Peter the Great
Peter I, known as Peter the Great, is generally credited with taking Russia into the modern age by initiating a wide range of economic, social, political, educational and military reforms.
Peter’s primary goal was to strengthen Russia’s military, expand its borders and centralize the royal power. Peter the Great was determined to reform the domestic structure of Russia and bring an end to the dominance of traditionalism and religion. While his military reforms were ongoing, he reformed the church, education and Russia’s economy.
Peter tried to centralize his authority by dividing Russia into 50 provinces and hoped to bring all provinces under the same central law. He brought all Russian institutions under his control and forced all landholders to serve either in the military or civil offices.
During his reign as czar, from 1682 until his death in 1725, he initiated a variety of reforms that saw the revamping of the Russian calendar, Russian alphabet and reducing the Orthodox Church’s autonomy.
The Church was one of the bastions to be modified from the point of view of Peter. It was semi-autonomous in the past. Peter formed a committee called the Holy Synod to run the Church under his guidance.
The foreign policy of Peter the Great focused on the goal of making Russia a maritime power and turned Russia into one of the most powerful states in Europe, shifting the European balance of power.
Since he was the sole leader of the Russian empire, Peter the Great was an absolute leader, and his word was his rule. Peter the Great strengthened his power by taking on absolute characteristics, imposing his will on the aristocracy, limiting their power and believing himself to be divine.
Peter’s Modernization of Russia
Peter introduced Western innovations, set up science academies,
promoted exports, improved waterways, began textile production and mining. He was able to bring Russia out of the Middle Ages and into a new force which was growing.
Peter the great traveled to Europe in order to learn about other countries, increased the power of czar by introducing the holy synod (enforcing his will upon the nobility and restricting their power and customs) and bringing the Russian church under his control, reduced the power of boyars (the boyars were a privileged class of rich landowners; they served the prince as his aides) by introducing a merit-based system and allowed lower class people a chance.
Peter implemented sweeping reforms aimed at modernizing Russia. Influenced by his advisers from Western Europe, he hired Europeans to train large armies, reorganized the Russian army and started making Russia a maritime power.
Westernization Impact during Peter’s Reign
Peter’s Impact on Russia:
When Peter the Great came to the throne, Russia was an insignificant state. He made it into a great power feared by western nations. At his accession Russia had no armed forces except for inefficient and untrustworthy militias.
A broad shipbuilding program was developed when Peter returned to Russia from the west. A fleet was formed in the Baltic Sea in 1703, and more than 20,000 men served there by the end of Peter’s reign, on 49 ships and 800 smaller vessels.
Peter the great established a navy, gave his consent to the opening of the University of Moscow, sent Russians abroad to study, promoted industrialization, such as new weapons and steel factories, and founded St. Petersburg City.
Peter the Great expanded the Russian empire and emulated the way the west ran their economy. Peter abandoned the traditional Russian title of czar in favor of the European-influenced title of emperor
Peter’s greatest success came at the Great Northern War against the Swedish Empire which lasted from 1700 to 1721. His victories in the war allowed Russia to gain vast Baltic territories (access to the eastern shores of the Baltic) and became one of the greatest powers in Europe.
The goal of making Russia a maritime power was Peter’s foreign policy priority. In order to improve Russia’s position on the seas, Peter the Great sought to gain more maritime outlets.
After winning access to the Baltic Sea through his victories in the Great Northern War against the Swedish Empire, Peter the great founded the city of Saint Petersburg in 1703 and made it the Russian capital in 1712 to cement Russia’s access to the Baltic Sea.
it was very important for Peter the Great to have a warm water port. It was
one of Peter the great’s ambitions, as it had been for previous czars, to secure a warm-water port for trade.
The bulk of Russian ports were in the far north and were frozen for most of the year. Peter claimed that by increasing the amount of Russia’s foreign trade, he would increase its wealth and influence as well.
Peter’s Economic Success:
Peter the great tried to improve and protect the Russian economy in any way possible. He tried to offset that the amount of exported against the amount of imported goods from abroad. At the end of his reign, Peter realized that goal.
Peter improved the Russian agriculture by introducing the potato, despite initially being initially rejected by the peasantry as “Devil’s Apples,” the potatoes eventually caught on and became among the favorite Russian diet.
Peter the Great strengthened the Russian economy by importing skilled workers, and built up metallurgical and mining industries. Peter’s primary goal was to make military technology and remain independent of West.
Peter’s Treatment of Great landowners:
Peter reduced the power of the great landowners. He recruited men from lower-ranking families and then promoted them to positions of authority and rewarded them with grants of land.
Peter the great instituted a beard tax and taxed Boyars heavily. To enforce the ban on beards, the emperor empowered police to forcibly and publicly shave those who refused to pay the tax. Peter also forced all landholders to serve in the military or in the civil service position.
Peter’s reign deepened the subjugation of serfs to and peasantry. However, Peter initiated a handful of progressive reforms, which included in the creation of new class of serfs, known as state peasants, who had broader rights than ordinary serfs. Peter the Great also liberated Russian women by allowing them to appear in public.
Another negative aspect during the tenure of Peter the great is his failure to make a strong and thriving middle class. Peter never managed to create a thriving Russian middle class.