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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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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.

   The Age of Catherine the Great (1762-1801)
Russia Symbol   A Global Empire’s Attention and Favor
    A Global Empire’s Attention and Favor
NYPL, Spencer Collection
Engagement Symbol   Russian Merchant to the Americas
    Russian Merchant to the Americas
NYPL, Slavic and Baltic Division
Russia Symbol   Catherine in Her Later Years
    Catherine in Her Later Years
NYPL, Slavic and Baltic Division
Engagement Symbol   The Romanov’s Heirs Saluted by Venice
    The Romanov’s Heirs Saluted by Venice
NYPL, Spencer Collection
Engagement Symbol   The Costume of Russia’s Many Peoples, on Paper
    The Costume of Russia’s Many Peoples, on Paper
NYPL, Spencer Collection

Engagement Symbol
  Mughal Splendors
    Mughal Splendors
NYPL, General Research Division

The long reign of Catherine II, "the Great" (1762–96), brought to a successful conclusion Peter’s twin projects: the europeanization of Russian elite culture and the confirmation of Russia’s status as a major imperial power. An enlightened absolutist monarch, Catherine pursued policies that made her the darling of the 18th-century European philosophes, whose works she read and with whom she corresponded. The influence of the Enlightenment was evident in her convening an elected assembly to codify the laws; creating over 10,000 elective offices; streamlining the administration; introducing a modern educational system for both sexes; and issuing charters that guaranteed the life and property of noblemen and prosperous urban dwellers. But many of Catherine’s “achievements” fell far short of her stated goals, and neither Catherine nor the philosophes attended to the needs of the masses, who remained indentured, illiterate, and impoverished throughout much of Europe.

The empress, herself a prolific author, patronized all the arts and oversaw a flowering of original literary creation in all genres. Her passion for collecting European painting, sculpture, and books laid the foundations for the development of Russian national museums and libraries. Russia sent expeditions to map and explore the vast territory and peoples that were part of the Russian Empire. They explored beyond Siberia to the North Pacific, Alaska, California, and indeed much of the globe, seeking trade, new lands, and scientific knowledge in a manner that was “European.”

Enlightened monarchs of the 18th century enhanced their power through territorial expansion. Catherine, along with her fellow monarchs in Prussia and the Habsburg lands, eagerly participated in the three partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795), with Russia absorbing the largest share. During Catherine's reign, territorial gains were for the most part at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. After a series of wars with the Ottomans and their Crimean Tatar vassals in the 18th century, Russia established its dominance on the Black Sea, incorporating the steppes of its northern shore, including the Crimean peninsula. Although encounters with the Muslim world were primarily diplomatic or military, a romantic fascination still persisted, which found expression in maps, travel literature, music, and engravings depicting the Ottoman Empire, Persia, and India as lands of splendor and mystery. Many Russian writers described the sublime landscapes and exotic cultures of West Asia; nevertheless, both they and government officials periodically displayed an arrogant or contemptuous attitude toward the Asian peoples who lived both within and outside Russia’s borders. And the forcible incorporation of peoples with their own religions and traditions – Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, and Muslims – would meet with resistance, including the outbreak of violent clashes.