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Okolnichy - Attendant

The term okolnichy (pl. okolnichie) meaning "someone close to the ruler," is derived from the word okolo (near, by). The okolnichy ["attendant" or "courtier"] were second-class courtiers in the pre-Petrine court system. An okolnichy was a Courtier of the second class, attached to the person of the Tsar. The boyars and okolnichy ("assistant" - a social class second in status to boyars) were the two highest service ranks. Okolo means around and Oliolitsa means environage, and oltolnichy environing. Among the inferior officials whose memory survives in proverbs, are the Okolnichie a species of judicial officers who attended the Tsar on his expeditions, and of whom we learn, "Without money even an Okolnichy is worthless." They worked in the government chancelleries, served as military governors and ambassadors.

The sources first mention an okolnichy at the court of the prince of Smolensk in 1284. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, okolnichie acted as administrators, judges, and military commanders, and as witnesses during compilation of a prince's legal documents. When a prince was on campaign, okolnichie prepared bridges, fords, and lodging for him. Okolnichie usually came from local elite families. By the end of the fifteenth century, the rank of okolnichy became part of the hierarchy of the Gosudarev Dvor (Sovereign's Court), second after the rank of boyar. Unlike boyars, who usually performed military service, okolnichie carried out various administrative assignments in the first half of the sixteenth century. Later, the okolnichie conceded their administrative functions to the secretaries.

Under Ivan IV, the majority of okolnichie belonged to the boyar families who had long connections with Moscow. For most elite courtiers, with the exception of the most distinguished princely families, service as okolnichie was a prerequisite for receiving the rank of boyar. The rank of okolnichy also served as a means of integrating families of lesser status into the elite.

In 'A wise man, like a Starosta Gubnoi, is feared by all,' reference is made to a criminal judgeship abolished by Peter I, in 1702. As in early days the clergy were the readers and writers of the land, and deacons generally filled secretarial posts, the name Diak, Deacon, attached itself to the person of every Secretary, whether a layman or a clerk. The Diaks, who assisted at the signing of all State papers, obtained great influence, as is observed in the saying, ' So be it, if the Diak has made his mark,' a phrase which now means that ' what's done cannot be undone ;' or the simile, 'A Diak in office is like a cat beside piecrust.'

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