Russian Studies†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 09/13/11



Peter the Great : Reading Guide 1.0


Read the Riasonovsky article to gain familiarity with the Peterís story.


Without sweating the details too much, note the bizarre twists in Peterís path to power (Early Life; Accession to the Throne).


A bitter succession struggle between the two families, the Miloslavskys and the Naryshkins was decided by force (the streltsy) and by politics (Metropolitan and boyar duma).


Peter (age 10) is named tsar, but with the support of the streltsy, Isabel Miloslavsky seizes power as regent with the feeble minded Ivan on the throne. The boyar duma declares Ivan senior tsar and allows Peter to be junior tsar but he is forced to live outside Moscow at the village of Preobrazhenskoye.The regentís favorite Golitsyn entertains notions of reforming serfdom and promoting education. However, two disastrous campaigns against the Crimean Tatars, in 1687 and 1689 doomed him and Isabel. A new rebellion of the streltsy brings seventeen year old Peter to the throne in 1689, but the conservative Naryshkin clan exercises power until his motherís death in 1694.


Note the influences on young Peter (Early Reign).


Peter received no extensive systematic education, barely being taught to read and write. Instead, he sought practical knowledge in the German quarter of Moscow about military and naval matters, geometry, and the erection of fortifications. His assistants constituted a remarkably diverse group, including a great variety of foreigners, and members of both the old, established Russian aristocracy and able newcomers from lower classes.


Note the character traits revealed by Peterís Azov campaigns


After failing to capture the key fortress of Azov near the mouth of the Don River by land, Peter built in one winter a fleet at Voronezh, a settlement up the Don. The next spring he besieged and conquered the fortress.


Understand the impact of the Grand Embassy on the Peterís policy and image (The Grand Embassy).


A party of approximately 250 men set out in March 1697. It was headed by Peterís close Swiss friend and associate, Franz Lefort, while the tsar himself journeyed incognito under the name of Peter Mikhailov.He visited Prussia, Holland, England, the Habsburg Empire, and the Baltic provinces of Sweden. Peter tried to learn as much as possible from the West. He seemed most concerned with navigation, but he also tried to absorb other technical skills and crafts, together with the ways, manners, and entire way of life of Europe as he saw it.


While in Vienna, the streltsy began a new rebellion, and Peter rushed back to Moscow to put down the revolt, ordering the execution of more than 1000 streltsy, with Peter himself performing as one of the executioners.


He the ordered the transformation of the tsarís court: all courtiers and soldiers now had to cut their beards and wear Western-style clothing. With the beginning of the new century, Peter changed the old Russian calendar to the Julian calendar used in the West; henceforth years were to be counted from the birth of Christ, not the creation of the world, and they were to commence on the first of January, not the first of September.


Note the scale of effort demanded by Peterís Great Northern War (1700-1721) (The Later Reign).


Allied with Denmark and Poland, Peter fought Sweden for a Ďwindow into Europeí. Sweden was considered to have the best army in Europe and was led by the most famous commander, the youthful King Charles XII. Thus, the war required utmost exertion from backward Russia. In 1700 his army were crushed at the battle of Narva.


By 1709 He had rebuilt and modernized his armed forces and won a great victory at Poltava on July 8, 1709. By 1714 Russian troops occupied most of Finland. The new Russian Baltic navy, under Peter's direct command, joined the army to defeat the Swedish fleet off HangŲ and to carry the war into Sweden itself. The Treaty of Nystad, concluded on August 30, 1721, gave Russia the Baltic provinces. From his new capital of St. Petersburg, Peter now projected Russian power to the center of Europe. His senate asked him to accept the title of emperor.



Note the historiographically significance of Riasonovskyís characterization of Peterís reforms as both ďad hocĒ and ďvisionaryĒ (Peterís Reforms). (ad hoc: makeshift)ie independent action of decisive agent as opposed to change driven by socio-economic forces that Peter recognized and used. A liberal western conception of progress driven by heroic leadership.

††††††††††† Military: Peter built a Navy (quickly and personally) and then defeated the Turks at Azov. He modernized the army with Western forms of training and technology, particularly for casting artillery.


††††††††††† State Administration (Senate, Colleges, Gubernia) The Senate (1721): 10members to supervise all judicial, financial, and administrative affairs.In 1717, he eliminated much of the corrupt, inefficient offices which had gained the tsarís patronage and replaced them with newly organized government agencies (colleges) under his delegated control. (In practice, delegating authority can make the tsar vulnerable.) Peter also divided the country into 50 gubernias (provinces), for which he established a vast bureaucracy. A governor headed each gubernia and answered to the Senate. The system provided more uniformity, but corruption and confusion thrived within the new bureaucracy. In practice the governors ruled as minor despots in their provinces.


††††††††††† Holy Synod-: In 1721 a Holy Synod, or religious college, of 10, and later 12, clerics replaced the patriarch at the head of the Orthodox Church. Peter could then use the church as a propaganda outlet for the autocracy.


††††††††††† Taxation: A head tax (poll tax) replaced the former tax on households and property; now the heavy burden of taxation extended to all, and the peasantry could not assume a collective identity to avoid taxation. The increase in efficiency and effectiveness of tax collection efforts enabled Peter to stimulate government industry but it retarded the development of a Russian middle class.


††††††††††† Table of Ranks: Compulsory service for nobles in the state bureaucracy is codified into 14 ranks and injects competition for advancement to warrant the Tsarís rewards of land, and serfs, and promotion. (meritocracy)


††††††††††† Economic War stimulates government business (mines, mills, factories), but not a market driven economy, to supply Peterís expansionist policies.


Westernization could never again be reversed. This orientation began before Peterís reforms, but it was Peter who made it state policy and thus transformed an optional and slow process into a compulsory official drive.


Note how future eras came to view Peterís legacy (Evaluation).

Old Russia criticizes Peterís reforms for trampling on tradition, but within a few years of his death Russians referred to him as The Great: a strong leader (unlike his successors) who made Russia a great power. During the first half of the 19th century among such ideologists as the Westernizers, who applauded Peterís accomplishments, and the Slavophiles, who claimed he had betrayed his countryís traditions with his reforms.



Read Olivaís chapter to gain a broader perspective on Peterís impact.


Contrast the joy engendered by Peterís death with the epical acclaim that soon followed (170-172).

Even those contemporaries who scorned his work and cheered his passing were in awe of his image, and the Petrine legend emerged in lively form within twenty years of the Emperor's deathÖ. Violent and ruthless though he might have been, he at least had an obvious pride in his state, a willingness to work harder than the meanest of his laborers, an honesty unmatched by any bureaucrat, a character unimpressed by pomp, and a martial aura shared by none of his early successors.


They used this legend to keep in place the powers he had accrued to the throne. He provided the practical lessons behind the theories of "enlightened despotism" which served to replace divine sanction as the rationale of absolutism.


Note Olivasís efforts to compare Peterís regime with similar patterns in ďrealĒ European countries (all).

The quest to attain mastery of the nobility and achieve sovereignty within the borders of the country enabled the monarch to gather the military resources to finance Great Power politics (ie wage war). Despite its image as backward, Russia modeled for Western monarchies ways of using secular methods to force their countries to modernize.


Delve carefully into Olivaís concept of the Great Power syndrome (172-174).

Great power status was one of the forces at work to preserve the Petrine reforms. Despite Peterís oppression of both the nobility and the serfs, great power status provided stability. Peter had reconquered the Russian lands lost to the West during the Time of Troubles and intimidated neighbor states into respecting Russian power. Whatever strategies enabled a state to achieve Great Power status should be preserved. The Benefits?



1.       Economic growth

2.       Secularization (emphasis on science and maximizing individual gifts)

3.       Sovereignty through bureaucratic efficiency and strength

4.       Expansion (imperial conquest and colonization)

5.       Nation state patriotism replaces loyalty to the King (dynastic states)

6.       The ability to make war


Follow Olivaís explanation of the utility and vicissitudes of autocracy as a governing principle (174-176). The limitations of autocracy: factions of nobles must be mollified through patronage and increased powers over the serfs (who periodically engage in anarchic rebellions during periods of famine) Sections of the bureaucracy compete for the favor of the tsar. Succession issues.


The problems of a military secular state: nation-states were displacing dynastic agglomerations, bureaucracies were implementing the monarch's will in wider and more penetrating ways, industrial growth and international commerce were beginning to play havoc with guild forms and native handicrafts, colonial empires were being carved out by states with the means and the will, and secular learning and secular interests were threatening religious institutions and religious spirit. And, underlying all of these, the wars of the new monarchs were more general in extent and more crucial in their consequences to society than ever before.


Assess Olivaís explanation for Russiaís success under Peter and under the influence of Peterís legend (176).


Those kingdoms that made the most intensive war for the longest time with some degree of success in this age laid many of the foundations of the modern world.