a radical change took place in the war. The Russian army destroyed the “first army of Europe” at Poltava. After that, the losses of the Russian army in the war decreased, its fighting qualities increased, and recruitment began to be reduced. The sixth set in 1710 became the last mass, when one recruit was taken from 20 households. As a result, they began to take one recruit from 40-75 households.

In 1802 (the 73rd recruitment) they took 2 people out of 500. It happened that the recruitment of the army was not carried out at all, the army did not need new soldiers. During the wars, the sets were expanded. In 1806, during the war with Napoleon, they took 5 people out of 500. In 1812, three recruits were carried out, in just a year they took 18 people out of 500. The empire had to send 420 thousand souls in a year. Also, the government carried out the second mobilization in the 18th century (the first was in 1806), gathering up to 300 thousand militia warriors. And in 1816-1817. there were no common sets.

Gradually, military conscription began to cover new groups of the population. So, if at the beginning recruitment was carried out from the Russian Orthodox population, then later they began to recruit the Finno-Ugrians of the Volga region, etc. In 1766, the “General institution on the collection of recruits in the state and the procedures that should be performed during recruitment” was published. In addition to serfs and state peasants, the recruitment service extended to the merchants, courtyards, yasak, black-haired, clergy, people assigned to state-owned factories. The draft age was set from 17 to 35 years old. From 1827 Jews were taken into the army as soldiers. Since 1831, recruitment was extended to “priest’s children” who did not follow the spiritual line (did not study in theological schools).

The terms of service were also gradually reduced. Initially, they served for life, while they were strong and healthy. At the end of the reign of Catherine the Great, from 1793, the soldiers began to serve for 25 years. In 1834, in order to create a trained reserve, active service was reduced from 25 to 20 years (plus 5 years in reserve). In 1851, the service life was reduced to 15 years (3 years in reserve), in 1859 it was allowed to release soldiers on “indefinite leave” (to be dismissed) after 12 years of service.


“Seeing Off the Recruit”. I. E. Repin. 1879 year

Decreased system efficiency

From the very beginning it was obvious that the recruiting system was damaging the country’s economy. Many zealous owners were aware of this. For example, the famous Russian commander Alexander Suvorov preferred not to give his peasants to recruits. He forced his peasants to throw off the purchase of a recruit from the outside, he himself contributed half of the amount (then about 150 rubles). “Then families are not unattended, houses are not ruined and they are not afraid of recruitment.” That is, the century of brilliant victories of Russian weapons had its downside. Millions of able-bodied hands were cut off from the economy, many laid down their heads in foreign countries. But there was no other choice, it was necessary to mobilize the state and the people for a fierce confrontation with the West and the East. The empire was born in constant wars.

For the common people, recruitment was one of the worst disasters. The initial service at the age of 25, few people passed and endured. Major General Tutolmin noted:

“… Despair of families, groaning of the people, burdens of costs and, finally, in the course of a set of interruptions in the economy and any industry. The time of recruiting recruits, according to the current establishment, is a periodic crisis of national grief, and the inadvertence of recruiting recruits produces severe shocks among the people. “

The recruitment was not only difficult for the country’s economy and the peasantry, but had other disadvantages. The treasury bore large expenses, it was necessary to maintain a large army in peacetime. The recruiting system did not allow to have a large trained reserve, which is extremely necessary for the delay and expansion of the theater of war. No matter how large the army was in peacetime, it was always in short supply during the war. We had to carry out additional sets and put almost untrained people under arms. In addition, due to the long periods of service, the accumulation of old soldiers took place. They were invaluable in terms of combat experience, but their health was usually compromised, and their stamina was lower than that of young soldiers. During the marches, many soldiers lagged behind their units.

The big problem was the gradual narrowing of the social groups affected by the obligation. It wasn’t fair. In 1761, Tsar Peter III issued a decree “On the freedom of the nobility.” Nobles are exempt from compulsory military service. She became voluntary. In 1807, the merchants were freed from recruitment. The service did not extend to the clergy. There were territorial and national restrictions. The military burden of the empire was borne mainly by Russians and Orthodox Christians, for the most part foreigners were exempted from military service. As a result, the entire burden of military service and wars of the empire fell on the working people (peasants and urban lower classes). In addition, the soldiers were isolated from their former life, and after completing their service it was very difficult for them to find themselves in society.

All these shortcomings began to manifest themselves already at the beginning of the 19th century. It is clear that many military and government officials saw and realized all this very well. Various reform projects were developed. But in general, the government tried to act cautiously, the main changes were related to the terms of service, which were consistently reduced. In order to try to reduce the financial burden on the treasury, to create a “self-reproducing” army, under Alexander the First, military settlements began to be created, where peasant soldiers had to be both warriors and producers. However, this experiment was unsuccessful. The state economy did not work out, it came to the soldiers’ riots. As a result, in 1874, the recruitment duty was canceled and replaced by general military duty.


Nikolay Nevrev. Return of the soldier to his homeland. 1869

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