Further evolution of this system resulted, by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in the concentration of power in the hands of some three or four dozen boyar families whose members occupied, through election, all the key posts in the state. These families, together with the Archbishop's Court ("House of St. Sophia"), and several rich monasteries like St. George's, St. Anthony's, or at Arkazhi, which were also great feudal lords, owned most of Novgorod's vast territory. What remained was occupied by small land - holders dependent on the great lords, who sought to attach them to the land by restricting their right to leave their holding and go and settle in a new area. There were at that time no strongly guarded boundaries between principalities, and the peasants were, nevertheless, fairly independent: they could exchange one holding for another, belonging to a different landowner; or else travel north or north - east, towards the White Sea or the Urals, where there still remained considerable tracts of unoccupied land, and settle there as free farmers.
The struggles which resulted in the formation of the Novgorod boyar republic attained this culmination point in the events of 1136 y. The Veche, attended on this occasion not only by Novgorodian citizenry but also by representatives of Pskov and Ladoga, deposed Prince Vsevolod. The chronicler tells us that he was locked up "in the Lord Bishop's Court, together with his wife, his children, and his mother - in - law, on the twenty - eighth day of the month of May, and was watched night and day by armed men, thirty men for each day". It was not an accident that Lord Bishop's Court was chosen as the Prince's place of confinement: Bishop Nifont was the moving spirit of the coup of 1136 y.
After the coup, Nifont managed, by skilful manoeuvering, to secure for himself a position that made him the de facto ruler of Novgorod, and somewhat later, to emancipate his see from the control of the Metropolitan of Kiev. He succeeded in this through clever use of the internal strife in the Church, caused by the nomination to the metropolitan see of Kiev, unsanctioned by the Patriarch of Constantinople, of Clement of Smolensk, a very prominent Russian ecclesiastic and theological writer. Nifont, a Greek by birth, contrived to get himself raised to the rank of Archbishop and established direct links with the Patriarch of Constantinople, thereby exempting himself from the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Kiev.
With the rise of Nifont, Byzantine influence in Novgorodian arts gained a new impetus, felt most strongly in icon painting. The new Archbishop, who played a great role in Novgorod's cultural life, was the carrier and promoter of that influence. A patron of the arts, Nifont built extensively both in Novgorod and elsewhere: he erected the Church of St. George at Ladoga, and at Pskov, and the church in the Monastery of Our Saviour at Mirozh. He made the painting of frescoes in church interiors his special concern, and he gave instructions as to their subjects and execution.
The uprising of 1136 y. placed Archbishop Nifont at the head of the Novgorodian boyars, and made him Chairman of the Council of Nobles. He was now the richest landowner in the city - state, with many of the rights, taxes, and landed possessions formerly at the disposal of the Prince bestowed upon him. He became sole master of the Novgorodian Detinets citadel, and of St. Sophia's. The state treasury lodged now in the Cathedral was entirely at his command. It was the Archbishop who shaped Novgorod's foreign policy, controlled the administration of justice, supervised the proper use of weights and measures in trade, and kept his eye on many other affairs of state.