If you have patience and diligently reread all the private correspondence from the vast corpus of Novgorod birch bark letters, it will become clear that borrowing a small amount and then not giving it away was not considered something out of the ordinary in Russia. Society, and the authorities, were rather restrained in such weaknesses and temptations. This was the problem of the creditor, how he would collect his hard-earned money from the debtor. Another thing is not to pay the state.
Here at once harsh measures called "right" were applied to the defaulter. All tax arrears were resolutely "ruled" from the debtor. They simply beat them with batogs, pouring in a certain number of blows every day, so that it was sensitive, but also so as not to beat them to death. Until he or his relatives paid the required amount.
With the strengthening of state institutions and the unification of legal norms, the law gradually began to be applied to the collection of private debts. At least since the 15th century, "the right and delivery of the debtor to the plaintiff with his head to the atonement" was practiced widely and everywhere.
Until Peter I, having tasted European life, found this order a barbaric relic of the most dense Asiaticism. In Europe, almost from Charlemagne (IX century), laws ordered the debtor, in case of impossibility or unwillingness to immediately pay the entire amount of the debt, work it off to the creditor or go to a special (not for criminals) debt prison until he pays the debt. Moreover, the debtor was kept in this state institution at the expense of the creditor.
Peter liked this way of resolving the conflict between individuals and legal entities so much that after returning from a second long trip to Europe, in 1699, he ordered (first in Moscow) to abolish the rule of law and establish a special debt prison.
Under it, basements were allocated next to the Resurrection Gate of Kitay-Gorod, connecting the Tverskaya road with the Red Square. The staircase led down to the prison cells, which were named word by word: "bourgeois", "merchant", "noble", "administrative" and "women". Hence the immediately ingrained name of this kind of institutions - "debt hole". The king of Moscow reporters Gilyarovsky, who visited the "pit" much later, when it was no longer a "pit", conveyed his impressions this way: “I found myself in a large long room with overhanging thick vaults, with a deep embrasure of a small, dark window with a lattice, black whose spot was gaping on the illuminated wall ... So here it is, the same "pit" that is mentioned both by Dostoevsky and Ostrovsky. A terrible prison for prisoners, not for crimes, but simply for debt. There were victims of an accident, an inability to conduct a commercial business, and sometimes revelry. "
In the following decades, a system of serving sentences for debts took shape. The creditor appeared in the Commercial Court (something comparable to modern Arbitration), presented an overdue bill of exchange and paid the established monthly fee for keeping the debtor in the "pit" - "fodder money". In the 19th century - five rubles eighty-five kopecks (the monthly salary of an average official is 40 rubles, an apprentice - 10 rubles). After that, the court issued a "decree", on the basis of which the debtor had to appear and take a place in the cell. In case of failure to appear, he was brought to the "pit" by the police. In the case of malicious evasion, a criminal case was opened against him as for non-compliance with the laws. The debtor remained in the "pit" until he paid off the debt, but was immediately released away if the creditor did not pay "fodder money" for him.
After the war of 1812, the debt prison was transferred from the city center beyond the Moskva River, to the Neskuchny Garden, apparently for the edification of the merchants who lived compactly in Zamoskvorechye (Tittych in Moscow), who at that time made up its largest contingent. The prison in Moscow's everyday life was called “Tita”. Its building has survived, now it is the building of the therapeutic department of the 1st Gradsky hospital. When Prince Golitsyn began the construction of hospital buildings near his estate, he bought the building of a debt prison from the city.
The very same Moscow debt pit was moved to Bolshoi Kiselny lane, to the building of the police unit. Symptom or coincidence - until recently, this building housed the faculty of training executive personnel of the FSB Academy. However, the debt prison stayed here for only a few years and was again transferred to the larger premises of the Presnensky police house. Where a whole floor was allocated for it. In this yellow building at the beginning of Presnya there is a police station to this day.
The already mentioned V.V. Gilyarovsky visited here in the last years of the debt prison functioning: “Even though it was on the third floor, the name still remained with it“ pit ”... When I went down the stairs, I saw an elderly woman on the porch. She entered the caretaker's office and returned shortly. I became interested and asked the caretaker. “I came to sit down, but there is no room, it is being renovated. She has seven children, and she will be in prison for her husband's debts. "
In the conditions of the "first thaw" - the liberal reforms of the 60s and 70s. the institution of debt holes has been the most relentlessly criticized by the public as an uncivilized method of knocking out debt. And in 1879 debt prisons in Russia were abolished. From now on, the creditor could recover his money through the usual procedure of civil proceedings.