Peasant Houses in Russian History

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A Peasant Leaving His Landlord on Yuriev Day, painting by Sergei V. Ivanov.

Russian peasants lived in houses that necessitated animals and humans sharing quarters and created unhealthy living conditions.

Russian peasant houses were often unclean, stuffy, and dark. Peasant dwellings consisted of a main structure for sleeping and food preparation, as well as outbuildings, including a barn, shed, and cellar. Peasant huts also included a covered lawn in which livestock and plow equipment was kept. Peasant houses were either made of wood or clay, and all buildings in the complex had thatched roofs.

Russian Peasant Houses – The Stove

Russian peasant houses were generally built as one large room. The main feature of the house was the stove. This stove was used for cooking and heating the house. If the stove had no chimney, which was often the case, the smoke from the straw or manure that was burned as fuel would fill the interior of the peasant dwelling. Houses did exist with chimneys, the interiors of which were much cleaner and healthier for the inhabitants.

Russian Peasant Houses – Icon Corner

All peasant houses had a “red” or “beautiful” (the Russian words derives from the same root) corner, in which the icons were placed. Russian peasants followed Orthodoxy, and therefore copies of Byzantine icons were placed in the family’s personal alter. Here, prayers were said, even though the Russian peasant’s religious practices were often as superstitious as they were Orthodox.

Russian Peasant Houses – Sleeping Arrangements

Russian stoves were built with sleeping platforms that provided room for one or two people. Other household members slept in a loft or on benches that lined the interior walls of the peasant hut. Straw was used for sleeping, and in the morning it was burned in the stove. During winter, animals were brought in from the yard and slept in the same area as the peasants. This provided heat for both humans and animals, although it also added to the dirt and stench for which peasant houses were known.

Russian Peasant Houses – Outbuildings

The covered yard houses animals during temperate weather. The most common livestock was cows and pigs, but peasants could also keep other animals, including chickens, goats, and sheep. A Russian peasant dwelling could have a cellar underneath the house, or the cellar could be a separate outbuilding that led to underground storage for winter foods, vegetables, preserved meats, and dairy products. The shed would hold the peasant family’s belongings, including women’s trunks (that contained her personal possessions or her dowry), household items, clothing, and grain products. The threshing barn might also be used as an alternative sleeping quarters.

References:

  1. Figes, Orlando. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
  2. Semyonovova Tian-Shanskaia, Olga. Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia, ed. David L. Ransel, trans. David L. Ransel and Micahel Levine. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
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