History of Russia
Slav Settlement In Russia: From 1500 BC
Since prehistoric times, nomads have occupied the broad pathway called the steppes from Central Asia into Russia. It was only around ten thousand years ago, that northern forest region, that remained covered in ice until the last glacial period ended, saw human habitation.
An Indo-European group called the Slavs began settling in Western Russia and Poland regions from around 1500 BC. Khazars, another group and others dominated the steppes, making it vulnerable to attacks.
Presence Of Vikings From The 9th Century In Russia
During the 9th century AD, the Vikings penetrated deep into Russia with trading being the main reason, not plunder. Sending goods became easy between the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, with rivers in Eastern European rivers flowing south and north.
One trading centre, most favored was area near Lake Ilmen. Close to this Lake are headquarters of the Volga, Dnieper and Dvina rivers, all close to each other. These rivers flow into the Caspian, Black and the Baltic Sea. These regions were important for trading, for ferrying goods via water. The Rus also known as the Viking tribes made a base at the Novgorod site, by early 9th century.
The Rus were not Slavs however there is justice in Russia getting its name from Rus. Trade developed down the Dnieper Sea, which became known as the ‘Great Waterway’ or the Austrvegr.
Kiev town was seized and the headquarters were moved down the Dnieper, by Oleg, leader of the Vikings, in 882. With the Byzantine Empire he negotiated a commercial treaty in 911.
Triangular trade took place between the northern wild forests, the steppe lands located in the middle and civilized Byzantium placed in the south, at the Russian City.
The 10th – 11th Century First Russians
In the 10th century Vikings continue to be rulers of Kiev. However, as they settled down and became more prosperous they became aware of their new identity – that of being Russians. Vladimir captured Kiev from a rival in 980 and was proclaimed Russia’s prince.
It was in full-blooded pagan style, wenching and fighting that his early life was spent by Vladimir. He was credited with 800 concubines by the Chronicles, However Russia attained a characteristic identity due to his one particular step in 988 which brought him the halo of saint, personally. In the effort of finding out which religion is the best, an envoy is sent out by him. He is persuaded to choose Christianity’s Greek Orthodox brand for Russia.
In towns controlled by Vladimir and family, imposition of the new religion is done rapidly. In 989, the Novgorod inhabitants are baptized rapidly.
In 980, Vladimir won Kiev after a tough battle between him and his brothers. In 1015 after Vladimirs death, the process repeats. Yaroslav the Wise, the survivor out of Vladimir’s 5 sons, becomes the successor. In 1019, the last of the brothers is killed by Yaroslav and he becomes, Kiev’s grand prince.
Descendents Of Vladimir (1019-1169)
Russia is established during, Yaroslav’s reign of 35 years. Kiev is the capital and Russia now is established as a kingdom in mainstream medieval Europe. The throne for a dynasty is secured which survives till the time of Boris Godunov for six centuries.
As per the Byzantine tradition, Kiev is converted into a glorious Christian city, by Yaroslav. The town is given a Golden Gate to the fortress of the town, there are monasteries founded for monks who wish to pursue religious orders and last but certainly not the least, an ornate cathedral built.
Justinian is followed by Yaroslav to commission a codification for laws in Russia. It was during his reign that the Russkaya Pravda (Russian Truth) legal code is founded.
As compared to his contemporaries, Yaroslav plays the matrimonial diplomacy medieval game as assiduously as anyone else. He gets his 3 daughters married to kings of Hungary, France and Norway. The four sons he had guaranteed bloodshed after his death just as been happening in the past. But Yaroslav did not want a replay of the past. An inheritance code is devised by Yaroslav to prevent his sons from killing each other.
The whole of Russia is to be under the control of the ruling family as per the Yaroslav’s inheritance system. Kiev is to be ruled by his eldest son, while others are assigned to other territories. A general post is created after the death of a prince of Kiev. The senior brother next in line will move to Kiev where adjustments are similar all through the realm. The scheme’s essential element is that brothers will take precedence over their sons ensuring that younger brothers are given an opportunity to inherit the throne without having to resort to war.
Yaroslav’s plan becomes a success. In a span of 4 decades (1054-1093) his 3 sons succeed him peacefully.
Structure of the family becomes bit more diffused after the 2nd generation with one line of descent prevailing over the others. The third son of Yaroslav marries a Greek princess in Constantinople, born in an imperial family.
After Yaroslav dies, a hundred years later, the cousins in this line of descent fight for succession with each other. Kiev is threatened by new dangers from the south, Yaroslav himself grants the independence of Novgorod from Kiev and lastly the power shifts around Moscow towards the north.
Kiev’s Decline (12th Century-14th Century)
Kiev did well as a trading post because of its access to the wide steppes of Central Asia and Eastern Europe through which trade flowed. Though not an all weather terrain, it was relatively hospitable all year round. However, danger also lurked in the steppes. The arrival of Kipchak Turks (known as Polovtsy to the Russians) who were known to be marauding groups of clans on the steppes is mentioned in the Russian chronicle of 1054.
Trade in Kiev is disrupted frequently by the Kipchak. Kiev becomes a weakened city and in 1169 a Vladimir based royal family’s rival member conquers the city. In 1240 the Mongols arrive and destroy Kiev.
How Novgorod Gains Independence (1019-1478)
Novgorod had special advantages to become a trading centre. It linked Northern Russia’s fur-rich forests, the Baltic and Eastern Europe’s developed civilizations, making it a vital settlement of the Rus. Novgorod gains prosperity due to these advantages acquiring the ‘commune’ status like other famous mercantile European centers during the Middle Ages. In 1019 the city is granted a self-government charter by Yaroslav, the grand prince with Novgorod’s active support.
From the year 1019, the ‘Veche’, an assembly of citizens, rule Novgorod. Main function of the city’s prince is military but by vote of the Veche, the Novgorod prince from the royal family is selected (and dismissed on occasion).
After Kiev loses its authority in the 13th century, independence to a greater degree is asserted by Novgorod. In place of the prince, a city magistrate is elected by the Veche from 1270. Though executive responsibility is held by him, it is in an abstract civic concept that the authority resides ultimately. In other words, the ruler is the city itself.
In 1240, on Novgorod’s behalf, Alexander Nevsky defeats Sweden located in the northwest. Besides this, Poland and Lithuania to the southwest and Vladimir’s grand principality to the southwest are also defeated. Moscow and Poland contend for Novgorod from the later part of the 14th century. In 1478, the contest is won by Moscow, decisively.
The princes of the royal dynasties move northeastwards into the Russian forest from Kiev, during the 12th century, though in doing so they have to forsake the insecure but easy terrain of the steppes. Andrew Bogolyubski, one of the princes makes his capital at Vladimir in 1157.
Then he sends an army against Kiev in 1169 when he becomes strong enough. When the old capital city is captured he transfers the pride and dignity of the conquest to Vladimir and assumes the grand prince title.
Fate isn’t too good as Mongols sack Vladimir in 1238. The very same year Moscow located 120 miles towards the West, faces the same fate. From all directions the towns face years of pressure that is truly alarming. The country also has to deal with rampage by Mongols. All around are states and kingdoms ready to take advantage of the war ravaged towns. Both Teutonic knights and Sweden converge on Novgorod, making the most of this opportunity. In 1240 and 1242, in a dramatic display of valor, Alexander Nevsky sees off both.
In 1252, Vladimir’s grand prince is Alexander. He is skilful as a soldier and as a diplomat. He accepts a subservience position to the Mongols.
Zolotaya Orda Or The Golden Horde: 1237-1395
The invading Mongols were given the name the Golden Horde or the Zolotaya Orda by the Russians. For almost 2 centuries the Mongols dominated the region after sweeping the country from their encampments towards areas in Volga, right from 1237. Batu Kha, the horde’s leader used a golden tent, from which the term Golden Horde was derived. In the Russian context, Mongols were often described as ‘the Tatars’, yet another name that stuck to them.
In 2 year’s time, the Mongols ravaged most cities in Russia in between their sacking of Kiev in 1240 and Moscow and Vladimir in 1238. The horde goes back to the grasslands that surround the Volga in 1241.
Russia’s petty princes are controlled by the Golden Horde leaders from this region. A simple device used was treating the Golden Horde leaders as glorified collectors of tax.
From 1243, Batu Khan makes Sarai Batu, a place in Volga, his capital. In 1255, his leadership is succeeded by Berke, his brother who adopts Islam, the horde’s religion. Public baths and mosques in the tradition of Central Asia thrive at Sarai Berke, his capital with around 600,000 inhabitants. Timur destroys it in 1395.
The Grand Princes Of Moscow: c.1280-1462
Alexander Nevsky, the Russian prince collaborates with Mongol invaders, most fully. In 1246 he is appointed by the Mongols as prince of Kiev. In 1252 he is appointed as Vladimir’s grand prince and helps Mongols to carry out census of people in Russia. Besides visiting the Golden Horde, he maintains good diplomatic relations with Berke Khan, its leader.
Tax collection in large amounts is something the Mongols expect the Russian vassals to do. A leading role is played by descendants of Alexander in this degrading procedure of extracting money mainly by force from the smaller and less significant Russian principalities.
Within Russia, strength of unprecedented position is built by the family, by adopting these means. Moscow now is the base, not Vladimir. From around 1280, Daniel, Alexander’s son makes Moscow his headquarters.
In 1326, extra validity is provided to Moscow’s pre-eminent position when the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church transfers his permanent home from Vladimir to Moscow. Moscow now has the stamp of authority.
The designation of ‘Grand Prince of Vladimir’ is granted by Mongol Khan to Ivan I, grandson of Alexander, 2 years later, which automatically becomes transferred to Moscow.
A vast army is gathered by grand prince Dimitri Donskoi in 1380 from all the Russian principalities. The Mongol army is defeated by Dimitri near the Don River on the Kulikovo plain. The honorary name Donskoi has been derived from that spectacular victory. Though domination by Mongols on Russia doesn’t end with this one victory, among Russian principalities, Moscow is established as the leading power.
During Ivan III’s reign the grand princes now boast being princes ‘of Moscow and all Russia’. In 1462, Ivan III succeeded the throne of Moscow.
Coming To The Throne Ivan III: 1462-1505
At the age of 22, Ivan III came to the throne, with determination of bringing all lands in Russia under the control of Moscow in an effort to liberate Russia from the yoke of the Mongols. The commercial Novgorod Empire, the independent and rich territory in the northwest, was his biggest prize. He seizes many colonies of Novgorod, in the 1471 invasion.
The long standing independence of the city is brought to an abrupt end by Ivan III in 1478, finally. His sovereignty had not been acknowledged by the city council or the veche and from its tower, their symbol of freedom, the veche bell, was now removed.
The next important step is taken by Ivan after this matter of Novgorod’s independence is resolved. The annual tax or tribute is not paid to the Golden Horde by the grand prince of Russia, for the first time in more than two centuries, in 1480. Though the Mongol Khan goes on a march to sack Moscow, he doesn’t fight but withdraws. Ivan is enabled to present himself as free sovereign of an independent state internationally.
The Third Roman Empire: 15th Century
In 1453, Constantinople falls to the Turks. The ancient link between the Greek Orthodox Church and a Christian emperor, dating back to Constantine, is severed.
The grand prince of Moscow and the metropolitan headed Russian Orthodox Church are both in robust health and looked at as a renewed Byzantine Christian Empire.
The concept of the third Rome develops. The first Rome fell to the Roman Catholic heresy and the barbarians. The second Rome is controlled by the hands of the Turks. Moscow, the third one, becomes centre of the Christian world.
To carry this theory further, in 1472, Ivan III gets married to the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI. Profound satisfaction is expressed by a Russian monk in 1512 when writing to Vasili III, Ivan’s son. Ivan the Terrible, the son of Vasili is the next one to reign. He is called Caesar or the monarch tsar, by the Russians.
Ivan the Terrible: 1547-1584
When the son Ivan is just 3 years old, Vasili the grand prince, dies. After a few years, the boyars from the landed nobility in Russia who take a position of influence for granted in any grand prince’s council in Moscow, enter into a violent struggle in which the young Ivan is at centre.
With this experience, he decides clipping the wings of the nobility in Russia, by creating a strong centralized state.
In 1547, at the age of 16 years, Ivan IV is crowned and given title of Tsar, instead of grand prince. Ivan IV gets married to Anastasia, three weeks later. She came from one of the boyar families of great repute. Roman is the name of her father. Romanovs is Anastasia’s great-nephew’s dynasty that came into existence in 1613, after his election as Tsar.
Ivan rules with ferocious severity, though he is a pious man. Along with the money he sends a list of 3000 men, whom he executed and wants the monks to pray for them. ‘Terrible’ is the name he thus earns.
Ivan wants to increase trade and territory in Russia, plans accordingly and strengthens the administration. Extending his grandfather’s dominance of the east, over the Tatar Khans is his major concern. Ivan III was his grandfather. Ivan IV marches on the upper reaches of the Volga, into Kazan. Volga becomes Russian, completely.
Western Siberia’s Khanate is conquered in 1581 towards the end of Ivan’s reign. The imperial expansion process begins and the Russian frontier is brought to the Pacific in less than a century.
The Livonian War: 1558-1583
In the west, the policies Ivan introduced are not too successful. Through the Baltic, he aims to trade with Western Europe. In 1478 after Novgorod is seized, easy access to the Gulf of Finland’s eastern end was possible, for Moscow. However, harbors and commercial towns are established in Livonia, down the Baltic coast. In the mid-16th century, these seem a tempting acquisition for the Teutonic Knights.The region is invaded by Ivan in 1558 in which the 25 year Livonian War is launched.
A long battle goes on for the Baltic between Sweden and Poland against Russia. In 1582 a peace treaty is signed finally with Poland and in 1583 with Sweden in which all early gains, the Tsar has made in Livonia, have to be given up. Some territory in Russia located on the Gulf of Finland is also lost by him to Sweden.
In 1581, before the conflict ends, a horrible blow on himself is dealt with by Ivan the Terrible. He attacks, wounds and kills Ivan, his favorite son and heir, in a quarrel within the family. In 1584, Fedor I, his younger and inadequate son succeeds him as a result.
Boris Godunov: 1584-1605
Two guardians are made to act as regents by Ivan IV, after he becomes aware of the fact that Fedor, his son is feeble-minded. One of the regents is a Tatar family member. In 1580, the status of boyar is given to him after Irina, Boris’s sister is chosen to be Fedor’s bride. In 1584, when Fedor succeeds his father, he becomes guardian as well as brother-in-law to the new Tsar.
A bit of support is given to the infant Dimitri, who is the other son of Ivan, early during the reign of Fedor. Dimitri was born in the same year, the Tsar had died. Dimitri’s existence wouldn’t be significant, but for its provoking, around 2 decades later, the false Dimitris – a trio of pretenders.
The infant along with its mother is exiled to Uglich by Boris Godunov, thus nipping the rebellion in the bud. In 1591, Dimitri breathes his last at age 7 and Boris is pointed to as the murderer.
Boris considering himself as Tsar and with complete confidence rules during Fedor’s reign. In 1583, towns lost to Sweden are recovered. In Siberia, presence of the new Russia is gradually strengthened. Labor cannot be transferred by peasants from one landowner to another, under Boris’s rule. The serfdom he introduced in Russia continued to prevail till the year 1861.
In 1598, after the death of the childless Fedor I, the next elected Tsar is Boris. The land assembly called as zemski sobor chooses the tsar. The council summoned in 1549, by Ivan IV’s is an innovation very much in the nature of estates general in other nations. The freemen from particular cities, the church, other landowners and the boyars are the 4 constituent parts that meet in Russia separately.
The full assembly does elect Boris but the boyars oppose him. Boris is viewed with resentment, considered an upstart but he continues the policy of restraining their power as per the policy of Ivan IV. Due to this, in 1604, the boyars offer support, for these first false Dimitris.
The False Dimitris And The Time Of Troubles: 1604-1613
A minor nobleman from Russia comes to Poland in 1603 and makes himself known as the son of Ivan IV, a Dimitri and that he has right as heir to the throne in Moscow. He takes advantage of Polish gullibility and their inclination to interfere in the affairs of Russia convinces almost all. Along with an army, he marches into Russia in August 1604.
Many boyars are reluctant to destroy any of Boris Godunov’s enemies which bring in some early successes to the pretender. However in April 1605, after Boris loses his life suddenly, the stroke of good fortune comes to him. Boris’s widow and her young son are killed 2 months later. Acclaiming himself as the rightful Tsar, the pretender makes an entry into Moscow.
Grandees of Moscow can no longer be convinced by the false Dimitri and his group of foreign advisors gives offence. Around 2000 foreigners are butchered in Moscow streets before which the false Dimitri is assassinated in May 1606, in Kremlin.
Next emerges the second Dimitri in 1607. Though many don’t show trust in him, a lot of them are ready to join his campaign. In 1608 and again in 1610 he arrives in Moscow with an army of discontented Russians, Cossacks and Poles. Later that year he is murdered. Around Moscow a mob goes on a rampage and acclaims a third Dimitri in 1612. Before he can taste much success, he is captured in Moscow within just a few months and executed.
In the history of Russia, from 1610 to 1613 in particular, this phase of anarchy comes to be called the ‘time of troubles’.
Poland’s Sigismund II has designs on the throne of the Tsarist. One Russian faction invites an army from Poland into Moscow in 1610. Besides this, another Russian faction offers the crown to Gustavus II’s brother, by seeking support from Sweden. An army from Russia having Swedish sympathies marches towards Moscow in the autumn of 1612. Into the difficult to beat Kremlin, the Poles in Moscow city withdraw.
Rival Russian factions that support Poland and Sweden get united due to this impasse, the Poles yield and decide to leave Moscow. At lasts a national candidate is agreed upon by Russians for the throne.
Near Kostroma, the 17 year old Michael Romanov with distinguished family connections hides along with his mother during the troubles. Ivan the Terrible’s first wife, Anastasia was his great-aunt. To the monastery a message is sent in March 1612, that Michael has been elected Tsar by a zemski sobor. The Romanov dynasty thus begins.
Rapid Expansion Of Russia Towards The East: 1613-1676
The reigns of Michael 1613-1645 and Alexis 1645-1676, the first two Romanov tsars are most notable for the rapid expansion of Russia towards the east. When Poland cedes Kiev and a major part of Ukraine a significant gain is seen in the west, which is actually the result of the Cossacks uprising in the region.
A major part of Russia’s drive towards the east is played by the Cossacks. Hunter tribes occupy the region and the Cossack bands try to move into new areas of Siberia.
Native Siberians do not find this surprising. The same method had been followed for collecting tribute by the Mongols. A similar currency in the form of fur is paid to Russia, in the same way which the Mongols previously collected tribute.
Astonishing advance is made by these inhospitable regions. There are outposts spreading beyond 1750 miles east of Moscow, as far as the Yenisei River, in 1613, the beginning of the Romanov Era. In 1630 advances are made further 1000 miles east towards the Lena River and in 1649, further by 750 miles towards the Pacific Coast. The Siberian coast is explored by Vitus Bering in the following century right up to the Arctic Circle.
During the 17th century, a rebel leader, named Avakkum Petrovich the player in the doctrinal crisis responsible for splitting the Orthodox Church in Russia is awarded the Russian punishment at Siberia. Moscow's patriarch, Nikon had introduced reforms which were rejected by Petrovich.
The Old Believers And Orthodoxy In Russia: 1652-1667
In 1652 an energetic monk Nikita Minin known later as Nikon, is appointed as Moscow's and Russia's patriarch. He creates a major schism within the Orthodoxy system in Russia.
Within the Russian Church, a reform movement takes place early in Romanov's dynasty. Wherever rituals from the Greek Orthodox example deviated over the centuries, corrections were ordered. This began even in the early days of the Romanov dynasty. The enthusiastic reformer Nikon, as a close friend of Alexis, the Tsar, insists on changes with the unlimited power that he has in the Church.
Nikon takes pains to correct many of the errors discovered though they seemed trivial to most. For example instead of singing 2 alleluias, the Russians were singing three and the Russians were now crossing themselves with two fingers when earlier they were wont to use three. Nikon, in 1655, goes further by removing icons from homes and churches that show any holy figures in an incorrect manner.
Avvakum Petrovich, the priest is chief opponent of Nikon right from the beginning of the reforms. He is banished to Tobolsk, Siberia and further towards the Lena River in the east in 1653. He is called back to Moscow only after 10 years.
The Tsar after having enough of the autocratic ways of Nikon finally dismisses him, but the reforms continue to remain. Eventually the dissidents become the Raskolniki - called Old Believers, a separate sect. Later they divide themselves into the Popovtsi, with their own church hierarchy and into the radical Bezpopovtsi who continue to survive without sacraments and priests till today.
In 1666-1667 a church council discontinues concessions and introduces a policy to continue persecution, after which the schism becomes final.
Avvakum is sent to prison in a small fort located within the Arctic Circle near Naryan-Mar where he writes books for the last 14 years of his life. Zhitie is a classic Russian book written in a colorful and racy style making it a firm favorite even centuries after it was written.
Peter The Great And His Boyhood: 1676-1689
In 1676 Alexis the Tsar dies after which between two halves of his family a struggle follows. From his first wife he had 2 sons, out of which Ivan, the younger one was mentally deficient and Fedor the elder is a sickly child. However, he has one talented daughter, named Sophia.
Natalia Naryshkin, his 2nd wife bore Alexis a bright and vigorous child named Peter. At the time of the Tsar's death, Peter is just 4 years old. As the obvious heir is the capable Fedor III, there is no rivalry between the families for few years. However in 1682, Fedor III dies at the age of 20 years.
To proclaim Peter as Tsar, a zemski sobor is called in Moscow as Ivan is not suitable for the throne. However Sophia and her family take advantage of an uprising against the family of Peter by Streltsy, the dissatisfied household troops.
As a settlement, it is decided that while Peter I and Ivan will both be tsars, Sophia will act as regent till the boys come of age. The 10 year old Peter is sent by Sophia to live with his mother in the remote village named Preobrazhenskoye, out of Moscow. Foreigners reside in a settlement nearby with whom he gets friendly. It is his first exposure to the outside world. News of a world wider than Russia fascinates him.
Peter is 17 years old by 1689 and there are chances of Sophia losing status as regent. With the Streltsy, she makes a plan to wipe out the young Tsar and the Naryshkin clan to which Peter’s mother belonged. However the Naryshkins foil the plot this time and they themselves take over control of Moscow.
Sophia is confined to a convent where she is destined to spend the rest of her life. Peter becomes the co-Tsar till 1696 when Ivan V, his half-witted half brother dies.
The man's character is indicated vividly during the first military campaign of Peter. Like his predecessors, he is irked by the lack of a port on any sea for Russia. The White Sea which has ports, remained frozen for much of the year. A suitable target then for him was Azov, a fortified town which he selects. He will have access to the Azov Sea and then the Black Sea if he accesses Azov from the Crimean Tatars. He would be able to strike a blow for Christendom as the Tatars are Muslim vassals of the Turks.
A huge Russian army is led by him to the south in the summer of 1695. The young Tsar returns to Moscow by November end.
After a characteristic reaction to the failure, Peter organizes an astonishing and rapid response. Around 26,000 laborers and craftsmen are gathered in and around a forested Voronezh. The laborers fell trees during the winter of 1695-1696 and drag them to new timber yards, cut them into planks and use them to build ships.
Ready for launching are a number of smaller boats, 23 galleys, 4 fire-ships and 2 warships, by April.
The Tsar along with his fleet set off towards Azov, downstream in mid May and reach a fortress. Turkish relief is prevented by the Russian naval power from arriving by water. Thus Azov surrenders in July.
This audacious revenge for the previous year’s defeat gives him other ambitious ideas. In an effort to enlist support against the Turks, he plans visiting the very powerful nations in Europe. He also hopes to observe western technology's details personally to choose those which could be useful for Russia. Grand Embassy is the expedition he proposes.
The Grand Embassy The Proposed Expedition: 1697-1698
In March 1697, the Grand Embassy comprising 250 people and led by 3 official ambassadors leaves Moscow. The semi-anonymous role of a Russian sailor, Petr Mikhailhov is adopted at times by Peter.
He works at Saardam at the Dutch East India Company in the dockyards as carpenter on the ship for 4 months, where he is able to preserve the disguise. His identity is well known when he spends time at the Deptford dockyard in England.
During his travels, Peter is convinced that against Turkey, putting together a European alliance against is extremely difficult. When Spain’s childless king dies, Europe is to be locked in war between neighbours and friends.
Again Peter demonstrates his resolution and flexibility. Valuable presence on the Baltic Sea can be possible if securing the new port on the Azov Sea is difficult for Peter. Sweden blocks Russia’s access to the Baltic Sea, however in 1697, Charles IX of Sweden is no more. A 15 year old succeeds Charles IX.
Peter realizes that war with Turkey at this stage will do him no good. To make peace with Turkey, Peter initiates covert negotiations in 1698 as soon as he reaches Moscow. An alliance is formed against Sweden after secret discussions with Russia, Poland and Denmark.
Peter receives a message on 8th August 1700 about conclusion of peace with Turkey. New orders are given to the Russian army the following day to march into the Swedish Province, Livonia located between the Baltic and Russia. The country will be transformed after it gets involved in the long Northern War. It will turn into a major power in Europe 21 years later.
The Tsar Who Reformed Russia: 1698-1725
In 1698, Peter returns from the Grand Embassy with the sole intention of westernizing the hide-bound oriental society of Russia. While achieving this purpose he will be ruthless. As an uprising has been attempted against him by the Streltsy he hurries back from the tour to Europe.
The culprits are arrested after the rebellion is put down with ease. Personal interest is taken by Peter in the brutal torture, interrogation and execution of around 800 rebels, which is a kind of insurance policy against any threat to his rule in future. Though the reform program would take some time, it does start with a dramatic gesture.
Back in Moscow, near Preobrazhenskoe a foreign settlement (a village where he grew), the Tsar with his friends celebrates his first evening back in Russia. At a wooden hut which was his favorite when he lived in that area as a child, he spends the night and in the morning orders the leading boyars to report to him.
Peter’s shaven face and European clothing are a stark contrast to the boyars who arrive in their traditional long robes and flowing beards. In old Russia, the symbol of standard was preserving the beard consciously. However with a pair of shears, the young Tsar from one side the long whiskers of each boyar but he tempers his action with a touch of wit. If a boyar desired to remain without shaving was free to do so, but, a tax would be levied on beards from henceforth.
Practical reform that was extensive follows with this symbolic gesture. No antiquated society was transformed so rapidly by a ruler. At central and local levels, new government structures are introduced by Peter. A huge standing force of peasants, with proper training and conscripted for life, now replaces the unreliable and chaotic army. A fleet of warships and a naval service are created by him.
In an effort to build equipment and weapons for his navy and army and to develop mines, around 200 industrial enterprises are launched by the Tsar. The entrepreneurial class is given encouragement for setting up commercial ventures, privately.
Translation of western texts is done in the Russian language, foundation of secular schools and promotion of education are the other steps taken. Russian people requiring specialist skill are sent to foreign academies for further education. Mathematics professors are given the task of visiting homes of people with good social position to bring them to a particular standard of education until which they were not allowed to marry. From 1703, is published the (Vedomosti, ‘Records’) the first newspaper in Russian.
All aspects of life are touched by measures taken by Peter. Reformation of both the Russian script and currency is done. September 1, was the New Year previously in Russia, which now is changed to January 1. Though the new calendar Peter introduced is less modern, he opts for the Julian system instead of the Gregorian reform. Adoption of the Christian chronology of Anno Domini is done.
A pernicious informers system is encouraged to tackle the corruption issue. However for the attention of the Tsar, nothing proves to be very small. He introduces fire and building regulations and sends out orders that crops are to be cut not with sickles, but with scythes. Very little misses his attention.
St. Petersburg The Capital: 1703-1712
From the year 1703, on Russia’s behalf, Peter the Great has evidence of his achievements that are truly gratifying. At the mouth of the Neva River, takes shape a huge project. In 1703, the marshy woody land came into the possession of Peter. On the river’s right bank he begins to build the Peter and Paul fortress, within 14 days of gaining the area. Across the water a royal shipyard is founded the following year. In 1706, is launched the first warship from the yard.
At the site, growth of the town is rapid. After the patron saint of the Tsar, it becomes St. Petersburg, the capital in 1712. Swedish prisoners caught during the Northern War build Nevsky Prospekt, the main street of the capital.
After seizing the Gulf of Finland’s southern coast, in 1700, Peter the Great intervenes in the Northern War, the very first time. Since the year 1617, the territory belongs to Sweden thus cutting off the Russia from the Baltic Sea. When Russians are defeated at Narva, by Charles XII, the young king of Sweden, there is ignominious end to the campaign in the year 1700 after which he gains the coastline again. However he turns against other enemies in the south. From the Swedish troops he captures the mouth of the Neva, again in 1703.
In the Baltic, Charles XII , the Swedish king emerges as main rival of the Russians when he prepares to invade Russia in 1707. When Moscow is threatened, a classic Russian tactic is used in response by Peter the Great.
Russia And Sweden: 1707-1711
With a strong army of 40,000 men, Charles XII moves from Saxony towards the northeast in the autumn of 1707. His main aim is to advance towards Moscow during 1708. To defend his capital he wants to force Peter to withdraw from the Baltic. Devastating the countryside is strategy Peter resorts to avoid a pitched battle between Moscow and the Swedish army. Charles is frustrated in his plan of attack. In search of food, he is then forced to turn into the Ukraine form the south, by the autumn of 1708.
Even in these inhospitable regions it is unusually cold in the winters of 1708-1709. The Swedish army reduces to 18000 in number and the Russians meet it at Poltava in July 1709.
For the brilliant military career of Charles the first major disaster, is the engagement. Charles escapes into the Turkish region in the south, after the entire Swedish army is either killed or captured. The Turks he negotiates with share Charles’s hostility for the Russians. Recovering Azoz is their main aim now.
In an effort to provide a share of anti-Russian alliance with Turkey a new army from Sweden is summoned by Charles that finally never comes. At the Prut River, Peter the Great is defeated by the Turks in 1711. An agreement is made to return Azoz in the ensuing negotiations. Peter escapes lightly, with Sweden being provided with no concessions at all.
Father Of The Fatherland: 1721
In 1721, peace is signed between Sweden and Russia eventually at Nystad due to which whatever Peter hoped for right from the beginning of 21 years long Northern War, he now gets. St. Petersburg which is the coast of the eastern Baltic is accepted as Russia’s capital, internationally. It was on appropriated land that Peter had the effrontery and courage to build his capital.
At this junction the city is placed strategically to trade and prosper in just like Novgorod was one millennium back when it was founded in this region. To Western Europe, through the Baltic Sea the river routes from the Caspian and the Black Sea link with the sea route.
The peace of Nystad is signed and after a few weeks at the cathedral of St. Petersburg, a thanksgiving service is held. Peter goes to the Senate in procession after the ceremony where under a new title, higher than the Tsar, he is acclaimed. Peter is now the Emperor of all Russia, Peter the Great, Father of the Fatherland.
On the political scene the Tsar’s reign is indeed a triumphant one but in the private life of the emperor, it accompanies a dismal record. In his public career and within his family his cruelty and tyranny is revealed at times.
Alexis The Tsarevich: 1716-1718
Alexis, is the only surviving son and pathetic victim of Peter. As compared to his practical-minded reformer, intensely physical and hyperactive father, Alexis, a young man is inclined to a life of pleasure and ease, with conservative attitudes and intellectual interests. In 1716 Alexis takes refuge with the emperor of Austria after fleeing from Russia due to the tension between him and his father.
For Peter this is an act of treason; he gives his son a promise of clemency and tricks Alexis to return to Russia. To discover a non-existent conspiracy, he puts Alexis into prison and tortures his mistress and friends.
Other than reports that state that Alexis will return to Moscow’s capital and will reduce the size of the navy when he is Tsar, there is little that emerges. In Peter’s eyes intentions such as these are termed as capital offences. However while justifying the scandal that results from formal execution of the throne’s heir, the capital offences don’t seem enough.
Into his supposed rebellion, enquiry is made after he is flogged badly twice, but at St. Petersburg fortress, the prince chooses discreet death instead. Just 3 years before that, Peter makes the tactical mistake of having a son, the future Peter II. In existence thus are Peter the Great’s two male descendants. The autocratic emperor can dispose of one heir with no compunction.
Catherine And Peter: 1701-1725
In politics as in emotional life, Peter is proved as independent minded. Captured in the Northern war is a peasant from Lithuania who works as a Russian prince’s domestic serf. Peter II falls in love with her. When the first child is born the same year, the Russian Orthodox Church receives her as Catherine, a new name. She becomes an inseparable companion of the Tsar, bears around 7 children out of which only two daughters could survive infancy. In 1712, Catherine and Peter marry (in 1707 they both may have had a secret marriage) after he divorces his first wife. In 1724 she is crowned as empress. She succeeds Peter as Empress Catherine I, within less than a year’s time.
Empresses Of The Russian Empire: 1725-1796
For the next 70 years women rule Russia after the Russian Empire is established by Peter the Great, which is indeed a remarkable fact.
In that span reigned just 3 male emperors. In 1727, the grandson of Peter the Great, Peter II the 12 year old who comes to the throne an dies within 3 years. Then Ivan VI a 2 month old infant comes to the throne for 12 months and then is imprisoned till death and the last emperor is a feeble bodied and feeble minded Peter III who comes to the throne in 1762 for 6 months after which he is deposed and killed.
Spanning these decades are the reigns of 4 women. Before she reigns, Catherine I, the one with great character strength, fully endowed with common sense, but illiterate sure proves that she has sterling qualities. After coming to the throne for 2 years, she dies in 1727.
She is succeeded by Anna who is the daughter of Ivan V, the half brother of Peter the Great. Anna (who rules from 1730 to 1740) among the 4 is only weak character as she is keen on only daily fashionable entertainments. Much indignation is provoked locally after sumptuous amusements are offered in St. Petersburg, especially by the foreigners.
Peter the Great’s vigorous mood is brought back from 1741 to 1762 during the reign of Elizabeth the daughter of Catherine I and Peter. Pursued with energy again now are interest of the Russians, particularly in the initial stages of the Seven Years’ War in opposition to Prussia.
Peter III, the German grandson of Elizabeth’s elder sister takes over the crown after Elizabeth. He seems completely unsuited for the task as he inherits too early in 1762. His inadequacies are made up however by the German princess, his wife. She acquires his throne in half a year and with her connivance, it is certain that he got murdered before the year ends. Known as Catherine the Great, she rules for 34 years.
Catherine The Great: 1762-1796
Catherine is passionate and brilliant in equal measure. Rich material for gossip and scandal is provided by many of her loves in European courts. In the list feature most of her talented generals and advisors. It is her program for advancement of Russia and political theory that they put into effect. Although Catherine had scandalous affairs, they did not divert her attention from Russian polity.
She is fascinated most by contemporary French ideas. Catherine was a child of her times. She corresponds with encyclopedists and Volitaire, whose ideas are shaping the Enlightenment all over Europe. In this she resembles Frederick the Great of Prussia.
Being an enlightened despot, a reformed role is adopted rapidly by Catherine in 1762 after seizing the throne. She attains success in areas like culture and education and takes steps in providing education to girls in Russia in 1764. In St. Petersburg she founds the Hermitage, a court museum that is attached to the Winter Palace there. She fills it with exclusive collection sourced from European capitals.
In the effort to improve the lives of her people she doesn’t attain too much success. For her this social reform field seems difficult.
Catherine had favored emancipation of serfs in Russia before her accession. Outlining a program reform, she writes an Instruction in 1767 and to consider it, an elected assembly is summoned by her. But it becomes evident very soon that any change will be resisted by the nobles. She gives up her plan, knowing that she requires support of the nobles.
During Catherine’s reign the lives of the peasants deteriorate, ironically. This is because nobles and her favorites were granted crown lands and allowed to enforce conditions of serfdom.
At the expense of Poland and Turkey both, major gains are achieved eventually.
Breaking off from the earlier policy of being concerned only with the strategic matter of accessing the Black Sea, a new element to the Turkish policy is added by Catherine. Going back to an earlier claim, Russia is presented by her as the natural patron of all Christians who belong to the Orthodox Church within the old Byzantine Empire’s territory. This is an effort by her to project Moscow as the third Rome. She dreams that Constantinople will be ruled by one of her grandsons with the name Constantine. However against the Turks there is a practical matter of war.
The 1768-92 Russo - Turkish Wars
Peter the Great achieves the interest of Russia in reaching the Black Sea is furthered in two battles towards the end of the 18th century. Success is attained by Russia in many battles in conflicts from 1768-1774 thus leading to concessions that are important. Fortresses to the east and west of the Crimean Peninsula are gained by Russia along with the right of maintaining a fleet in the Black Sea.
Right to protect Christians within the Ottoman Empire’s European parts is granted to Russia, by the Turks. Though its meaning is specified rather vaguely, it provides the Russians with useful pretext for intervention in future in the Balkans.
Declaration of Crimea to be independent of Turkey is done in the 1774 treaty, under the ruling of Tatar Khan. In 1783, when Turkey and Russia are at peace, the valuable Crimean Peninsula is annexed by Catherine the Great.
In year 1787, again war breaks out and Russia prevails again. At Jassy, in January 1792, a treaty is signed leaving the Black Sea’s northern coast right from the Dniester River to the Kerch Strait, in the hands of Russia. Earlier during the century Russia wins a role in the Baltic now making the Mediterranean accessible through the Black Sea. In the meantime in the Baltic region valuable new acquisitions are made at Poland’s expense.
The Dismemberment Of Poland: 1772-1796
Poland is partitioned into 3 sections and consumed by her neighbors, over a period of quarter of a century. During the war between Turkey and Russia the process begins confusingly. The chance of occupying a section of Poland towards Cracow’s south is taken by Austria in 1769.
In 1770, following suit, Frederick the Great sends troops to seal off the coastal region between the kingdom of Prussia and Brandenburg, the 2 main parts. Polish Royal Prussia is the new valuable area which has been part of the Polish kingdom, since long.
His territory would be unified neatly when royal Prussia would be acquired, however.
In 1772, a cynic agreement is arrived between Austria, Prussia and Russia with regards to the first annexation of land in Poland, officially. Russia aims with its battle with Turkey to keep keen interest in keeping benign mood between Austria and Prussia. The proposal that Prussia and Austria must annexe a part of Poland is accepted by Russia.
The region around Lvov is acquired by Austria in 1772, by the treaties. Royal Prussia is secured by Frederick and a part of northeast Poland is taken by Russia.
To interfere in internal affairs of Poland, new excuses are found by Russia on the occurrence of the next 2 partitions. In 1792 during a disturbance the Russian army makes entry into the kingdom. In 1794 they are again on hand in the process of tackling national insurrection.
Superior Russian forces are offered strong resistance by Polish armies on both occasions, however force continues to prevail. In September 1794, Warsaw falls to a combined Prussian and Russian army after Poles are massacred in the suburbs and after a siege lasting 2 months.
In 1793, the 2nd partition is agreed upon in which Russia and Prussia benefit. Prussia gets a land stretch south up Cracow besides Gdansk. A vast part of eastern Poland ranging to approximately 97000 square miles is taken by Russia.
As compared to the territory retained by Poland, this is indeed greater which ranges from the coast of the Baltic down to Brody and Cracow. In 1795 and 1796 treaties are signed a few years later. Between the 3 predators division of the Polish remnant is done finally. Warsaw is included thus extending Prussia while the Austrian frontier moves to the same region, north. Russia gets the lion’s share in the east, once again.
Alexander and Paul I: 1796-1807
After reigning, for 34 years, in 1796, Catherine the Great dies and is succeeded by her son Paul. Paul has lived a life that is undermined by his mother consistently. He is under the conviction that Peter III, his father was killed in an organized murder by her in 1762. Disaffected officers of the army murder this tyrannical and unstable emperor in 1801. Warned in advance about the event Alexander I, Paul’s son, connives at the assassination. Due to his father’s despotism, Alexander I is keen in dissociating himself from the earlier rule. In the attempt, liberal measures are introduced by him during the beginning of his reign. However his policy is soon dominated by broader European issues.
From 1790s, attention of all rulers in Europe is demanded by various adventures of the French armies and the revolution in France. Preventive measures taken by Paul I have been an attempt to make sure that in autocratic Russia, the revolutionary ideas do not take hold. Ambiguity is observed in his foreign policy however. In 1798, the Second Coalition against France is joined by Russia. After 2 years, Russia changes sides. Against Britain, it forms the League of Armed Neutrality.
Right from accession in 1801 Alexander I veers from one side to the other in terms of foreign policy, up to 1812, till the decisive events take place. In 1805 he makes a firm commitment to join the Third Coalition and remain there.
Capturing Tilsit and beyond: 1805-1810
The Third Coalition is joined by Alexander against Napoleon in 1805. Napoleon is confronted by the Austrian and Russian armies, in Central Europe, during the early winter and autumn but is out-manoeuvred comprehensively. At Ulm, the Austrians lose on their own. At Austerlitz the Russian and Austrian army faces heavy defeat. The Russians agree only on a truce though a treaty is signed with the French by the Austrians.
In the coalitions the Russians have Prussians as their allies. However before they join the Russians, Napoleon tackles them. At the twin battles at Jena and Auerstadt, he alone confronts the Prussians in October 1806.
French comes out victorious at both the sites. Napoleon overruns entire Prussia within 6 weeks, before help arrives from the Russians.
At first the Russians prove that they are tough as opponents. Heavy casualties result from 7th-8th February 1807 at Eylau but bring no advantage to either side. On 14th June, at Friedland, a decisive victory is won by Napoleon over the Russian army. Near Tilsit, on 25th June 1807, Alexander I, the Russian Tsar and Napoleon hold an extraordinary meeting. Since either of them would not set foot on the other’s territory, it is agreed that the meeting would be in the middle of the Neman River. The River forms a border between the territories.
Built on a raft, is an elegant room with a door on both sides. An appropriate imperial eagle is shown on either side. At the same moment both emperors set a boat from their respective river banks. However the French oarsmen outsmart their Russian counterparts. Since Napoleon is far ahead, he gets to the Russian side, opens the door and welcomes the Tsar as he reaches the spot. This is the kind of one-up-man-ship that Napoleon was famous for. The Russians have much to learn of the man who is mending fences with them now.
Together both men set out to carve up Europe. This is because they get on well with each other. The mutual agreement between the emperors weakens Prussia, the ally of Russia, after the conference that lasted for 2 weeks. After Friedland, Russia could have fought easily but the French have occupied the now helpless Prussia.
A grand duchy of Warsaw to be ruled by the Saxony King is taken to provide Prussia the share of Poland. In the west, there is severe reduction in Prussian territory to make room for the Westphalia kingdom. 120 million francs indemnity has to be paid or French troops would continue to remain in Prussia. As part of the new Continental System introduced by Napoleon, Prussia plans to close her ports to Britain. As per the Tilsit agreement with secret clauses laid down, Russia agrees to join the Continental System.
A demand is made by France and Russia to Britain that freedom of seas to ships of all countries should be allowed by her. Another demand is that any territory seized since the year 1805 should also be returned by Britain. The ports of Portugal, Denmark and Sweden would be closed and would join Russia and France to declare war, the two emperors insist, if by November 1807 this is not agreed upon.
France would not object to annexation of Swedish Finland to Russia, if it is necessary for Russia to invade Sweden. In the Balkans, Russia would be provided diplomatic support against Turkey, by France. A satisfactory agreement results between both emperors.
Agreement at Tilsit is to Napoleon’s advantage. He can tighten his hold at other places after Russia is removed from the battlefields in Europe. Napoleon sends an army to the south for occupying Portugal in October 1807, 3 months after Tilsit. In a lone initiative, Austria enters into the war in 1809. With victory at Wagram, Napoleon ends a quick campaign in summer. He marries Marie Louise the archduchess, thus clinching his dominance of Austria.
Tilsit’s rosy glow now fades. Alexander gains less benefit from the Tilsit but it has served Napoleon’s purpose. A state having strong links with Russia named Oldenburg is annexed by Napoleon in 1810. French goods are taxed with trade restrictions by Alexander. It is likely there will be a war. Most people on either side now admit it was inevitable.
The Russian Empire: 1812
Napoleon takes a strong line with Russia feeling justified that he will get entire Western Europe. Prussia is crushed into submission and by marriage and conquest, Austria becomes an ally.
In 1807, there is bonhomie in Tilsit. In 1808, at a grand meeting at Erfurt, Napoleon makes an attempt to revive Tilsit. In the campaign in 1809, against Austria, Alexander I is not successful in providing his ally with any practical support for which there are different reasons. Baltic trade in Russian is harmed by the Continental System. St. Petersburg is alarmed that French republican principles are introduced into the grand duchy of Warsaw. Right from the beginning, the terms agreed upon at Tilsit by the Tsar have not been popular among his people.
There is increasing probability of war between both empires. In a rapid and massive strike, Napoleon moves in first. Armies start marching from various regions converging at the River Neman, from February 1812.
With 80,000 in the baggage trains, 100,000 cavalry and 500,000 infantry the assembled force is indeed an impressive one. From Napoleon’s world, there are other contingents which include half-hearted army units from Austria and Prussia. On 24th June, begins the army’s attempt to cross Neman into Russia.
The confronting Russian armies withdraw as they are outnumbered heavily. This withdrawal proves to be a better tactic than an offensive strike. The French are dragged into areas where finding food for the huge number of horses and men is difficult. Occasionally there are engagements but at Borodino, on 7th September, just 70 miles away, the first major war takes place.
Napoleon gets a narrow victory over the Russian army, which veteran Kutuzov commands. Once again, when the Russians withdraw, Moscow is left open to Napoleon. While retreating, Russia sets Moscow on fire to deny Napoleon the joy of capturing this jewel. Napoleon enters Moscow just to see it burning.
Napoleon has hopes that humbled Russian envoys would arrive to make terms and waits for a month in Moscow, but no one arrives. To suggest negotiation he sends ambassadors to the camp at Russia, which doesn’t indicate a strong sign. The cold season also is fast approaching. Napoleon gives orders to withdraw on 18th October.
In 1812, the Grand Army’s retreat from Moscow becomes a classic image of an invading force suffering destruction and disaster. The task of getting home for Napoleon seems impossible. Squadrons and columns of Napoleon’s army is harried by hostile villagers and guerillas, regular troops from Russia, plunging temperatures, falling snow and destroyed bridges.
That summer around 600,000 of Napoleon’s army enter Russia but only 112,000 come out of Russia alive. Napoleon’s ability of raising another army of such a caliber devastated, at least for the time being. His reputation too is mauled by the Russian retreat. As this news spreads that winter in all of Europe, all those who were under the domineering French yoke in different nations dream of a better future. Napoleon is not invincible; nature holds the upper hand.
Napoleon hurries, as he is desperate to reach Paris ahead of the bad news and hand over the command to Murat. On 18th December he reaches Paris and goes about trying to recover the situation. In just 18 months he is able to turn back the clock, indeed an astonishing fact, but very typical of the kind of man and his boundless energy.
His erstwhile friend from Tilsit becomes his sworn enemy. In 1813-1814, assaults by Russian armies upon France are a constant element. By the return to the Russian fold of Prussia and later Austria, the Russian army is reinforced.
On 31st March 1814, with ceremony and pomp, allies enter Paris, in which Alexander I the Tsar and Fredrick William III, the King of Prussia ride in the cavalcade. To take salute they dismount in the Champs Elysées. The return of Europe to a pre-revolutionary and reactionary status quo is supervised by both the men along with Austria’s Francis I. Their leading roles in the Holy Alliance and the Congress of Vienna prove to be of great help in the supervision process.
Holy Alliances And Quadruple: 1814-1822
Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia, the 4 main enemies of Napoleon pledge individually during the advance on Paris, not to make peace with France individually, in 1814 at the Chaumont treaty.
At the Congress of Vienna, the Quadruple Alliance renews in a distinct form .This is when the same countries come to an agreement to hold congresses regularly so that newly re-established peace in Europe is safeguarded. Till about 4 international gatherings, this congress system lasts in 1818 from Aachen to 1822 in Verona.
The same purpose is professed by another group. Initiative for this is derived from Alexander I, the Russian Emperor. In 1812, Russia suffers at the hands of Napoleon which inspires Alexander I and believes his mission to be God-given.
Among the victorious countries, two autocratic rulers from Prussia and Austria are persuaded in the autumn of 1815, in Paris, by Alexander. This takes place in 1815 when negotiations are in progress to hammer out a second peace treaty with France. The persuasion is for the emperor of Austria and the Prussian king to join Alexander I to promote a peaceful community of nations following Christianity. For this they are requested to join him in the Holy Alliance.
Though the Holy Alliance is joined by most European nations, the 3 absentees that are most notable are the Ottoman Empire, Papal Rome and Great Britain.
The Ottoman Empire And Rome
One issue confronted both alliances. The issue is that if an internal revolution threatens legitimate rulers, whether the powers should intervene. Holy Alliance members agree to this. In 1821, while intervening to protect, the crowned heads of Piedmont and Naples, Austria wins approval. However the intervention plans in Latin America and Spain are opposed by Britain at the Congress of Verona in 1822. Britain seeks withdrawal from the Quadruple Alliance, subsequently.
The Congress system comes to an end. However, between the nations, the regular cooperation principle is established on such issues and will always be remembered.
Members from the Holy Alliance defect gradually till just 3 founders, namely Austria, Prussia and Russia are left. In the age of revolution these founders vainly attempt holding back the tide of progress. Every ruler is on his own, confronting unrest now that across the frontiers, intervention is not encouraged. Rebellion proves to be a contagion that respects no boundaries. Despite the finest efforts put in by the secret police in Europe, isolating radical notions proves to be difficult.
The Revolution In December: 1825
In 1825, immediately after Alexander’s death, follows the first revolution in Russia. Constitutional reform takes place in Russia within the latter half of the 18th century. This reform takes the shape of attempts to ease off serfdom and introduce some representation in government. The reformists have been in touch with secret societies in the army, after the Napoleonic wars. In 1825, the incompetence within the imperial family provides them opportunities to press their demands even further.
Alexander I, is childless. Constantine, his elder brother renounces claim to the throne and resides in Poland with his Polish wife which is considered a secret of the state. The next brother, Nicholas in line of succession too, isn’t aware of this.
Unexpectedly Alexander I, dies before plans can be put in place. In St. Petersburg, in ignorance, Nicholas pledges alliance to Constantine, the elder brother as the new Tsar. The army too pledges the same, but nothing is done by Constantine who is in Warsaw. The interregnum continues for 3 weeks. Finally the muddle is sorted out by the imperial family. Instructions are given to the army to make a new allegiance pledge on 26th December to Nicholas I, the Tsar.
Upon Nicholas I, constitutional demands are imposed by some officers in the effort to make a calculated bid. Soldiers are persuaded that the pledge is nothing but a part of a coup. Holding banners, ‘Constantine and a constitution’, the streets are taken over by armed platoons.
At St. Petersburg, on a square, Nicholas argues and confronts the rebels for few hours. From his artillery he gives orders for grapeshot rounds to be fired, after which the confrontation stops. The panic stricken crowd and rebel soldiers disperse and around 80 lie dead.
Leaders responsible for the plot are caught and arrested out of which 5 are hanged. Nothing is achieved by this uprising. It is just a prelude to Nicholas I’s increasingly oppressive and long reign. In the revolutionary tradition in Russia which can be said to have begun then, the Decembrists are revered to as the very first martyrs.
Nicholas I: 1825-1855
By nature, Nicholas I is a martinet, for whom certainties of drill on the parade ground provide much enjoyment. For him, maintaining order in Christian Europe is his imperial responsibility in the Holy Alliance’s continuing spirit. Alexander I, his brother had formed the Holy Alliance.
Against the menace and likelihood of revolution threat, the policy means constant vigilance not only within Russia but also in partnership with Western Europe’s crowned heads. The revolutions of 1830 and 1848 both fall within Nicholas I’s reign. As leader of the Orthodox Christianity he asserts authority in the Balkans and Eastern Europe on behalf of Christians in the Ottoman Empire.
On sensitive issues like accessing the Black Sea, a diplomatic accommodation is sensibly achieved by him with other nations in Europe and the Sultan of Turk in the Balkans affairs.
From March 1854, due to diplomatic miscalculations, Russia is at war in the Crimea with, Britain, France and Turkey. Nicholas I had worked hard to avoid military interventions with other countries of Europe. This war involving Britain, France and Turkey must therefore have been a terrible disappointment for him, going some extent to cause his early death. About half of the 11 month long siege of Sebastopol’s Russian naval base in March 1855 happens during Nicholas’s lifetime testing the port’s powers of endurance. However elsewhere the gains achieved are more hence setbacks in the war prove to be minor in comparison.
Russian Expansion In Asia: 19th Century
Rapid expansion of the Russian Empire takes place eastward to the Pacific coast through Siberia during the 17th century. To the south of this region vital consolidations are made in the 19th century.
Russia exerts control gradually over the Turkish tribes, living towards the eastern side of the Caspian Sea. The Kazakhs are brought within the Russian empire by the mid-century, by securing the northern region of the Aral Sea. Territory of the Uzbeks on the southern side is under pressure during Alexander II’s reign. Russia is in control of ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara by 1885. Now command of the emperor reaches the Afghanistan and Persian frontiers.
Precious concessions are obtained by Russia far East from the feeble Qing Dynasty in China. In 1858, under the Aigun Treaty, Russia is granted the Pacific Coast from the Siberian border coast up to the frontier with Korea. The Vladivostok naval base is now developed by Russia at this coastline’s southern end which is as far as possible from the Arctic Circle ice.
The mighty empire assembled by Russia, the extensive territory on the Black and Baltic Sea is able to survive till the 1990s as a single state.
Emancipation Of The Serfs And Alexander II: 1855-1861
The Crimean War completes one year, in 1855 and Alexander II succeeds his father. The belligerent powers indulge in tentative discussions in March 1856 for the first time re