Peter I (born 1672, ruled 1689-1725) is better known as Peter the Great.The forth Romanov ruler after Michael, he was the first Russian ruler to take the title of emperor, the first to travel widely at home and abroad and the first to be buried in St. Petersburg. He was both a reformer and a tyrant. He brought Russia into the modern age but to do so he relied on heavy-hand power and terror.

Describing Peter the Great, the Nobel-prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky wrote: "this monarch of six-foot-six did not suffer from the traditional Russian malady—an inferiority complex towards Europe. He did not want to imitate Europe, he wanted that Russia be Europe. Just like he himself, at least in part, was European, just like many of his friends and companions, just like the main enemies against who he warred."

In 1678, a few years before Peter the Great took the throne, the Russian Empire was home to around 20 million people. Around 40 percent of these were Russians. They were concentrated in central and northern Russia, with some settled in the Urals and western Siberia.

In the eighteenth century, Muscovy was transformed from a static, somewhat isolated, traditional state into the more dynamic, partially Westernized, and secularized Russian Empire. This transformation was in no small measure a result of the vision, energy, and determination of Peter the Great. Historians disagree about the extent to which Peter himself transformed Russia, but they generally concur that he laid the foundations for empire building over the next two centuries. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Peter's reign raised questions about Russia's backwardness, its relationship to the West, the appropriateness of reform from above, and other fundamental problems that have confronted many of Russia's subsequent rulers. In the nineteenth century, Russians debated whether Peter was correct in pointing Russia toward the West or whether his reforms had been a violation of Russia's natural traditions. *

The era that Peter initiated signaled the advent of Russia as a major European power. But, although the Russian Empire would play a leading political role in the next century, its retention of serfdom precluded economic progress of any significant degree. As West European economic growth accelerated during the Industrial Revolution, which had begun in the second half of the eighteenth century, Russia began to lag ever farther behind, creating new problems for the empire as a great power. *

Book: “Peter the Great” a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by Robert Massie.

Peter the Great's Early Life

Peter was born near Moscow on May 30, 1672. He was a member of the Romanov line and a descendant of the Schleswig Dukes of northern Germany. His father Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich died when Peter was three. His mother was Tsar Alexis's second wife. Aleksey was succeeded by his son from his first marriage, Fedor III, a sickly boy who died in 1682. Peter then was made co-tsar with his feeble-minded half brother Ivan V under the regency of Ivan's ambitious sister Sophia from 1682 to 1689. Ivan V spent much of his short life in prison and was stabbed to death by guards in 1764.

Peter grew up in an atmosphere of cruelty and intrigue. When he was ten a mob of musketeers burst into the Kremlin and threw his uncle and members of his family over the wall onto upturned pikes waiting below. The skewered bodies were then hacked to pieces right before the boy's eyes. As a child, Peter studied geography on a globe that was much taller than himself. He was fascinated by tales of seafarers and distant lands. As a teenager he neglected his duties to learn sailing and study shipbuilding,

Peter was a bit of a rogue as a young man. He drank a lot and was equally comfortable with blue bloods and rowdy sailors. He divided his time between royal country estates and urban areas and ports where he leaned about navigation from Europeans in Russia. These early experiences instilled in him an abiding interest in Western military practice and technology, particularly in military engineering, artillery, navigation, and shipbuilding.

Peter the Great Becomes Tsar

As a child of the second marriage of Tsar Aleksey, Peter at first was relegated to the background of Russian politics as various court factions struggled to control the throne. Peter's half sister, Sofia, held the real power. She ruled as regent while the young Peter was allowed to play war games with his friends and to roam in Moscow's foreign quarters.

In 1689, using troops that he had drilled during childhood games and boyars who had it with Sofia's rule, Peter foiled a plot to have Sofia crowned. Sofia was sent to a monastery. Peter was the sole ruler after his mother died in 1694 and Ivan died in 1696.

Peter the Great immediately set the goal of modernizing Russia and bringing it into the family of European nations. One of his first actions was a historic fact-finding mission to Europe and hiring 1,000 foreign experts to figure out how to bring Russia out of the Middle Ages. Among these were Germans who were vital in helping to build a miliary and commercial infrastructure.

Peter the Great's Character

Peter the Great was very popular with his people. He drank beer with commoners, rolled up his sleeves to work in the fields, and even married a peasant's daughter after shutting his first wife in a monastery. He liked to be wheeled around in a wheelbarrow and use portraits in his palaces for shooting practice. He hated ostentatious displays and made his own clothes and boots. His 6-foot-six height was extraordinary in a time when the average Russian at that time was only 5 foot 2.

Peter the Great was fond of drinking and liked to play practical jokes. He reportedly awarded loyalists with free drinking privileges indicated by a brand placed under their chin. All they had to from then on was walk into a bar, show the bartender their mark and presto, a free drink. Peter was also a master of the Russian swear language. He once let off a sequence of 74 curse words while decapitating rebellious Kremlin guards.

Peter the Great was very energetic and even hyperactive. He demanded a lot of this under him but was willing to work hard and live modestly himself. He once wrote his close friend Alexander Menshikov, “It is an age of gold in which we are living. Without loss of a single instant we devote all our energies to work.” His home in St. Petersburg was a modest log cabin on the Summer Palace grounds. He participated in the construction of his house and worked in the local fire brigade. Some historians have accused him of being too concerned with detail. He developed all kinds of plans for St. Petersburg that included the types of flowers that should be grown n the gardens.

Peter the Great was an epileptic. Each morning he drank 21 glasses of effervescent water from Belgium to relive his indignation. He had a consuming fear of crossing bridges and used to go to bed wearing his riding boots. Some scholars have suggested that Peter the Great was gay. Many believe that his close friend Menshikov was his lover.

Peter the Great's Collection

In 1718, Peter the Great issued a decree mandating the collection of rare artifacts—"everything that is very old and unusual"—from the far corners of the Russian empire. Among the most outstanding objects, which were displayed at his Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, were rare and well preserved objects taken from burial sites in Siberia and the Eurasian steppes. This collection became Russia's first museum.

Peter’s private collection of oddities—his "Chamber of Curiosities"—included pickled body parts, Siamese twins, two-faced babies, giant skeletons, a two-headed calf, pickled lizards and frogs, old dental instruments, fetuses, infant corpses, a realistic eye made from glass, antler bone and metal, and teeth he pulled from people that caught his attention. His tooth collection included one from a bishop and one from a "fast messenger."

Peter the Great started his collection after seeing the collection of the Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruyush in Amsterdam in 1667. The collection was expanded after Peter’s death. The Hermitage's collection was started by Peter the Great, as part of his "Window on Europe" campaign, and swelled under the free-spending Catherine the Great, who received advise from friends like the French intellectuals Diderot and Voltaire.

Peter the Great's Travels in the West

War dominated much of Peter's reign. At first Peter attempted to secure the principality's southern borders against the Tatars and the Ottoman Turks. His campaign against a fort on the Sea of Azov failed initially, but after he created Russia's first navy, Peter was able to take the port of Azov in 1696. To continue the war with the Ottoman Empire, Peter traveled to Europe to seek allies. The first tsar to make such a trip, Peter visited Brandenburg, Holland, England, and the Holy Roman Empire during his so-called Grand Embassy. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Peter the Great was the first Muscovite ruler ever to go to Europe. To learn about the west Peter traveled for 18 months in 1697-98 in England, France, Holland and other European countries. The trip took place at a time when Russians were still very suspicious of the West. In Moscow, foreigners were required to live in special enclaves.

Peter the Great spoke eight languages and read Latin and Greek. One of the purpose of his European trip was learn shipbuilding in England and Holland. He worked in English and Dutch shipyards and studied everything he could: anatomy, science, engraving and industrial engineering. He also visited hospitals, workshops and trading houses. Peter the Great attempted to travel incognito as a Russian soldier and ship’s carpenter. He worked a shipwrights apprentice in the London docks. But his height for one was a dead give away and most everyone he came in contact with knew he was.♣

Peter learned a great deal and enlisted into his service hundreds of West European technical specialists. The embassy was cut short by the attempt to place Sofia on the throne instead of Peter, a revolt that was crushed by Peter's followers. As a result, Peter had hundreds of the participants tortured and killed, and he publicly displayed their bodies as a warning to others. Peter was unsuccessful in forging a European coalition against the Ottoman Empire, but during his travels he found interest in waging war against Sweden, then an important power in northern Europe.

Peter the Great Wages War to Gain Outlets to the Sea

Peter the Great was determined to give Russia outlets to the Baltic Sea and the Caspian Sea. He brought European shipbuilders to Russia and set his sights first on the Caspian Sea, which was controlled by the Ottoman Turks. In 1696, his fleet captured Azoz, a important garrison on the Caspian Sea belong to Crimean Tatars, close allies of the Ottoman Turks.

Seeing an opportunity to break through to the Baltic Sea, Peter made peace with the Ottoman Empire in 1700 and then attacked the Swedes at their port of Narva on the Gulf of Finland. However, Sweden's young king, Charles XII, proved his military acumen by crushing Peter's army. Fortunately for Peter, Charles did not follow up his victory with a counteroffensive, becoming embroiled instead in a series of wars over the Polish throne. This respite allowed Peter to build a new, Western-style army.

The most important battles fought under Charles XII were part of the Great Northern War (1700-21), which began when Czar Peter the Great declared war on Swede in an effort to expand his empire across the Baltic.

Great Northern War and the Battle of Poltava

As part of his effort to gain access to the Baltic Peter united with Denmark and Poland against Sweden, The result was the Great Northern War, which lasted for 21 years from 1700 to 1721. The Swedes had held the area now occupied by St. Petersburg for more than a century. Peter wanted it. In 1703, Russian troops moving south from Lake Ladoga and captured the last Swedish outposts on the Neva River. In May 1703, he ordered the construction of a fortress on Hare Island, the first structure that would later be St. Petersburg.

In Battle of Poltava in 1709, the Swedish army under King Charles XII was defeated by Peter the Great of Russia. The battle began when invading army led by Charles besieged the Ukrainian city of Poltava. Peter the Great's army—with a three to one advantage—annihilated the Swedes, killing about a third of the 32,000 member army.

Early in the battle King Charles XII was struck in the foot by a bullet from a Cossack horseman. Relegated to a sedan chair, the king handed over command in the field to his generals, who were more accustomed to following the kings orders than acting decisively. In the final assault an advancing army of 18,000 Swedes was massacred by 44,000 well-dug-in Russian troops. About 7,000 Swedish soldiers were killed compared to only 1,400 Russian troops.

The period of Swedish expansion and dominance of the Baltic came to an end at the Battle of Poltava in 1709. After the battle of Poltava, Charles XII was forced to flee to Turkey. This marked the rise of Russia as great power and the decline of Sweden as one. After Charles escaped to Ottoman territory, Russia subsequently became engaged in another war with the Ottoman Empire. Russia agreed to return the port of Azov to the Ottomans in 1711. The Great Northern War, which in essence was settled at Poltava, continued until 1721, when Sweden agreed to the Treaty of Nystad. The treaty allowed Muscovy to retain the Baltic territories that it had conquered: Livonia, Estonia, and Ingria. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

The Treaty of Nystad gave Russia a large chunk of Swedish territory and a much needed outlet the Baltic, and its access to Europe. Through his victories, Peter acquired a direct link with Western Europe. In celebration, Peter assumed the title of emperor as well as tsar, and Muscovy officially became the Russian Empire in 1721. Peter the Great did not expand Russia's borders as much as and Catherine the Great but the territory he added of the Baltic was of utmost strategic importance.

Peter the Great's Reforms Europeanization of Russia

Peter the Great was the first person to radically reform Russia and open it up to the West, thus transforming it from a large backward kingdom into a major European power. He modernized the calendar, reorganized the church, simplified the alphabet, standardized the currency, expanded, trade, encouraged private enterprise and introduced universal taxation. He was so intent on Europeanizing his country he forced Russian men to cut off their beards and taxed women for wearing Asian-style dress.

Peter the Great's launched some bureaucratic and economic reforms based on European models. The military and bureaucracy were modernized, and officers and members of his court were required to get an education. Under Peter the Great, the first Russian factories, the first modern hospitals, the first medical schools and the first Russian newspaper was started. He issued an edict carried out by Catherine the Great to establish the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg.

Russian historian Vassily Kluchevsky wrote that Peter the Great "did not feel a blind sentimental affection for [the West] but on the contrary approached it with sober mistrust. He had no illusions about it facing Russia with open heart, knowing full well that Russia would encounter there only contempt and ill will." An associate of Peter wrote in his diary that "we would need Europe for several decades, and after that we should turn our backs to it."

Peter achieved Muscovy's expansion into Europe and its transformation into the Russian Empire through several major initiatives. He instituted a modest system for military and civilian upward mobility, through a system of progressively earned ranks. He established Russia's naval forces, reorganized the army according to European models, streamlined the government, and mobilized Russia's financial and human resources. Under Peter, the army drafted soldiers for lifetime terms from the taxpaying population, and it drew officers from the nobility and required them to give lifelong service in either the military or civilian administration. Peter’s Table of Ranks, introduced in 1722, determined a person's position and status according to service to the tsar rather than to birth or seniority. Even commoners who achieved a certain level on the table were ennobled automatically. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Peter the Great’s Reforms

Peter's reorganization of the government structure was no less thorough. He replaced the prikazy with colleges or boards and created a senate to coordinate government policy. Peter's reform of local government was less successful, but his changes enabled local governments to collect taxes and maintain order. As part of the government reform, the Orthodox Church was partially incorporated into the country's administrative structure. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Peter tripled the revenues of the state treasury through a variety of taxes. He levied a capitation, or poll tax, on all males except clergy and nobles and imposed a myriad of indirect taxes on alcohol, salt, and even beards. To provide uniforms and weapons for the military,Peter developed metallurgical and textile industries using serf labor. Peter even challenged the authority of Orthodox Church. When it resisted reforms he abolished the patriarchate and replaced it with a collective body, the Holy Synod, led by a lay government official. Bishops were placed under the control of the tsar, in effect making him the leader of the church.

Peter wanted to equip Russia with modern technology, institutions, and ideas. He required Western-style education for all male nobles, introduced so-called cipher schools to teach the alphabet and basic arithmetic, established a printing house, and funded the Academy of Sciences, which was established just before his death in 1725 and became one of Russia's most important cultural institutions.

The cost of Peter the Great's modernization campaign was enormous. To raise revenues he taxed every thing he could, including coffins and beards and his infamous "soul ax" on all lower class males. Under Peter’s system no one had a free ride. The upper classes were require to do their part, either by serving the military or civil service. If they failed to fulfill their obligations their land and titles were stripped away. Under Peter's Table of Ranks, nobility advanced or declined based on merit rather than heredity. Some inept noblemen lost all their land while talented civil servants from poor families attained large estates.

St. Petersburg and Peter the Great

St. Petersburg is among the youngest European cities. It was conceived and planned by Peter the Great as Russia's "Window on the West" after the tsar traveled incognito as a tradesman throughout Europe and decided his country needed to be Europeanized. He chose the site simply because he liked its geopolitical location and created it from scratch from former swampland, frozen half the year, along the Baltic Sea that was occupied by Sweden until Peter claimed in the Great Northern War (1700-21). According to one story, when Peter the Great first set a foot on the land where St. Petersburg now stands he proclaimed "Here shall be a town."

Peter formally established St. Petersburg in on May, 16 1703, when the first shovelfuls of dirt were dug up for the foundation of Peter and Paul Fortress on Hare Island. Peter chose this sight to contain the Swedes, who had ruled the Baltic as their private lake before the Great Northern War. The nearest settlement with a large number of people was more than 100 kilometers away.

Peter set his sights on claiming the land occupied by St. Petersburg after a military campaign against the Turks, aimed at gaining access to the Black Sea failed. At that time Russia had not claimed Siberia or the Pacific Coast and its only outlets to sea were in the Arctic, By 1710, the Swedes had been drive out of the area of present-day St. Petersburg and Peter moved the Russian capital there in 1712. He had hated Moscow ever since he was ten when a mob of musketeers burst into the Kremlin and threw his uncle and members of his family over the wall onto upturned pikes waiting below. The skewered bodies were then hacked to pieces right before the boy's eyes.

St. Petersburg was conceived to be both a Venice of the North and a Paris-style city of the Northern Lights. The lay out of the city was probably inspired by Amsterdam. Peter the Great brought in architects from all Europe and forced noblemen and merchants and even dancers, painters and musicians from Moscow to build homes there.

Creating St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is sometimes called the city “built on bones” and “founded on tears and corpses." Hundreds of thousands serfs and slave laborers from all over Russia were put to work digging canals, dragging stones, draining the swampland, driving 16-foot-long oak pilings into the swamps and erecting buildings. Much of the digging was done by hand and the dirt carried in shirts. Tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, are believed to have died from overwork and diseases like scurvy and dysentery.

Finns, Cossacks, Siberian and people from the Caucasus all participated in the construction. They were conscripted like soldiers and given a travel stipend and six months wages. They worked all day and slept in rough shacks at night. To speed construction Peter forbade stone masons from working anywhere else in the world and levied a tax—paid in stone—on carts and barges entering the city. This meant that any mode of transportation arriving in the city brought building material with it. .

The early residents of St. Petersburg hated it. Food was scarce and expensive. There was no good source of clean drinking water. The first houses caught fire easily. There was no fire brigades and people had to board boats to cross the canals. Those that ventured out in the bay sometimes drowned when their small boats capsized in sudden squalls. In the winter wolves prowled the city. In the spring the Neva River often flooded. Even so people kept on coming. By 1725, some 40,000 people lived in St. Petersburg and 90 percent of Russia's foreign trade passed through the town. At that most of the major building that characterize the city today had not been built.

Many of the buildings in St. Petersburg were designed by the Italian architects Domenico Trezzini and Bartolomeo Rastrelli under the direction of Peter and his daughter, Elizabeth. The most productive Russian architects of the eighteenth century, Vasiliy Bazhenov, Matvey Kazakov, and Ivan Starov, created lasting monuments in Moscow and St. Petersburg and established a base for the more Russian forms that followed. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Amber Room

The Amber Room—an ornate, 120-square-meter (1,300-square-foot) room made from 100,000 pieces of perfectly cut and fitted amber mosaic panels—is regarded as the most spectacular work of amber art ever made and the largest work of art ever made from material labeled as a gem. [Sources: Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, April 14, 2003; John F. Ross, Smithsonian]

The Amber Room embraced three walls of amber panels. Each wall was 13 feet high and each panel was comprised of a seamless mosaic of polished amber tiles, many carved with images of flowers, busts, Prussian royal emblems, geometric patterns, landscapes, human figures, regal symbols, and adorned with precious stones and gold. Much of the amber was honey-yellow in color. Windows dominated the forth side. The amber came from the Prussian kings collection of amber, which had been collected for centuries along the Baltic Coast.

The craftsmen polished the pieces and sometimes heated them to change their color. They were cut in the form of interlocking jigsaw-like pieces and glued onto pieces of wood which in turn were mounted on the wall. The amber came mostly from the loam in Yantar’nyi Poselok, or Amber Village, near Kaliningrad.

History of the Amber Room

The Amber Room was commissioned by King Friedrich I in 1701 for his sumptuous City Palace in Berlin and required eight years to complete under the guidance of the master craftsman Gottfried Wolfram, French jeweler Tusso and architect Andraes Schlüter. In 1711, the panels were placed in a room in at the palace where Friedrich played ticktacktoe and piquet games with his friends. He died in 1713.

The Amber Room was presented as a gift from King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia (King Friedrich I’s son) to Peter the Great of Russia. Friedrich Wilhelm I reportedly gave the room to Peter to cement an alliance with Russia. In return Peter contributed 55 exceptionally tall men to Friedrich Wilhelm’s army of giant men. Peter took the panels to the czar's summer residence at Tsarkoye Selo (now Pushkin) near St. Petersburg in 1716.

Peter was not so fond of extravagance himself. The amber panels were considered be too opulent and flashy for his taste. After he received the panels he had them stored away in their boxes. The panels were not taken out until 1740 when Peter's daughter Empress Elizabeth decided to build a special room for the amber, which was completed in 1755. The room was designed so that the amber blazed with golden light in the setting sun.

The Amber Room walls were made for 16-foot-high walls but the walls at Tsarkoye Selo were 30 feet high. To compensate the original rooms were framed in gilded boiserie tile, and embellished with wood parquet floors, a ceiling painting by Fontebasso, 24 Venetian mirrors, each topped with gilded statue of a bare-breasted nymph, objects from Peter's collection and trompe l'oeil paintings intended to look like amber mosaics. At the center of each panel was placed a Florentine mosaic dedicated to one of the five senses. The room was designed by the Italian architect Bartolommeo Francesco Rasterelli.

Catherine the Great reportedly like to play cards in the Amber Room. A Frenchman who visited the room wrote: “This isn’t a cramped boudoir, or a small chamber, but a room of considerable proportions...The eye, unaccustomed to seeing amber in such profusion, is mesmerized and blinded by the wealth and warmth of the tones.”

Impact of Peter the Great's Europeanization of Russia

Peter the Great's reforms demanded that aristocrats acquire the dress, tastes, and social customs of the West. The result was a deepening of the cultural rift between the nobility and the mass of Russian people. The best illustration of Peter's drive for Westernization, his break with traditions, and his coercive methods was his construction the new, architecturally Western capital, St. Petersburg. Although St. Petersburg faced westward, its Westernization was by coercion, and it could not arouse the individualistic spirit that was an important element in the Western ways Peter so admired.

Overall Peter the Great's reforms were largely superficial. Although St. Petersburg may have been up to European standards, Western influences had more influence on culture rather than political, social and economic spheres.

Russia as a whole remained a feudal backwater filled with illiterate and superstitious serfs. For them life remained the same, and a conflict developed between those who embraced the West and those who wanted to preserve Russian Orthodox culture. In many ways they were worse off than they were under earlier tsars because of the burdens of Peter's taxation scheme.

Impact of Peter the Great's Reforms on Russian Culture

Russia's cultural isolation began to ebb when Peter the Great became tsar. Under Peter and the tsars that followed Russia was transformed very quickly from an insular, medieval, religious self-sufficient culture to one that was more secular and relied heavily on the West for direction. Baroque became all the rage.

At the time Peter the Great's became tsar, Russia had no literature except folklore. Russian art declined with the Byzantine empire and ordinary Russians were illiterate and lacked even the most basic knowledge of arithmetic and science.

Peter revived Russian culture and art and generated an interest in literature. St. Petersburg became a major cultural center through the exchange of young Russians going off to study in Europe and European artists coming to get a taste of Russia's exotic allure. Although Peter did little to educate his people, he set goals that were achieved in later generations. After Peter the Great's reforms the Russian aristocracy began to take a stronger interests in Western art at the expense of traditional Russian art. Peter helped scholarship by decreeing that all works must be signed and dated.

Peter the Great's Cruelty

Unlike Catherine the Great, Peter the Great relied on intimidation and terror rather than persuasion to achieve is goals. He was anti-democratic and used brutal and dictatorial methods to push his reforms. Some regard him as being just a repressive of Stalin. Peter is said to have personally overseen the torture and death of his son Alexey because he was joined a conspiracy against his father's rule.

Once Peter flew into a rage over reports of high level corruption and extortion, and ordered an immediate execution of anyone who stole enough from the state to buy a length of rope. Upon hearing the news, his advisor Pavel Yaguzhinsky told him, "Has your majesty reflected on the consequences of this decree? Does Your Majesty wish to lie alone in an empire without any subjects? For we all steal. Some take a little, some take a great a deal, but all of us take something." [Source: “Peter the Great” by Robert Massie]

In 1706, Peter the Great the great secretly married a peasant girl, Catherine I. When he discovered she had an affair he ordered the man executed and had his head placed in a jar set next to Catherine's bed. He also banished his scheming sister Sofia in 1689 after she encouraged a failed uprisings and had the bodies of her conspirators hung outside her cell.

When Peter discovered that his mistress, Mrs. Hamilton, was unfaithful, he had her beheaded. He reportedly still loved her and had her head preserved in a jar and kept it as a reminder and a warning to his other mistresses.

Pickling heads in a jar seemed to a favored form of punishment and display. A Cossack named Bulavin led a rebellion against Russia after Peter ordered a round up of fugitive serfs. Peter crushed the rebellion and burned villages and hung civilians. Defeated in a battle, Bulavin committed suicide. His head was delivered to Peter, who pickled it in alcohol and displayed on a pole. Then as a gesture of reconciliation, Peter laid a few bricks on Cossack cathedral.

Peter the Great's Last Years and Legacy

In 1721, Peter took the title "Father of the Fatherland, Peter the Great, and Emperor of all of Russia," or emperor for short. He shocked the nation by declaring that Catherine I was the successor to his throne.

Peter the Great died on January 28, 1725.By the end of his reign he often spent one day a week in the torture cells of his secret police. In his last will, Peter the Great left a plan for the conquest of Europe and advised his minister that it was in the best interest of the nation for Russia to be continually at war,

Peter the Great's Table of Ranks and bureaucratic system helped ensure that his reforms survived the misrule by incompetent rulers for 37 years until Catherine the Great appeared on the scene.

After Peter the Great

Peter changed the rules of succession to the throne after he killed his own son, Aleksey, who had opposed his father's reforms and served as a rallying figure for antireform groups. A new law provided that the tsar would choose his own successor, but Peter failed to do so before his death in 1725. In the decades that followed, the absence of clear rules of succession left the monarchy open to intrigues, plots, coups, and countercoups. Henceforth, the crucial factor for obtaining the throne was the support of the elite palace guard in St. Petersburg.[Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Peter's successors moved the capital back to Moscow. Peter was succeeded by a string of incompetent leaders, including his widow Catherine I (ruled in 1725-27); his grandson Peter II (ruled 1727-30); Anna Duchess of Courland (ruled 1730-40), the daughter of Peter the Great's brother; Elizabeth (ruled 1741-61), daughter of Peter the Great; and Peter III (ruled 1741-62), nephew of Elizabeth, grandson of Peter the Great and husband of Catherine the Great.

After Peter's death, his wife, Catherine I, seized the throne. But when she died in 1727, Peter's grandson, Peter II, was crowned tsar. In 1730 Peter II succumbed to smallpox, and Anna, a daughter of Ivan V, who had been co-ruler with Peter, ascended the throne. The clique of nobles that put Anna on the throne attempted to impose various conditions on her. In her struggle against those restrictions, Anna had the support of other nobles who feared oligarchic rule more than autocracy. Thus the principle of autocracy continued to receive strong support despite chaotic struggles for the throne. Anna died in 1740, and her infant grandnephew was proclaimed tsar as Ivan VI. After a series of coups, however, he was replaced by Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth.

The Empress Elizabeth reportedly left behind 15,000 dresses and lot of unpaid bills. Empress Anna came form Corland, a mall principality in modern-day Latvia, and was Peter the Great the Great's niece. Her closest advisor was a ruthless, corrupt German baron. She had a cruel side. In 1740, she ordered the construction of an ice palace, complete with a four-poster bed and then ordered a nobleman she hated to a marry an ugly peasant woman and consummate their marriage in the ice palace. Empress Anna moved the capital back to St. Petersburg.

Achievements and Failures of Peter the Great’s Successors

During Elizabeth's reign (1741-62), which was much more effective than those of her immediate predecessors, a Westernized Russian culture began to emerge. Among notable cultural events were the founding of Moscow University (1755) and the Academy of Fine Arts (1757) and the emergence of Russia's first eminent scientist and scholar, Mikhail Lomonosov. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

During the rule of Peter's successors, Russia took a more active role in European statecraft. From 1726 to 1761, Russia was allied with Austria against the Ottoman Empire, which France usually supported. In the War of Polish Succession (1733-35), Russia and Austria blocked the French candidate to the Polish throne. In a costly war with the Ottoman Empire (1734-39), Russia reacquired the port of Azov. Russia's greatest reach into Europe was during the Seven Years' War (1756-63), which was fought on three continents between Britain and France with numerous allies on both sides. In that war, Russia continued its alliance with Austria, but Austria shifted to an alliance with France against Prussia. In 1760 Russian forces were at the gates of Berlin. Fortunately for Prussia, Elizabeth died in 1762, and her successor, Peter III, allied Russia with Prussia because of his devotion to the Prussian emperor, Frederick the Great. *

Peter III had a short and unpopular reign. Although he was a grandson of Peter the Great, his father was the duke of Holstein, so Peter III was raised in a German Lutheran environment. Russians therefore considered him a foreigner. Making no secret of his contempt for all things Russian, Peter created deep resentment by forcing Prussian military drills on the Russian military, attacking the Orthodox Church, and depriving Russia of a military victory by establishing his sudden alliance with Prussia. Making use of the discontent and fearing for her own position, Peter III's wife, Catherine, deposed her husband in a coup, and her lover, Aleksey Orlov, subsequently murdered him. Thus, in June 1762 a German princess who had no legitimate claim to the Russian throne became Catherine II, empress of Russia. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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