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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)


Explore this Section:

Peter the Great and His Legacy (1682–1762): A Summary of Russian History
Russia Symbol Introduction
Russia Symbol The Early Years
Russia Symbol The Drive Toward Westernization
Russia Symbol The Drive Toward Empire
Russia Symbol The Historical Assessment
Russia Symbol Immediate Successors
Russia Symbol The Reign of "the Daughter"
Peter the Great and His Legacy (1682–1762): A Summary of World History

Russia's Globalization:
A Key

Events marked Russia Symbol are specific to Muscovy/Russia's internal development.
Those marked World Symbol are important world historical or cultural events.
Engagement Symbol indicates specific points of sociocultural or military engagement between Muscovy/Russia and foreign powers or individuals.




  Sweden's Empire
NYPL, Art and Architecture Collection

Alongside westernization, Peter entertained a lifelong passion for the military, and war became the single most important fact of his reign. When he was a young co-tsar, his sister, Sofiia, allowed him to create “regiments” that grew to 1,000 boys, who were equipped with real weapons and uniforms and who came from all walks of society. When he acquired power, they became the elite core of the army and the guards charged with protecting the royal family. At the same time, soldiers and sailors from the Foreign Quarter, the district in Moscow where ambassadors and other foreigners lived, told Peter about current European military practices, and these became a central topic for investigation during his fifteen-month trip abroad. When he returned, he was determined to make Russia a powerful member of the European family of nations and, to that end, challenged Sweden’s dominance of the northern part of the continent. At first, he failed. Under the leadership of King Charles XII (r. 1697–1718), the Swedes dealt the Russians an ignominious defeat at Narva in December 1700 and forced their army to retreat in disarray.

Peter’s greatest military victory came nine years later at the Battle of Poltava when he turned the tide of what came to be called the Great Northern War. Between Narva and Poltava, Peter completely revamped the army, borrowing reforms from Austria, France, and the enemy Sweden: a rabble of 40,000 soldiers was transformed into a permanent army of 200,000 with another 100,000 Cossacks in reserve. Peter also founded the first Russian navy, which grew to 800 galleys and 28,000 sailors. The entire nation was expected to bear the burden of the cost: nobles and serfs alike were forced into lifetime service; taxes were increased fivefold with everything from bathhouses to beehives being subject to levies, and 80% of the budget was spent on the military; church bells were melted down to make cannon, and 200 new industrial enterprises were established to provide the necessary materiel. These hardships resulted in a constant series of revolts; "fiscals," or officials who collected tax money, were the most despised men in Russia. Nonetheless, the war was finally won in 1721, and the victory brought Russia undisputed great power status.


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