The Russian Empire was an empire that extended across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917. The third-largest empire in history, at its greatest extent stretching over three continents, Europe, Asia, and North America, the Russian Empire was surpassed in size only by the British and Mongol empires. The rise of the Russian Empire coincided with the decline of neighboring rival powers: the Swedish Empire, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Persia and the Ottoman Empire. It played a major role in 1812–1814 in defeating Napoleon's ambitions to control Europe and expanded to the west and south.
The House of Romanov ruled the Russian Empire from 1721 until 1762. Its matrilineal branch of patrilineal German descent, the House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov, ruled from 1762 until the end of the empire. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Russian Empire extended from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea in the south, from the Baltic Sea on the west into Alaska and Northern California in America on the east. With 125.6 million subjects registered by the 1897 census, it had the third-largest population in the world at the time, after Qing China and India. Like all empires, it featured great diversity in terms of economies, ethnicities, languages, and religion. There were many dissident elements that launched numerous rebellions and assassinations over the centuries. In the 19th century, they were closely watched by the imperial secret police, and thousands were exiled to Siberia.
Economically, the empire was predominantly agricultural, with low productivity on large estates worked by Russian peasants, known as serfs, who were tied to the land in a feudal arrangement. The serfs were freed in 1861, but the landowning aristocratic class kept control. The economy slowly industrialized with the help of foreign investments in railways and factories. From the 10th through the 17th centuries, the land was ruled by a noble class, the boyars, and subsequently by an emperor.
Tsar Ivan III laid the groundwork for the empire that later emerged. He tripled the territory of his state, ended the dominance of the Golden Horde, renovated the Moscow Kremlin, and laid the foundations of the Russian state. Emperor Peter the Great fought numerous wars and expanded an already huge empire into a major European power. He moved the capital from Moscow to the new model city of Saint Petersburg, which featured much Western design. He led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditionalist and medieval social and political mores with a modern, scientific, Europe-oriented, and rationalist system. Empress Catherine the Great presided over a golden age; she expanded the state by conquest, colonization and diplomacy, continuing Peter the Great's policy of modernization along Western European lines. Emperor Alexander II promoted numerous reforms, most dramatically the emancipation of all 23 million serfs in 1861. His policy in Eastern Europe involved protecting the Orthodox Christians under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. That connection by 1914 led to Russia's entry into World War I on the side of France and the United Kingdom against the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires.
The Russian Empire functioned as an absolute monarchy on the ideological doctrine of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality until the Revolution of 1905, when a constitutional monarchy was established. It functioned poorly during World War I. The imperial family was executed in 1918 by the Bolsheviks, who took power in the 1920s after the Revolution and a bloody Civil War with the White Army, forced into exile most of the aristocratic class, and repressed many others, culminating in the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922.
HistoryThough the Empire was not officially proclaimed by Tsar Peter I until after the Treaty of Nystad, some historians argue that it originated either when Ivan III of Russia conquered Veliky Novgorod in 1478. According to another point of view, the term Tsardom, which was used after the coronation of Ivan IV in 1547, was already a contemporary Russian word for empire.
is the initial discourse of how the Russian Empire began.
PopulationMuch of Russia's expansion occurred in the 17th century, culminating in the first Russian colonization of the Pacific in the mid-17th century, the Russo-Polish War that incorporated left-bank Ukraine, and the Russian conquest of Siberia. Poland was divided in the 1790–1815 era, with much of its land and population being taken under Russian rule. Most of the 19th-century growth of the empire came from adding territory in central and eastern Asia, south of Siberia. By 1795, after Partitions of Poland, Russia became the most populous state in Europe, ahead of France.
Peter the Greatofficially renamed the Tsardom of Russia as the Russian Empire in 1721 and became its first emperor. He instituted sweeping reforms and oversaw the transformation of Russia into a major European power.
Peter I the Great played a major role in introducing Russia to the European state system. While the vast land had a population of 14 million, grain yields trailed behind those of agriculture in the West. Nearly the entire population was devoted to agricultural estates. Only a small percentage of the population lived in towns. The class of kholops, close in status to slavery, remained a major institution in Russia until 1723, when Peter converted household kholops into house serfs, thus including them in poll taxation. Russian agricultural kholops were formally converted into serfs earlier in 1679. They were largely tied to the land in a feudal sense until the late nineteenth century.
Peter's first military efforts were directed against the Ottoman Turks. His attention then turned to the North. Peter still lacked a secure northern seaport, except at Archangel on the White Sea, where the harbor was frozen for nine months a year. Access to the Baltic Sea was blocked by Sweden, whose territory enclosed it on three sides. Peter's ambitions for a "window to the sea" led him to make a secret alliance in 1699 with Saxony, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and Denmark against Sweden; they conducted the Great Northern War. The war ended in 1721 when an exhausted Sweden asked for peace with Russia.
As a result, Peter acquired four provinces situated south and east of the Gulf of Finland, securing access to the sea. There he built Russia's new capital, Saint Petersburg, on the Neva River, to replace Moscow, which had long been Russia's cultural center. This relocation expressed his intent to adopt European elements in his empire. Many of the government and other major buildings were designed with Italianate influence. In 1722, he turned his aspirations as first Russian monarch toward increasing Russian influence in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea at the expense of the weakened Safavid Persians. He made Astrakhan the centre of military efforts against Persia, and waged the first full-scale war against them in 1722–23.
Peter reorganized his government based on the latest political models of the time, moulding Russia into an absolutist state. He replaced the old boyar Duma with a nine-member Senate, in effect a supreme council of state. The countryside was divided into new provinces and districts. Peter told the Senate that its mission was to collect taxes, and tax revenues tripled over the course of his reign. Meanwhile, all vestiges of local self-government were removed. Peter continued and intensified his predecessors' requirement of state service for all nobles.
As part of the government reform, the Orthodox Church was partially incorporated into the country's administrative structure, in effect making it a tool of the state. Peter abolished the patriarchate and replaced it with a collective body, the Holy Synod, led by a government official.
Peter died in 1725, leaving an unsettled succession. After a short reign of his widow Catherine I, the crown passed to empress Anna. She slowed down the reforms and led a successful war against the Ottoman Empire. This resulted in a significant weakening of the Crimean Khanate, an Ottoman vassal and long-term Russian adversary.
The discontent over the dominant positions of Baltic Germans in Russian politics resulted in Peter I's daughter Elizabeth being put on the Russian throne. Elizabeth supported the arts, architecture and the sciences. But she did not carry out significant structural reforms. Her reign, which lasted nearly 20 years, is also known for her involvement in the Seven Years' War. It was successful for Russia militarily, but fruitless politically.
Catherine the Great, who reigned from 1762 to 1796, continued the empire's expansion and modernization. Considering herself an enlightened absolutist, she played a key role in the Russian Enlightenment.
Catherine the Great was a German princess who married Peter III, the German heir to the Russian crown. After the death of Empress Elizabeth, she came to power when she conducted a coup d'état against her unpopular husband. She contributed to the resurgence of the Russian nobility that began after the death of Peter the Great. State service was abolished, and Catherine delighted the nobles further by turning over to them most state functions in the provinces. She also removed the tax on beards, instituted by Peter the Great.
Catherine the Great extended Russian political control over the lands of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Her actions included the support of the Targowica Confederation. But the cost of her campaigns added to the burden of the oppressive social system, which required serfs to spend almost all of their time laboring on their owners' land. A major peasant uprising took place in 1773, after Catherine legalised the selling of serfs separate from land. Inspired by Cossack named Yemelyan Pugachev, and proclaiming "Hang all the landlords!", the rebels threatened to take Moscow before they were ruthlessly suppressed. Instead of imposing the traditional punishment of drawing and quartering, Catherine issued secret instructions that the executioners should carry the death sentences quickly and with a minimum of suffering, as part of her effort to introduce compassion into the law. She also ordered the public trial of Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova, a high nobleman, on charges of torture and murder of serfs. These gestures of compassion garnered Catherine much positive attention from Europe in the Enlightenment age. But the specter of revolution and disorder continued to haunt her and her successors. Indeed, her son Paul introduced a number of increasingly erratic decrees in his short reign aimed directly against the spread of French culture as a response to the revolution.
In order to ensure continued support from the nobility, which was essential to the survival of her government, Catherine was obliged to strengthen their authority and power at the expense of the serfs and other lower classes. Nevertheless, Catherine realized that serfdom must be ended, going so far in her Nakaz to say that serfs were "just as good as we are" – a comment the nobility received with disgust. Catherine successfully waged war against the Ottoman Empire and advanced Russia's southern boundary to the Black Sea. Then, by plotting with the rulers of Austria and Prussia, she incorporated territories of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Partitions of Poland, pushing the Russian frontier westward into Central Europe. Russia had signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Georgian Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti to protect them against any new invasion of their Persian suzerains. As part of this and her own political aspirations, Catherine waged a new war against Persia in 1796 after they had invaded eastern Georgia; victorious, she established Russian rule over it and expelled the newly established Russian garrisons in the Caucasus. By the time of her death in 1796, Catherine's expansionist policy had developed Russia as a major European power. This continued with Alexander I's wresting of Finland from the weakened kingdom of Sweden in 1809 and of Bessarabia from the Principality of Moldavia, ceded by the Ottomans in 1812.