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Russia Engages the World, 1453-1825
1453 Through the Reign of Ivan the Terrible (1533-1584) The Time of Troubles to the First Romanovs (1598-1682) Peter the Great and His Legacy (1682-1762) The Age of Catherine the Great (1762-1801) The Reign of Emperor Alexander I (1801-1825)


Absolute Monarchy: A form of governance in which the monarch holds all power and shares it with no group or institutions, for instance, the nobility or the church. This form of rule predominated in most states, reaching its apogee in Europe from the 15th through the 18th centuries.

Ancien Régime: A name given to a traditional society characterized by an absolute monarchy, social inequality, and an illiterate or impoverished peasant majority.

Boyar: A category of nobleman, usually of high rank. In Muscovy of the 16th and 17th centuries, the boyars formed the highest rank of the aristocracy, and had the right to advise the tsar in a duma, or advisory group.

Cap of Monomakh: According to tradition, the Byzantine emperor presented this crown to Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev (r. 1113-25). The Cap of Monomakh has come to symbolize the Russian throne and its historic links to the religious and cultural traditions of the Byzantine Empire.

Caucasus: The Caucasus mountains form an almost solid rampart extending northwest to southeast across the isthmus between the Black and Caspian seas.

Church Slavonic: The oldest literary language of the Slavs, employed in the first translations of ecclesiastical writings from Greek to Slavic in the second half of the 9th century.

Constantinople: In 330 C.E., the ancient city of Byzantium was proclaimed the capital of the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire, and renamed by Emperor Constantine the Great. In 1453, the city and what remained of the empire fell to Ottoman invaders. The city was renamed Istanbul.

Cossack (pl. Cossacks): A privileged peasant soldier in tsarist Russia, preeminently a member of the cavalry and horse artillery. Prior to the 18th century, Cossacks were runaway peasants and others who had fled to the steppe region between the Dniepr and Don rivers and formed free, self-governing communes organized along military lines. The Cossack population constituted a separate class or estate in the Russian Empire.

Crimean Khanate: A realm in the Crimea that detached from the Golden Horde in the 15th century. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Khanate often invaded Russian territory. The Khanate was a vassal of the Ottoman Empire until the Russian victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74, and became part of the Russian Empire in 1783.

Decembrists: Members of secret revolutionary societies whose activities led to the uprising of December 1825 against Tsar Nicholas I (r. 1825-55). These groups consisted of officers who advocated either a republic or a constitutional monarchy. On the death of Alexander I, they persuaded several regiments to refuse loyalty to Nicholas in favor of his elder brother Constantine, who they believed would grant a constitution. The revolt was poorly organized and was crushed. The Decembrist revolt led to increased police activity on the part of the tsarist government and the spread of revolutionary activity among the educated classes.

Domostroi: Literally, household manual. A collection of rules concerning religious observances and everyday behavior, written in the 16th century.

Duma: A body of deliberative advisors; a council.

Eastern Orthodoxy: Along with Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, one of the three principal doctrinal and jurisdictional groups of Christianity.

Eastern Slavic; Eastern Slavs: Pertaining to the Cyrillic-script languages and peoples of, chiefly, present-day Belarus’, Russia, and Ukraine.

Enlightened Absolutism: Enlightened absolute monarchs held absolute power as the source of law in their states, yet sought to implement reforms in the legal and administrative structure of the state.

Foreign Quarter: In Russian, Nemetskaia Sloboda, a district of Moscow allocated to western Europeans during the 16th and 17th centuries. A 1665 census revealed that the settlement had 204 households, the majority of which belonged to foreign military advisors. Merchants and craftsmen were also well represented. The settlement grew from a nondescript collection of wooden buildings into a stone built town in the western European style at the end of the 17th century.

Golden Horde: The Russian name for the western part of the Mongol Empire, which ruled East Slavic territory from the 13th through the 15th centuries. The empire extended from the Ob River in the east to present-day Moldavia in the west, south into the Caucasus Mountains, and the Aral, Caspian, and Black seas.

Grand Duchy of Moscow (Muscovy): A realm in West Central Russia from the late 14th to the late 17th century having Moscow as its nucleus, and eventually dominating other independent Russian principalities as well as the Tatars of the Golden Horde to the south. Moscow’s emergence as the core of this political entity came about because of its central location, importance as a trading and religious center, a series of able rulers, and, in Mongol times, its loyalty to the Tatar overlord.

Grand Prince: In Kievan times, the head of Kievan Rus’ was called Grand Prince. Before adopting the title of Tsar in 1547, the rulers of Muscovy also used this title.

Holy Alliance: The name given to a 19th-century organization that provided collective security for Europe after the Napoleonic wars. The outcome of the wars was not a comprehensive general agreement, but a series of diplomatic acts and proceedings based ostensibly on the principle of “Christian brotherhood,” which most regarded cynically. The organization took its name from the treaty between Alexander I of Russia, Francis of Austria, and Frederick William III of Prussia, signed in Paris on September 26, 1815.

Holy Synod: The central administrative organ of the Russian Orthodox church from 1721 to 1917.

Kalmyks: A people of Mongolian origin. In the 17th century, most of their ancestors left what is now part of the Xinjiang region of China in hopes of settling in the rich pastures of the northern Caucasus mountains.

Kievan Rus’: A prosperous principality, founded in the 9th century, centered on the city of Kiev (in Ukrainian, Kyďv). It is considered the oldest East Slavic state and the cultural and spiritual foundation of all later East Slavic states, including Muscovite Russia.

Kremlin: The inner fortress in old cities, enclosing government buildings and the cathedral. The Moscow Kremlin became associated with the seat of power during Muscovite times.

Manchu: The name given to a people who lived for many centuries in Manchuria and adjacent areas and who in the 17th century conquered China and ruled that country for more than 250 years.

Metropolitan: A bishop of the Eastern Orthodox Christian church resident in the chief city or “metropolis” of a civil province.

Mongol Empire: A vast confederation of conquered territories stretching from China to the Persian Gulf. The Mongols are a people with origins in central and northeast Asia. Beginning in the 13th century, they moved steadily outward from their homeland. In 1240, they captured Kiev, and subsequently dominated much of present-day Ukraine and Russia until the 15th century.

Moscow, “The Third Rome”: A term designating the doctrine that Russia succeeded Constantinople as heir to Rome as a center of Orthodox Christianity. The doctrine became an integral part of Muscovite religious self-consciousness.

Mughal Dynasty: Founded in 1526, a dynastic line of Muslim emperors who reigned over much of present-day India. The Mughal Empire began to decline after the death of Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707), owing to factional strife and foreign invasion. The empire ceased to exist in 1858.

Muscovy; Muscovite Rus’; Muscovite Tsardom: An East Slavic principality that emerged in the second half of the 13th century, flourishing in part because of the willingness of Moscow’s princes to serve as tribute collectors for the Mongol Khans. From the 14th through the 16th centuries, the Grand Princes expanded control over other principalities, creating the core of the future Russian state.

Novgorod: A flourishing, self-governing city in northwestern Russia, active in trade with the west as the easternmost member of the Hanseatic League. Because of its northerly location, it was beyond the reach of the Mongol khans. It was forcibly annexed into the Muscovite Tsardom in 1478.

Oprichnik: A member of the corps of bodyguards and political police created by Ivan IV, “the Terrible,” early in 1565. The number of Oprichniks gradually increased from 1,000 to about 6,000 men who swore absolute and blind obedience to the tsar. They tortured and murdered suspected traitors, robbing and pillaging their victims’ property.

Ottomans: A Turkic-speaking people who by 1400 had managed to extend their influence over much of Anatolia and even into Byzantine territory, as well as Macedonia and Bulgaria. In 1453, Sultan Mehmed (r. 1451-81) captured the great city of Constantinople. The empire expanded greatly under Sultan Selim I (r. 1512-20), but it was under his son Süleyman I (r. 1520-66) that the empire reached its greatest extent.

Patriarch: The highest-ranking official of the Orthodox church. In Russia, the position of patriarch was abolished by Peter the Great, in favor of a Holy Synod, made up of individuals selected by the tsar. The Patriarchate was reestablished after the Revolution of 1917.

Petrine: Pertaining to Peter I, his reign and his influence.

Qing Dynasty: Also known as the Manchu dynasty, named for the Manchurian origins of the dynasts who ruled China from 1644 until 1911. Invited by the Chinese to help the Ming emperor drive a bandit army from Beijing, the Manchus proceeded to overthrow the Ming dynasty. A foreign people, the Manchus did not seek to rule as an occupying force. The existing Chinese system of governance was maintained, along with the artistic and philosophical teachings of the past. Territory was expanded, including at the expense of Muscovite Russia in the Far East.

Raskol’: A Russian term meaning “schism,” and here specifically concerning the split between the official Russian church and church dissenters who broke away in the second half of the 17th century over reforms to the traditional services and texts. The dissenters were expelled from the official church as heretics.

Romanov Dynasty: The House of Romanov, an old boyar family, was elected in 1613 to serve as Russia’s second ruling dynasty, after the end of the Rurikid dynasty. Descendants of Mikhail Romanov (r. 1613-24) ruled Russia until the abdication of Nicholas II in 1917.

Rurikid Dynasty: Dynasty thought to have been established by a Viking, Rurik, to rule Novgorod in the 9th century. His descendants later ruled Kievan Rus’ on the territory of present-day Ukraine, and later still the Muscovite Tsardom. The dynasty ended with the death of Tsar Fedor in 1598.

Russian Orthodox Church: An Eastern Orthodox Christian church, established as independent of the ancient Patriarchate of Constantinople in the 15th century. In 1589, the Eastern Orthodox hierarchs in Constantinople granted the Russian church official status as a patriarchate, along with Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.

Safavid: The ruling dynasty of Persia (modern-day Iran) from 1501 to 1736, founded by Shah Ismail I (r. 1501-24). After reaching its peak under Shah ‘Abbas I (r. 1587-1628), the dynasty declined, and was brought to an end by Nadir Shah in 1736.

Serfdom: A system under which peasants were bound to the land and legally could not move of their own volition. The serf, however, had no legal title to the land, which could (along with the labor of the serf and his family) be bought, sold, or bestowed by the ruling lord. In Muscovite Russia, the system was codified in the 17th century and persisted until its abolition by Emperor Alexander II in 1861.

Shaybanid: The Shaybanid Khanate (1500-99) formed a loose family confederacy with appanages in Balkh, Bukhara, Tashkent, and Samarkand. Shaybanid culture reached its peak under Abdullah II (r. 1557-83).

Shiia: A follower of one of the two principal branches of Islam, the other, larger branch being Sunnite. Shiism was the sole legal faith in the Persian Empire under the Safavids.

Strelets (pl. streltsy): An elite corps of musketeer/musketeers. The first standing regiments of the armed forces in Muscovy.

Sunni: A follower of the larger of the principal branches within Islam. The Sunnis differ from the minority Shiia sect in doctrine, ritual law, theology, and religious organization.

Tatar: The Turkic-speaking peoples inhabiting the central Volga River and Ural Mountain regions. This term came to be applied (incorrectly) to the Mongols who invaded eastern Slavic lands beginning in the 13th century; hence the term “Tatar Yoke” to describe the burden of Mongol taxation and depredations.

Tatar Khanates: The independent khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, Sibir, and Crimea formed from the remnants of the Golden Horde from the 14th century, and often staged raids into Muscovy to the north. By the end of the 16th century, Muscovy had succeeded in conquering all but the Crimean Khanate, which was finally annexed by Catherine the Great in 1783.

Terem: A chamber where women were often secluded in boyar households in Muscovite Russia. The Terem Palace served as the tsar’s Kremlin residence until Peter the Great moved the capital to St. Petersburg in 1712.

Time of Troubles (Smutnoe vremia): The name conventionally given in Russian historiography to the period (1598-1613) between the demise of the ancient ruling dynasty of Russia, the Rurikids, and the accession of the Romanov dynasty.

Tsar: Sovereign ruler, usually interpreted as the contraction of the Roman and hence Byzantine word “Caesar.” In 1547, Ivan IV (r. 1533-84) became the first Muscovite ruler to be officially crowned Tsar.