:"This article refers to the aristocratic title of "boyar". For the "Boyar" caste of India, see Boyar (caste)."

A boyar or bolyar ( _bg. боляр or болярин, _uk. буй or боярин, _ru. боярин, _ro. boier) was a member of the highest rank of the feudal Moscovian, Kievan Rusian, Bulgarian, Wallachian, and Moldavian aristocracies, second only to the ruling princes (in Bulgaria Emperors), from the 10th century through the 17th century. The rank has lived on as a surname in Russia and Finland, where it is spelled "Pajari". [ [ Behind the names: Pajari] ]


According to some the word is of Turkic origin and it is composed of the roots "boy" ("tribe") and "ar" ("pride/honour") or "arı" (pure/clean). [ [ Vasmer's Etymological Dictionary] (Russian)] Other sources claim it comes from Russian "boyarin" (member of Boyar, the tribe), from Old Russian "boljarin". Each nomadic Turkic tribe had the name "boy" in the name, such as the Turkic tribe that settled into Anatolia were from "Kayı Boyu" (one of the 24 Oghuz Boys that migrated from central Asia), old Turkic word "kayı", strong, Kayı Tribe, the "strong tribe". Another strong hypothesis — the term "boljarin" could actually derive from the Bulgar word "boila", noble (see below Boyars in Bulgaria). That would explain its use in the territory of present-day Romania and Moldova, which were part of the First Bulgarian Empire between the end of the VII and the beginning of the XI century.

Another, more simple hypothesis is that "boyar" comes from the Turkic words "bay" (nobleman or rich person) or "bil" (knowledge) and "er, ar" (man, human, person). This is the more-trustworthy version, due to the remaining presence of the "Bayar" surname among some Russians and Tatars, and the fact that in the Russian language, many words with the original sound or letter "a" tend to transform into "o". This is a common feature among East Slavic languages.

Boyars in Bulgaria

The oldest Slavic form of boyar — "bolyarin", pl. "bolyari" ( _bg. болярин, pl. боляри) — dates from the 10th century and it is found in Bulgaria, where it may have stemmed from the old Bulgar title "boila", which denoted a high aristocratic status among the Bulgars. It was probably transformed through "boilar" or "bilyar" to "bolyar" and "bolyarin". In support of this hypothesis is the 10th century diplomatic protocol of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII where the Bulgarian nobles are called "boliades", [ [ CONSTANTINE PORPHYROGENITUS, DE CERIMONIIS AULAE BYZANTINAE, II, 46-7] ] while the 9th century Bulgarian sources call them "boila". [ [ 9th century stone inscription from Bulgaria mentioning boyars (boila)] ]

A member of the nobility during the First Bulgarian Empire was called a "boila", while in the Second Bulgarian Empire the corresponding title became "bolyar" or "bolyarin". "Bolyar", as well as its predecessor, "boila", was a hereditary title.

The bolyars were divided into "veliki" (great) and "Mali" (small).

In Bulgaria at present the word "bolyari" is used as a nickname for the inhabitants of Veliko Tarnovo — once the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire.

Boyars in the lands of Kievan Rus

Boyars wielded considerable power through their military support of the Kievan princes. Power and prestige of many of them, however, soon came to depend almost completely on service to the state, family history of service and to a lesser extent, landownership. Ukrainian and "Ruthenian" boyars visually were very simillar to western knights, but after the Mongol invasion their cultural links were mostly lost.

The boyars occupied the highest state offices and through a council (Duma) advised the Grand Duke. They received extensive grants of land and, as members of the Boyars' Duma, were the major legislators of Kievan Rus'.

After the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, the boyars from central and southern provinces of Kievan Rus' (modern Belarus and Ukraine) were partially incorporated into Lithuanian and Polish nobility(szlachta). In the 14–15th centuries many of those boyars who failed to get the status of a nobleman actively participated in the formation of Cossack army, based on the south of modern Ukraine.

In Moscow in the 14th and 15th centuries, the boyars retained their influence. However, as the knyazes of Muscovy consolidated their power, the influence of the boyars was gradually eroded, particularly under Ivan III and Ivan IV.

Tsar Ivan IV "Ivan the Terrible" severely restricted the Knyaz powers during the 16th century. Their ancient right to leave the service of one prince for another was curtailed, as was their right to hold land without giving obligatory service to the tsar.

The Boyar Duma expanded from around 30 people to around 100 in the 17th century and was finally abolished by Tsar Peter the Great in 1711 in his extensive reforms of government and administration.

Boyars in Wallachia and Moldavia

In the Carpathian regions inhabited by Romanians, the boyar ( _ro. boier) class emerged from the chiefs (named "cneaz" (knight) or "jude" (judge) in the areas north of the Danube and "celnic" south of the river) of rural communities in the early Middle Ages, initially elected, who later made their judicial and administrative attributions hereditary and gradually expanded them upon other communities. After the appearance of more advanced political structures in the area, their privileged status had to be confirmed by the central power, which used this prerogative to include in the boyar class individuals that distinguished themselves in the military or civilian functions they performed (by allocating them lands from the princely domains).

The boyar condition

Being a boyar implied three things: being a land-owner, having serfs and having a military and/or administrative function. A boyar could have a state function and/or a court function. Being only a land owner was not enough to be considered boyar. If a land-owner had no function he was categorised as a "mazil", although he was said to be of noble origin ("din os boieresc", literally "of boyar bones"). Having such a function implied automatically being a boyar. This function was called "dregatorie" and some times "boierie" (literally "boyarness"). The Prince and only the Prince had the power to give a boierie to someone and to make him thus a boyar. The small land-owners, who possessed together a domain in indistinction ("devalmasie") and had no serfs were called "razesi". According to some historians, they were descendants of mazil land-owners. In fact, their condition was identical to that of free peasantry. The Romanian nobility was thus composed of three categories to be distinguished: razes, mazil, boyar.


If the functions could only be accorded by the Prince and were not hereditary, land possession was hereditary. The Prince could give land to somebody, but could not take it from its possessor, unless for serious reasons, such as treason. Therefore there were two kinds of boyars: those whose ancestors had land before the formation of the feudal states, the ancient chiefs of the rural communities, and that were only confirmed as land-owners by the prince; and those whose ancestors had acquired their domain by a princely donation (or had acquired the domain this way themselves). During Phanariot régime, there were also boyars who had no land at all, but had only a function. This way the number of boyars could be increased, by selling functions to those who could afford them.


The close alliance between the boyar condition and the military-administrative functions led to a confusion, aggravated by the Phanariots: these functions began to be considered as noble titles, like in the Occident. In fact, this was not at all the case. Traditionally, the boyars were organized in three states: boyars of the first state, of the second state and of the third state. For example, there was a first or a grand postelnic, a second postelnic, and a third postelnic, each one with his different obligations and rights. The difference of condition was visible even in the vestimentation or physical aspect. Only the boyars of the first state had the right, for example, to grow a beard, the rest being entitled only to a mustache. Within the class of the boyars of the first state there was the subclass of the "grand boyars". Those were great land-owners and had also some very high functions, like the function of great vornic. Above those grand boyars was only the Prince.

The Prince

Although generally a Prince was a boyar before his election or appointment as Prince, this was not a condition sine qua non. Initially, only princiary descendants could be elected princes. Later, any free man could be Prince, if elected by boyars. This was the case of Constantin Cantemir, man of peasant origin and recent nobility. During the Phanariot epoch, any man could be a Prince if appointed by the Sultan (and rich enough to buy this appointment from the Grand Vizier). During the Ottoman suzerainty, and especially during the Phanariot régime, the title of Prince became an administrative function within the imperial ottoman hierarchy, and thus the ultimate form of boyardness. A Prince was the equivalent of a middle pasha.


Related article

* Okolnichy
* Russian nobility

External links

* [ Wallachian and Moldavian noblemen (late sixteenth century)]

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