BOYAR (Russ. boyarin, plur. boyare), a dignity of Old Russia conterminous with the history of the country. Originally the boyars were the intimate friends and confidential advisers of the Russian prince, the superior members of his druzhina or bodyguard, his comrades and champions. They were divided into classes according to rank, most generally determined by personal merit and service. Thus we hear of the "oldest," "elder" and the "younger" boyars. At first the dignity seems to have been occasionally, but by no means invariably, hereditary. At a later day the boyars were the chief members of the prince's duma, or council, like the senatores of Poland and Lithuania. Their further designation of luchshie lyudi or "the best people" proves that they were generally richer than their fellow subjects. So long as the princes, in their interminable struggles with the barbarians of the Steppe, needed the assistance of the towns, "the best people" of the cities and of the druzhina proper mingled freely together both in war and commerce; but after Yaroslav's crushing victory over the Petchenegs in 1036 beneath the walls of Kiev, the two classes began to draw apart, and a political and economical difference between the members of the princely druzhina and the aristocracy of the towns becomes discernible. The townsmen devote themselves henceforth more exclusively to commerce, while the druzhina asserts the privileges of an exclusively military caste with a primary claim upon the land. Still later, when the courts of the northern grand dukes were established, the boyars appear as the first grade of a fullblown court aristocracy with the exclusive privilege of possessing land and serfs. Hence their title of dvoryane (courtiers), first used in the 12th century. On the other hand there was no distinction, as in Germany, between the Dienst Adel (nobility of service) and the simple Adel. The Russian boyardom had no corporate or class privileges, (1) because their importance was purely local (the dignity of the principality determining the degree of dignity of the boyars), (2) because of their inalienable right of transmigration from one prince to another at will, which prevented the formation of a settled aristocracy, and (3) because birth did not determine but only facilitated the attainment of high rank, e.g. the son of a boyar was not a boyar born, but could more easily attain to boyardom, if of superior personal merit. It was reserved for Peter the Great to transform the boyarstvo or boyardom into something more nearly resembling the aristocracy of the West.
See Alexander Markevich, The History of Rank-priority in the Realm of Muscovy in the 15th-18th Centuries (Russ.) (Odessa, 1888); V. Klyuchevsky, The Boyar Duma of Ancient Russia (Russ.) (Moscow, 1888).
(R. N. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)