“I have conquered an empire but I have not been able to conquer myself”(quotezine). Peter the Great built the foundation Russia stands on today, and enabled Russia to become the world power that we know today. Some may credit Peter with inciting westernization in Russia, but westernization started prior to when he was born. After delivering thirteen children to Tsar Alexis I, Maria Miloslavskaya died trying to give birth to her fourteenth child. Out of five sons two survived (Fedor III and Ivan V), and out of eight daughters only six survived(Massie 34).
Within a year after Miloslavskaya death, he found her successor Natalya Naryshkina, a ward of Artemon Matveev. With her semiWestern upbringing, the Tsaritsa was an instrument of change. She brought music into the palace ( something that was once banned), sponsored a royal theater. With her help “Alexi’s painful religious quality gave way to a fun, spirited, eagerness to accept Western ideas entertainments, and techniques”(Massie 44). Peter the Great forcefully pushed Russia to become more western through his class system, policies, and military, but he did so at the expense of his people.
With the death of his father Peter went from being the adored son of Russia to being an annoying threat to his half siblings. First in line to the throne was Peters’s fragile half brother Fedor. Even though people were probably betting on Fedor to kick Peter to the curve, Fedor showed kindness to Peter and let him stay in the Kremlin( Fedor was also his godfather). There Peter began his education. He started with the basics, learning the alphabet, but then Fedor insisted that Peter’s education must advance further.
With his tutor’s help, Peter exceeded far past what was expected,” The mold which created Peter the Great as not made by any parent, tutor or counselor; it was cast by Peter himself”(Massie 48). His intelligence would aid him in the future but after Fedor’s death it made him a target. Even though Peter was elected to be the next Tsar by the people his half sister Sophia fought that arrangement and with the help from the Streltsy Revolt( rampaging soldiers of the Moscow garrison, the Streltsy, hunted down and murdered some 40 of his relatives, friends and advisors inside the walls of the Kremlin(Massie 79-83)). The aftermath led to Ivan V and Peter being co-tsars and Sophia being the regent (Peter 1).
This caused some issues for several years until Peter finally grew into himself and skillfully caused everyone to turn on Sophia and support him and Ivan only. When Ivan died in 1696, Peter was officially declared Sovereign of all Russia. Peter inherited a nation that was severely underdeveloped compared to the culturally prosperous European countries(Biography). Before Peter became one of the greatest kings in Russia’s history, there were Russia before Peter the Great was vastly different and lacking in new technology and ideas that the Renaissance and the Reformation brought in.
To help fortify his power, he thought it best to copy Western practices. Through his travels in western Europe, he sought to gain as much knowledge as he could about technology, politics and customs before he returned home. Upon arriving home, Peter made “five years of education away from home and state services requirements for the nobility and allowed movement within the ranks only through merit”(Sherman 406). Peter also designed a new class system known as the Table of Ranks.
Under his father’s rule he class system resembled a pyramid; at the top was the Tsar “a god-like creature,”(Massie 22), below him were the nobility (who were divided into a dozen ranks), next were the lesser aristocracy and gentry, then there was a small middle class( merchants, artisans, and townspeople), lastly the were the peasants and the serf who made up the majority of Russian society(Massie 26). This class system can be compared to that in the Medieval times in western Europe, indicating that Russia had a lot of catching up to do.
Under the Table of ranks, all positions within the government, both military and civilian, would be divided into 14 ranks. It rewarded the devoted and delayed performance of duty, and allowed those who served to advance up the ladder “for longevity of service. “(“Peter’s Table of Ranks: 1722. “) After a specific number of years a civil servant or member of the military would automatically move up one rung of the ladder. And this advance could be accelerated: for exceptional service one could skip a rung or be promoted ahead of schedule.
Furthermore, non-nobles who managed to serve their way into the Table of Ranks could earn hereditary nobility with all the attendant benefits(“Peter’s Table of Ranks: 1722. “). This system was based on Peter’s belief about using talented people from every segment of society and not just the aristocrats. This ideology reflects Peter’s time in Preobrazhenskoe ( a summer hunting lodge) where he was able to explore things such as carpentry, and conversing with people of the lower classes.
Besides radically changing the class system Peter also created policies to help the Russian people appear more Western. A Western visitor to Russia wrote” Their hair is cropped to their ears… Their beards remain yet untouched… Their shoes are tied together with bast”( Massie 31). Keen to appear more Western Peter quickly started a cultural revolution. Peter first set his eyes on making over the nobility by bullying them into shaving their beards and changing into European clothing.
He also encouraged the women to dress in the European style and forced them appear in public since it use to not be appropriate for a woman to leave her house. In 1705 decrees were issued prohibiting the buying, selling, and wearing of Russian dress by courtiers, state servitors, and townspeople(Boeck). That same year the wearing of beards was prohibited and the beard tax was instituted. With the exception of the Orthodox clergy, anyone who wanted to wear a beard was ordered to pay a special tax and obtain a token (znak) from government officials(Boeck).
The need for a tax proved that not everyone agreed with Peter the Great’s new ideas. Besides forcing fashion makeovers on his people Peter also “modernized the Russian alphabet, introduced the Julian calendar, and established the first Russian newspaper”(Biography). Lastly to symbolize his accomplishments he developed St. Petersburg a new modernized city and capital of Russia. Other than naming a city after himself, Peter also modernized his military. He built Russia’s first navy by sending envoys to European countries to study navigation and shipbuilding.
In 1697 acquired firsthand information and to hire shipwrights for service in Russia(“Peter |(1672-1725)”). He constructed an army based on the model of Prussia, “ Recruits were drafted for life and branded with a cross… Officials arbitrarily assign serfs to work in mines and manufacturing establishments to supply the military with equipment and arms”( Sherman 407). When he died, Peter’s Baltic Fleet consisted of 800 ships served by 20,000 men. Peter Also improved his army which once consisted “150,000 men badly trained, poorly equipped, and poorly disciplined”(“Peter the Great. ).
Upon his return from abroad, Peter abolished the Streltsy who had wrecked havoc on his family and replaced them with the new elite “Preobrazhensky Guard” consisting of two battalions totaling 4,000 men. the majority of army consisted of 200,000 men. This was achieved by a periodical conscription that took one out of every twenty men in Russia, only clergymen and merchants were excused(“Peter the Great. “). In addition, Peter added a force of 100,000 irregular troops consisting of Cossacks and Mongol nomads.
Something that Machiavelli would surely disapprove of. In order to finance his new army Peter instituted a ” soul” tax which taxed every male that was born. The “soul” tax also taxed inns, bath houses, mills, fishing operations, beehives, beards, coffins, stamps, and non-Christian marriages(“Peter’s Table of Ranks: 1722. “). Ending his reign, Peter would utilize his military in The Great Northern War. Majority of wars start because of religion and rulers wanting something that they do not have.
The Great Northern War started because Peter longed for the sea( Baltic sea to be exact) that he could access if he regained the ancient Russian coastal lands that were now in Sweden’s possession. Acquiring these coastal lands would boost the Russian economy immensely. Peter at first tried to capture the port of Narva in Swedish-held Estonia. This ended in a catastrophic defeat on November 30, 1700, at the hands of Charles XII, king of Sweden, and destroyed Peter’s new army(Bushkovitch). Using his smarts, Peter waited out Sweden and learned from their mistakes so that he was able to defeat them at the battle of Poltava.
In 1713 Peter managed to occupy all of Finland, which he hoped to use as a bargaining chip in the inevitable peace negotiations. Peter’s naval victory over the Swedish fleet at Hango peninsula on the Finnish coast maintained Russian control over Finland and allowed Peter to concentrate his attention on the Swedish coast. In 1721 “the treaty of Nystad put an end to the war, allowing Russia to keep southeast Finland (the town of Viborg), Ingria, Estonia, and the province of Livonia”(Bushkovitch).
The Great Northern War altered the balance of power and allowed the Russians some seaports, which would boost their economy. Peter the Great was one of Russia’s most influential kings, but that doesn’t mean that he was perfect. In conclusion Peter the Great created a new Russia that was able to compete on the World Stage. He enacted reforms, changed the class system, and modernized his military, but he did so at a cost. Peter’s mission for westernization was more for himself than his people.
Because of his needs and costly reforms the peasantry struggled. ” Peasants made up 97 percent of Russia’s population… they became tied down in a system bordering on slavery”( Sherman 406). They were forced to pay these taxes enacted by Peter with money they did not have. They were forced to be slaves for nobility, a concept that sets Russia back into the Medieval ages. Even though Peter the Great helped Russia into the modern world, at the cost of the peasants. Causing historians to question if Peter’s ends justified the means.