Charles E. Ziegler


     The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations
     Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling, Series Editors
     Greenwood Press / Westport, Connecticut · London / 1999


     Maps:       The Penguin Historical Atlas of Russia / 1995









Russia under the Romanovs: Empire and Expansion, 1613-1855


Legislation, civil administration, diplomacy, military discipline, the navy, commerce and industry, the sciences and fine arts, everything has been brought to perfection as he intended, and, by an unprecedented and unique phenomenon, all his achievements have been perpetuated and all his undertakings perfected by four women who have succeeded him, one after the other, on the throne.

Voltaire, Russia under Peter the Great ( 1763)


In the 112 years from the beginning of the Romanov dynasty in 1613 to the death of Peter the Great in 1725, an isolated, fragmented, and weak Russia evolved into a major European power with new industries, a standing army, and a new capital. Russia in the late seventeenth century was a far cry from Peter's ideal of a modern, efficient industrial power, and he struggled incessantly with recalcitrant nobles, peasants, and townfolk to Westernize Russian society. Peter's efforts to modernize medieval Russia injected contradictions and contrasting perspectives that would fuel social tensions and political disputes, which have persisted into the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Most of the Romanov tsars who preceded Peter were weak and ineffectual rulers; his father, Alexis, was probably the best of the lot. Mikhail Romanov, selected as tsar at age sixteen in 1613, was not able to put an immediate end to Russia's difficulties. According to Nicholas Riasanovsky, Russia's most pressing problems in the early Romanov years were internal disorder, foreign invasion, and financial collapse. Mikhail's father, the Metropolitan Filaret, served as the real power behind the throne until his death in 1633. When Mikhail died, his son Alexis, a cultured but weak leader, ruled Russia from 1645 to 1676. Tsar Alexis frequently deferred to his boyar advisors, whose greed and corruption provoked peasant and Cossack rebellions in 1648, 1662, and 1670-1671. The last and most famous of these revolts was led by Stenka Razin, a Don Cossack and hero of the common people who was eventually captured and executed.


Tsar Alexis Romanov

Edict of Tsar Alexis

Stenka Razin


In the first few decades of the Romanov dynasty the power vacuum at the center strengthened the zemskii sobor (Assembly of the Land), which advised Mikhail and Alexis, passed legislation in certain areas, and represented the gentry and merchants against the boyars. Unlike the English Parliament, however, the Russian zemskii sobor never accumulated enough power to challenge the tsar's authority; by the 1650s its influence was waning. Peter the Great's strong centralized rule decisively ended any chance of a representative legislature emerging in Russia.

Much of the groundwork for Peter's strengthening of the Russian state was laid during the seventeenth century. State control over society was embodied in a law code (Ulozhenie) of 1649. This legislation, premised on the idea that inequality and rank were central to a well-ordered society, formalized a rigid hierarchy of class relations, from boyars and the highest church ranks, through the upper and middle service classes, merchants, and townspeople, to peasants and slaves at the bottom of the ladder. The Ulozhenie spelled out in detail the duties and responsibilities of each social group--for example, their obligation to provide carts for the postal service, the payment due an individual for injured honor, or the sum that would be paid to ransom someone from foreign captivity. These strict provisions tied the peasants more closely to the land, ended what remained of their limited freedom of movement, and largely eroded the distinction between serf and slave.

The seventeenth century was an age of great exploration eastward, following in the path of the Cossack Ermak. Cossack explorers reached the shores of massive Lake Baikal, the largest body of fresh water in the world, in 1631. Fur and gold were the primary motivations for opening up this frigid and inhospitable region. By about 1650 Russia controlled much of Siberia, and by the time Peter I was crowned tsar, in 1689 (his sister Sofia had governed as regent from 1682 to 1689, since Peter was only ten years old when he became tsar), Russian territory extended to what is now the Bering Strait. It was Peter the Great who, in 1724, sent the German explorer Vitus Bering eastward to map the icy body of water dividing Russia from North America.

North and central Siberia at that time was an area inhabited by small tribal peoples--the Yakuts, Buriats, Chukchis, and others--whom the Russians easily subdued. However, further south Russia's explorers clashed with a powerful neighbor, China, whose Qing dynasty rulers feared Russian traders might strike an alliance with the fierce nomadic warriors on their northern borders. In 1689 the Russians and Chinese, with the assistance of Jesuit missionaries acting as interpreters, signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk. This agreement granted Russia most of Siberia while reserving the area around the eastern Amur River to China. The Treaty of Nerchinsk is a critical event in Russo-Chinese relations, since it demarcated their border over the course of the next three centuries.

Since the fall of Kiev to the Mongols in 1240 Ukraine had been outside Moscow's domain. By the late fourteenth century much of Ukraine (the word means "the border") had been incorporated into Catholic Lithuania, later to be supplanted by joint Polish-Lithuanian rule. Crimean Tatars controlled the southern part of what is now Ukraine. Ivan the Terrible had captured some of the eastern Ukrainian lands for Muscovy; however, Poland continued to threaten Moscow through the Time of Troubles. The Lublin Union of 1569, joining Poland and Lithuania, restrained Moscow's influence in the southwest. The formation in 1596 of a Uniate branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Eastern Orthodox in rite but formally subordinate to Rome, exacerbated religious tensions in Ukraine.

In the early seventeenth century Zaporozhe Cossacks, freebooters living along the southern reaches of the Dniepr River, fought the Poles in their role as protector of the Orthodox. Polish repressions in Ukraine sparked the revolt of 1648, led by the Cossack Bogdan Khmelnitsky. The Cossack leader and his followers captured Kiev but, under pressure from the Poles, turned to Moscow for protection. Ukraine suffered as a battleground between Russia and Poland for thirteen years, from 1654, when Ukraine swore allegiance to Tsar Alexis, to 1667, when the Treaty of Andrusovo granted all of Ukraine east of the Dniepr River, together with Kiev, to Moscow.

While medieval Russia had by 1689 developed into a physically imposing country, from the perspective of most Europeans it remained a curious, rather primitive nation of fur-capped barbarians. Peter the Great both expanded Russian territory and sought to modernize his country by adopting European customs, manufacturing practices, and military technologies. Peter relied on brute force and the strength of his will to create a modern nation that would be internationally respected.

Peter's favorable orientation toward the West was acquired in childhood. Although he was formally proclaimed tsar at age ten following the death of Tsar Feodor in 1682, Peter's half-sister Sofia assumed the regency. Court politics quickly degenerated into vicious intrigue. Neglected, Peter frequently entertained himself in the foreign quarter of the capital. Skills learned from his Dutch and German friends were reinforced by a tour of the Continent in 1697. As a child he assembled play regiments to conduct "war games"; these formations evolved into two elite guard regiments, the Preobrazhenskii and Semenovskii.



Young Tsar Peter Romanov


Peter was very intelligent, energetic, insatiably curious, and physically imposing at nearly seven feet tall. He was very much a hands-on ruler, insisting on learning some twenty different trades such as carpentry, shipbuilding, and shoemaking, and in keeping with his commitment to meritorious advancement, worked his way up through the ranks of the army. Peter also founded the Russian navy, starting with the Sea of Azov fleet, needed to defeat the Turks during the 1695-1696 campaign. Later he constructed the Baltic fleet to pursue the Great Northern War with Sweden. Peter studied naval construction at Dutch and English shipyards, recruited European experts to advise Russians in the military sciences, and built a large ship entirely by himself.

Although committed to modernizing Russia militarily, economically, and socially, Peter rejected political liberalization as inappropriate for Russia. When the streltsy (royal musketeers) revolted in 1698 in an attempt to restore Sofia to the throne, Peter cut short his European tour, cruelly executed over a thousand of the conspirators, sent others into exile, and forced Sofia and his first wife, Evdokia, into a convent. Later, Peter would decentralize Russian government, enact civil service reforms (by establishing the Table of Ranks), and create a Senate to administer affairs of state while he was absent from the capital. While these reforms provided for more efficient administration of state affairs, the absolute power of the tsar was not eroded, as happened in Britain during the same period. Rather, Peter's reforms strengthened the power of the state and the tsar.


Above: Traditional Streltsy (royal musketeers) / 1698

Below: Peter’s New style soldiers / 1698 – 1721


Much of Peter's reign was consumed with the Great Northern War against Sweden. Following the conclusion of a treaty with the Turks, Peter joined his Saxon and Danish allies in declaring war on Sweden. Russia was promptly defeated by a much smaller force of Swedes, led by the eighteen-year-old military genius King Charles XII, at the battle of Narva in November 1700. This major loss led Peter to rebuild his army, including the famous decision to melt down Russia's church bells to make cannonballs. Peter also introduced general military conscription, constructed a Baltic fleet, and laid the foundations for a new northern capital on the Gulf of Finland as part of his northern campaign. In July 1709 Russian forces destroyed the Swedish army at the battle of Poltava, in Ukraine. Although fighting with Sweden dragged on until 1721, when the Treaty of Nystadt finally brought an end to hostilities, the victory at Poltava stunned Europe and confirmed Russia's emergence as a major military power. Russia now was an established presence in the Baltic region, with Peter's new capital city, St. Petersburg, positioned as his window on the West.


St. Petersburg and Peterhof (painting by Vasiliy Sadovnikov/ 1840 )


Peter's constant military campaigns expanded Russia's boundaries, but at considerable cost to the Russian people. In order to pay for the armies, ships, and armaments the Russian government imposed heavy financial burdens on the population. Mills, beehives, bath houses, and coffins were all taxed to provide revenue for the army. In keeping with Peter's goal of discouraging traditional Russian practices, beards were also taxed (some stubborn court figures had their facial hair shaved off by the tsar himself!). Late in his reign a head tax was imposed on all male peasants, in place of the household and land taxes, to make it more difficult to evade their assessments.

Russia's middle and upper classes were also expected to fulfill their obligations to the state. The nobility were registered and were required to serve either in the military ranks or in the growing civil bureaucracy. Government officials were to be promoted according to merit. The Table of Ranks, established in 1722, essentially replaced the medieval system of state appointments corresponding to the importance of one's noble family (mestnichestvo), which had been abolished in 1682. The Table listed fourteen ranks each in the military, civil, and judicial services. Since promotion was to be based on accomplishment, this system provided for limited upward social mobility. A member of the lower class who attained the fifth rank would be granted status in the gentry for life; reaching the ninth rank conferred gentry status on one's heirs.

New laws on provincial and municipal government were enacted in 1719 and 1721, respectively, in an attempt to separate judicial and administrative functions. Late in his life Peter also sought to create a more activist state to provide social services, govern the economy, and create a respect for law and a sense of communal responsibility. And yet there was no equivalent to the American concept of law limiting government. As the British historian B. H. Sumner has pointed out, Peter relied heavily on his guards officers to override ordinary government, rule Ukraine, and force officials to carry out his edicts. This practice of relying on a state above the state had been employed by Ivan the Terrible and his oprichniki, and would be used in later years by Russian tsars and Soviet dictators.

When Peter I died in 1725, he left a Russia transformed. His rule embodied both the technological and rationalistic spirit of the West and the autocratic and cruel properties of the East. He injected these conflicting values into Russian society, creating tensions that would endure for centuries. The upper classes had accepted many of the European customs he forced on them, while the great mass of the population remained culturally Russian. Over the next century this cultural divide would widen even further, creating virtually two worlds having little in common. Only in the late nineteenth century were there any serious efforts to bridge the gap, not via reform, but through various populist and terrorist movements that would destabilize Russian society and prime it for revolution.




RELIGION AND CULTURE                            


The Russian Orthodox religion underwent a series of reforms in the mid-seventeenth century which pitted traditionalists against those who would modernize and revitalize Russian Orthodoxy, leading to a major schism in the Church. The proposed reforms also pitted church against state. Patriarch Nikon, who had assumed office in 1652, promoted a number of "corrections" to Orthodox religious texts and rituals, to bring the Church more into line with prevailing Greek practice. An Orthodox Church council meeting in 1666-1667 deposed the ambitious Nikon but enacted his proposed reforms. While outsiders might consider the changes to be rather trivial (for example, making the sign of the cross with three fingers rather than two), many of the faithful rejected these innovations.

These Russian protestants, the Old Believers, often fled east to the wilds of Siberia or to remote areas in the north. The more extreme congregations burned themselves to death in their churches rather than give in to the ecclesiastical authorities. As cultural historian and Librarian of Congress James Billington has observed, through their self-imposed seclusion, the Old Believers relinquished Russian urban culture to foreigners and the Westernized service nobility. Old Believer communities preserved the mystical and anti-Enlightenment elements of Muscovite society into the early twentieth century.

Russian culture became increasingly secularized in the decades after the Great Schism. Billington notes that theological education in Russia became more Latin than Greek in content--more inclined to rational discourse, and therefore more secular. The Orthodox Church had been opposed to music, sculpture, and portraiture; under Tsar Alexis and the regent Sofia European-style paintings, literature, poetry, and historical writing made inroads into Russian culture. During Peter's reign, though, there was not much progress in either philosophic or artistic culture.

Peter the Great was tolerant of different religious faiths. He frequently invoked Russian Orthodoxy when it suited his needs, but he was also notorious for organizing blasphemous drinking parties ridiculing the Church hierarchy. More important, Peter made the Orthodox Church subordinate to government authority, as part of his broader efforts to strengthen the Russian state. In 1718 he established an Ecclesiastical College, or Holy Synod, a sort of governing board of clerics, to replace the independent patriarchate. The Ecclesiastical College was one of nine specialized administrative bodies patterned after the German model. Subsequently, he created the office of Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod ( 1722) to monitor and enforce state control over Church affairs.

With the abolition of the patriarchate and the creation of the Holy Synod and its head, the Chief Procurator, Peter brought an end to the symphonic relationship of Orthodox Church and Russian state. No longer the moral conscience of the nation, the Church now was impressed into state service. Clearly, Peter viewed the Church with its conservative, bearded clerics as a mainstay of old Russia. His son and heir Alexis, who was weak and unfit to rule, had allied himself with some of the more reactionary clergy in opposing his father's reforms. Lured back from his refuge in Austria in 1716, Alexis was tortured and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul fortress, where he died in 1718. This experience likely confirmed Peter's intention to subordinate the Church firmly under state control.

Education in Russia made major advances under Peter the Great, which were continued by his eighteenth-century successors. Peter's view of education, however, was narrow and highly functional. In his estimation, broad education was less useful than practical training in military science, construction, or languages, which he deemed vital to building a stronger Russian state. In keeping with Peter's determination to make Russia the equal of Europe, the Russian Academy of Sciences was established in 1725. Although initially both instructors and students were German, the academy soon could boast of Russian luminaries, among them the poet, scientist, historian, and educator Mikhail Lomonosov ( 1711-1765).


Mikhail Lomonosov as seen by Russian artist Anatoliy Vasiliev


Moscow University, Russia's first and most prestigious institution of higher education, was founded in 1755 with the assistance of Lomonosov. Lomonosov was Russia's first Renaissance man. He studied in Germany, at the University of Marburg, and upon his return to Russia adapted Germanic practices to Russian higher education. Lomonosov was a pioneer in chemistry, experimented with electricity, and promoted scientific approaches to marine navigation. A Russian nationalist determined to place the Russian language on a par with European tongues, his study of Russian grammar contributed significantly to the development of the country's language and national identity.

Elizabeth ( 1741-1762) and Catherine II ( 1762-1796) carried out vigorous building programs, making St. Petersburg into one of Europe's most beautiful cities. Under Elizabeth the great Italian architect, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, designed some of Russia's most prominent landmarks, including the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, Smolnyi Convent, and the fourth Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The last of these, the chief residence of later tsars and tsarinas, is now the great Hermitage museum. Catherine sponsored architectural competitions and depleted Russia's already strained treasury to construct such monuments as the Merchants' Arcade (Gostinyi Dvor) in St. Petersburg, designed by Vallen de la Mothe, and Vasilii Bazhenov's great Kremlin Palace in Moscow.

Women made marginal advances during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The regent Sofia had freed herself and other noble women from the terem, which consigned them to household seclusion; Peter commanded them to appear in public to dance and converse with men, in the European style. The examples of Elizabeth and Catherine the Great encouraged women to occupy more prominent roles in Russian society. For example, under Catherine II a member of her royal court, Princess Dashkova, served as director of the Russian Academy and the Imperial Academy of Sciences.


Emperor Paul I


Paul I, Catherine's son, erased much of the progress made by women n the eighteenth century with his edict of 1797. This measure mandated succession by primogeniture (through the eldest son), thus privileging all possible male heirs to the throne ahead of women. Aleksandr I continued his father's policy of relegating women to marginal roles in Russian politics, as did his successor, the ultraconservative Nicholas I. However, Barbara Alpern Engel, in her study of nineteenth-century women (in Clements et al., Russia's Women), has noted that German Romanticism and French and British utopian socialism created a culture among the Russian intelligentsia more accepting of women's participation in political and social debates. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries women had become key actors in the Russian revolutionary movement.





   CATHERINE THE GREAT                            


Peter died before he had the chance to designate a successor. His wife Catherine I ruled for less than two years and was followed on the throne by Peter's grandson, Peter II ( 1727-1730). Peter II was only eleven years old when elevated to the throne, and he accomplished nothing. Two tsarinas followed--Anna I ( 1730-1740) and Anna II ( 1740-1741). The two Annas were distinguished mostly by their appetites for German culture and sexual adventures with court officials of either gender. Elizabeth I (1741-1762), Peter I's daughter, deposed Anna Leopoldovna, banished her to Germany, and imprisoned the only male Romanov successor, the infant Ivan VI, in the Peter and Paul fortress. Elizabeth realized that much of the popular opposition to Peter I's successors stemmed from their German nationality. For this reason, historian Bruce Lincoln argues, she consciously sought to restore Russian pride by promoting Russian culture, reducing the number of foreigners at the court, and, in contrast to her predecessors, taking only Russian lovers.

Peter III served for only a few months after the death of Elizabeth I. He adored military affairs, idolized Prussia's leader, Frederick the Great, and was so detested by the royal guards that they willingly deserted him in favor of his wife, a German-born princess from Anhalt-Zerbst named Sophie Auguste Frederike. Sophie was brought to Russia at age fourteen as a bride for the weak and ineffectual Peter Ulrich, Duke of Holstein. She mastered Russian, converted to the Orthodox religion, and quickly learned the game of court intrigue. The young German princess learned to hunt and became an expert horsewoman. She adopted the name Catherine and, although she married Peter, the two were not close and did not produce any children. In years to come the ambitious and intelligent young woman took a series of lovers, one of whom, Count Grigorii Orlov, organized the coup that in 1762 deposed her husband and crowned Catherine II Empress of all Russia.


Empress Catherine II


Like Elizabeth, Catherine deliberately minimized her European connections, stressing her commitment to Russia to win the support of the nobility. However, Catherine continued the Westernization process begun by Peter the Great. While Peter's interest in the West had been practical, Catherine's was largely philosophical and cultural. Early in her reign Catherine sought to embody the ideas of the French philosophes in a progressive law code, the Great Instruction, which combined enlightenment with Russian absolutism. This document embodied Catherine's ideas of herself as a rational, enlightened sovereign who served the Russian people. It also illustrates the didactic character of her personality. A commission of representatives of various social groups was assembled to codify the Great Instruction, but quarrels among the nobility ultimately undermined Catherine's efforts to implement a coherent program of reform.

Catherine read voraciously as a young woman, and as empress selectively drew her political inspiration from Europe's greatest thinkers, including Voltaire, Diderot, and Montesquieu. She used Montesquieu's writings, for example, to justify exercising strong, centralized, and absolute authority in the extensive Russian empire. However, his concept of the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers, which was later adopted by the American revolutionaries, was deemed inappropriate for Russia.

Catherine the Great was determined to bring the great ideas of the Enlightenment to Russia. She was a great patron of the arts--theatrical productions, poetry, and painting all flourished under her. The publication of books and periodicals mushroomed in the early years of her rule, and most of these were secular. One satirical magazine Catherine sponsored, Odds and Ends, mocked the Russian nobility, who constituted the bulk of the reading public. In another, Hell's Post, Catherine herself published an article deriding Russian doctors as ignorant quacks who killed more patients than they cured.

Russia's adoption of European customs was largely superficial. The nobility learned French and German, practiced fencing and dancing, and read the latest European works. Russian military leaders often paid more attention to the spectacle of the parade ground than to the fighting ability of the troops. Although priding herself on being an enlightened mon arch, Catherine could not tolerate criticism of her rule or of the general principles of Russian autocracy. When Alexander Radishchev published his biting critique of serfdom in A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow ( 1790), Catherine ordered copies of the book destroyed and exiled the author to Siberia. The French Revolution's terror against the aristocracy so alarmed her that she ordered all the writings of the philosophes destroyed.

Catherine's success depended on her alliance with the Russian gentry, and she pursued policies that clearly favored the upper classes. A Charter of the Nobility in 1785 recognized the district and provincial gentry as legal bodies and granted them the right to petition the court directly. The status and treatment of Russia's peasants deteriorated as the nobility's privileges expanded. Serfdom was strengthened, and expanded through Ukraine and into the Don region of southern Russia. Serfs were completely subject to their masters; their mobility was strictly limited, and they could receive harsh punishment even for submitting a petition to the tsarina.

Social grievances that had accumulated among the lower classes exploded late in 1773 when a Cossack, Emelian Pugachev, proclaimed himself to be Peter III and led an uprising in the Urals. Pugachev's promise of freedom from taxation, serfdom, and military service, and his threats against landlords and officials, won him a substantial following among Cossacks, Old Believers, serfs, metalworkers, Tatars, and other disaffected elements. For over a year his ragtag troops terrorized the central Urals region, but ultimately his forces were defeated by the Russian army. Pugachev was sent to Moscow in chains, where he was brutally dismembered and his body burned as an example to other potential rebels.

While Catherine could be, and frequently was, cruel to the lower classes, she enhanced the privileges of the Russian gentry. She often took a personal interest in handsome young men, promoting their cultural and intellectual development while enjoying their company as lovers. Possessed of a strong pedagogical streak, the empress founded the Smolnyi Institute for young noblewomen in 1764, and the following year established a school for young women of non-noble birth. She created a Free Economic Society to encourage agricultural experimentation, and in 1786 set up a system of elementary schools in provincial cities to provide basic education to the children of free urban classes. Catherine also established a network of confidential hospitals to treat venereal disease, and decreed the formation of Russia's first Medical Collegium in 1763.

Catherine commissioned a wave of construction by noted Italian, French, and Russian architects in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kiev. Giacomo Quarenghi designed the Smolnyi Institute in St. Petersburg, the State Bank, the Horse Guards Riding School, and the Academy of Sciences. At Catherine's request Etienne Falconet created "The Bronze Horseman," an impressive monument to Peter the Great, mounted on a huge granite pedestal and placed not far from St. Isaac's Cathedral, in the center of St. Petersburg. The construction of St. Isaac's, a beautiful circular cathedral reminiscent of St. Paul's in London, was begun in 1768, although it was not completed for another ninety years.





   ECONOMICS AND SOCIETY                       


Under Peter the Great Russia's textile, mining, and metallurgical industries expanded rapidly. As industry expanded, state peasants were often forced to work under inhuman conditions in the new factories. The government squeezed the peasantry for more revenue and ratcheted up the nobility's service obligations to the state. With the census of 1719, all male members of a household were subject to taxation. This eliminated the distinction between slaves and serfs and marked the end of slavery as an institution in Russia. Slaves did not pay taxes, and the landowners frequently tried to avoid having to assume the tax burden for their serfs by declaring them slaves. Peter's census eliminated this tax loophole.

Peter sought to make Russia more self-sufficient through mercantilist policies, protecting Russia's new industries from foreign competition and using the state as an engine of economic development. The government encouraged the development of private industry, but with limited success. A few nobles and merchants established factories, often with state assistance, but the entrepreneurial mind-set was very weak in Russia.

In the eighteenth century, about 90 percent of Russia's population consisted of peasants; 4 percent lived in towns; while the final 6 percent consisted of nobility, clergy, bureaucrats, and military personnel. Russia's lower classes--Cossacks, peasants, village priests, and laborers-were resentful of the heavy tax burdens, hostile toward the foreign influences that had come with Peter's reforms, and infuriated by the tsar's insulting behavior toward the Church.

This anger boiled over in occasional rebellions during the first decade of the eighteenth century. These and later rebellions by the lower classes were not directed against autocracy (they could scarcely conceive of an alternative system), but rather against those bureaucrats and officials whom they believed were frustrating the will of the tsar. Another common theme in peasant revolts was the search for the "true tsar." Convinced that the figure on the throne was an imposter, the rebels often took up the cause of a charismatic pretender.

Conditions worsened for the peasants under Catherine the Great. Their tax burden increased substantially, serfdom was extended into Ukraine and the Don region, and the gap between the upper and lower classes widened. The nobility became increasingly privileged under Catherine; she released them from compulsory state service in 1762, and often distributed land with serfs to those who supported her politically. Lords were free to use serfs as they wished, short of executing them. They could beat them, sell them or their families, send them to the army or to work in the factories, win or lose them at cards. A Russian serf's life was not much different from that of an American slave in the antebellum South.





   FOREIGN AFFAIRS                                   


Russia's expansion of empire continued under Catherine the Great. In the first Turkish War of her rule ( 1768-1774) Russian armies defeated Turkish forces in Bessarabia and the Balkans, and then captured the Crimea. The Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji granted Russia strategic points along the Black Sea coast, although Moldavia and Wallachia in south-central Europe were returned to Turkey. However, Russia extracted promises from the Muslim Turks that they would protect Christian churches in these regions, and would allow construction of an Orthodox church in the Turkish capital, Constantinople. In the second Turkish War of Catherine's reign ( 1787-1792) the great Russian general Aleksandr Suvorov captured the fortress of Ismail, threatened Constantinople, secured Russia's control over the Crimea and Black Sea region, and settled the Turkish threat.

Russian territory also expanded westward with the successive partitions of Poland, in 1772, 1793, and 1795. By the eighteenth century Poland had become weak and ripe for dismemberment. Polish kings were elected and had to share power with a fractious parliament, or sejm. The Polish nobility were extremely jealous of their prerogatives, including the liberum veto, the ability of any one deputy to stymie parliamentary business. In the three partitions Russia, Prussia, and Austria incorporated the eastern, western, and southern parts of Poland, respectively, wiping the country off the map of Europe. Through the partitions Russia gained White Russia ( Belarus), western areas of present-day Ukraine, and Lithuania. Poland's great patriot Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who had aided the Americans in their fight for independence, led a futile uprising against the Russians in March 1794. Suvorov and the Russian army crushed the Poles, leaving a legacy of bitterness between the two peoples that would endure for over two hundred years.







When Catherine died in 1796 she was succeeded by her son, Paul I ( 1796-1801). Paul, who suffered from mental problems, deeply resented being excluded from state affairs by his mother for a decade and a half. Paul had coped with his frustration by conducting military exercises at Gatchina, his estate outside St. Petersburg, attending to every detail of the parade ground. Paul's obsession with rituals, his abuse of power, and his chaotic domestic and foreign policies left Russia weakened. Attacks on the nobility's privileges together with mismanagement earned him many enemies. In March 1801 a group of conspirators murdered him in his bedroom. Paul's eldest son, Aleksandr, was aware of the plan to depose his father, and reluctantly supported the plot, but was dismayed and wracked with guilt over his father's death.


Emperor Aleksandr I


This inauspicious beginning troubled Aleksandr I, who would rule from 1801 to 1825. The new emperor surrounded himself with a circle of young, reform-minded friends, the "Unofficial Committee," dedicated to promoting Russia's economic development and Westernization. The Russian Senate, comprised of leading noblemen, proposed measures that would have enhanced their powers and limited those of the tsar. Aleksandr initially compromised, permitting the Senate some supervisory powers over the government bureaucracy and the "right of remonstrance," questioning tsarist decrees that violated law or past practice. However, Aleksandr soon rescinded even these limited concessions to sharing power.

Mikhail Speransky, the son of an Orthodox priest and a brilliant academic, worked his way up the civil service ranks and by 1807 had become Aleksandr's chief political advisor. Speransky advocated reorganizing Russia's political system to introduce a form of separation of powers: an executive branch comprised of ministers; the Senate as chief judicial body; and an indirectly elected State Duma serving as legislature. These limited reforms, which embodied Speransky's notion of a state based on the rule of law, and which could have set Russia on the path to a constitutional monarchy, were rejected by the tsar. Aleksandr could not accept the idea of legal restrictions on his authority, and adopted only Speransky's proposal for a State Council, which was created in 1810.

Speransky also promoted the idea of merit and competence in state service through compulsory examinations, antagonizing many of Russia's inept and corrupt bureaucrats. In general, education made great progress during Aleksandr's reign. At the beginning of his reign Russia had only one university, in Moscow. By 1825 five additional universities had been created, at St. Petersburg, Kazan, Vilnius, Kharkov, and Dorpat (the German university). Many of the nobility resented the egalitarian orientation of these developments and blamed the erosion of their privileges on Speransky. Under pressure, the tsar dismissed him in 1812.

Aleksandr's advisors agreed that serfdom was a backward institution and recognized the need for reform. In an attempt to reduce the nobles' privileges Paul had reduced the serfs'barshchina, their labor obligation to the landlords, to three days per week, from an intolerable high of five or even six. A law passed by Aleksandr in 1803 permitted landowners to free their serfs either individually or in groups, but only some 50,000 were freed as a result of this legislation.





International Affairs                                       


Russia under Aleksandr I was becoming a nationalistic, militarily powerful European country. Expansion of Russian presence in the Caucasus during the first decade of Aleksandr's reign led to the Russo-Persian War of 1804-1813 and the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812. Russia's victory in both conflicts resulted in the incorporation of Georgia, home to an ancient mountain people who, like the Russians, followed the Orthodox religion. Further to the north, war with Sweden (1808-1809) won control of Finland for the Russian empire.

The conflict with France, however, dominated Russian foreign policy in the early nineteenth century. Leo Tolstoy's monumental novel War and Peace commemorates the decade of struggle against the French and presents a fascinating portrait of Russian life during this period. In the first conflict, from 1805 to 1807, Russia and its allies, Austria, Britain, Sweden, and Prussia, could not defeat the French and were forced to sign the Treaty of Tilsit in July 1807. Aleksandr I and Napoleon met on raft in the Niemen River, in Poland, to sign the treaty. Europe was effectively divided between France and Russia, and the latter agreed to enforce a "continental blockade" against Britain, a major trading partner, in an attempt to weaken its export-oriented economy.

Tensions between Russia and France mounted over the next five years. French attempts to establish influence in southeastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean antagonized the Russians, while the blockade against Britain harmed the interests of Russia's landlord class. In June 1812 Napoleon led a force of over 400,000 troops in an invasion of Russia; eventually, this number increased to about 600,000. Roughly half of Napoleon's forces were French, the other half conscripts or volunteers from countries he had conquered. These included Poles determined to free their country from Russian rule, Germans, Spaniards, and other mercenaries. Russia could field only half as many troops. As Napoleon marched through Vilno, Vitebsk, and Smolensk toward Moscow, the Russian forces under the aged and obese Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov gradually fell back rather than engage the numerically superior enemy directly.

Russian forces did challenge the French at the village of Borodino, just west of Moscow, on September 7. Although the Battle of Borodino lasted only one day, the two sides suffered a total of 100,000 casualties. Kutuzov withdrew to the southeast, and Napoleon entered Moscow a week later. Whether deliberately or by accident, scores of fires broke out in the ancient city, depriving the French of food and shelter. On October 19 Napoleon decided to withdraw his forces. Kutuzov's army denied the French a more southerly retreat, forcing them to retrace their steps along the devastated invasion route. Hunger, disease, cold, and constant harassment by Cossacks and peasant detachments reduced Napoleon's Grande Armée to a mere 40,000 troops by the end of the year.

Kutuzov's forces pursued the French dictator into Europe and, with the aid of Austria, Prussia, and Britain, defeated France and occupied Paris in March 1814. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 Aleksandr I and the allies presided over the redrawing of Europe's boundaries. Russia now posed as the defender of stability in Europe; through the remainder of Aleksandr's reign and that of his brother Nicholas I ( 1825-1855) Russia stood as a bulwark of monarchical order against the liberal and revolutionary movements of nineteenth-century Europe.

The Napoleonic wars strengthened Russia's sense of national identity and popular patriotism while enhancing Russia's position as a world power. The invasion sparked widespread sacrifice for Mother Russia among all social classes. As British historian Geoffrey Hosking has noted, the Russian peasants were motivated by fear of the invaders destroying their homeland and by expectations that loyal service to the tsar would be rewarded with land and freedom. However, the nobility opposed all serious reform efforts, and Aleksandr's increasingly mystical religious leanings stifled the reformist impulse. A member of Aleksandr's original Unofficial Committee, Nicholas Novosiltsev, in 1820 proposed dividing Russia into twelve large, relatively autonomous provinces, but this reform too was never enacted.

In place of reform, reaction and obscurantism characterized the later years of Aleksandr's reign. One of his closest advisors, Count Alexis Arakcheev, convinced the tsar to sanction the creation of Prussian-style military colonies, which combined agricultural production with military training. Arakcheev, a cruel landowner, commanded all the women of his estates to produce one child every year. Designed to reduce the expenses of maintaining a large standing army, the colonies became repressive, mismanaged experiments that provoked popular resistance among the lower classes.

Another prominent official, Minister of Education Prince Aleksandr Golitsyn, believed that all useful knowledge was contained in the Bible and distrusted secular learning. Golitsyn imposed an intolerant religious doctrine on Russia's schools and universities, dismissed teachers who advocated liberal or "free-thinking" perspectives, and placed religious fundamentalists in charge of education. University students resented the military-style discipline, censorship, and compulsory attendance at religious services. Over time, the most disaffected elements of the intellectual class and the aristocracy began plotting against the government.







Frustrated by Russia's inability to change, a number of young nobles formed secret political societies that advocated a variety of reform measures. From their experience in the Napoleonic wars, these former officers had become painfully aware of Russia's backwardness compared to Europe. When Aleksandr died in November 1825, the conspirators quickly decided to launch a revolt on December 14, the day Aleksandr's brother Nicholas I was to ascend the throne. Poorly planned and executed, the Decembrist Revolt was easily crushed when Nicholas ordered troops loyal to him to fire on the demonstrators, who had gathered in St. Petersburg's Senate Square. Five leaders of the revolt were sentenced to death, and over one hundred were exiled. Among the pantheon of Rus sia's revolutionary heroes, the pampered aristocrats' wives who gave up a comfortable life to accompany their husbands to Siberia provided an example of loyalty and sacrifice that inspired later generations.


Emperor Nicholas I


Nicholas' thirty-year reign (1825-1855) is generally described as conservative, militaristic, and repressive. His minister of education, Count Sergei Uvarov, expressed the ideology of the period in a policy of "Official Nationality," consisting of three principles--Russian Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationalism. Orthodoxy provided the religious values to unify society and the concept of divine right to legitimize the sovereign's absolute power. Defending autocracy meant rejecting any constraints on the tsar's authority, whether in the form of power sharing with other institutions or a greater role for popular participation in governance. Nationality privileged the Russian people as the dominant culture within the multinational empire; further, it implied that Russian civilization was superior to that of the much-emulated Western nations.

In his effort to exercise absolute control over Russia, Nicholas curtailed the authority of the Committee of Ministers, Senate, and State Council, preferring instead to operate outside the formal state machinery. Early in his reign Nicholas established His Majesty's Own Chancery, consisting of several departments dealing with law and public order, education, charity, state peasants, and the Transcaucasus region. Mikhail Speransky, Aleksandr's reformist minister, was given responsibility within the Second Department to reform Russia's antiquated laws. By the early 1830s a Complete Collection of the Laws of the Russian Empire was published, in fifty-five volumes, in an effort to reduce the arbitrary and tyrannical influence of Russia's administrators.

In the interests of preserving domestic political order, however, Nicholas readily adopted draconian measures. Officials of his Third Department, a predecessor of the Soviet KGB secret police, became notorious for their harsh and intrusive methods. Unrestrained by legal niceties, these secret police investigated every possible revolutionary plot or subversive act, monitored literature (including that of the great Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin), and encouraged a network of informers.

One of the "subversive" groups monitored by the Third Department was the Petrashevsky Circle, a political discussion group of gentry. Members of the group, including a promising young writer named Fyodor Dostoyevsky, were arrested in 1849, sentenced to death and, at the moment of their execution, had their sentences commuted and were exiled to Siberia. This traumatic experience helps explain the dark psychological nature of Dostoyevsky's novels, including his masterpieces Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.

Aleksandr Pushkin, the leading Romantic poet of the early nineteenth century, was treated much more leniently by the authorities. Pushkin, a Russian nobleman whose grandfather was an African courtier of Peter the Great, led a tempestuous life drinking, seducing women, and dueling. Exiled to the Caucasus by Aleksandr I for his unrestrained verse, Pushkin wrote several poems influenced by this exotic locale, including The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchissarai. He returned to St. Petersburg in 1826 with Nicholas' approval and was allowed to reside in the capital and continue his writing, but with the tsar himself as the great poet's censor. Killed in a duel over his wife's honor at age thirty-eight, Pushkin left a legacy of poetry, fiction, and literary criticism. Ruslan and Lyudmila, Boris Godunov, Eugene Onegin, and The Bronze Horseman, a rumination on St. Petersburg and its founder, are among his most famous works. Russians of all ages revere him as their country's greatest national poet.

Russian thought in the first half of the nineteenth century was strongly influenced by French and German Romanticism. Some Russian Romantics, particularly the Slavophiles, echoed the German philosopher Hegel's idea of the historical evolution of the human spirit. The infusion of these ideas, together with Russia's expanding imperial presence, stimulated a modern spirit of nationalism and the conviction that Russia possessed a unique mission. As Nikolai Gogol proudly remarks in the conclusion of his novel Dead Souls, "[A]rt thou not, my Russia, soaring along even like a spirited, never-to-be-outdistanced troika? The road actually smokes under thee, the bridges thunder . . . all things on earth fly past, and eyeing it askance, all the other peoples and nations stand aside and give it the right of way."

Russia's intellectuals, however, were divided on what that destiny should be. From this mix of intellectual fermentation and political repression, two broad currents of thought emerged--those of the Slavophiles and the Westernizers. One of the most prominent Westernizers was Peter Chaadaev ( 1793-1856), who was linked to the Decembrists and who, in a series of letters published in the journal Telescope, criticized Russian history for contributing nothing to modern civilization. The government accused Chaadaev of insanity, the same tactic the Soviet regime would later use against dissidents. However, other Westernizers, including T. N. Granovskii and Vissarion Belinskii, continued to criticize Russian Orthodoxy, advocated improving education and enacting a constitutional form of government, and stressed the importance of individual freedom, science, and rationalism.

The Slavophiles, led by K. Aksakov and A. Khomiakov, rejected much of the Western influence that Peter the Great had introduced to Russia. For the Slavophiles, the common Russian people, the narod, possessed a pure and simple spirituality far superior to the West's cold, scientific, materialistic worldview. For Russia, absolute monarchy, guided by the moral strictures of Russian Orthodox Christianity, was the proper form of government. Constitutional democracy and individual freedom were concepts alien to the Russian experience and could only harm the nation. Russia would surmount its troubles when the tsar managed to break down the barriers between government and people that had been erected with the slavish adoption of Western practices over the last century.

Nicholas I, unwilling to tolerate criticism or independent thinking of any sort, harassed and repressed both the Slavophiles and the Westernizers. In the later years of his reign Nicholas became increasingly reactionary. Education was restricted in order to discourage hopes of rising above one's position in the social order. Nicholas was determined to defend the old order of monarchy and hierarchy and to resist the gathering pressures for reform and republicanism within his own country and throughout Europe.




THE CRIMEAN WAR                                    


The Crimean War, fought in the final years of Nicholas I, shattered Russia's confidence in its military and diplomatic capabilities and underscored the need for social reform after three decades of reactionary government. The causes of the war are complex. A dispute between Orthodox Christians and Catholics over access to sites in the Holy Land led Nicholas to demand that Turkey, which controlled the region, guarantee the rights of Orthodox believers. Negotiations collapsed, and war between the two powers began in October 1853. Great Britain, France, and Sardinia joined Turkey in the conflict on the peninsula, while Austria, formerly Russia's ally, threatened in Moldavia and Wallachia.



Much of the fighting centered around the Russian naval base of Sevastopol, on the west coast of the peninsula, which was besieged by allied forces. The British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson conveyed much of the senselessness of the fighting in his poem "Charge of the Light Brigade."Nicholas died in March 1855 and was succeeded by his son, Alek sandr II. After nearly a year of bombardment Russian forces abandoned Sevastopol in September. In March of the following year the Treaty of Paris was signed. The terms were not especially onerous. Russia ceded part of Bessarabia and the mouth of the Danube to Turkey, agreed that the Black Sea would be a neutral body of water, and gave up claims to serve as protector of the Orthodox in the Ottoman empire. Russia's role as the defender of monarchy and reaction in Europe, so resolutely cultivated by Nicholas I, had suffered a major setback. Fundamental reform, which Nicholas had resolutely opposed for three decades, was now judged to be critical for Russia's future.



CHARLES E. ZIEGLER is Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Louisville. He is the author of Foreign Policy and East Asia ( 1993), Environmental Policy in the USSR ( 1987), and dozens of scholarly articles and book chapters.