Шестники: к значению и происхождению социального термина
The social term shestnik, known from Novgorod-Pskov sources of the 13th–16th centuries, despite repeated attempts to interpret it, has not yet received a convincing explanation either in terms of its content or in terms of etymology. The article shows that the widespread understanding of this term as a designation of various kinds of newcomers, connected to shestvie and shestvovati, is untenable linguistically and cannot account for the whole relevant
data. The newest interpretation of the term as designating members of the nomadic population of Finno-Ugric origin is also rejected as historically unacceptable. The analysis carried out by the author showed that the word is used in two meanings, narrow and wide. Shestniki are, firstly, the prince’s armed men who perform not only military, but also administrative functions; secondly, in Novgorod and Pskov, any newcomers from Moscow, Tver and, in general, the “lower lands” (Nizovskie zemli) of the Rostov-Suzdal region could be called so. The supposed transfer of the designation of a military contingent to an ethnic group finds a parallel in the history of the word Rus’. A hypothetical explanation of the origin of the term is also proposed, linking it with the numeral ‘six’ and interpreting it as a parallel to the term os’mnikъ, which originally denoted the leader of a military unit of eight people.