By Andrew Garten
Maps: Andrew Andersen and The New
The Russian Empire lasted from
1710 to 1918. It would shape the Baltic region through war, conflicts over
political power, economic transformations, and religious strife. The Baltic
region includes the lands along the eastern shore of the
RISE OF THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE
Joining forces with
Peter I removed the liberties the serfs had gained
The Baltic German merchants who still controlled
trade through the Baltic coastal cities grew rich selling Russian goods. The Nystad Treaty trade provision gave
Russian Orthodoxy entered the Baltic region as a result of Russian occupation. The German Lutherans and later the Lithuanian Catholics would later both be marginalized. Russian Orthodoxy was favored in many ways, including land gains.
THE ENLIGHTENMENT CHANGES THE STATUS QUO
The Enlightenment spread across Europe beginning in
While the northern Baltic region remained stable
after the Great Northern War,
Catherine II introduced a new system of taxation. Better
farming technology in west
The Enlightenment brought with it new ideas about questioning the world people found themselves in. This affected religion as well. The Russian Orthodox Church remained privileged by the Empire, but soon all of the churches would be challenged by the emergence of atheism.
NEW LIBERTIES FOR SERFS
As an experiment, Alexander I (Emperor 1801 to
1825), liberated the serfs in some parts of his empire from being tied to the
land and freed them from corvee labor (labor tax).
This occurred in Estland in 1816, in
The north Baltics remained
untouched by warfare, but in Polish areas there was unrest. The Polish nobles
had enjoyed great autonomy prior to Russian dominion and resisted Emperor
Nicholas’ I move to greater power with a revolt
in 1830. They were crushed by the Russians and
Trade changed as former serfs could now travel to the cities to get jobs or clear and farm virgin lands. Now that they were working for themselves, the former serfs had greater incentive to be industrious and make a profit. This was a profound change from 100 years ago.
Paul I (Emperor 1796–1801) consolidated power in
1800, taking over the functions of taxation and census gathering from the
Former serfs who wanted to get ahead financially
sought education. In the north Baltic region this meant learning German.
German patriotism was taught as well because it was a time when German
INDUSTRIALIZATION BRINGS MORE
Alexander II (Emperor 1855-1881)
is known as the friend of the serfs. Under him in 1861, all remaining serfs
were emancipated including those in eastern
The Polish nobles in
The Emperors helped remove
economic control from the gilds and nobles by encouraging industrialization,
especially in the north Baltic. A part of this was the introduction of
railroads. The Emperors encouraged the development of prosperity near to
People now worked for bosses they did not know and wondered about religion. This loss of community caused anomie in people, a loss of belonging to a community. Evangelism brought by religious sects and nationalism based on language groups emerged to fill the gap. So it is that trade, religion, and politics are too intertwined to be subdivided from their effects on each other. In the north Baltic region, peace allowed social change to evolve uninterrupted.
Under Alexander III (Emperor 1881-1894) there was an attempt at Russification in the Baltic region. The Russian language was taught and administrative reforms instituted that encouraged the native population to assimilate to things Russian. But given the choice between Russian and German hegemony, the local people chose to emphasize their own language and culture. (Raun 66-67)
BEGINNING OF THE END
By 1900, the Baltic Germans began to see themselves as Germans unified by language first, and nobles of the Russian Empire second. With freed serfs moving about, the Emperors and the Baltic Germans each tried to win them over to their side in the struggle for power. In the end, the native serfs saw themselves as Estonians and Latvians based on their own languages and culture.
A group of captains working for commercial fleet, Riga/1914
Industrialization brought great prosperity. Prosperity brought the regulated work week and free time. This allowed people to develop culture around theatres, folk festivals, gymnasiums, choirs and activist groups such as temperance groups. Hereditary political and economic power via land ownership died in the face of city society. Now with economic opportunities open to all men by law, the measure of a man was his education and his wealth, not his heredity. Work organizations now also replaced the social connection previously provided by religion.
Religion was no longer a binding force for society
as it once was. But it still served to divide people. Russian Orthodox
churches were built in the center of every city in the Empire to show its
favored position. When the Emperor opened lands in
REVOLUTION AND WAR END THE EMPIRE
In 1905 Emperor Nicolas II (1894-1917) faced
socialists calling for social justice and, among other things, regional
administration based on the languages of the masses in
To placate the workers, Nicholas II instituted the Duma. Property owners in the regions of the Empire now had elected representatives speak for them – but Nicholas retained absolute power. Nevertheless, the exercise in powerless representative democracy prepared the Baltic people for the real thing.
In 1914 Russia entered
WWI on the side of the Allies. One notable side effect of this war was
the creation of ethnic battalions from the Baltics.
In the case of the Latvian Riflemen, they would turn out to be key players
that help destroy the Old Russian Empire. The Germans defeated the Russians
in 1917 and took land up through
The Russian Empire was now dead from war and
revolution. The ex-serfs of the Baltic had gained so much freedom of economic
opportunity only to lose such gains to war. Their political ambitions would
be suffocated under German rule. The Baltic Germans who had long been losing
Map of Baltics provided online by Federation of East European Family History
shows the areas of
Bowlt, John et al, Cambridge Encyclopedia of Russia and the Soviet Union.
This book provides basic sketches of the lives and reigns of the Russian Emperors. It does not mention very much specifically about the Baltic.
This website provides lots of information about Latvian history.
Estonian Institute, “Russian communities in
by the Estonian Institute] <http://www.einst.ee/factsheets/russians/#Ivan%20the%20Terrible%20and%20the%2016th> (Accessed 17 April 2002)
This website is a fact sheet that
discusses the presence of Russians in
Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D,
article was submitted to and presented by the Department of Philosophy, Los Angeles Valley College for publication in The Proceedings of the Fresian School].<http://www.friesian.com/russia.htm#sources> (Accessed 17 April 2002)
This site gives a very clear and
concise history of the Russians from their Viking beginnings through to the
present, including the Russian Empire. A couple of nice touches include time
lines and maps. It describes the expansion attempts by Ivan IV including his
moves on the Baltic region. It also discusses Peter I establishment of
This is an expansive study of the
history of the peoples of
---. The Baltic World 1772-1993:
Age of Change.
This is the continuation of the above work of history. It contains information about how the Russian Emperors policies affected the lives and balance of power between peasants and nobles in the Baltics.
LeDonne, John P. The Russian Empire
and the World 1700 – 1917.
The book is excellent in detailing the rise and fall of the Russian Empire. The details of political intrigue are extensive. This book connects the events in other parts of the Empire and its borders to the policies in the Baltic. There is also great detail about Swedish politics and how they affected Russian policy.
Raun, Toivo U. Estonia and
the Estonians. Stanford:
2001 This book is an expansive
source of history on
Rusu Kulturos Centras] <http://www.rkc.lt/paveldas/russkie/rusengl.html> (Accessed 17 April 2002)
This website touches on the
cultural influences of Russians in
Slatter, John. “Russian History Home
Page,” [This web page is published as link
<http://www.dur.ac.uk/~dml0www/Russhist.HTML > (Accessed 1 June 2002)
This web page is an abundant
source of primary documents regarding Russian Empire History including The
Emancipation Manifesto, March 3, 1861, the Manifesto of 17 October 1905and
the Abdication of Nikolai (Nicolas) II, March 15, 1917. The web page appears
to be a resource for students of Russian history at the
St. Petersburg Times newspaper in
This website is virtual tour of
the “Treasures of the Czars” exhibition by the
Originally published at http://depts.washington.edu/baltic/papers/