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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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Catherine the Great, an Enlightened Absolutist Monarch
Emperor Peter III
Princess Ekaterina Dashkova
Sultan Selim III

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 in Her Later Years
NYPL, Slavic and Baltic Division

Born Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst (1729–1796), a German princess, at age fourteen she was selected as the wife of a German-born prince, Karl Ulrich, grandson of Peter the Great. Karl Ulrich would become Emperor Peter III of Russia in 1761. The sixteen-year-old bride converted from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy, took the name Catherine, and generally became russified.

By the time Peter III became emperor, he and his wife had become estranged, and the new ruler embarked upon domestic and foreign policies that alienated most groups among the ruling elite. Catherine, taking advantage of her husband's unpopularity and in fear of being thrown into a nunnery, summoned the support of the guards and easily overthrew Peter III.

Empress Catherine II, who eventually to earn the title "the Great," became one of the greatest monarchs in Europe and one of the greatest female monarchs in all history, sharing that distinction with her contemporary Maria Theresa of Austria (r. 1740–80).

A flowering of all literary genres distinguished Catherine's reign, as Russian culture came of age and would soon give rise to golden ages of poetry and prose. The empress lavishly patronized the arts throughout her reign, and she herself wrote memoirs, a history of early Russia, over two dozen plays, journal articles, polemics, operas, and children's literature.

From childhood, Catherine had been an avid reader of Enlightenment literature and developed an acute intellect. During her lonely years at the court of St. Petersburg, estranged from her husband, the Grand Duchess continued to steep herself in the works of such luminaries as Montesquieu (1689–1755), Voltaire (1694–1778), and the German cameralists, all of whom expounded the principles of a law-based monarchy, progress, and reform. Beccaria’s ideas on abolishing torture and capital punishment also influenced her profoundly.

As empress, Catherine attempted to implement these ideas, with moderate success. She convened a legislative assembly to codify the laws; created over 10,000 elected offices; streamlined the clumsy administration; introduced a modern educational system for both sexes; and issued charters that guaranteed the life and property of noblemen and prosperous urban dwellers. But neither Catherine nor other 18th-century thinkers and statesmen attended to the needs of the masses, who remained illiterate, impoverished, and overtaxed.

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