AskDefine | Define boyar

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From Russian бояре, plural of боярин, perhaps from Slavic bol- ‘great’, or perhaps related to Turkish boj ‘stature’.




  1. A rank of aristocracy (second only to princes) in Russia, Bulgaria and Romania.
    • 1997: Boris had abdicated in 889, leaving the throne [of Bulgaria] to his son Vladimir, who had immediately identified himself with the boyar aristocracy which Boris had done his utmost to crush. — John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium (Penguin 1998, p. 159)

Extensive Definition

This article refers to the aristocratic title of boyar. For the Boyar caste of India, see Boyar (caste).
A boyar or bolyar (, , , lang-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".


According to some the word is of Turkic origin and it is composed of the roots boy ("tribe") and ar ("pride/honour") or ari (pure/clean). 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 Kayi Boyu (one of the 24 Oghuz Boys that migrated from central Asia), old Turkic word kayi, strong, Kayi 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.

Boyars in Bulgaria

The oldest Slavic form of boyar — bolyarin, pl. bolyari (Bulgarian: 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, while the 9th century Bulgarian sources call them 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 (Romanian: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 boyars progressively differentiated themselves into ‘great’ boyars (who owned numerous, large domains and held important functions in the central administration) and ‘small’ boyars (who owned small estates and held less important functions). Starting in the first half of the 15th century, they became the most important political force in Wallachia and Moldavia. In Transylvania, they either had to let themselves be assimilated into the Hungarian nobility or or had to lose their status, becoming simple peasants.
A number of Historical Romanian ranks and titles were reserved for Boiers, notably Medelnicer, Postelnic and (Mare) Stolnic.
Although over the centuries their influence alternated with periods of centralism, the boyars of Wallachia and Moldavia increased their privileges (they had absolute control over the inhabitants of their domains, full tax exemptions and only boyars could hold offices). Divided into numerous factions, they frequently attempted to remove or replace the princes of those two countries, a process usually accompanied by crimes and atrocities from both sides. Since the 16th century, members of the great boyar families replaced the traditional princes from the Basarab and Muşat dynasties on the thrones of Wallachia and Moldavia.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Romanian boyars became increasingly influenced by Greek culture, adopting its institutions and way of life; during this time, rich people of common origin became boyars by simply buying the rank from the prince, in order to have access to important public functions. However, in the early 19th century, many boyars (especially the foreign-educated ones) became advocates of change and modernization, being very active in the process of Romanian national awakening that culminated with the union of Wallachia and Moldavia in 1859. In the newly-created state, the boyars remained a very important factor (even though their privileges had been gradually abolished since the 1830s) as they owned most of the land, thus controlling agriculture, the country’s most important activity. The boyars also had strong political representation, especially in the Conservative Party.
In the rapidly-changing economy of contemporary Romania, the boyars' medieval domains were practically converted into colonial plantations. This situation led to large peasant uprisings and was generally disapproved, but only in the dramatic circumstances of the post-World War I period did the Romanian government agree to carry out a significant land ownership reform. Between 1918 and 1921, 60,000 square kilometres of land were transferred to 1.4 million peasants, effectively ending the economic prominence of the boyars.


Related article

boyar in Belarusian: Баярын
boyar in Bulgarian: Болярин
boyar in German: Bojaren
boyar in Spanish: Boyardo
boyar in Esperanto: Bojaro
boyar in French: Boyard
boyar in Italian: Boiardi
boyar in Hebrew: בויאר
boyar in Latvian: Bajārs
boyar in Lithuanian: Bajorai (luomas)
boyar in Hungarian: Bojár
boyar in Macedonian: Болјарин
boyar in Dutch: Bojaren
boyar in Polish: Bojarzy
boyar in Portuguese: Boiardo
boyar in Romanian: Boier
boyar in Russian: Боярин
boyar in Slovenian: Bojarji
boyar in Serbian: Бољари
boyar in Finnish: Pajarit
boyar in Swedish: Bojar
boyar in Vietnamese: Boyar
boyar in Ukrainian: Бояри
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