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Section 6: The Modernization of Russia

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    Peter the Great

    The early years of Peter the Great were marked by power struggles among multiple heirs to the Russian tsardom as well as Peter’s European travels, which greatly inspired his modernizing reforms.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Describe Peter the Great’s early life

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • Peter the Great of the House of Romanov ruled the Tsardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire from 1682 until his death. The Romanovs took over Russia in 1613, and the first decades of their reign were marked by attempts to restore peace, both internally and with Russia’s rivals.
    • After Alexis I’s (Peter’s father) death, a power struggle between the Miloslavsky family (of Alexis’s first wife) and the Naryshkin family (of Alexis’s second wife) ensued. Eventually, Peter’s half-brother, Ivan V, and ten-year-old Peter became co-tsars, with Sophia Alekseyevna, one of Alexis’s daughters from his first marriage, acting as regent.
    • Sophia was eventually overthrown, with Peter I and Ivan V continuing to act as co-tsars, yet power was exercised mostly by Peter’s mother. It was only when Nataliya died in 1694 that Peter became an independent sovereign, and the sole ruler after Ivan’s death in 1696.
    • Peter implemented sweeping reforms aimed at modernizing Russia. Heavily influenced by his advisers from Western Europe, he reorganized the Russian army along modern lines and dreamed of making Russia a maritime power.
    • Knowing that Russia could not face the Ottoman Empire alone, in 1697 Peter traveled incognito to Europe with the so-called Grand Embassy to seek the aid of the European monarchs. The mission failed, as Europe was at the time preoccupied with the question of the Spanish succession.
    • The European trip, although politically a failure, exposed Peter to Western European artists, scientists, craftsmen, and noble families. This broadened his intellectual horizons and convinced him that Russia should follow Western Europe in certain respects.

    Key Terms

    • Grand Embassy: A Russian diplomatic mission sent to Western Europe in 1697–1698 by Peter the Great. The goal of this mission was to strengthen and broaden the Holy League, Russia’s alliance with a number of European countries against the Ottoman Empire in its struggle for the northern coastline of the Black Sea.
    • boyars: Members of the highest rank of the feudal Bulgarian, Moscovian, Ruthenian (Ukraine and Belarus), Wallachian, and Moldavian aristocracies, second only to the ruling princes (or tsars), from the 10th century to the 17th century.
    • serfdom: The status of many peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism. It was a condition of bondage that developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted in some countries until the mid-19th century.

    Political Background

    Peter the Great of the House of Romanov (1672–1725) ruled the Tsardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire from 1682 until his death, jointly ruling before 1696 with his elder half-brother, Ivan V. The Romanovs took over Russia in 1613, and the first decades of their reign were marked by attempts to restore peace, both internally and with Russia’s rivals, most notably Poland and Sweden.
    In order to avoid more civil war, the great nobles, or boyars , cooperated with the first Romanovs, enabling them to finish the work of bureaucratic centralization. Thus, the state required service from both the old and the new nobility, primarily in the military. In return, the tsars allowed the boyars to complete the process of enserfing the peasants. With the state now fully sanctioning serfdom, peasant rebellions were endemic.

    Peter the Great: Early Years

    From an early age, Peter’s education (commissioned by his father, Tsar Alexis I) was put in the hands of several tutors. In 1676, Tsar Alexis died, leaving the sovereignty to Peter’s elder half-brother, Feodor III. Throughout this period, the government was largely run by Artamon Matveev, an enlightened friend of Alexis, the political head of the Naryshkin family (Natalya Naryshkina was Alexis’s second wife and Peter’s mother) and one of Peter’s greatest childhood benefactors. This changed when Feodor died in 1682. As he did not leave any children, a dispute arose between the Miloslavsky family (Maria Miloslavskaya was the first wife of Alexis I) and the Naryshkin family over who should inherit the throne. Peter’s other half-brother, Ivan V, was next in line for the throne, but he was chronically ill. Consequently, the Boyar Duma (a council of Russian nobles) chose 10-year-old Peter to become tsar, with his mother as regent. However, Sophia Alekseyevna, one of Alexis’s daughters from his first marriage, led a rebellion of the Streltsy (Russia’s elite military corps), which made it possible for her, the Miloslavskys (the clan of Ivan), and their allies to insist that Peter and Ivan be proclaimed joint tsars, with Ivan being acclaimed as the senior. Sophia acted as regent during the minority of the sovereigns and exercised all power. For seven years, she ruled as an autocrat.

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    Peter the Great as a child, artist unknown

    Peter’s childhood was marked by power struggles between the families of Alexis I’s first and second wives. Although he was named a co-tsar in 1682, at the age of ten, he did not become an independent and sole ruler until 1696.

     

    Taking Over the Power

     

    While Peter was not particularly concerned that others ruled in his name, his mother sought to force him to adopt a more conventional approach. She arranged his marriage to Eudoxia Lopukhina in 1689, but the marriage was a failure. Ten years later Peter forced his wife to become a nun and thus freed himself from the union.

    By the summer of 1689, Peter planned to take power from his half-sister Sophia, whose position had been weakened by two unsuccessful Crimean campaigns. After a power struggle, in which the Streltsy was forced to shift its loyalty, Sophia was eventually overthrown, with Peter I and Ivan V continuing to act as co-tsars. Yet Peter could not acquire actual control over Russian affairs. Power was instead exercised by his mother, Natalya Naryshkina. It was only when Nataliya died in 1694 that Peter became an independent sovereign, and the sole ruler after Ivan’s death in 1696.

     

    Early Reign

     

    Peter implemented sweeping reforms aimed at modernizing Russia. Heavily influenced by his advisers from Western Europe, he reorganized the Russian army along modern lines and dreamed of making Russia a maritime power. He also implemented social modernization in an absolute manner by introducing French and western dress to his court and requiring courtiers, state officials, and the military to shave their beards and adopt modern clothing styles. One means of achieving this end was the introduction of taxes for long beards and robes in September 1698. The move provoked opposition from the boyars.

    To improve his nation’s position on the seas, Peter sought to gain more maritime outlets and attempted to acquire control of the Black Sea, at the time controlled by the Ottoman Empire. To do so, he would have to expel the Tatars from the surrounding areas, but the initial attempts ended in failure. However, after the 1695 initiative to build a large navy, he officially founded the first Russian Navy base, Taganrog (Sea of Azov).

    Peter knew that Russia could not face the Ottoman Empire alone. In 1697 he traveled incognito to Europe on an eighteen-month journey with a large Russian delegatio—the so-called Grand Embassy—to seek the aid of the European monarchs.
    The mission failed, as Europe was at the time preoccupied with the question of the Spanish succession. Peter’s visit was cut short in 1698, when he was forced to rush home by a rebellion of the Streltsy. The rebellion was easily crushed, but Peter acted ruthlessly towards the mutineers. Over 1,200 of the rebels were tortured and executed, and Peter ordered that their bodies be publicly exhibited as a warning to future conspirators. The Streltsy were disbanded.

     

    Peter’s European Education

     

    Although the Grand Embassy failed to complete its political mission of creating an anti-Ottoman alliance, Peter continued the European trip, learning about life in Western Europe. While visiting the Netherlands, he studied shipbuilding and visited with families of art and coin collectors. From Dutch experts, craftsmen, and artists, Peter learned how to draw teeth, catch butterflies, and paint seascapes. In England, he also engaged in painting and navy-related activities, as well as visited Manchester in order to learn the techniques of city building that he would later use to great effect at Saint Petersburg. Furthermore, in 1698 Peter sent a delegation to Malta to observe the training and abilities of the Knights of Malta and their fleet.

    Peter’s visits to the West impressed upon him the notion that European customs were in several respects superior to Russian traditions. Unlike most of his predecessors and successors, he attempted to follow Western European traditions, fashions, and tastes. He also sought to end arranged marriages, which were the norm among the Russian nobility, because he thought such a practice was barbaric and led to domestic violence, since the partners usually resented each other.

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    A statue of Peter I working incognito at a Dutch wharf, St. Petersburg

    Peter the Great learned the shipbuilding craft in Holland in 1697. It was one of many skills that he acquired during his Western European trip.

     

    The Westernization of Russia

     

    In order to modernize a socially and economically lagging Russia, Peter the Great introduced sweeping social, administrative, and economic reforms that westernized Russia to a certain extent, yet did not alter deeply feudal divisions in the increasingly authoritarian state.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Discuss the reasons why Peter worked so hard to forcibly westernize Russia

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • In his effort to modernize Russia, the largest state in the world, but one that was economically and socially lagging, Peter introduced
      autocracy and played a major role in introducing his country to the European state system. His visits to the West impressed upon him the notion that European customs were in several respects superior to Russian traditions.
    • Heavily influenced by his advisers from Western Europe, he reorganized the Russian army along modern lines and dreamed of making Russia a maritime power.
    • His social reforms included the requirement of Western fashion in his court (including facial hair for men), attempts to end arranged marriages, and the introduction of the Julian Calendar in 1700.
    • One of Peter’s most audacious goals was reducing the influence of the  boyars, or the feudal elite class. He did this by imposing taxes and services on them as well as introducing comprehensive administrative reforms that opened civil service to commoners. However, sharp class divisions, including the already tragic fate of serfs, only deepened.
    • Tax and trade reforms enabled the Russian state to expand its treasury almost sixfold between 1680 and 1724.
    • Legislation under Peter’s rule covered every aspect of life in Russia, and his reform contributed greatly to Russia’s military successes and the increase in revenue and productivity. Overall, Peter created a state that further legitimized and strengthened authoritarian rule in Russia.

    Key Terms

    • Table of Ranks: A formal list of positions and ranks in the military, government, and court of Imperial Russia. Peter the Great introduced the system in 1722 while engaged in a struggle with the existing hereditary nobility, or boyars. It was formally abolished in 1917 by the newly established Bolshevik government.
    • kholops: Feudally dependent persons in Russia between the 10th and early 18th centuries. Their legal status was close to that of serfs but in reality closest to that of slaves.
    • serfdom: The status of many peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism. It was a condition of bondage that developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted in some countries until the mid-19th century.
    • Collegia: Government departments in Imperial Russia established in 1717 by Peter the Great. The departments were housed in Saint Petersburg.
    • boyars: Members of the highest rank of the feudal Bulgarian, Moscovian, Ruthenian, (Ukraine and Belarus), Wallachian, and Moldavian aristocracies, second only to the ruling princes (or tsars), from the 10th century to the 17th century.

    Russia at the Turn of the 18th Century

    By the time Peter the Great became tsar, Russia was the largest country in the world, stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Much of Russia’s expansion had taken place in the 17th century, culminating in the first Russian settlement of the Pacific in the mid-17th century, the reconquest of Kiev, and the pacification of the Siberian tribes. However, the vast majority of the land was unoccupied, travel was slow, and the majority of the population of 14 million depended on farming. While only a small percentage lived in towns, Russian agriculture, with its short growing season, was ineffective and lagged behind that of Western Europe. The class of kholops, or feudally dependent persons similar to serfs, but whose status was closest to slavery, remained a major institution in Russia until 1723, when Peter converted household kholops into house serfs, thus including them in poll taxation (Russian agricultural kholops were formally converted into serfs in 1679). Russia also remained isolated from the sea trade and its internal trade communications and many manufactures were dependent on the seasonal changes.

    Peter and Western Europe

    Peter I the Great introduced autocracy in Russia and played a major role in introducing his country to the European state system. His visits to the West impressed upon him the notion that European customs were in several respects superior to Russian traditions. Heavily influenced by his advisers from Western Europe, he reorganized the Russian army along modern lines and dreamed of making Russia a maritime power. He also commanded all of his courtiers and officials to wear European clothing and cut off their long beards, causing great upset among boyars, or the feudal elites. Those who sought to retain their beards were required to pay an annual beard tax of one hundred rubles.

    Peter also introduced critical social reform. He sought to end arranged marriages, which were the norm among the Russian nobility, seeing the practice as barbaric and leading to domestic violence. In 1699, he changed the date of the celebration of the new year from September 1 to January 1. Traditionally, the years were reckoned from the purported creation of the world, but after Peter’s reforms, they were to be counted from the birth of Christ. Thus, in the year 7207 of the old Russian calendar, Peter proclaimed that the Julian Calendar was in effect and the year was 1700.

    Portrait of Peter the Great

    Peter the Great by Jean-Marc Nattier, 1717

    Administrative Reforms

    One of Peter’s major goals was reducing the influence of the boyars, who stressed Slavic supremacy and opposed European influence. While their clout had declined since the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Boyar Duma, an advisory council to the tsar, still wielded considerable political power. Peter saw them as backwards and as obstacles standing in the way of Europeanization and reform. He specifically targeted boyars with numerous taxes and obligatory services.

    Prior to Peter’s rule, Russia’s administrative system was relatively antiquated compared to that of many Western European nations. The state was divided into uyezds, which mostly consisted of cities and their immediate surrounding areas. In 1708, Peter abolished these old national subdivisions and established in their place eight governorates. In 1711, a new state body was established: the Governing Senate. All its members were appointed by the tsar from among his own associates, and it originally consisted of ten people. All appointments and resignations of senators occurred by personal imperial decrees. The senate did not interrupt the activity and was the permanent operating state body. Another decree in 1713 established Landrats (from the German word for “national council”) in each of the governorates, staffed by between eight and twelve professional civil servants, who assisted a royally-appointed governor. In 1719, after the establishment of government departments known as the Collegia, Peter remade Russia’s administrative divisions once more. The new provinces were modeled on the Swedish system, in which larger, more politically important areas received more political autonomy, while smaller, more rural areas were controlled more directly by the state.

    Peter’s distrust of the elitist and anti-reformist boyars culminated in 1722 with the creation of the Table of Ranks —a formal list of ranks in the Russian military, government, and royal court. The Table of Ranks established a complex system of titles and honorifics, each classed with a number denoting a specific level of service or loyalty to the tsar; this was among the most audacious of Peter’s reforms. Previously, high-ranking state positions were hereditary, but with the establishment of the Table of Ranks, anyone, including a commoner, could work their way up the bureaucratic hierarchy with sufficient hard work and skill. A new generation of technocrats soon supplanted the old boyar class and dominated the civil service in Russia. With minimal modifications, the Table of Ranks remained in effect until the Russian Revolution of 1917.

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    A manuscript copy of the 1722 Table of Ranks

     

    Finance

    Peter’s government was constantly in dire need of money, and at first it responded by monopolizing certain strategic industries, such as salt, vodka, oak, and tar. Peter also taxed many Russian cultural customs (such as bathing, fishing, beekeeping, or wearing beards) and issued tax stamps for paper goods. However, with each new tax came new loopholes and new ways to avoid them, and so it became clear that tax reform was simply not enough.

    The solution was a sweeping new poll tax, which replaced a household tax on cultivated land. Previously, peasants had skirted the tax by combining several households into one estate. Now, each peasant was assessed individually for a tax paid in cash. This new tax was significantly heavier than the taxes it replaced, and it enabled the Russian state to expand its treasury almost sixfold between 1680 and 1724. Peter also pursued proto-protectionist trade policies, placing heavy tariffs on imports and trade to maintain a favorable environment for Russian-made goods.

     

    Subjugation of the Working Masses

     

    Peter’s reign deepened the subjugation of serfs to the will of landowners. He firmly enforced class divisions and his tax code significantly expanded the number of taxable workers, shifting an even heavier burden onto the shoulders of the working class. A handful of Peter’s reforms reflected a limited understanding of certain Enlightenment ideals. For example, he created a new class of serfs, known as state peasants, who had broader rights than ordinary serfs but still paid dues to the state. He also created state-sanctioned handicraft shops in large cities, inspired by similar shops he had observed in the Netherlands, to provide products for the army. Evidence suggests that Peter’s advisers recommended the abolition of serfdom and the creation of a form of “limited freedom,” but the gap between slaves and serfs shrank considerably under Peter. By the end of his reign the two were basically indistinguishable.

     

    Outcomes

     

    Peter’s reforms set him apart from the tsars that preceded him. In Muscovite Russia, the state’s functions were limited mostly to military defense, collection of taxes, and enforcement of class divisions. In contrast, legislation under Peter’s rule covered every aspect of life in Russia with exhaustive detail, and it significantly affected the everyday lives of nearly every Russian citizen. The success of reform contributed greatly to Russia’s military successes and the increase in revenue and productivity. More importantly, Peter created a state that further legitimized and strengthened authoritarian rule in Russia. Testaments to this lasting influence are the many public institutions in the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, which trace their origins back to Peter’s rule.

     

    Peter’s Foreign Policy

     

    The foreign policy of Peter the Great focused on the goal of making Russia a maritime power and turned Russia into one of the most powerful states in Europe, shifting the European balance of power.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Analyze Peter’s foreign policy goals and the extent to which he achieved them

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • To improve his nation’s position on the seas, Peter the Great sought to gain more maritime outlets. The goal of making Russia a maritime power shaped Peter’s foreign policy.
    • Peter’s first military efforts were directed against the Ottoman Turks. While his efforts to gain access to the Azov Sea eventually failed, his alliance with the Ottoman Empire against Persia allowed him to access the Caspian Sea.
    • Peter’s rule was dominated by the Great Northern War, in which he and his allies successfully challenged the dominance of Sweden in the Baltic region. As a result of this war, Russia gained vast Baltic territories and became one of the greatest powers in Europe.
    • While during Peter’s reign Russia did not formally wage wars with Poland-Lithuania, Peter made the most of the internal chaos and power struggles in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He secured formerly Polish-Lithuanian territories in Ukraine and had an impact on internal politics in the Commonwealth.
    • Peter’s foreign policy turned the Tsardom into the Russian Empire and left Russia one of the most powerful states in Europe and a major player in global politics.

    Key Terms

    • Treaty of Nystad: The last peace treaty of the Great Northern War of 1700–1721. It was concluded between the Tsardom of Russia and the Swedish Empire in 1721 in the then-Swedish town of Nystad. It shifted the balance of power in the Baltic region from Sweden to Russia.
    • Great Northern War: A 1700–1721 conflict in which a coalition led by the Tsardom of Russia successfully contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in Central, Northern, and Eastern Europe. The initial leaders of the anti-Swedish alliance were Peter the Great of Russia, Frederick IV of Denmark–Norway, and Augustus II the Strong of Saxony–Poland.
    • Treaty of Thorn: A treaty concluded in 1709 between Augustus the Strong of Poland–Lithuania and Peter the Great of Russia during the Great Northern War. The parties revived their alliance, which Charles XII of Sweden had destroyed in the Treaty of Altranstädt (1706), and agreed on restoring the Polish crown to Augustus.
    • Eternal Peace Treaty of 1686: A treaty between the Tsardom of Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth signed in 1686 in Moscow. The treaty secured Russia’s possession of left-bank Ukraine plus the right-bank city of Kiev. The region of Zaporizhian Sich, Siverian lands, cities of Chernihiv, Starodub, Smolensk, and its outskirts were also ceded to Russia, while Poland retained right-bank Ukraine.

    Introduction

    Peter the Great became tsar in 1682 upon the death of his elder brother Feodor, but did not become the actual ruler until 1689. He commenced reforming the country, attempting to turn the Russian Tsardom into a modernized empire relying on trade and on a strong, professional army and navy. Heavily influenced by his advisers from Western Europe, he reorganized the Russian army along modern lines and dreamed of making Russia a maritime power. To improve his nation’s position on the seas, Peter sought to gain more maritime outlets. His only outlet at the time was the White Sea at Arkhangelsk. The Baltic Sea was controlled by Sweden in the north, while the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea were controlled by the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Empire respectively in the south.

    Peter the Great and the Ottoman Empire

    Peter’s first military efforts were directed against the Ottoman Turks. After the Turkish failure to take Vienna in 1683, Russia joined Austria, Poland, and Venice in the Holy League (1684) to drive the Turks southward. Russia and Poland signed the Eternal Peace Treaty of 1686, in which Poland–Lithuania agreed to recognize the Russian incorporation of Kiev and the left-bank of the Ukraine. The Russo–Turkish War of 1686–1700 followed as part of the joint European effort to confront the Ottoman Empire (the larger European conflict was known as the Great Turkish War). During the war, the Russian army organized the Crimean campaigns of 1687 and 1689, which ended in Russian defeats. Despite these setbacks, Russia launched the Azov campaigns in 1695 and 1696 and successfully occupied Azov (northern extension of the Black Sea) in 1696. However, the gains did not last long. The Russo–Ottoman War of 1710–1711, also known as the Pruth River Campaign, erupted as a consequence of the defeat of Sweden by the Russian Empire in the Battle of Poltava (1709) during the ongoing Great Northern War. The conflict was ended by the 1711 Treaty of the Pruth, which stipulated that Russia return Azov to the Ottomans, and the Russian Azov fleet was destroyed.

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    Capture of Azov by Russian emperor Peter the Great (on horseback) by Adriaan van Schoonebeek, (1699)

    While Peter successfully occupied Azov in 1696, the gains did not last long. The Russo-Ottoman War of 1710–1711 was ended by the 1711 Treaty of the Pruth, which stipulated that Russia return Azov to the Ottomans.

    However, Peter managed to gain access to the Caspian Sea. In the Russo–Persian War (1722–1723), Russia had managed to conquer swaths of Safavid Irans territories in the North Caucasus, Transcaucasia, and northern mainland Iran, while the Ottoman Turks had invaded and conquered all Iranian territories in the west. The two governments eventually signed a 1724 treaty in Constantinople, dividing a large portion of Iran between them. The annexed Iranian lands located on the east of the conjunction of the rivers Kurosh (Kur) and Aras were given to the Russians, while the lands on the west went to the Ottomans.

    Great Northern War

    Between the years of 1560 and 1658, Sweden created a Baltic empire centered on the Gulf of Finland. Peter the Great wanted to re-establish a Baltic presence by regaining access to the territories that Russia had lost to Sweden in the first decades of the 17th century. In the late 1690s, the adventurer Johann Patkul managed to ally Russia with Denmark and Saxony by the secret Treaty of Preobrazhenskoye. As Augustus II the Strong, elector of Saxony, gained the Polish crown in 1696, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, at conflict with Sweden since the mid-17th century, automatically became a member of the alliance.

    In 1700, Peter, supported by his allies, declared war on Sweden, which was at the time led by eighteen-year-old King Charles XII. A threefold attack at Swedish Holstein-Gottorp, Swedish Livonia, and Swedish Ingria did not overwhelm the inexperienced Charles XII. Sweden parried the Danish and Russian attacks at Travendal and Narva, and in a counter-offensive pushed Augustus II’s forces through the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth to Saxony, dethroning Augustus on the way and forcing him to acknowledge defeat in the Treaty of Altranstädt (Augustus was restored in 1709). The treaty also secured the extradition and execution of Patkul, the architect of the anti-Swedish alliance. Peter I had meanwhile recovered and gained ground in Sweden’s Baltic provinces. Charles XII moved from Saxony into Russia to confront Peter, but the campaign ended with the destruction of the main Swedish army at the decisive 1709 Battle of Poltava (in present-day Ukraine), and Charles’s exile in Ottoman Bender. After Poltava, the anti-Swedish coalition, which by that time had fallen apart twice, was re-established and subsequently joined by Hanover and Prussia. The remaining Swedish forces in plague-stricken areas south and east of the Baltic Sea were evicted, with the last city, Riga, falling in 1710. Sweden proper was invaded from the west by Denmark–Norway and from the east by Russia, which had occupied Finland by 1714. The Danish forces were defeated. Charles XII opened up a Norwegian front, but was killed in Fredriksten in 1718.

    The war ended with Sweden’s defeat, leaving Russia as the new dominant power in the Baltic region and a major force in European politics. The formal conclusion of the war was marked by the Swedish–Hanoverian and Swedish–Prussian Treaties of Stockholm (1719), the Dano-Swedish Treaty of Frederiksborg (1720), and the Russo–Swedish Treaty of Nystad  (1721). In all of them, Sweden ceded some territories to its opponents. In Nystad, King Frederick I of Sweden formally recognized the transfer of Estonia, Livonia, Ingria, and Southeast Finland to Russia, while Russia returned the bulk of Finland to Sweden. As a result, Russia gained vast Baltic territories and became one of the greatest powers in Europe.

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    Signing of the Treaty of Nystad (1721) by Pieter Schenk (II)

    Nystad manifested the decisive shift in the European balance of power that the Great Northern War had brought about: the Swedish imperial era ended and Sweden entered the Age of Liberty, while Russia emerged as a new empire.

    Polish/Lithuanian–Russian Relations

    While during Peter’s reign Russia did not formally wage wars with Poland–Lithuania, Peter made the most of the internal chaos and power struggles in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. After Poltava, the rule of Augustus II was restored thanks to the support of Peter (Treaty of Thorn) and largely against the will of the Polish–Lithuanian nobility. Soon Augustus unsuccessfully wanted to terminate his participation in the Great Northern War and free himself from his dependence on Peter. Attempts at peace with Sweden, which would strengthen Augustus’s hand in dealing with Peter, turned elusive. In the end, Saxony-Commonwealth ended up as the only power in the victorious coalition with no territorial gains.

    The Polish–Lithuania nobility resisted the Saxon rule and troops in Poland, which led to military resistance. However, the spreading movement, unable to fulfill its mission alone, requested mediation by Peter I. Augustus agreed, and several months of negotiations facilitated by the Russian ambassador followed, with the fighting still intermittently taking place. Eventually Augustus asked for an intervention by Russian forces, the Polish–Lithuanian nobles were defeated by the Saxons in 1716, and a treaty between the king and the Polish–Lithuanian nobility was signed in Warsaw. The Tsardom’s mediation and supervision marked a turning point in the Polish/Lithuanian–Russian relations.

    Augustus was still able to largely free himself from Peter’s protectorate, but in return was excluded from the Treaty of Nystad negotiations. Russia took Livonia, a territory that had been historically contested by Sweden, Russian, and Poland–Lithuania, and the Commonwealth no longer shared a border with Sweden. In real terms, Poland, besides Sweden, was the main victim of the war, because of the damage inflicted on its population, economy, degree of independence, ability to function politically, and potential for self-defense.

    Peter’s Domestic Reforms

    Through his expansive domestic reforms, Peter the Great modernized Russia,  but he also centralized power in his hand, significantly curbing the influence of the noble elites and the Orthodox church.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Explain Peter’s domestic reforms and what he hoped to accomplish with each of them

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • Peter the Great recognized the weaknesses of the Russian state and aspired to reform it following Western European models. Seeing the class of boyars as obstacles standing in the way of Europeanization and reform, he introduced comprehensive changes into a relatively antiquated system of Russian administration.
    • All the administrative reforms, and particularly the introduction of the Table of Ranks, aimed to weaken the position of the old boyar class, but they also moved Russia towards the authoritarian rule, where power was largely concentrated in the hand of the head of the state.  The Orthodox church did not accept Peter’s reforms, and Peter refused to accept the power of the patriarch. While the tsar did not abandon Orthodoxy as the main ideological core of the state, he started a process of westernization of the clergy and secular control of the church.
    • Peter established Saint Petersburg in 1703. The city was built on the presumption that it would be the most westernized city of Russia. He moved the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in 1712, and the city became the political and cultural center of Russia.
    • While Peter died without naming a successor, his manipulations led to the death of his only male heir and the crowning of his second wife, Catherine, the Empress. Catherine was the first woman to rule Imperial Russia, opening the legal path for a century almost entirely dominated by women.

    Key Terms

    • boyars: Members of the highest rank of the feudal Bulgarian, Moscovian, Ruthenian (Ukraine and Belarus), Wallachian, and Moldavian
      aristocracies, second only to the ruling princes (or tsars), from the 10th
      century to the 17th century.
    • Saint Petersburg: Russia’s second-largest city after Moscow and an important Russian port on the Baltic Sea. Established by Peter the Great, between 1713–1728 and 1732–1918 it was the imperial capital of Russia. It remains the most westernized city of Russia as well as its cultural capital.
    • Holy Synod: A congregation of Orthodox church leaders in Russia. It was established by Peter the Great, Stefan Yavorsky, and Feofan Prokopovich in January 1721 to replace the Patriarchate of Moscow. It was abolished following the February Revolution of 1917 and replaced with a restored patriarchate under Tikhon of Moscow.
    • Table of Ranks: A formal list of positions and ranks in the military, government, and court of Imperial Russia. Peter the Great introduced the system in 1722 while engaged in a struggle with the existing hereditary nobility, or boyars. It was formally abolished in 1917 by the newly established Bolshevik government.
    • Collegia: Government departments in Imperial Russia established in 1717 by Peter the Great. The departments were housed in Saint Petersburg.

     

    Peter’s Reforms of the Russia State

     

    Unlike most of his predecessors, not only did Peter the Great recognize the weaknesses of the Russian state, which at the time was greatly influenced by the class of boyars (feudal elites), but also aspired to reform it following Western European models. Seeing boyars as obstacles
    standing in the way of Europeanization and reform, Peter introduced changes into a relatively antiquated system of Russian administration. In 1708, he established eight governorates and in 1711 the Governing Senate. All its members, originally ten individuals, were appointed by the tsar. The senate did not interrupt the activity and was the permanent operating state body. In 1713, Landrats (from the German word for “national council”) were created in each of the governorates. They were staffed by professional civil servants, who assisted a royally-appointed governor. In 1719, after the establishment of government departments known as the Collegia, Peter remade Russia’s administrative divisions once more. The new provinces were modeled on the Swedish system, in which larger, more politically important areas received more political autonomy, while smaller, more rural areas were controlled more directly by the state.

    Peter’s distrust of the elitist and anti-reformist boyars culminated in 1722 with the creation of the Table of Ranks, a formal list of ranks in the Russian military, government, and royal court. The Table of Ranks established a complex system of titles and honorifics, each classed with a number denoting a specific level of service or loyalty to the tsar. Previously, high-ranking state positions were hereditary, but with the establishment of the Table of Ranks, anyone, including a commoner, could work their way up the bureaucratic hierarchy with sufficient hard work and skill. While all these administrative reforms aimed to weaken the position of the old boyar class, they also moved Russia towards authoritarian rule, where power was largely concentrated in the hand of the head of the state.

     

    Church Reforms

     

    The Russian tsars traditionally exerted some influence on church operations. However, until Peter’s reforms, the church had been relatively free in its internal governance. Peter lost the support of the Russian clergy over his modernizing reforms as local hierarchs became very suspicious of his friendship with foreigners and his alleged Protestant propensities. The tsar did not abandon Orthodoxy as the main ideological core of the state, but attempted to start a process of westernization of the clergy, relying on those with a Western theological education. Simultaneously, Peter remained faithful to the canons of the Eastern Orthodox church. Inviting Ukrainian and Belorussian clergymen, mostly graduates of the highly acclaimed westernized Kiev-Mohyla Academy, unintentionally led to the “Ukrainization” of the Russian church, and by the middle of the 18th century the majority of the Russian Orthodox church was headed by people from Ukraine.

    The traditional leader of the church was the Patriarch of Moscow. In 1700, when the office fell vacant, Peter refused to name a replacement and created the position of the custodian of the patriarchal throne, which he controlled by appointing his own candidates. He could not tolerate the thought that a patriarch could have power superior to the tsar, as indeed had happened in the case of Philaret (1619–1633) and Nikon (1652–1666). In 1721, he established the Holy Synod (originally the Ecclesiastical College), which replaced patriarchy altogether. It was administered by a lay director, or Ober-Procurator. The Synod changed in composition over time, but basically it remained a committee of churchmen headed by a lay appointee of the emperor. Furthermore,
    a new ecclesiastic educational system was begun under Peter. It aimed to improve the usually very poor education of local priests and monks. However, the curriculum was so westernized (emphasis on Latin language and subjects for the price of limited exposure to Greek, the Eastern Church Fathers, and Russian and Slavonic church languages) that monks and priests, while being formally educated, received poor training in preparation for a ministry to a Russian-speaking population steeped in the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy.

     

    Saint Petersburg

     

    In 1703, during the Great Northern War, Peter the Great established the Peter and Paul fortress on small Hare Island, by the north bank of the Neva River. The fortress was the first brick and stone building of the new projected capital city of Russia and the original citadel of what would eventually be Saint Petersburg. The city was built by conscripted peasants from all over Russia, and tens of thousands of serfs died building it. Peter moved the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in 1712, but referred to Saint Petersburg as the capital (or seat of government) as early as 1704. Western European architects, most notably Swiss Italian Domenico Trezzini and French Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond, shaped the city in the initial stages of its construction. Such buildings as the Menshikov Palace, Kunstkamera, Peter and Paul Cathedral, and Twelve Collegia became prominent architectural landmarks. In 1724, Peter also established the Academy of Sciences, the University, and the Academic Gymnasium. Saint Petersburg is still the most Westernized city in and the cultural capital of Russia.

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    Collage of pictures from Saint Petersburg: Clockwise from top left: Peter and Paul Fortress on Zayachy Island, Smolny Cathedral, Bronze Horseman on Senate Square, the Winter Palace, Trinity Cathedral, and the Moyka river with the General Staff Building.

     

    Succession

     

    Peter had two wives, with whom he had fourteen children, but only three survived to adulthood. Upon his return from his European tour in 1698, he sought to end his unhappy arranged marriage to Eudoxia Lopukhina. He divorced the tsaritsa and forced her into joining a convent. Only one child from the marriage, Tsarevich Alexei, survived past his childhood. In 1712, Peter formally married his long-time mistress, Martha Skavronskaya, who upon her conversion to the Russian Orthodox church took the name Catherine.

    Peter suspected his eldest child and heir, Alexei, of being involved in a plot to overthrow the emperor. Alexei was tried and confessed under torture during questioning conducted by a secular court. He was convicted and sentenced to be executed. The sentence could be carried out only with Peter’s signed authorization, but Alexei died in prison, as Peter hesitated before making the decision. In 1724, Peter had his second wife, Catherine, crowned as empress, although he remained Russia’s actual ruler. He died a year later without naming a successor. As Catherine represented the interests of the “new men,” commoners who had been brought to positions of great power by Peter based on competence, a successful coup was arranged by her supporters in order to prevent the old elites from controlling the laws of succession. Catherine was the first woman to rule Imperial Russia (as empress), opening the legal path for a century almost entirely dominated by women, including her daughter Elizabeth and granddaughter-in-law Catherine the Great, all of whom continued Peter the Great’s policies in modernizing Russia.

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    Catherine I of Russia by Jean-Marc Nattier (1716)

    Catherine, Peter’s second wife, was the first woman to rule Imperial Russia (as empress), opening the legal path for a century almost entirely dominated by women.

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