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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)


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The Age of Catherine the Great: A Summary of Russian History
Russia Symbol Introduction
Russia Symbol The Husband
Russia Symbol The Enlightened Absolutist Monarch
Russia Symbol Catherine's Foreign Policy
Russia Symbol Paul I
The Age of Catherine the Great: A Summary of World History
The Americas

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.




  Catherine Receives the Ottomans
NYPL, Slavic and Baltic Division

During her long reign, Empress Catherine II (r. 1762–96) undertook to resolve the foreign policy problems in the south that had bedeviled her predecessors. At first, she focused her attention on the western scene, especially Poland, which had increasingly became a bone of contention among several European powers.

The Ottoman sultan declared war on Russia in 1768, and Catherine’s army proceeded to defeat Ottoman Turkey on land. Her war fleet, sailing from the Baltic, entered the Mediterranean and, in the Aegean port of Chesme, annihilated the Ottoman fleet. The terms of the peace treaty of 1774 allowed the construction of a Russian Orthodox church in Istanbul, a provision the Russians would gradually expand into a right to protect the sultan’s Orthodox subjects throughout the Ottoman Empire, gaining thereby potentially significant political leverage. The treaty also declared the independence of the Crimean Khanate from the Ottomans – in fact, it was now already dominated by Russia. Catherine’s troops were stationed at strategic points on the Crimean peninsula, and ten years later the empress formally abolished the khanate by turning the peninsula and its adjacent littoral into a new Russian province, the Tauride (from Tauris, one of the classical names for Crimea). With great pride, in 1787, Catherine – accompanied by the Austrian ruler, Emperor Joseph II (r. 1780–90) – undertook a cruise down the Dniepr River to show off her new province. Field Marshal Grigorii Potemkin (1739–1791), wanting to demonstrate his success in populating the region, allegedly constructed theater sets of villages along the route to impress the monarchs.

  The Sultan’s Solemn Outing
NYPL, Art and Architecture Collection

The annexation of the Crimea realized a double dream the tsars had cherished for several centuries. The once dangerous Tatar hosts were now fully subdued; and Russian ships had unhindered access to the Black Sea. Above all, the war demonstrated Russia’s unquestionable military and naval superiority over the rival Ottoman Empire. In addition, Catherine dreamed of resurrecting Constantinople as an Orthodox Christian metropolis, the center of a new kingdom ruled by her second grandson, who, in anticipation, had been christened Konstantin Pavlovich (Constantine) (1779–1831). Her personal aim seemed to go beyond acquiring lands, to the collection of souvenirs. She reveled in imitating Turkish architecture and style in her capital, erecting whole complexes to commemorate victories and other structures resembling Ottoman buildings. On land, Russian armies were strong enough to undertake a march through the Balkans toward Istanbul. Engineers and architects had built the great naval base of Sevastopol, only a few days’ sailing distance from the Bosphorus and the Ottoman capital. However, Catherine’s romantic dream was transformed, in the minds of more realistic European statesmen, into the nightmare of a dismembered Ottoman Empire with the most crucial segment appropriated by an expansionist Russia. “The Eastern Question” was born.

  Mughal Splendors
NYPL, General Research Division

Relations between Russia and West Asia deteriorated into attack and response. No longer did Russians look to that great region with an eye to peaceable exchange of aesthetic, cultural, or economic values. Like Peter the Great (r. 1682–1725) before her, Catherine II concentrated on seizing valuable natural resources, sites rich in precious metals, and historical artifacts. A line of new fortress towns spread across Russia's southern frontier and evidenced the further projection of tsarist power to the southwest toward Persia and Central Asia.

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