Peter The Great— Yes Team

Peter the Great had many great accomplishments which included the Westernization of Russia, the new Law of Succession, and the Rise of the roles of Women. During this time Russia was falling behind in basically every part of modernization. Westerners viewed Russians as dumb and behind the times because they did not care about modernization and had little sense of education of any kind. Then Peter came along and wanted to make Russia a known powerhouse in Western Culture. After visiting Europe, Peter was influenced by Western Culture so much that he decided to bring it back. He brought back ship making skills, which led to the creation of the Russian Navy, and ships made such an impact on life that he created a museum for his first boat, “Botik”. He brought back a new form of dress for men and women. This new form of dress was refreshing compared to the old fashion. Westernizing Russia created new trade opportunities and alliances that Russia would have never had before. Peter liked merit. He liked having others work for things, and he did the same. Peter created the Table of Ranks where everyone would start at the bottom and work yourself up by merit. This new system encouraged anyone to possibly become gain nobility on their own. If you ranked high enough, it could be passed down hereditarily. Peter also created a new Law of Succession. He changed the old law of succession from passing the power onto the closest male blood relative, to the Tsar being able to appoint their own successors. This lessened the chances of regencies, unfit rulers, and undoing the good work of previous tsars. While improving the chances for more capable rulers who know the positions and women being able to become rulers. Before Peter came into power men and women were separated in all aspects of life. Women stayed in the terem, or a separate living quarters. Women had some decision making but not much. Peter encouraged women and men to socialize in public settings called assemblies. These parties put men and women together socializing, and having fun. Peter before his death claimed his wife Catherine the First Empress of Russia. After his death, she ruled until her own death. Women held higher roles in society under Peter. Peter the Great was a great ruler for Russia. He was practical, imaginative, a utilitarian ruler who cared about his people and did whatever he could to create peace and prosperity

Catherine the Great’s Accession to the Throne

After the death of Peter the Great Russia was left in a state of disputability due to him not naming an heir. This caused the throne to have a total of six rulers over the course of the next thirty-seven years. While these short rules was an unfortunate reality due to the short lifespans of the time, the problems that were caused as a result were further escalated due to the largely differing ruler of these six individuals. The most notable of these rulers being, Anne, Elizabeth, and Peter III. Anne was the daughter of Peter the Great’s half brother Ivan V, and she agreed to take the throne under a list of “Conditions” which was set by the Supreme Privy Council. However, after Anne’s accession to the throne she disregarded the “Conditions” and abolished the Supreme Privy Council. Additionally she tended to favor her German patrons, and was know for normalizing an excessive amount of luxury within the nobles of the state. Elizabeth was the daughter of Peter the Great and was determined to return Russia to the glory days of Peter the Great. She furthered the Russian institutions that Peter created and furthered the Russian state as a world power by partaking in the Seven Years’ War. However, for all the work Elizabeth did she also caused several issues such as her obsession with the aesthetic of the west and attempting the implement that in Russia. This caused the Russian state to sink into a deep debt with no way to recover as they could not tax the struggling peasants any further. Peter III was nominated by Elizabeth to act as her heir to the throne and was the son of Elizabeth’s sister. Peter was said to be feeble minded and act according to his whims. The most notable example would be his choice to withdraw Russia from the Seven Years’ War to protect Prussia as he had a deep admiration for Frederick the Great who ruled Prussia at the time. This made Peter extremely unpopular amongst the Russian nobles and military leaders as this would have been a powerful defeat for the Russian state. However, throughout Peter III’s rule his wife, Catherine, spent her time wisely making powerful allies and making herself a necessary piece of the Russian political society. As Peter continued to fall in favor Catherine plotted to overthrow him and take the throne with the support of several Russian officers, nobles, and guards. In the summer of 1762 Peter III was deposed and Catherine was crowned as Empress. Catherine was seemingly adored by those that sided with her. A significant example being how the Guards started to riot to protect Catherine when they heard a rumor that she was going to be attacked by Prussians and later apologized for waking her up. Catherine marks the end of the instability that followed Peter the Great’s death and we will see the dedication that she has for the state and the cunning with which she will rule.

Catherine’s letter to Poniatowski outlines her accession to the throne and the motives she had behind her rebellion. Catherine was subjected to a failing marriage that was largely characterized by their adulterous nature and quarreling. Peter had solidified his true feelings toward his wife when he tried to have her arrested. With her true love being Russia, Catherine planned to dethrone her husband for six months and elicited the help of officers and privates alike. The Orlov brothers were the main proponents of her accession and provided her with support and protection. Despite the challenges that Catherine faced, she was met with unwavering support by the troops. She was credited with saving the country because Peter lacked the intelligence to be a successful leader.


  1. Did Peter the Great’s work with the Westernization of military and education have a direct effect on Elizabeth’s obsession with obtaining the aesthetic and ornateness of the West through excessive shower of wealth? pg. 214. pg. 156
  2. In the piece Catherine II’s Account of Her Accession to the Throne she makes several references to how much the guards and the other officers are willing to do for her as well as describing how courageous they are. Is this a political move to make herself seem more like the chosen leader of Russia or an honest account?
  3. Was Peter III choice to withdraw Russia from the Seven Years’ War the key piece that lead to his downfall or was it inevitable due to his incompetence as a leader?
  4. Was the period after Peter the Great’s death a time of growth in social freedom for women? We see the rule of three women within the following thirty-seven year after his death as well as an increase in women taking on lovers publicly and an increase in divorces or separations. pg 163
  5. Elizabeth while on the throne failed to make any improvements for the state and instead revoked the laws that were established under Empress Anne that had caused some improvements. Was Elizabeth’s rule tainted by her pursuit to honor her father’s memory? pg. 155
  6. Catherine methodically planned her accession for many months and used non-violent tactics. Would Catherine’s accession to the throne have been successful if she had used violence instead?
  7. Catherine was adamant about leading the country herself. Why was this method more effective than electing an outsider to take Peter’s throne?
  8. On page 74 Catherine mentions Osten’s devotion to her, what does this reveal about her character? Is she a blameless victim in the story of her accession?
  9. In the past we have seen Tsars and Emperors banish their wives to convents. What would have been the effect of arresting Catherine opposed to sending her to a convent.
  10. On page 74 Catherine introduces Elizabeth Worontsov as the woman to which her husband hoped to be betrothed. What other role does Elizabeth play in Catherine’s accession?

Syllabus Adjustments for Week 6!

Dear Muscovites,
Thank you for your excellent work in yesterday’s debate about Peter’s greatness! As we get ready for our midterm assignment, I’ve made a few adjustments to the syllabus for week 6 (Sept 30-Oct 4). Here is what you need to read:

Mon, Sept 30
A History of Russia, chapter 19″
M.M. Shcherbatov Laments Corruption at Court”
“Catherine II’s Account of Her Accession to the Throne”
Do not read: “Peter III’s Manifesto Emancipating the Russian Nobility”
In class on Monday, we will go over the midterm assignment

Weds, Oct 2:
A History of Russia, chapter 20″
The Nakaz, or Instruction, of Catherine II to the Legislative Commission of 1767-1768″
Do not read: “Charter to the Nobility”
In class on Wednesday, we will talk about academic writing

Fri, Oct 4:
A History of Russia, chapter 21-22
“Alexander Radishchev Excoriates Russia’s Social System”
“Catherine II’s Manifesto against Pugachev and Pugachev’s ‘Emancipation Decree'”
“Russia Annexes Crimea”
[Note: this is the same as on the syllabus]

Keep up the good work, and please let me know if you have any questions!

Peter the Great- Yes Team (Pros)

Peter the First was truly a great Emperor of Russia. He benefited the country in countless ways and he set up the groundwork for the Russia that is seen today. Peter allowed for progression, reorganization and modernization to a country that had known trials, tribulations and instability in a multitude of departments. Peter created a concrete government structure that allowed him to truly serve the people of his country rather than rule over them. He created the twelve colleges allowing for experts to come together to develop ideas and legislation that would help the Czar in the reformation process. In 1711, Peter even established the senate as a consulting and in his absence ruling force with more knowledge and experience than any Boyar Duma beforehand. The remainder of the colleges allowed for Russia to advance with the oversight of their autocratic leader rather than a more direct rule. Peter also secured a stronger economic system for his government to function off of. From the 1699 organization of townspeople taxation to the first recorded census in 1718 to the trade deals he made in his travels, Peter saw that the government had money to complete all of the reforms he was establishing. Peter also saw an increase in literacy and education. He established primary schools and normalized the upper-class tutoring education style from the West. He also reformed the Cryillic alphabet to be easier to print certain symbols and allow for an easier production of texts. In addition to all of this Peter mandated that his government officials be capable and educated before they were allowed to step into service to the State. This allowed for a more educated and well-versed representatives helping Peter to make decisions for the whole of Russia. The Grand Embassy of 1697 opened up countless doors for Russia on the western world stage. It opened up the possibility for alliances and allowed Russia to create its own image and political relations with countries rather than going through what was said by foreign diplomats.  750 foreigners returned with him gifted in countless trades and skills to help educate and advance the government. Peter also takes the time to develop a diverse education in a variety of topics, subjects and skills that allow him to be a better leader and to be able to fully understand what developments he wishes to see in his own country. Peter the Great is also responsible for founding one of the world’s most beautiful cities of St. Petersburg and opening and maintaining control over the baltic coast thanks to his successful negotiation of the Treaty of Nystad to end the Great Northern War. No one is soon to forget that Peter established the beginnings of Russia’s modern army. He established laws of conscription, he reorganized, retrained and modernized both his military forces and his military technologies. He studied strategies and concepts from around the world that allowed him to be a formidable enemy in wars. Peter learned every rank and position in the army and navy (including building ships) to allow for his deep understanding of each position in each strategy. He also established the Russian Navy which was not a small fleet. It contained 48 major warships, 787 minor warships, auxiliary craft and was consistently serviced by more than 28,000 men. This establishment allowed Russia to truly begin to prove itself as a military powerhouse and also ensured the protection of ports. Peter the Great did all of these things and more…

  • Spread of literacy/increase in education 
    • Calendar reform in 1700
    • Language reforms 
    • production/distribution of texts
    • More locations/tutoring available for the upper classes to learn how to read
    • Primary schools 
    • Mandatory skills learned by nobility
  • Westernization
    • New Technology– Shipmaking 
    • New Clothing– More modernized 
    • New Opportunities for trading & alliances
    • His two foreign friends 
  • Foreign affairs
    • Very invested in learning about other cultures. Goes on a —- long trip to western europe to learn first hand and talk to diplomats of other nations
    • Doesn’t send ambassadors to do this , very invested in relationships with other nations
  • Concrete Governmental structure
    • 12 colleges
    • Governing Senate in 1711
    • 1721 intermarriages between Orthodoxy and Western Christianity is now allowed
  • Economic Advances
    • Individual head tax 
    • Census
    • Towns organized for taxation in 1699 
    • Ideological mercantilism 
  • Law of succession
    • Changes law of succession from brother to brother to the tsar picking his own successor
    • Possibly able to pick women 
  • Separation of church and state
    • With the 12 Colleges basically gets rid of the church’s role in government, but doesn’t take church completely out of russian life 
  • Overall a peaceful homefront
    • Only two revolts by the streltsy
  • Rise of the role of women
    • Assembly Balls– women and men are allowed to socialize instead of being kept in the Terem
    • Made his wife Catherine Empress
  • Rise of the arts and culture
    • A lot of new architecture 
  • St. Petersburg 
    • Treaty of Nystad
      • Signed in 1721 between Sweden and Russia ending the Great Northern War
      • Sweden gave up conquests along the Baltic coast and was able to establish St. Petersburg and he kept the territory gained for a long time
  • Establishes the autocrat as a servant of the people
    • Peter openly establishes that everything he does is done for his people and for the sake of russia
    • He makes the head of state position the responsibility that it is rather than what some had considered it in the past
  • Develops a social scene on nobility 
    • Assemblies
      • Establish a social level to the noble class
      • Allows for business, conversation, ideas and fun
      • Men and Women allowed to be in the same space and no longer keeping the genders completely separate 
  • The Grand Embassy
    • A full 18 months spent abroad making politically strong international connections with the West. 
    • Establishes alliances and partnerships as well as training and education
    • Comes back to Russia with 750 foreigners to help train and educate his nobility in different aspects of trades and military knowledge
    • Puts Russia on the map for the West and allows for the West to have a new picture of Russia not just one that was presented by others 
      • Change the narrative surrounding Russia
    • He was the founder of the modern Russian Army
    • He established General conscription, reorganized the military structure and worked to modify both military maneuvers and tactics as well as military technology
    • Beginning in 1715, there was a mandatory 1 draftee from every 75 Serf Households
    • Made himself the lowest rank in the army so he could learn all of the positions and work his way up
    • He established and built the Russian Navy
      • 48 Major warships, 787 minor warships, Auxillary crafts 
      • Serviced by 28,000 men 
  • Table of Ranks
    • Advance by merit
    • Everyone is able to work their way to the top and get a chance to become some sort of nobility
    • Gets rid of old system where your rank was determined by your family’s status

Additional Questions for Peter the Great

  1. Referring to responsibilities 1, 4, and 9 on the Ukaz on the Responsibilities of the Senate, do you think that the Senate was granted too much power during a period of rebuilding?
  2. If Peter was alive today, how do you think his ideas of reforming Russia would be received?
  3. What are some societal mannerisms from this time period that are still around today?
  4. Do you think Peter the Great would be accepted as a ruler in modern Russia?
  5. Do you feel as if Peter’s Succession law was fair? Do you think the heir of the throne should always be hereditary?

Reform under Peter the Great

Under Peter I Russian society advanced at an unprecedented rate. He created a new governing institution, the Senate, to rule in his absence, which would eventually become a permanent body; He adopted the Western European calendar, which counted the years after the death of Christ rather than the creation of the world, and decreed that all “men of rank” must shave their beards, further identifying Russia with Europe. All this enacted relatively early in his reign. These reforms largely spawned out his time spent in Europe traveling with his embassy, an unprecedented move for a tsar to make. It was after these travels that he enacted the many reforms stated above, serving as the beginning of his “westernization” of Russia. To this end, Peter the Great instituted compulsory education of the nobility, while also advocating for Russian students to travel to foreign schools to learn, believing it necessary to effectively westernize Russia. If a child of nobility would avoid this education, he would be forbid to wed. His dedication to the intellectual enlightenment of the Russian people would not end there, as later into his reign he would establish and fund an academy in Russia, focusing on the advancement of science and technology. It is through these educational reforms that Peter firmly established Russia as a modern nation and even guaranteed further advancement long after his death; for it is through these educational institutions that further innovation would come. Peter also established a Table of Ranks during his rule as tsar, a system that only considered the merit of the individual, rather than his status in society. This ranking system consisted of 14 levels and corresponded to both military and civilian roles. Under this system, an individual could even attain nobility if they reached a high enough rank. Curiously, one of the many rules attached to the Table of Ranks stated that the wife of a man of rank held the very same rank, an unusual statute in a society that often kept women in seclusion. Even with this large step forward in consideration of an individual by what he can offer rather than what he has, Peter had also taken a step back with his establishment of the rule of Primogeniture earlier in his reign. This law would forbid the division of property among the children of a wealthy man after his death, and only allow the oldest son to receive the property. Overall, Peter’s steps to westernize Russian society was indeed successful. Whether or not it was good for Russia is for the individual to decide.

Discussion Questions:

  1. From the beginning of his reign, Peter the Great saw himself as a servant to the state, rather than its master. Would it be reasonable to say that Peter served as the first example of a nationalist leader in Russia?
  2. When Peter first decreed that all “men of rank” were to shave their beards, he went directly against a major belief held by the orthodoxy. Why wasn’t there an all out revolt by the citizenry of Russia? After all, this law directly questioned the faith. 
  3. Did Peter act too quickly in his Westernization of Russia? Would some of his failed reforms, such as the reform of 1719 separating administrative and judicial powers in Russia have survived if it had not been so hastily instituted? 
  4. Concerning the appointment of officials, Peter I always considered an individual by their merit, rather than their status. How much of a catalyst do you think this served as when considering the many revolts under Peter’s reign?  
  5. It is stated in the text that Peter the Great admired Ivan the Terrible. Even so, he ruled very differently from the former autocrat. Did you notice any similarities between the two despots during your reading? (Pg 190)
  6. Only a single year passed during Peter’s reign without war. What does this say about his dedication to attaining his goals? Do you think that this was, overall, good for Russia?
  7. What do you think Peter’s most impactful reform was? Why?
  8. One of the Rules attached to the table of Ranks was that the wife of a man that attained a rank held that same rank, and would advance in rank as he did. Why do you think the tsar felt this necessary?
  9. What do you think Peter wished to achieve by instituting compulsory education?
  10. Do you consider the establishment of primogeniture a step forward or a step backwards?

Some Youtube materials on Ivan the Terrible and the Russian Empire family tree

So I came across a few interesting videos that give a brief review of some of the reigns of the czars that we have discussed. The first link involves Ivan the Terrible and goes into the entomology of the Russian word for “terrible”. I found it to be a nice overview of all of the many things that happened during that crazy time consolidated into 3 minutes. That can be found here:

The second video is a general overview of the Russian monarchs from the beginning of the Tsar-style reigns. It begins with Ivan the terrible and the house of Ruirik and ends with the fall of the Romanov Dynasty. It obviously goes past what we have discussed this far but it is a good overview of the Russian Empire as we see it forming. It goes into who married whom and the crossover throughout the European leaders and how this was all crossed over. It is really fascinating to find out just how connected all the European leaders were and how many of them are related. It also goes into details about how the Ruirik lines and the Byzantine lines may be connected, which legitimizes Ivan’s rule. It also goes through the change of name in the Romanov house and all the drama that follows. I found this really helpful and interesting in the study of European history in general and just seeing how everything connects. It can be found here:


The Code of Law of 1649

At the end of the time of troubles the state was left with one primary goal and that was to enforce and protect the legitimacy of the Tsar. After the immense amount of chaos and strife that had occurred during the Time of Troubles the Russian state wanted to do everything in it’s power to prevent another political or physical attack against the Tsar. This desire led to the centralization of state power which would than enforce stricter state control over the Russian people to prevent further conflicts. This led to bureaucratic developments such as the Voevoda who grew in power and had roles that were similar to those in a modern bureaucracy. As well as the Zemskii Sober who function almost as a legislative branch, however, it is worth noting that the Zemskii was not written into law and had no cultural tradition within the state. The centralization of state power came to its peak with the codification of 1649. The Code of Law of 1649 otherwise known as the Ulozhenie was the most significant piece of law codes developed in Russia up to this point as it was the most formal as well as the fact that it was intended to apply to everyone within the state. It was developed by the Zemskii and was a clear representation of the authority that they had if only for a brief time within the Russian state. The Ulozhenie did several things to further establish legitimacy to the Tsar as well as further assert state control. The most notable being the severe punishment of traitors and those that threaten the state, the legalization of enserfment, and the seizing of church lands. The development of the Ulozhenie was greatly significant due to the power it gave to the state and how it seized what little control that those residing in the state had left.


-Why assist the church by punishing blasphemers and heretics and yet prohibit the expansion of church land? Chapter 1 pg 294

-Why is it significant that the Ulozhenie established stricter laws preventing people from harming or stealing each other? Should the Ulozhenie only focus on punishing those who harm the state?

-The establishment of a travel documentation is mentioned in Chapter 6, why is the state concerned with travel documentation?

-Was the development of the Voevoda and the Zemskii Sober significant and if so why?

The Domostroi

Don’t be deceived by the title’s simplicity, the “Domostroi” literally translated to “domestic order” is an extensive manual used to guide a Russian household to the author’s conveyed full potential. Whether or not households actually followed these exact rules is not certain, however, it displays the important aspects of Russian culture. 
The Domostroi is an excellent insight into not only the guidelines of 16th Century Rus society, but it also displays what grew to be important to the Rus in the centuries we have covered in class. While loyalty to the nobility and the Tsar were of utmost importance, the Domostroi makes clear in the beginning of the preface what absolutely matters most in this society, Orthodox Christianity. The text opens “This is an admonition and instruction of father-confessors to all Orthodox Christians. It tells you how you must believe in the Holy Trinity, the Immaculate Mother of God, Christ’s Cross, and all other heavenly powers…”  The Domostroi gives guidelines on how to properly be an Orthodox Christian, including how to commune with Bishops as well as day-to-day practices such as hosting gatherings. 
The Boyars and Tsars also have immense influence in this state. The Domostroi reinforces loyalty to the Tsar above all other people.  This is particularly important because the Domostroi, which is heavenly focused on Orthodox Christianity also reinforces the Tsar and nobility as authorities that orchestrate God’s Will. 
The authorship of the Domostroi is one that is debated. Although we lack a defined individual, it is clear the author was heavily involved with the Boyars. However, the importance of Orthodox Christianity, which looms over the text, would lead one to believe that this piece was possibly authored by a clergyman. As for the audience of the Domostroi, this seems like a guide that would necessarily apply more to the middle class or nobility, as it stresses loyalty to the Tsar and Boyars, but the literacy rates of the peasantry would indicate that few of them could read this guide. 
Overall the Domostroi is an excellent insight into what the Rus themselves thought was important  in their lives and society.


  • Since the Domostroi was written during Ivan the Terrible’s reign what does this reflect about the society under his rule?
  • According to the Domostroi, did women at this time period hold greater power in society or were they simply pawns in a male dominated culture? What powers did women possess and also what were their restrictions?
  • What ideal of a man does this text present.
  • How does the Domostroi show the relationship between the master and his servants? Refer to 35 and 36 of the Domostroi. 
  • When the master was absent, he would appoint his most trusted servant to take on specifically his duty of running the household. Since this was regarded to be such an important role in the Domostroi, does this imply that in Moscow all people were viewed to be inherently equal in theory. 
  • How does the Domostroi show the relationship between the tsar and the church? Refer to number 7 of the Domostroi. 
  • What were the Russians’ beliefs about God and his involvement in their lives and society? 
  • Why do you think abstinence (in all aspects of life) was so greatly emphasized in this text? There are countless passages illustrating the importance of abstinence, such as 13,26,27, and 28. However, look particularly at this section retrieved from towards the end of number 24, “If the master or any member of his household commit any of these improper deeds – lechery, unchastity, foul speech, oath-breaking, irrational fury, bearing grudges- and those in charge neither prevent the deeds nor punish them strictly , all will go to Hell together and will be damned in this world as well”.  What does this quote add to the significance of abstinence?
  • The topic of identifying the original writer is highly debated, who do you think he was; or at least what kind of life do you think he lived? And do you think because it was edited multiple times it made the text more persuasive to the public based on your perception of the original text?
  • What was the true purpose of the Domostroi. It is not actually certain whether Russian families actually followed these rules. Was the Domostroi’s purpose more to display to the rest of Europe that Russia was a westernized nation, an actually guide used by the boyars, or perhaps it could’ve been a wealthier writer caught up in some of his fanciful ideas visualizing a perfect Russian society?