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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:

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 Reign of Emperor Alexander I (1801-1825)
Russia Symbol   Burdens of Engagement
    Burdens of Engagement
NYPL, Slavic and Baltic Division

Engagement Symbol   Russians Visit the South Pacific
    Russians Visit the South Pacific
NYPL, General Research Division

Engagement Symbol   France Capitulates
    France Capitulates
NYPL, Slavic and Baltic Division

Engagement Symbol   Russia’s “Hordes” Take Paris
    Russia’s “Hordes” Take Paris
NYPL, Spencer Collection

Engagement Symbol   A Romantic English View of the “Northern Venice”
    A Romantic English View of the “Northern Venice”
NYPL, General Research Division

Engagement Symbol   Napoleon’s Nightmare
    Napoleon’s Nightmare
NYPL, Slavic and Baltic Division

Under Alexander I (r. 1801–25), the reform-minded grandson of Catherine the Great, new universities and secondary schools opened; scientific, literary, and scholarly societies flourished; and journals reflected the diversity of cultural and intellectual interests of the literate public. Between 1803 and 1833, sixteen Russian maritime expeditions traveled around the world, documenting heretofore little-known lands and peoples.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Russia and much of the rest of Europe faced threats, first from revolutionary France and then from Napoleon’s imperial ambitions. The military alliances and campaigns that ensued intensified contacts with western influences and led to their further absorption. Symbolically, Russia’s europeanization reached its pinnacle when Alexander I led the allied troops into Paris in 1814 and again in 1815 after the final defeat of Napoleon.

Victory over France saw the emergence of a proud and self-confident Russia, a nation whose literature embraced the Romantic and nationalist movements that were sweeping contemporary Europe. Russians were stimulated to reflect on their country’s relationship to the outside world, and many began to critically examine the empire’s political values and practices. Following Alexander’s death, officers who had become acquainted with western political thought and institutions during the Napoleonic campaigns rebelled because the government refused to allow them fuller participation in the public life of the empire. While the so-called Decembrist Revolt was easily put down by Alexander's brother and successor, Nicholas I, it demonstrated that for the empire, europeanization and other global engagements carried implications that Peter the Great had not anticipated.


The founding of St. Petersburg in 1703 signaled Tsar Peter’s intention to make Russia an equal partner in the European family of nations as well as a world force; by 1825, both goals had been achieved. Over the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the sciences, arts, and letters all flourished in the empire, with Russians in the vanguard of international trends.

But as history has often shown, the many strains of maintaining a vast empire, and the injustices committed against populations absorbed in the building process, can lead to discontent and internal dissent. The forcible absorption of lands and peoples such as the Chechens, for example, during this period initiated a conflict that remains unresolved to this day.

Internally, the Decembrist Revolt of 1825 clearly signaled a desire for political and economic reforms along western European lines, but the last four tsars failed to fully satisfy domestic demands for change. In 1917, after decades of unrest and in the midst of an unpopular war, the Romanov dynasty fell, only four years after celebrating its tercentenary.