Dress was highly semiotically charged in 19th-century Russia. Clothing was a material representation of structures of power; this was a reality that writers were aware of and drew on in their work. What a person wore depended on their status, but also partly on their inclinations. Some clothes, such as uniforms, were legally prescribed, while others, such as fashionable dress, relied on generally understood codes. Noblemen used their clothing choices to negotiate their relationship with the state and to express their political leanings. At times they conformed with and at times they retreated from the norms of the public sphere. They also sometimes dressed in opposition to the status quo. Writers used the significances of different kinds of clothing to explore the nuances of social structures and how they affected individuals within society.
Male Noble Dress in 19th-Century Russian Literature
Moscow: The Third Rome
In the mid-19th century, three 16th-century Russian sources were published that alluded to Moscow as the “third Rome.” When 19th-century Russian historians discovered these texts, many interpreted them as evidence of an ancient imperial ideology of endless expansion, an ideology that would go on to define Russian foreign policy from the 16th century to the modern day. But what did these 16th-century depictions of Moscow as the third Rome actually have in mind? Did their meaning remain stable or did it change over the course of the early modern period? And how significant were they to early modern Russian imperial ideology more broadly? Scholars have pointed out that one cannot assume that depictions of Moscow as the third Rome were necessarily meant to be imperial celebrations per se. After all, the Muscovites considered that the first Rome fell for various heretical beliefs, in particular that Christ did not possess a human soul, and the second Rome, Constantinople, fell to the Turks in 1453 precisely because it had accepted some of these heretical “Latin” doctrines. As such, the image of Moscow as the third Rome might have marked a celebration of the city as a new imperial center, but it could also allude to Moscow’s duty to protect the “true” Orthodox faith after the fall—actual and theological—of Rome and Constantinople. As time progressed, however, the nuances of religious polemic once captured by the trope were lost. During the 17th and early 18th centuries, the image of Moscow as the third Rome took on a more unequivocally imperialist tone. Nonetheless, it would be easy to overstate the significance of allusions to Moscow as the third Rome to early modern Russian imperial ideology more broadly. Not only was the trope rare and by no means the only imperial comparison to be found in Muscovite literature, it was also ignored by secular authorities and banned by clerics.