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Russian boyar from XVII century voivode of the great regiment
This article refers to the aristocratic title of boyar. For the Boyar caste of 'Indiamarker, see Boyar .

A boyar or bolyar ( , , , , ) was a member of the highest rank of the feudal Moscovian, Kievan Rusian, Bulgarianmarker, Wallachian, and Moldavian aristocracies, second only to the ruling princes (in Bulgaria, tsars), 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 most sources the word is of Turkic origin. Some believe that it is composed of the roots bai ("noble, rich") and är. Another possibility is that the word originated from the Turkic title boila ("noble") which is attested in Bulgar inscriptions and rendered as boilades or boliades in the Greek of Byzantine documents. This title certainly did enter Old Russian as быля (byla).

Boyars in Bulgaria

The oldest Slavic form of boyar—bolyarin, pl. bolyari ( )—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 Bulgar 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 Bulgarian bolyars were divided into veliki (great) and mali (minor).

In Bulgaria at present the word bolyari is used as a nickname for the inhabitants of Veliko Tarnovomarker—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 similar 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 parts of Kievan Rus' (modern Belarus and Ukraine) were incorporated into Lithuanian and Polish nobility (szlachta). In the 14th and 15th centuries many of those Ukrainian boyars who failed to get the status of a nobleman actively participated in the formation of Cossack army, based on the south of modern Ukrainemarker.

Boyars in Muscovy

In Moscowmarker 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 boyar's 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 ( ) 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 "dregătorie" 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 ("devălmăşie") and had no serfs were called "răzeşi". 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: răzeş, mazil, and boyar.


Although 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 who 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. 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.

Cultural references

Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen wrote a march entitled "Bojarenes inntogsmarsj" ("Entry March of the Boyars"), known in Norway as the signal tune for the radio programme "Ønskekonserten". Edvard Grieg arranged it for solo piano.

Boyars are characters in the game Warhammer Fantasy, They appear in the Kislev army which is based on medieval Poland/Russia.

Boyar sons are featured as a militairy unit for the Novgorod faction in the 2006 strategy game Medieval II: Total War.


  1. Behind the names: Pajari
  2. Vasmer's Etymological Dictionary (Russian)
  3. 9th century stone inscription from Bulgaria mentioning boyars (boila)

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