Peter I (the Great) reigned 1682-1725. A giant in stature and will. Interests: manufacture, armed forces, practical crafts. The first Tsar to travel outside Russia. ‘Great Embassy’ to Europe, 1697-8. Peter the Great by Paul Delaroche
1698 – brutal suppression of the Streltsy revolt. Wars with Sweden, Turkey and campaigns in the Middle East. Creation of a Russian navy. Many reforms driven by the need to power the military machine.
1703: “Here shall be a town.” Grew up around the Peter and Paul Fortress during war with Sweden. Completed in 50 years, at massive financial, material and human cost. ‘A window on the West’; an emblem of progress and enlightenment. “The most abstract and intentional city in the whole world” – Dostoevsky.
1700: imposition of Western dress on Russian gentry – shaving of beards, frock coats instead of kaftans. A symbol of Peter’s will and of the tone of his reforms. Stark division between gentry and peasantry. Resistance: Peter was called ‘the Antichrist’ by some (‘Old Believers’). Peter adopts title of imperator (Emperor), 1721.
Peter systematised the principle of gentry service to the State. Compulsory education (often abroad), followed by army, navy or civil service. Table of Ranks instituted in 1722. 14 ranks, equivalent across the army, navy and civil service This stimulated a great preoccupation with social rank and promotion (which is depicted – often satirised - in works of Russian literature)
Subordination of Church to State: creation of the Holy Synod, 1721. Subordination of Russian Orthodox Church: in this respect Peter has been compared to Bolsheviks after 1917 Development of the education system. Founding of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Adoption of the Julian calendar in 1700. Simplification of the Cyrillic alphabet. Publication of the first newspaper, Vedomosti (News) and secular books. Women encouraged to ‘come out’ into society.
Empresses Anna and Elizabeth continued the cultural westernisation. Discovery of the human body: secular portraiture, sculpture, Western fashions. Cult of classical antiquity. Performing arts: theatre, opera, ballet. Rastrelli and baroque architecture, particularly in St Petersburg. The Smolny Cathedral (photo by G. Shuklin )
Controversial means to achieve desirable ends. The Slavophiles of the 19 th century didn’t even view these ends as desirable or good for Russia. They idealised pre- Petrine Russia.
This pattern was common to Russia and Japan: Extraordinary openness and eagerness to imitate foreign ways Under Nicholas I (19 th c.) and Stalin (20 th c.): Isolation and fearfulness of ‘the foreigner’, who might ‘infect’ and ‘contaminate’ the population with ‘foreign’ ideas and lifestyles.
Equestrian statue to Peter the Great, Senate Square (Decembrist Square), St Petersburg. Commissioned by Catherine the Great, executed by Étienne Maurice Falconet (1782).