The nobility was the most privileged class in pre-revolutionary Russia. Noblemen were people who worked for the state. They were paid a salary and sometimes awarded land and serfs. Their property could be inherited by their sons, if their sons continued to serve the state. The need to serve to inherit was abolished in the eighteenth century.

Even after these reforms, the nobility regarded state service as a sign of prestige. Many young noblemen worked for the state, even when they were rich enough not to work. They were formally employed by government departments, even if they rarely put in an appearance at work. This only applied to the civil service; military service was a different matter.

The richest section of the Russian nobility lived in the cities and moved in high society, attending court functions. They entrusted their estates to a deputy, who forwarded them income from their estates at regular intervals or when needed. Many noblemen went bankrupt on account of the high cost of life in the capital or were swindled by dishonest deputies.

The most affluent sections of the Russian nobility often took foreign trips. Some even lived abroad permanently.

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