The Muscovite Biographical Database (MBD)

The Muscovite Biographical Database is a machine-readable register of biographical information about court elites in "Muscovy" from the fourteenth through the early eighteenth centuries. It is designed as a flexible, interdisciplinary research tool to be used both by advanced scholars and enterprising undergraduates.

The MBD was created to satisfy a long-standing need for a central cross-register of names and sources for figures in early Russian history. Not since the publication of the Russkii biograficheskii slovar' (The Russian Biographical Dictionary), more than 100 years ago, has there been an effort to produce an index of Russian notables. Scholars interested in retrieving biographies or compiling profiles of Russian nobles, for example, have been forced to consult a dozen-odd registers, many published as much as 125 years ago, and each with a host of editorial and typographical errors, and numerous omissions. Despite the advent of the computer age and the opening of the archives since glasnost', little has been done to collect manuscript materials in a more modern medium. This is the objective and the achievement of the MBD.

The MBD has been created by four US and Russian scholars who have organized themselves into "The Muscovite Biography Group:"

On August 6, 1991, a cooperative agreement was signed between the designers of the MBD and the Director of the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (RGADA) in Moscow, Mikhail P. Lukichev. This agreement, the first of this kind that the archive has ever agreed to sign, provides access to archival materials and work space in the archive's repositories and reading room.

The MBD consists of a series of interlocking "tables." Each table describes a more or less distinct aspect of a Muscovite's life which may be of interest to researchers. These tables include: biographical vitals, service rank, service activity, legal activity, kinship, marriages, landholdings, and sources. The tables are broken down into records which are uniquely identified by a name, ID# or other bits of information, usually dates. Within each table an individual may have several records, each reflecting his condition and activities at a given point in time. Each bit of information in each record, in turn, is linked to the source table where the precise manusript which supplied the information is indicated. Thus the database can easily trace, for example, a servitor's movement through several ranks, changes in wealth and landholding, and marriages and family life during the course of his lifetime.

The MBD consists of three phases to be implemented over several years, with work being carried out simultaneously both in the United States and in Russia. The first phase, which is now complete, focused on the contents of two specific service registers: the Boyar Books (Boiarskie knigi) and the Boyar Lists  (Boiarskie spiski). These sources were compiled and used by Muscovites as the official listings of who held what rank at court at any given time. They were official documents, generated in the royal chancelleries, and were compiled at regular intervals (Boyar Books, typically every ten years; Boyar Lists, typically every year, sometimes more often). With the entry of every name in these sources into the MBD, we now have produced an authoritative, archival-based list of who was who in early modern Russia. Phase two seeks to expand the databank by culling biographical material from new kinds of sources about the persons already in the database. These sources include, for example, monastic donation books, local land records, and military muster rolls. Phase three seeks to extend the contents of the database beyond the highest levels of the service elite found in the Boyar Books and Lists, to lesser figures in the Muscovite court, to provincial elites and even clergy.

At present, the MBD is available to all who might want to use it, both scholars and students. Progress is being made to transform the database into a format that would permit its inclusion on one of several on-line platforms (e.g., the RLIN network). Queries about the MBD and arrangements for using it should be addressed to Professor Russell Martin (MartinRE@Westminster.edu).

The MBD has been described in a number of published articles to date. For a sampling see:


Dr. Russell E. Martin