General Land Surveying In The Russian Empire: East And West


The article represents a comparative analysis of documents related to General land surveying in the southern and north-west regions of the Russian Empire that took place from the end of XVIII until the beginning of the XIX century. Full and Office Economic Notes related to the St. Petersburg and Novgorod provinces have survived in a limited number as they were used as reference materials. In terms of the North-West region of Russia, only Short Economic Notes have largely remained. The documents of General land surveying in the Taurida province were influenced by the course of surveying and the peculiar features of the region. The suspension of land surveying in Crimea prevented establishing a large corpus of documents. Since 1798 the Office Economic Notes were compiled only for the Perekopskiy district. At the same time, the unfinished General land surveying in Crimea had a positive effect on the preservation of original documents, including census lists of local inhabitants. Surveying in Crimea had its own peculiar feature. It involved translators and initial information was recorded in both Russian and Tatar language. Also, land transactions in the region were traditionally done without paper formalities and the right to own land was established by an oath. Besides, there existed endowment lands belonging to mosques and madrasahs. These eastern traits of land usage didn’t fit into the existing instructions and required time to produce rules for surveying land in Crimea.

Keywords: General land surveyingSt Petersburg provinceCrimea


General land surveying in the Russian Empire was one of the greatest enterprises of Catherine II. Unlike her predecessors, she managed to start the process of restoring order in land ownership within the territory of Russia. The surveying started in the Moscow province by adopting the government manifest of 1765 and finished in the Perm region at the end of the XIX century. Over this period the surveying was done in 35 provinces. It wasn’t carried out in the Far East, Turkestan, Siberia, West and South-West regions, the major part of the Arkhangelsk region as well as the outskirts of the country where there were no landed estates. The total amount of surveyed land was 274 million desiatins (one desiatin equals 2.7 English acres) of land or one-eighth part of the country (Smirnov & Smirnov, 2009). After the Russian Empire acquired Crimea and Kuban, it established the Taurida province in 1784. In 1798 General land surveying started in Crimea (Petrova, 2013). However, it soon became suspended and resumed only in 1830.

Problem Statement

After acquiring Crimea, the Russian Empire started to grant the land in the peninsula. The land beneficiaries included Russian landlords, colonists and Tatar mirzas who were loyal to the Russian government. Frequently, former beys and mirzas abused the goodwill of Tatar people, claiming their land as their property. The mass emigration of the Crimean Tatars after the acquisition of the peninsula has led to the situation where unoccupied amounts of land became the property of the state. It was necessary to develop this under-populated region, and the Russian government started to attract landlords from the inner regions of the countries who could bring workers to the peninsula (Konkin, 2018). This has led to land disputes that slowed down the process of surveying. The Russian government issued special laws and practical instructions that governed the activities of land surveyors. However, the land usage in Crime relied on eastern traditions that formed before the acquisition of this peninsula by the Russian Empire. According to the centuries-old tradition, if a person wanted to make a land deal on the territory of the Crimean Khanate, he just needed to give a word or an oath. Such an oath was also common in the Ottoman Empire. Most Tatars could confirm their ownership only based on family history or the record by mullah, who asked local people for information (Markov, 1995). That’s why local landlords couldn’t provide any documents of their ownership. Another great difficulty was that surveyors didn’t know Tatar language and local measurement units.

Research Questions

The research aims to study characteristic features of land surveying, carried out by Russian surveyors as part of General land surveying in different regions of Russia in the late XVIII – early XIX centuries and recorded in surveying documents. The comparative analysis is based on the data from the Southern and North-Western regions. The Southern region consists of Crimea, which was part of the Taurida province. The north-west region consists of the St. Petersburg and Novgorod provinces. Each of these regions has its own history of incorporation into Russia, peculiar features of nature, economic activities, and people’s mentality. Since ancient times Crimea was at the crossroads of trade routes between East and West. Before the acquisition, the Crimean Khanate was the vassal of the Ottoman Empire with eastern lifestyle and traditions. This was reflected in the usage of land. The territory of the North-West region is the territory of the former Novgorod Republic. This is where St. Petersburg, a new capital of the Russian Empire, was founded in XVIII. The usage of land in this region was typical for the historic center of Russia.

Purpose of the Study

The aim of this research is the analysis of documents created during General land surveying in Crimea in the late XVIII – early XIX centuries in comparison with documents of General land surveying from the St. Petersburg and Novgorod provinces. The research seeks to find differences related to both the organization of surveying and the nature and peculiar features of new territories. The materials of General land surveying comprise a huge corpus of documents. They include: 1) plans of General land surveying, i.e. the cartographic representation of land at the levels of province, district, and a single dacha; 2) Economic Notes for the plans, containing the information about natural environment, economy, population and its activities, plat books, describing the limits of a land plot, and other notes, created during surveying.

Research Methods

The research employs methods of searching for documentary information that help to introduce new sources into scientific use. These methods allowed us to find new initial documents – the census lists of peasants from the St. Petersburg and Novgorod provinces as well as the census lists of the local Crimean population used by surveyors to create Economic Notes for General land surveying plans. To process the data of Economic Notes we used historical data systematization methods and computer methods involving database compilation. We employed a comparative method and a system analysis method to compare the obtained data and consider all interrelated phenomena.


The materials of General land surveying from the St. Petersburg and Novgorod provinces are typical documents that were created during and after surveying in many provinces of central Russia. Various plans of provinces, districts, and dachas have survived until our time with different states of preservation. However, Economic Notes for General land surveying plans vary in different districts. The extended information about geographical features, natural environment, flora, fauna, fish resources, soil, and the activities of local people is contained in Full and Office Economic Notes (Stepanova, 2016). There exist Full Economic Notes for Valdayskiy and Borovichskiy districts of the Novgorod province, Office Economic Notes for Novoladozhskiy and Lugskiy districts of the St. Petersburg province. For other districts, there are only Concise Economic Notes that contain information about a particular type of estate called dacha.

The set of surveyors’ documents and Field Notes for the North-West provinces of Russia is not full. According to the adopted rules, the survey case contained an allotment register, the list of adjacent lands with the number of people and households, the information about a parish and its lands, economic information, powers of attorney, different announcements, and other documents. However, after the plans and Economic Notes were completed, only a Field Note with all the surveyor’s measurements and some other documents were left in the case. That’s why Field Notes for the St. Petersburg and Novgorod provinces hardly ever contain initial information for Economic Notes in the form of peasants’ lists (Milov, 1965).

However, we see a completely different situation in the case of the Taurida province. Crimea, which was a base for Turkey to attack Russia previously, now ensured the safety of southern Russian borders (Kolesnikov, 2013). After Crimea, Kuban, and Taman were incorporated into the Russian territory by a corresponding manifest, local citizens obtained the same rights as other citizens of the country. However, titles of nobility were given only to beys and mirzas. As in the case of other territories, these titles had to be confirmed with documents or as a result of an investigation. Tatar citizens obtained the status of state peasants and were freed from conscription (Kuzmina, 2015). Mosques and madrasahs still owned endowment lands donated by Muslims from their own property. The clergy was freed from taxes. They still had the right to resolve issues connected with inheritance according to traditions and Islamic laws (Abdullaeva, 1997).

The documents of General land surveying in the Taurida region reflect the course of surveying works in Crimea. The province map of this territory was created only in 1830, while the map of Crimea appeared in 1831. The general plans of districts and dachas were made in the course of surveying. The earlies district plan was created on 1801–1802 for the Akmechetskiy (Simferopolskiy) district. In 1816 there appeared the map of the Dneprovskiy district. However, Full Economic Notes for Dneprovskiy, Melitopolskiy, and Feodosiyskiy districts appeared only during the second surveying in 1833–1834. They contain the description of a small number of dachas. Economic Notes for the Yaltinskiy district don’t give any information about dachas, except for their location near the Black Sea. Basically, they are not finished. The earliest materials are Office Economic Notes for different dachas in the Perekopskiy district. The surveying of these territories started in 1798 and finished in 1816. The documents were created by different surveyors in various years. A distinctive characteristic of these documents is the presence of many corrections and drafts.

There are 314 surveying cases that have survived till our days from the first stage of General land surveying in Crimea in the late XVIII–early XIX centuries. Most of them contain many documents reflecting the course and the results of surveying. Field Notes for the Taurida province obligatory contained an inventory of documents in a surveying case. There remained orders to a surveying team, landlords’ summons, allocation registers, oaths of witnesses, lists of attorneys. The documents also show that the surveying process involved language interpreters. These were Tatar mullahs, retired soldiers and people from other layers of society who knew the Tatar language. Landlords’ attorneys, witnesses from adjacent villages, and landowners themselves were invited to the site of surveying. The initial information in many field documents was simultaneously written in Tatar and Russian language. One of the obligatory documents was an oath given in Tatar and translated into Russian. Records in Field Notes made by a surveyor on-site were attested by attorneys’ signatures in the Tatar language. The set of notes for the Taurida province is characterized by the well-preserved initial materials – census lists, obtained from local people. However, if in the St. Petersburg and Novgorod provinces these were the peasants’ list, in Crimea they might include landlord themselves who describe their land and activities.

The results of the first stage of General land surveying in the Taurida province are a small number of Field Notes and the limited number of plans, describing the territories of dachas, surveyed in the late XVIII – early XIX centuries. Land surveying in Crimea was stopped due to insufficient preparation and encountered difficulties. However, the set of documents indicates the thorough work of surveyors, who collected initial documents and interviewed local people.


While surveying different territories of Russia, surveyors had to account for special regional features. The territories of the St. Petersburg and Novgorod provinces belonged to the historic core of Russia. Here existed traditional forms of land usage, regulated by Russian laws. The main task of surveying was the resolution of disputes between owners. This was reflected in the motto that Catherine II proposed at the commencement of works: “Everybody will get theirs”. The establishment of real borders of old estates became the key to the resolution of long-lasting disputes between landowners.

At the same time, the laws and rules of surveying weren’t effective in the Taurida province as they didn’t account for special features of the Crimean Peninsula, which was part of the Ottoman Empire previously. Eastern traditions of land usage prevailed here. While surveying the land of Crimea, surveyors faced many difficulties, related to the lack of knowledge of the local language and measurement units as well as the difficult situation with land ownership. First of all, they were caused by the absence of documents, confirming the right to own land. Previously, Crimean Tatars confirmed the right to own land by giving an oath. This didn’t fit into Russian laws. When the Russian government started to grant old Tatar land to new landlords, multiple disputes arose. Surveyors couldn’t resolve many issues by themselves and had to refer to higher authorities, consult new instructions and rules, accounting for the regional specificity.

The comparative analysis of General land surveying materials shows that surveyors strictly followed the instructions. In the course of surveying in the Taurida region, unlike in other territories, all initial documents were thoroughly collected and stored. These were signed by Tatars and often translated into Russian. At the same time, the unfinished General land surveying in Crimea had a positive effect on the preservation of original documents in Field Notes. However, in general, the specificity of the region impacted the whole process of surveying. It wasn’t possible to resolve contentious situations without new surveying rules that would account for the regional specificity of the new region of Russia.


The reported study was funded by RFBR, project number 19-09-00236.


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