The Myth of Slavic Drunkenness
Historian Buganov reports that “until the X century, the Rus did not know the intoxicating grape wine, only beer was brewed, and kvass and mead prepared. These light drinks were accompanied by feasts and bratchins, brought as treats at feasts, causing the drinkers a gaiety that did not turn into heavy intoxication.” Even in the Slavic birch bark letters until the XIII century there is no mention of wine and drunkenness.
Only in the XV century in Russia appeared the first public drinking establishments – taverns. But they existed only in large cities, for example: Kiev, Novgorod, Smolensk, Pskov.
The tradition of consuming strong spirits came to us from Europe. In the middle of the XVI century, when during the rule of Ivan the Terrible the taverns appeared, where visitors were poured vodka. But in Moscow, for example, the tavern was intended only for oprichniki (state police and personal bodyguards of Ivan the Terrible). The rest were forbidden to drink vodka.
Sale of alcohol, too, was limited: it could not be sold during fasts, as well as on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. In the remaining days, the trade in wine was allowed only after the Mass and lasted no more than three hours.
In addition, the buyer had the right to purchase only one glass (120 ml) of wine, not more. Even then, drunkenness was not considered socially acceptable, despite the fact that the trade in liquors brought substantial revenues to the treasury.
Meanwhile, many foreigners who have visited Russia, note the “drunkenness of the Russians”. Thus, the ambassador of the Holstein prince Frederick III, Adam Olearius, in his “Description of the journey to Muscovy and through Muscovy to Persia and back” writes that the Russians “are more committed to drinking than any other people in the world.”
And this despite the fact that in Western Europe, many men and women daily spent their time in tavern, where they drank cheap liquor without any restriction. In Russia, at least, vodka and wine were expensive, and not everyone could afford them.
It is also worth recalling that almost a hundred years before Olearius another foreign ambassador, Sigismund Gerberstein, does not even mention drunkenness among Russians in his “Notes on Muscovite Affairs”. Apparently, after all, we are talking about some kind of subjective observations, for example, related to visiting taverns.
“Until the end of the XIX century, vodka and other alcoholic beverages in Russia could only be bought in drinking houses,” says ethnographer Opletin in his article “The Myth of Russian Drunkenness”. “And only a very narrow stratum of the population was drunk, since alcohol was allowed only in the tavern itself, and it was indecent to go there.”
The Alcohol Taboo for Women
Be that as it may, women were not allowed into Russian taverns. For them, in many cases, the use of alcohol in general was taboo. Even at the wedding, newlyweds could not have consumed alcohol.
Why? Because this was followed by a wedding night, and the couple could conceive a child. And what kind of child could come of drunken parents? Our Ancestors were not fools and already knew about the impact of alcohol on genes.
Probably, they noticed the effect of ethyl alcohol on the female body. As it is known, the consequences of drinking alcohol for women are much more harmful than for men, even to the loss of childbearing function.
Even in the famous medieval “Domostroi” it was said: “A determined wife would never have any drunken drinking: no wine, no mead, no beer, no treats. Drinking would be in the cellar on the ice, and the wife would drink a hopeless brag and kvass – and at home, and in public. If women come from where to cope with health, they also do not give drunken drink … “
The Slavic women were the keepers of the family hearth, the woman kept the whole household, she had to raise children. How would she do this if she was drunk? She would simply lose her role as wife and mother.
The Tradition of Sobriety
“Wine was drunk only on great holidays,” the researcher Charushnikov testified in 1917. “People who liked to drink were called drunkards in the village. There was no respect for them, they were laughed at.” Berdinsky in the book “Peasant civilization in Russia” states: “Many remember that their fathers (women generally did not drink wine) used alcohol truly at homeopathic doses.”
“In Russia only 100 years ago … 90% of women and 43% of men were absolute nondrinkers (i.e. they never tasted alcohol in their lives!),” says Optetin. So, based on many sources, we can conclude that even men in the pre-revolutionary Russia (before the Jewish-Bolshevik Revolution of 1917) used alcohol in very moderate quantities, and women did not use it at all – it was forbidden both by law and by tradition.”
Translated by: Dmitriy Kushnir