Russia During the Petersburg Period (1703-1917) Part I
The reign of Peter the Great
The Great Northern War (1700–21), unleashed by Peter I the Great (1682 / 96–1725), which finally replaced Sweden as supreme power in the Baltic Sea and paved the way for Russia to Europe, brought a strong consolidation of the European network of interests. Peter conquered Riga and Reval in 1710 and won a significant part of the Baltic Sea coast (Livonia, Estonia, Ingermanland, Karelian Isthmus with Vyborg and the islands of Ösel, Moon and Dagö) through contracts with the representative bodies (confirmed in the Peace of Nystad in 1721).
With the establishment of Saint Petersburg (1703), which became the capital in 1712, the imperial center shifted to the extreme northwest. From the west, the tsar, who assumed the imperial title (imperator) in 1721, received suggestions and technical assistance for his extensive reform program, which brought about far-reaching changes in state administration and social life. The prikase was replaced by a centralized administrative system between the colleges divided into specialist departments in 1718-22. The Senate, created in 1711 with limited tasks, gradually became the highest supervisory and coordinating body. Special inspectors (Fiskale, since 1711) were supposed to supervise administration and the judiciary and punish abuse of office. The “Spiritual Regulations” (1722) replaced the Patriarch with the Holy Synod, a state-controlled collegial authority under the direction of the chief procurator. The rank table (Tschin, 1722) with its 14 classes of ranks (offices) converted the entire civil service to the merit principle and should with the granting of personal nobility in the lower ranks and the hereditary nobility in the upper ranks (initially from 8th grade, later reduced to 5th, since 1856 to 4th grade in civilian service) supplement the old nobility with a professional nobility bureaucracy. Other measures – one-line succession (1714), self-government institutions based on the model of the Baltic Sea provinces, school policy – fell far short of expectations. The introduction of the poll tax (1724, instead of the previous farm tax) promoted a further leveling of the peasant class, the growing tax pressure increased the dependence on the masters. The result has since deepened Peter the Great, the dualism of the Russian social structure: In addition to the burden-bearing and serving class, which hardly enjoyed legal protection and rebelled in vain in repeated uprisings (among others under K. A. Bulawin, 1707-08, and J. I. Pugachev, 1773-75), there was the privileged nobility, who in 1762 under Peter III. was freed from compulsory service and moved more and more away from the common people in terms of customs, language and way of thinking.
The modernization of Russia initiated by Peter the Great remained dependent on the influx of foreign skilled workers. The Academy of Sciences, which opened in Saint Petersburg in 1725, consisted primarily of foreign scholars in the 18th century (68 of its 111 members were German as their mother tongue, only 26 Russian), and a third of the senior civil servants until 1917 had Western European names. Under the successors of Peter the Great, the integration of Russia into the emerging system of the European pentarchy was completed.
Under Empress Anna (1730–40) Russia took part in the War of the Polish Succession, under Elisabeth (1741–62) in the Seven Years’ War, during which East Prussia (1757–62) and Berlin (1760) were occupied by Russian troops. The surprising peace agreement of Peter III. with Prussia (1762) saved Frederick the Great from a deadly grip.
Russia under Catherine II and Paul I.
The European hegemony of the eastern imperial power, which guaranteed it a say in German affairs in the Peace of Teschen (1779), was finally established under Catherine II (1762–96). She achieved in the Turkish Wars Russia 1768–74 and 1787–92 a wide access to the north coast of the Black Sea, annexed the Crimea in 1783 and acquired through the partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795) the eastern Polish territories with a majority of East Slavic, Greek-Orthodox populations as well as Lithuania and Courland (1795). The monarch, who based her government program on progressive enlightenment ideas (Great Instruction / Nakas of 1767 for the work of the legislative commission, founding of the Free Economic Society, 1765), had less success with her reform policy. Serfdom was not eliminated. Administrative improvements (government reform in 1775, city reform in 1785 with approaches to urban self-government) and progressive educational policy measures (school equipment commission.
To secure the rule – especially after the Pugachev uprising (1773-75) – she saw herself to further concessions to the nobility (certificate of grace of 1785) and to intervene in the internal autonomy of the peripheral areas (abolition of the Cossack freedom, 1775, extension of serfdom on the eastern Ukrainian territories and restriction of self-government in the Baltic Sea provinces, 1783). Paul I (1796–1801) continued his mother’s policy of expansion (1801 annexation of Georgia) and initially participated in the coalition war against Napoleon I (A. W. Suvorov crossed the Alps, 1799; Russian-Turkish condominium over the Ionian Islands, 1799–1807), internally he tried in vain to enforce a more peasant-friendly policy against the nobility.
The Russian Empire in the 19th Century – from Alexander I to Nicholas II
Paul’s son Alexander I (1801-25), who came to power through a palace revolution, secured Russia after the collapse of the coalition wars in 1805, initially in an alliance with Napoleon (Peace of Tilsit, 1807), then, since the Russian campaign of 1812 by Napoleon and the occupation Moscow, as its bitter opponent a dominant position on the continent (“Liberator of Europe”). He won the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809, Bessarabia in 1812, Dagestan / Azerbaijan in 1813 and the “Kingdom of Poland” (Congress Poland) at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Inside, Alexander I. in the first half of government a reform policy based on liberal, rule of law principles, including initiated a reorganization of the state administration (establishment of line ministries in 1802) and the education system (1804–05).