Chapter 24 Outline

The Rise of Russia

  1. Introduction
  2. Between 1450 and 1750, Russia created a land-based empire. Much of the territory taken was Asian, but its acquisition elevated Russia to the status of chief power in eastern Europe. From a foundation derived from Byzantine culture, Russia embarked on a course of selective Westernization. Despite its willingness to emulate Western civilization, Russia remained outside the global trade system dominated by the West.

  3. Russia's Expansionist Politics Under the Tsars


    1. Introduction
    2. The Duchy of Moscow led the movement to free Russia from Mongol influence. Under Ivan III Moscow freed much of Russia by 1462. In the process of expelling the Mongols, Ivan won a vast expanse of land for Russia.

    3. The Need For Revival
    4. Although Russia had been within the Mongol orbit for a century, Russian culture and government was little affected by their former overlords. Local administration remained in the hands of local princes. The period of Mongol dominance had diminished literacy and economic growth. Russia remained a largely agricultural country. Ivan III reestablished centralized government in Russia, styled himself tsar, and proclaimed Russia the third Rome. His successor, Ivan IV, called the Terrible, continued the policy of territorial expansion and political centralization. Ivan IV killed many of the Russian boyars, or nobility to remove potential challengers to his authority.

    5. Patterns of Expansion
    6. Ivan III and Ivan IV pressed Russian expansion into central Asia. Newly conquered lands were settled by peasants, called cossacks. A cross between farmers and warriors, the cossacks provided volunteers to press the frontiers farther eastward. Eventually they moved out of the region of the Caspian Sea into western Siberia. The tsars rewarded loyal followers with grants of land in the area of Asian conquest. Conquered peoples were occasionally reduced to slavery to feed the need for labor. The conquests provided new trade connections for Russia. Russian expansion eliminated the free peoples of Asia, from whom the various nomadic invaders of earlier civilizations had sprung. The conquests also produced great ethnic and religious diversity within the Russian empire.

    7. Western Contact and Romanov Policy
    8. Both Ivan III and Ivan IV pursued cultural and commercial ties with the West. When Ivan IV died without an heir, boyars attempted to regain their former influence. Sweden and Poland invaded Russia in hopes of seizing territory. In 1613, this Time of Troubles was brought to an end when an assembly of boyars selected the Romanov dynasty to rule Russia. Although the Time of Troubles was temporarily catastrophic for Russia, it did not produce any lasting constraints on the power of the tsars.

      Michael Romanov restored order and resumed foreign expansion. He successfully seized part of the Ukraine from Poland. Alexis Romanov restored tsarist autocracy. He abolished the assemblies of boyars and assumed direct state control over the Orthodox Church. After enacting reforms, the tsar exiled the "old believers", those who remained attached to the old rituals, to Siberia.

  4. Russia's First Westernization, 1690-1790


    1. Introduction
    2. By the end of the seventeenth century, Russia remained an agricultural nation with limited cultural achievement. Peter I, called the Great, concentrated on emulation of the West as a means of developing a more diverse economy and culture.

    3. Tsarist Autocracy of Peter the Great
    4. Peter retained the autocratic structure of Russian government. He recruited bureaucrats from outside the ranks of the aristocracy and granted titles of nobility to those who served well. He improved the Russian military through the introduction of Western reforms. The tsar created the Secret Police to prevent dissent and oversee the bureaucracy. In foreign affairs, Peter attacked both the Ottoman Empire and Sweden, his rival on the Baltic Sea. Victories over Sweden allowed the tsar to move his capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

    5. What Westernization Meant
    6. Peter the Great streamlined the military and political organization of Russia along Western institutional lines. The army, local administration, and the Orthodox Church were all brought more firmly under autocratic control. Economic reforms concentrated on Russia's mining and metallurgy sectors. Improvement allowed Russia to achieve independence in these areas from the West. In order to cut off the Russian elite from their traditional cultural background, Peter enforced Western styles of dress and personal appearance. Schools emphasizing mathematics and science were constructed to introduce Western intellectual developments. Among the elite, Peter successfully Westernized Russian society. Changes did not extend to peasants or commoners.

      New manufacturing sectors in Russia continued to be based on partially coerced labor systems. The intent of the economic development was to strengthen the military, not to enter the global commercial system. Some elements of Russian society bitterly opposed the reforms as attacks on traditional Russian customs.

    7. Consolidation Under Catherine the Great
    8. After the death of Peter the Great in 1724, there were a series of weak rulers dominated by the military. In 1761 the retarded Peter III became tsar, but was rapidly replaced as the effective power by his wife, Catherine the Great. Catherine continued the policy of autocratic centralization and suppressed the uprising of peasants under Emelian Pugachev. Catherine flirted with Enlightenment ideas and attempted legal reforms along Enlightenment concepts.

      However, Caterine also favored centralization and a strong tsarist hand, and she strengthened the power of the nobility over the Russian peasantry. The nobility continued to serve as the primary source of recruits for the bureaucracy and military. Landlords gained almost absolute jurisdiction over the peasants who resided on their estates. Catherine turned rapidly against Western ideas during the French Revolution and censored Russian intellectuals who criticized autocracy. Catherine pressed the attack on the Ottoman Empire, gaining lands in the Crimea.

      Russia colonized Siberia, and explorers reached Alaska and the California coast. Catherine directed an aggressive foreign policy against Prussia and Poland. In 1772, 1793, and 1795, Russia participated in the partition of Poland, which ceased to exist as an independent state. In some ways, Russian expansion was reminiscent of the early United States.

  5. Themes in Early Modern Russian History


    1. Introduction
    2. Unlike the West, Russian economy continued to rely on a coercive labor system and a repressive serfdom. The Russian nobility enjoyed a position of power because of its authority over the peasantry and its service relationship to the state.

    3. Serfdom: The Life of East Europe's Masses
    4. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Russia saw an intensification of serfdom. After the expulsion of the Mongols, the Russian nobles, with the consent and assistance of the central government, gained almost exclusive ownership of the land. When new conquests were added to the Russian empire, serfdom was extended. By 1800, half of the peasantry was enserfed to the nobility, the other half to the state. An act of 1649 made the status of serfdom hereditary. In much of Russia, the condition of serfdom approached slavery.

      Eastern Europe also adopted a coercive labor system based on serfdom. Coerced labor supported the dependent agricultural economy of eastern Europe within the global commercial network dominated by the West. In Russia and most of eastern Europe, it was possible for landlords to sell whole villages of serfs as manufacturing laborers. Serfs were not quite slaves. They remained free to manage their village governments, but they were subject to taxation, owed labor services to lords and the government, and were subject to landlords' jurisdiction. The onerous conditions produced occasional rebellions, such as the Pugachev revolt of the 1770s.

    5. Trade and Economic Dependence
    6. Aside from the nobility and the serfs, there was little social stratification in Russia. There were few artisans and an inadequate merchant class. Without classes directly related to commerce and manufacturing, the state was left to handle trade and industrialization. International trade was handled through Western merchant companies located in the capital city. The Russian economy was sufficiently expansive to support military conquest, a substantial nobility, and population growth. Both agricultural and industrial production lagged behind Western standards. To a certain extent, Russia was self-sufficient and did not fall into total dependence on the West.

      Russia's most profitable trade was with central Asia and internal. Russia did become increasingly dependent on exports of raw materials to the West to support its program of acculturation. Russia's political dominance in central Asia set it apart from other dependent regions of the world.

    7. Social Unrest
    8. The conditions of Russia did produce intellectual dissatisfaction and criticism of the government. Peasants resented the overweening authority of their landlords, and rebellions were frequent. Both intellectual and peasant dissatisfaction engendered repressive measures on the part of the government. Russia's total dependence on serfdom as a source of labor produced an inflexible economy that eventually challenged the country's political and social stability.

  6. Conclusion
  7. The expansion of Russia reduced eastern Europe to a narrow band separating Russia from the West. Poland, the Czech, and Slovak regions of Europe remained more a part of the Western tradition than part of the Russian cultural milieu. These areas participated in the scientific revolution and the Protestant Reformation of the West. Even those areas that remained outside of Russian political control tended to fall under the aegis of the authoritarian regimes of Prussia and Austria.

    Perhaps the most striking political feature of the period was the decline of Poland from the largest entity in eastern Europe to subdivision among Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The existence of a dominant aristocracy, coercive agricultural labor systems, and the absence of a substantial merchant class were common to eastern European nations and Russia. The eclipse of Poland highlighted the emergence of the Russian empire in Europe and central Asia.


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