Saint Petersburg: Peter I The Great

(Lecture given by Dr Bruce Holl)
The First Romanovs (1613-1689)
– The Tsars of this period are of less interest than their followers
– There was during this period an increasing interest in things western, or in other words, a nascent interest in precisely the things that would obsess Peter I
– This was also the period of the development of a lower level aristocracy (as distinct from the old Boyars), often called in English as in Russian the Dvorianstvo, consisting of government officials who were awarded noble status for services rendered, and small-scale landowners
– Peter I “The Great” (Born 1672; Reigned 1689-1725)

Peter I “The Great”
 Peter is known chiefly for the introduction of western technology, customs and culture to Russia
 Thus he engendered the bi-polar controversy of The Westernizers vs. The Slavophiles
 He forced certain customs on the nobles, such as the famous beard edict (requiring them to shave their long beards or pay a tax), western clothing, and also the custom of attending state functions with one’s wife
 He established the modern Russian alphabet
 Established (in a small way) printing presses
 The first Russian newspaper was founded during his reign [Vedomosti, 1702]
 Many of the first Russian theaters were developed during Peter’s reign and at his behest
 Peter constructed a fleet using western technology and organization
 He strengthened the military
 He instituted a draft
 He instituted promotion through merit
 He embarked on territorial expansion through military campaigns
 Such campaigns were almost constant during his reign
 Peter invited western scholars, especially in the areas of the physical sciences, to come and teach in Russia
 He founded the first institutions of higher learning in Russia [Petersburg Academy 1724]
 He insisted that all noblemen serve the state in either the military, judicial or civil service and instituted a series of 14 ranks for each branch
 He made it easier to become a noble through service
 He founded the Senate, an advisory council
 He founded the “Colleges,” forerunners of ministries
 He weakened the power of the Orthodox church
 Finally, he founded the city of Saint Petersburg in 1703
 St. Petersburg was to be Russia’s new, modern, European Russian capital, city of tremendous western-style architecture, birthplace of modern Russian poetry and art, but constructed on a swamp in an area that regularly experiences floods

Personal Attributes & Peculiarities include:
 Size and strength: David P. Willoughby [The Super-Athletes, London, 1970] writes: “When he reached maturity he stood 6 feet 8½ inches in height, and was so strong that he could break silver coins with his fingers” (p. 37)
 He was noted for his constant love affairs and heavy drinking
 He had a violent temper, manifested in cruel treatment of enemies and opponents
 He loved physically unusual people, whom he “collected” – including a small African boy, one of two brought to him by his emissaries, who became the great-grandfather of Russia’s greatest poet, Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)
 Peter was interested in medicine – attended autopsies & dissections, treated himself (which may have hastened his death)
 He traveled and lived incognito in western Europe, once (according to legend) enlisting in the German army after a night of drinking
 He served during campaigns, especially early on, as non-commissioned artillerist, after he had disposed his troops and the battle had begun

The Eighteenth Century after Peter (1725-1801)
– The traditional view is that there was a reaction against Peter’s reforms in the thirty years after his death and before Catherine II, and that the government was largely concerned with palace intrigues rather than administration of the country
– In reality some of his reforms were continued and the process of Westernization in general continued
– It is interesting to note that the two longest-reigning rulers before Catherine were women: Anna (1730-1740) and Elizabeth (1741-1762), both daughters of Peter the Great
– Russia was thus ruled for most of the 18th century by women — a rather progressive state of affairs that was ended after Catherine’s death when it was decreed that only men could succeed in future