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The Rise of Moscow and Peter the Great
Category: Early Modern: Political History
The Rise of Moscow
In the ninth century A.D, an important city grew on the banks of Dnieper in the Ukraine, made by a group of people who had close connections with the Scandinavians from the Baltic. This city, Kiev, became the genesis of Russian Civilization. Controlling the trade routes between the Baltic and Byzantium, the Kingdom of Kiev flourished, making war and trade with their southern neighbors the Byzantine Empire. In 988, the ruler of Kiev, Vladimar proposed a military alliance with the Byzantine emperor Basil II, and a marriage to the emperor's sister Anna. In return, he agreed to convert to Christianity. The agreement was made, Vladimir was baptized, and when the emperor reneged on the marriage, Vladimir invaded the Crimea. The marriage duly took place and the alliance prospered , immersing the Russian people even more into Byzantine Culture. In time, the Russians would have their own Greek Orthodox Church, with its highly formal and ritualistic way of life. This would have prove to profound effects on the development of Russia later in History.
Earlier on in the Twelfth century, a Mongol leader, known as Genghis Khan, united the clans of Mongolia and led them in an epic war against China, overrunning the largest empire on Earth within five years before turning westwards. His successors conquered Russia, and for a time, ruled a colossal empire that stretched from Poland to the Pacific.
Batu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, had conquered his own dominions by the Volga, under the title of the Golden Horde. From then on, Russian Princes paid tribute and allegiance to him.
Kiev never recovered from the blow. Whole sections of Russia were devastated, towns sacked, whole populations enslaved. The connection with Byzantium, Queen city of the East, was severed. However, the Golden horde was primarily concerned about tribute money, and left the Russians alone to their own ways of life.
The Tatars however, mainly controlled Southern Russia. Eventually, the firm Military discipline that held the Tatars together declined over time, and new Russian Principalities in the North began to grow in power. The most famous of these, was Novgorod. The city became center of trade between the north and south. While the Tatars were conquering Kiev, Novgorod, under Alexander Nevski, was already engaged in a series of wars with the Swedes and the Teutonic order in the north for domination of the Baltic.
Another city also managed to throw off the Tatar yoke. The Principality of Moscow, under its king, Ivan the Great (1440-1505), a man of great Genius and vision. He established a despotic government in Moscow, then went on to conquer Novgorod. Ivan expanded Moscovy greatly, quadrupling its size during his reign. In 1472, he married Byzantine Princess Sophia Paleologue, niece of the last Byzantine Emperor. With a simple marriage, Moscow became the heir to Byzantine Imperial Traditions. True independence came for Moscow when in 1480, Ivan claimed to be the true heir to Kiev, renouncing his allegiance to the Golden Horde. To prevent insurrection in annexed territories, Ivan transplanted their ruling classes to Old Muscovy and replaced them with loyal Muscovites.
Ivan the Terrible
Ivan the Great is credited for establishing Moscow's independence and laying the foundations, and Ivan the Terrible continued his work by centralizing the administration of Russia as well as expanding it's territories. Ivan was also the first to adopt the title of Tsar, which was derived from Caesar, and translated to Emperor in the west.
Born in 1530, Ivan was crowned tsar at a young age, in 1547. Realizing the backwardness of Russia compared to the west, he immediately began sending out invitations to western specialists to enter his service. Although many specialists, such as doctors and tradesmen tried to enter Russia, they were all prevented from doing so by Russia's neighbours, who seeked to isolate their neighbor from the west. The first real break came in 1554, when the English navigator, Chancellor, found his way to Moscow through Archangel in his search for the North-west passage. Archangel would serve as Russia's only connection to the sea until Peter the Great.
Many of Ivan's reforms were viewed as extreme by many of the Russian traditionalists, and as a result, Ivan had to carry them out by violent means. One of the main obstacles to his modernizing reforms were the Boyar class, who were the nobility of Russia at that time, and the class that held many posts in the government and had considerable power as landowners. In 1553, Ivan carried out a purge of the Boyar class, then in 1564, created a new administration to rule Russia. It covered one third of Russia eventually, staffed by nobility loyal to the Tsar.
Ivan however, had ruled with a reign of terror. Killing his son and heir in a mad rage, he became Mentally deranged, dying in 1584
Russia in the 17th Century
After Ivan IV's death, Moscow fell into a state of disarray. When the reigning family of Moscow died out, a period of turmoil and disputes emerged. Drought and famine killed thousands, while the boyars began regaining their former strength.
The boyars, resenting the new autocracy of the Tsars, introduced the system of precedence, which decreed that nobility could only accept military commands or state offices according to their rank. The boyars also demanded that the Tsar ruled in cooperation with the Duma, or council. For a while, it seemed as if they succeeded, for even Mikhail Romanov (1596-1645), the founder of the Romanov dynasty, appeared to have accepted this. Aside from internal disputes, Russia was also involved in a series of unsuccessful wars against Poland, Sweden and Turkey.
It was also during this time, where Russia made important gains in the Ukraine, which became a Russian Province in 1654. It was populated by the famous bold-spirited Cossacks, who were originally Russians driven back by the Tatar invaders, the word Cossack, being the turkish word quzzaq, meaning "adventurer" or "freeman".
Despite the attempts of the Boyars to gain power, Russia's ever expanding territories laid ever growing importance on the Voievodi, the military governors who were solely appointed by the Tsar. In the 17th century, there emerged some fifty government apartments, each concerned with some aspect of the central government. More reforms took place. With the constant losses against Poland and Sweden, Russians realized that they were militarily inferior. This brought in the foreign military instructors, who were usually Scotsman, that were assigned to train a Russian army in the western way. Soon demand for modern weapons rose, and when it was discovered that they were too expensive, Specialists were invited to Russia to build Refineries and factories to produce the weapons. The flow of foreigners increased, and soon, even Moscow had its own German Quarter of the city, which was populated solely by foreigners. It resembled a city within a city, for each foreigner built his house in the western style. Soon thousands of foreigners would live in this part of Moscow. It was through these westerners, that Russian were exposed to Western ideas, skills, techniques, and customs. Nobles rode in coaches, stone replaced wood in building materials. Western plays were offered to the Moscow citizens.
Yet there were opponents to this change. The "Old" believers, a faction of the Church that refused to accept any innovations whatsoever. Although thousands were to perish later on in the name of progress, they never died out, eventually converting millions when the revolution of 1917 had hit. By the second half of the 17th century, over fifteen thousand foreigners were in Russia, training the army, organizing trade, building mines, factories, or serving the government.
Despite all this, Russia was still considered by many in Western Europe, a backwards and Primitive country. Yet one man changed all this, and within a few years, he propelled his country onto the European stage, establishing Russia as one of the Great powers.
This man, was Peter the Great
Peter the Great
Peter was born on May 20th, 1672, much to the delight of his parents, Tsar Alexis and Tsarina Natalya Naryshkyna, who both prayed for a boy. Overjoyed by the arrival of a son and heir, Alexis ordered that the great bell of Ivan the Great be rung on the Kremlin Square, to announce the birth of the new Tsarevich.
The young Tsarevich grew up to be an interesting person. Showing intelligence, energy and a willingness to learn, Peter began his formal education at three, just months shy of his father's unexpected death. His tutor, a clerk who was promoted to a nobleman for this task, taught Peter his first words and letters. It was at about this time, that Peter developed an insatiable curiosity about the west. Whenever the Tsar was bored with his lessons, his tutor would discuss battles, ships and the western world with him.
When Tsar Alexis died, Peter was only three and a half, not yet fit to rule. And so, they chose the fifteen-year-old son of Alexis' second wife. He ruled as Fedor III, despite the fact that he suffered a crippling disease that left him an invalid. Although nothing happened for the six years of his reign, Fedor did abolish the system of precedence, insisting that all offices be held by those who proved their worth by merit.
At Fedor's death in 1682, there were two candidates to the Russian throne. Fedor's sixteen-year-old brother Ivan, or his half brother the ten-year-old Peter. Unable to decide who would succeed Fedor, the Patriarch decided to take this matter to the people. Ivan and Peter were presented to a crowd of Boyars, priests and Muscovites in the Kremlin Square, and almost unanimously, the crowd voted for the young Peter to succeed Fedor, despite his insistence that his brother Ivan could do a better job. And so, at the age of ten, Peter was declared Tsar, with his mother ruling as Regent. What they did not count on, however, was the presence of Peter's sister, an extraordinary woman by the name of Sophia.
Intelligent, ambitious, and decisive, Sophia orchestrated a Streltsy revolt with a number of prominent nobles, eager to remove the Naryshkin family (which Peter's mother was a member of) from power. Rumors were spread that the Tsarevich Ivan were murdered by the Naryshkins and soon, the Streltsys marched onto the Kremlin, calling for the blood of the traitors. Peter's mother tried her best to calm Streltsy, taking the two young Tsarevichs onto a balcony for the soldiers to see. Afterwards, Matveev, a former commander of the Streltsy, gave a speech along with the Patriarch, calming the mob down. Things suddenly had a turn for the worse, when one of the Commanders ordered the Streltsy home threateningly. The mob suddenly howled for blood, and stormed the palace, killing Matveev as well as other members of the Palace. During the Chaos, Sophia took charge, offering the Streltsy back pay as well as buttering up each regiment with gifts and praise for their devotion and loyalty. Sophia was now in power.
Peter, seeing the madness of the Streltsy revolt, unable to do anything about it, had developed a deep hatred for the old ways in Russia, of the barbarous medieval way of life as well as the city of Moscow itself. This would have impact his life significantly, and the idea for St. Petersburg was said to have been inspired by this particular revolt.
As Sophia ruled, Peter was only needed for ceremonial activities, such as signing documents or appearing to receive foreign diplomats. As such, Peter was free to learn, to explore and to grow. He began playing games based on his favorite subject, war. Small boys, usually the sons of nobles, were invited to join him in his 'army' as he often hosted mock battles for his own enjoyment. He began experimenting with European tactics, even constructing small fortresses with which he would use his 'army' to assault. He began exploring the German quarter of Moscow, trained himself in the use of carpenter tools and began teaching himself arithmetic and geometry. At age sixteen, Peter developed a great interest in boats, building his own small ship at his own little dock at Lake Pleschev. Thus did Peter obtain the two things that would stick with him for the rest of his life, his love of the sea, and his interest in all things western.
The ascension of Peter
Eventually, Peter grew tired of living in his Sister's shadow. Using the skills that he learned while he was in exile, he planned for the future. Using his play army, he fortified himself into the monastery of Troitskaya, then gathered forces to oppose his sister. Sophia tried everything to stop Peter, even sending the Patriarch to convince him to leave, but it was all in vain. Soon, Sophia found herself abandoned by everyone, including the Streltsy and the Patriarch, who joined Peter's side. Sophia staged another coup but this time she was defeated and confined to a convent. Six years later, Ivan died and Peter became the sole ruler of Russia.
During this time, Peter's curiosity for the west was still growing strong. He visited the foreign suburbs of Moscow, dining and mingling with the westerners, making friends such as Lefort and a soldier named Gordon, men who would be with the Tsar for years to come. Eventually they formed a little group called the jolly company, partying for days on end, making mock ceremonies and celebrations. Peter's interest in the sea, also grew strong. He visited archangel several times, even laying the kneel for a twelve gun ship.
Soon Peter's curiosity would reach even more outwards to the west, and six years after Sophia's downfall, the co-tsar Ivan died from illness. Peter was now the sole ruler of Russia.
The Azov Campaign
With his passion of the sea ever growing, Peter spent more and more time at Archangel, supervising the construction of many ships as well as conversing with many Dutch and English captains. Amongst these conversations, talk of opening trade routes through Persia and the Baltic appeared, and Peter could resist no longer. He dreamed of creating a new fleet in the south, having access to the Black sea, which would open up the Southern trade routes for Russia. He eventually decided to capture Azov, a former Greek port city that was captured by the Ottomans in 1475, which commanded the mouth of the Don River.
In winter 1695, the tsar announced that he would renew the land war with the Crimean Tatars and their overlords, the Ottoman Empire. A similar campaign had taken place during Sophia's reign, when she dispatched her favorite, General Golitsyn to stop Tatar raids from piercing into the Ukraine. Taking over one hundred thousand men, Golitsyn marched south and for months maneuvered around the Ukraine plains aimlessly, trying to bring the swift Tatar forces to battle. Despite losing 35,000 men through small skirmishes before withdrawing, Sophia welcomed him home as a hero, which thoroughly disgusted the young Peter.
Now, Peter was not willing to make the same mistake as Golitsyn. He planned a two-pronged strike, using his newly trained western styled army (whose elite regiments were raised from Peter's former 'toy soldiers'). One prong was commanded by General Sheremetev, over a hundred thousand strong, mostly peasants. The Eastern prong, under the tsar himself, and generaled by his most trusted friends, marched for Azov. In early June, the Russian army had laid siege to the port city.
Peter began systematically digging siege trenches, as well as putting the city under a constant artillery bombardment. But the Turks held on. The siege dragging into autumn. Eventually, Peter decided to abandon the siege to go into Winter Quarters, losing thousands more on the march back to Moscow from the trudging rains and Tatar raids.
Although this was viewed as a disaster, 23-year-old Peter did not give up, and plans for a second attempt were already being drawn. This time he learned from his mistakes. He wrote to the Austrian emperor, asking for siege engineers in his war with the ottomans. He then constructed his own fleet of galleys and warships on the Don, so that he may control the waterways leading to the fort, and thus cut off its supplies. Lastly, a supreme commander was named for the expedition, in order to fix the inefficiency of giving generals independent command.
By May, Peter was back at Azov. Using his galleys and cannon to control the mouth of the river, Peter tightened the blockade around the city. With twice the numbers he had before, Peter extended his trenches (which ironically, the Ottomans did not bother to destroy) around the entire city. Once this was done, the Tsar sent a summons to the Ottoman garrison to surrender. This was refused and in June, the bombardment began anew. Soon a breach was made and a general assault planned by the Russians, but at that time, the Pasha decided to surrender his fortress.
Wasting no time, Peter set about reconstructing the town's fortresses and building a new harbor for his fleet. It was a magnificent triumph, for it was the first time since Alexis, the Russian army had won a victory, but more importantly Peter had won his first military campaign.
Peter began expanding Azov, moving Russian families into the city while beginning the construction of a real fleet, not just galleys. Yet the job was not complete. With Azov, he had access to the small Sea of Azov, but without the fortress of Kerch, he could not sail his ships into the Black sea. Yet Peter did not despair. Hundreds of foreign workers arrived to help him build his ships, while this was happening, Peter sent hundreds of young Russians overseas to learn the art of naval warfare.
Although this sent shocks throughout the Russian people, an even more stunning announcement was made by Peter. He would travel west, visiting the major kingdoms of Europe in what would be known as the Great Embassy.
The Great Embassy
Peter had many reasons to visit the West, for one, he wanted to secure strong Allies in Austria and Poland, hoping to convince them to continue his war against the Turkish Empire. A new power was arising in Western Europe, the power of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and Britain, under William III, needed Austria untangled from the East in order to meet this threat. The French were threatening to place kings of the thrones of Poland and Spain, and even the Austrian emperor could not ignore this threat. Peter hope he could convince them otherwise.
Another reason Peter traveled was to secure a host of specialists and experts for his growing Kingdom. He still needed a vast number of naval experts and the technology to improve his army to capture Kerch, the last bastion between him and the Black sea.
But most of all, Peter came to the West to learn. One of the most incredible things about Peter was that since he lacked a formal education, he taught himself almost everything through his curiosity in the world around him, and of all things western. The trip westwards would represent the high point of his personal education.
Leaving a regency behind, Peter set forth to the west with over 250 Russians, most of whom were 'volunteers', sent to learn the art of western shipbuilding, navigation and technology. Hating any form of Ceremony, Peter traveled incognito.
His first stop was at the Baltic town of Riga, where Peter took a vivid interest in the town's fortifications, based off the ones of the Famous French Marshal Vauban. Things got too far however, when a local guard ordered Peter away when he found that the young Russian was taking measurements of the Fort's walls and making sketches. Peter would never forget this incident and it would come back later when he declared war on Sweden, citing his rude reception at Riga as an excuse.
Passing by the city of Konigsberg, Peter took the overland route through Europe, passing through Hanover until arriving at Amsterdam in late summer 1697. At the height of its power and prosperity, Amsterdam was the largest city in Europe and was regarded as the largest Port in the world, along with the world's most famous shipbuilders. To a person of Peter's personality, Amsterdam seemed like heaven on Earth. Arriving in secret to a small town, Peter met an old friend in Zaandam, who gladly allowed him to stay at his little cottage. Afterwards, he signed on as a common worker in one of the shipyards of the city, hoping to learn the Dutch secrets in how they built their ships. Eventually however, word of his arrival got out, and crowds gathered around, watching the young monarch everyday.
Frustrated and annoyed, Peter refused all dinner invitations given to him by the merchants of the city, instead, he sailed away, to Amsterdam. While in Amsterdam, Peter continued his work in the shipyards, helping lay the keel of a frigate that would be the Tsar's gift from the city. Peter also visited many places, Windmills, factories, labs and docks. He also met and conversed with many famous Dutchmen, among these was Admiral Schey, who even set up a mock sea battle for the young Tsar to watch.
By January however, Peter left Amsterdam to visit London, where he paid his first visit to William, king of England and Holland. After a long friendly conversation, William allowed his guest to visit the sights of the city, the theatres, the gardens and the docks were all open to him. As a sign of hospitality, William even gave a royal yacht to the Tsar, as well as staging yet another mock sea battle off Spithead.
Saying his last goodbyes to his Hero, Peter headed off to a short stay in Vienna, to visit his Austrians allies. In the end however, even Peter could not convince the Austrian emperor to continue the war against Hungary. A treaty was about to be signed between the Ottomans and the allies and all Peter received was a promise that Russia's demands for Kerch would be considered, not placed on the demands. Yet Peter also secured a promise that Russia possession of Azov be included in the treaty's peace terms. During his stay in Vienna, the Tsar also received news that the Streltsy have revolted once again, and eager to return home to resolve the situation, the Tsar left in a hurry in January.
Peter next visited Poland, where he met King Augustus for a short while. Both monarchs instantly took a liking to each other and although brief talks of an alliance against Sweden were exchanged, the Tsar left in a hurry, returning back to Moscow in September, 1698.
The Great Embassy was over, and although Peter's diplomatic mission failed, he had learnt a great deal about how the West and he was now intent on modernizing Russia for the future. Soon the great reforms would begi
The Reforms of Peter
Peter arrived back in Moscow on September 5, 1698, and already he had begun to change things. A group of boyars and government officials decided to greet Peter as he entered the city, bowing before him as he passed to prove their loyalty to him. Peter was elated, and as he passed each man, he produced a long sharp barber's razor, and began shaving the men's beards off!
It was a remarkable event, in one stroke, Peter had thrown away the Orthodox tradition that had existed for centuries. The beard, in Orthodox tradition, was a symbol of religious belief and respect, and shaving it was considered a sin. Peter however, saw beards as ridiculous and uncivilized. They were one of the reasons why his people were mocked as savages from the west, and so, he decided to change it in one stroke. Soon shaving would become mandatory to all but the most religious and important figures. Where ever the Tsar went, out came the razor and down came the beards. A tax was put on beards for any who wished to keep them. It was a shocking change, but it was not to be the last.
Peter also encouraged his subjects to wear western dress, usually Russians wore the traditional long bulky robes. This was changed. In 1700, it was announced that all boyars, government officials and men of property were to abandon their long robes and buy western clothing. A new decree ordered men to wear French and German clothing, prohibiting the high Russian boots and bulky robes, at their own expense of course. Court ladies however, did not mind, eager to stay up to date with the latest fashions from Paris.
It was also at this time where Peter casted away another inconvenience of his past, his wife Eudoxia, whom he forced into a convent to become a nun. Peter could never stand her throughout his life, for she was a very conservative woman, schooled in the traditional ways. Peter was now free from her to pursue his curiosity for the west and all things new.
Russian society itself was changed, Peter gave Russia an entirely new calendar. The Russians, unlike the rest of Europe, calculated time not from the birth of Christ, but from when they believed the world was born. Thus, new years in Russia were not in January, but in September, and the year was not 1698, but year 7206. This changed in a flash, on January 1699, Peter announced that the coming year would not be 7208, but 1700.
Russian money also changed. Before, Russians used old oriental style coins called Kopeks, and there were very few in circulation. Peter changed that by minting new copper coins to replace the Kopek, as well as making new coins in higher dominations. The Russian government also began using stamped paper for its documents thanks to Peter's reforms.
Aside from all that, peter also gave Russia it's own order of knighthood, the order of Saint Andrew. Its first recipient, being Fedor Golovin, who was now acting as Peter's prime minister.
It was an incredible change that took place in a matter of a few years. For the first time in it's history, Russia was rapidly catching up to the west.
The destruction of the Streltsy, and The birth of the Russian Fleet
The main reason why Peter's trip to the west was cut short, was because of the Streltsy, who revolted after being sent on menial chores thousands of miles away from their homes in Azov.
The Streltsy armies, still remembering their last rebellion, where they forced their will on the royal family, were confident, marching to Moscow where several of Peter's western style regiments waited for them.
Under the command of General Shein and the Scottish General Gordon (Peter's close friend and foreign drill instructor to the army), the inferior Streltsy were quickly defeated by the Modern Russian regiments.
Infuriated by this revolt, Peter immediately began 'interrogating' the rebel prisoners to a man, each one receiving torture in order to make them confess. Fourteen hundred torture chambers were constructed for this purpose and eventually, when Peter was satisfied, all the Streltsy were killed in public executions, in batches of 100 or more at a time. Of the 2000 Streltsy who revolted, 1200 died. The Streltsy were wiped out and replaced by western style regiments. The last serious opposition to Peter's rule was now destroyed.
After settling the business in Moscow, Peter once again began overseeing the construction of a black sea fleet. At once he set out for the Don River, to oversee the construction of his ships there by his hired western experts. Shipyards were constructed along the banks of the river, and the great fleet Peter envisioned was beginning to take shape. There were many problems however, most noticeable were the quarrels between the foreign shipwrights, each hired from a different country. Russian workers resented the fact of having been forced to learn the art of shipbuilding, and many laborers began dying and deserting. Yet Peter was optimistic, even jumped into the docks to help his workers with the menial labor. By August, he had twenty ships launched, and every week, more went into the water. It was also here where the first all-Russian built ship was launched, the Predestination.
Peter in the midst of all this activity, was struck personally by the loss of his old friends, Francis Lefort, a Swiss who had been a member of Peter's inner circle. Six months later, Patrick Gordon, the old Scotsman, also passed away. Peter would begin to feel the man's loss, for he was the best soldier in Russia at that time, and would have probably made a difference in the upcoming war.
By spring, Peter had his fleet of Eighty-six ships, including 18 Men of war. On May 7, 1699, Peter left his port at Voronezh and sailed down river to Azov, where he inspected the fortifications he had ordered improved. Under the conditions of the peace treaty the allies would have with Turkey, the allies were to take any territory they could occupy. Peter was determined to use his fleet to take Kerch before the negotiations, and thus open a way for Russia into the black sea.
Yet there was a problem, negotiations were already about to begin with Turkey between the Allied powers, which Peter wanted to postpone, so he would have time to conquer Kerch. Eventually however, with the weight of his allies against him, he reluctantly agreed to only keep his conquests at Azov. Peter however, was not done, hoping that he might gain through negotiation, what he failed to gain through war. And so an ambassador was sent to Constantinople.
It was a historic event, for to transport the ambassador, Peter had him ride on one of his frigates, which was allowed entry into Constantinople by a much nervous sultan. For the first time in history, a Russian warship, under the Tsar's flag, was sailing in the Sultan's private lake. Historic as it was, the diplomatic mission ended in failure. The Ottomans refused to give up Kerch, as well as denying Russia the chance to send any merchants southward to Constantinople. What Peter received instead, was a thirty-year treaty of truce with the Ottomans.
Although Peter never got to use his southern fleet in war, it would remain a useful political device for keeping the Sultan's armies at bay. Soon, the sultan would even forbid Crimean Tatars and Turks to carry their raids into Russian territory, fearing a reprisal from the Russian fleet. This was extremely useful for Peter, for in the next few years of his reign, his attention was focused almost entirely in the west and north, in one of the longest wars in European history thus far, where he would take on the Swedes and challenge their decades old reputation as the leading military power in Europe. The Great Northern War.