Did Peter the Great introduce the potato to Russia?

Did Peter the Great introduce the potato to Russia?

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The essay "Tuber or not Tuber" claims with no citation:

Introduction of the tuber to Russia is usually credited to Peter the Great, who became familiar with potatoes while learning the shipbuilding trade in the Netherlands, bringing back with him seeds with which to grow the plant in St. Petersburg.

Can a more authoritative claim be made about Peter's role? Is any part of the story true?

There is no documentary evidence for this legend. It was most likely invented by the members of the Free Economical Society - historical sources prior to establishment of this society in 1765 make no connection between potatoes and Peter's persona. First actual historical accounts of potatoes in Russia are after Peter the Great's death - there are documented instances of potatoes being served at St.Petersburg's tables as early as during Anna Ioannovna rule (1730-1740), which coincides both with influx in foreign immigrants in Russia and with spread of potato cultivation in Europe.

Thus, the more realistic story would be that potatoes were brought by European immigrants and, for a long time, potato consumption was limited to those immigrants and the only people who interacted with them on a daily basis - the aristocracy.

So while it is doubtful that Peter the Great did introduce potatoes to Russia himself, it's his reforms that enabled the plant to spread to Russia.

Edit: this article (Russian language) notes that during Peter's times potatoe were unknown in most countries tzar visited in his travels, but Rissia did have a limited trade with England via the White Sea, and that in 1740s one of Russian potato popularizers Jacob Sievers wrote, that northern peasants grew a lot of potatoes, while in south the vegetable was treated with distrust. So potatoes might've come by the northern route.

Russian Wikipedia has some detail. I translate:

In the end of 17th century Peter sent a bag of potato from Holland to spread it for cultivation. However in the 18th century potato was not cultivated in Russia on a significant scale. In 1758, the Peterburg Academy published an article "On cultivation of pommes de terre". This was followed by several other articles on the subject. However, because of the several cases of poisoning with the "devil's apple", the peasants were reluctant to cultivate it. In 1840-42 by the initiative of graf (count) Kiselev, the areas for potato cultivation started to increase. According to the government order "On the spread of potato cultivation", the governors had to give periodic reports to the government on the increase of potato production. This lead to a series of peasant riots (see "potato riots" in Wikipedia). However, this "potato revolution" under Nicholas I was a success…

Peter the Great is basically synonymous in Russia with "reform." He singlehandedly modernized almost every aspect of the country from its economy (shipbuilding) to its military, education, and government, bringing it more or less in line with western Europe at the time. He worked two years as an ordinary laborer in a Dutch shipyard to learn these things, and it is entirely plausible that one of them was the usefulness of the potato, newly imported to Europe from the Americas. He was a "micromanager," and very little would have escaped his attention. Any number of reforms were attributed to him, whether or not they originated with him. So while his exact role in the matter may be buried in the past, it is a moral certainty that he at least "signed off" on, if not initiated, the importation of the potato to Russia.

Peter the Great was born Pyotr Alekseyevich on June 9, 1672, in Moscow, Russia. Peter the Great was the 14th child of Czar Alexis by his second wife, Natalya Kirillovna Naryshkina. Having ruled jointly with his brother Ivan V from 1682, when Ivan died in 1696, Peter was officially declared Sovereign of all Russia. Peter inherited a nation that was severely underdeveloped compared to the culturally prosperous European countries. While the Renaissance and the Reformation swept through Europe, Russia rejected westernization and remained isolated from modernization.

During his reign, Peter undertook extensive reforms in an attempt to reestablish Russia as a great nation. Peter overcame opposition from the country&aposs medieval aristocracy and initiated a series of changes that affected all areas of Russian life. He created a strong navy, reorganized his army according to Western standards, secularized schools, administered greater control over the reactionary Orthodox Church and introduced new administrative and territorial divisions of the country.

Youth and accession

When Alexis died in 1676, Peter was only four years old. His elder half-brother, a sickly youth, then succeeded to the throne as Fyodor III, but, in fact, power fell into the hands of the Miloslavskys, relatives of Fyodor’s mother, who deliberately pushed Peter and the Naryshkin circle aside. When Fyodor died childless in 1682, a fierce struggle for power ensued between the Miloslavskys and the Naryshkins: the former wanted to put Fyodor’s brother, the delicate and feebleminded Ivan V, on the throne the Naryshkins stood for the healthy and intelligent Peter. Representatives of the various orders of society, assembled in the Kremlin, declared themselves for Peter, who was then proclaimed tsar, but the Miloslavsky faction exploited a revolt of the Moscow streltsy, or musketeers of the sovereign’s bodyguard, who killed some of Peter’s adherents, including Matveyev. Ivan and Peter were then proclaimed joint tsars, and eventually, because of Ivan’s precarious health and Peter’s youth, Ivan’s 25-year-old sister Sophia was made regent. Clever and influential, Sophia took control of the government excluded from public affairs, Peter lived with his mother in the village of Preobrazhenskoye, near Moscow, often fearing for his safety. All this left an ineradicable impression on the young tsar and determined his negative attitude toward the streltsy.

One result of Sophia’s overt exclusion of Peter from the government was that he did not receive the usual education of a Russian tsar he grew up in a free atmosphere instead of being confined within the narrow bounds of a palace. While his first tutor, the former church clerk Nikita Zotov, could give little to satisfy Peter’s curiosity, the boy enjoyed noisy outdoor games and took especial interest in military matters, his favourite toys being arms of one sort or another. He also occupied himself with carpentry, joinery, blacksmith’s work, and printing.

Near Preobrazhenskoye there was a nemetskaya sloboda (“German colony”) where foreigners were allowed to reside. Acquaintance with its inhabitants aroused Peter’s interest in the life of other nations, and an English sailboat, found derelict in a shed, whetted his passion for seafaring. Mathematics, fortification, and navigation were the sciences that appealed most strongly to Peter. A model fortress was built for his amusement, and he organized his first “play” troops, from which, in 1687, the Preobrazhensky and Semyonovsky Guards regiments were formed—to become the nucleus of a new Russian Army.

Early in 1689 Natalya Naryshkina arranged Peter’s marriage to the beautiful Eudoxia (Yevdokiya Fyodorovna Lopukhina). This was obviously a political act, intended to demonstrate the fact that the 17-year-old Peter was now a grown man, with a right to rule in his own name. The marriage did not last long: Peter soon began to ignore his wife, and in 1698 he relegated her to a convent.

In August 1689 a new revolt of the streltsy took place. Sophia and her faction tried to use it to their own advantage for another coup d’état, but events this time turned decisively in Peter’s favour. He removed Sophia from power and banished her to the Novodevichy convent she was forced to become a nun after a streltsy rebellion in 1698. Though Ivan V remained nominally joint tsar with Peter, the administration was now largely given over to Peter’s kinsmen, the Naryshkins, until Ivan’s death in 1696. Peter, meanwhile continuing his military and nautical amusements, sailed the first seaworthy ships to be built in Russia. His games proved to be good training for the tasks ahead.

The dissolution of Austria-Hungary was a major geopolitical event that occurred as a result of the growth of internal social contradictions and the separation of different parts of Austria-Hungary. The reason for the collapse of the state was World War I, the 1918 crop failure and the economic crisis.

In 1914 Austria felt threatened by the small state of Serbia because Serbia was acting as a magnet for other Serbian minorities living in Austria. Under the prodding of Germany, Austria decided to liquidate Serbia. Austria’s defeat in 1918 led to its dismemberment.

8 The All-Joking, All-Drunken Synod Of Fools And Jesters

Up until then, the Russian Orthodox Church had been led by the patriarch of Moscow. Peter the Great changed all that. He was a raging drinker and partier, and he didn&rsquot care for all the pious stuff. So he replaced Russia&rsquos religious leaders with a new group called the Holy Synod, filled with people he could control.

He didn&rsquot particularly respect his own church, either. Around the same time, he set up another group called the All-Joking, All-Drunken Synod of Fools and Jesters, and their job was to get as drunk as possible as often as they could. This was Peter&rsquos old drinking group, now reformed to let the church know exactly what he thought of it. He even made one of his friends the &ldquoprince-pope&rdquo of the All-Drunken Synod and had him do a mock Stations of the Cross before they all got hammered.

People weren&rsquot thrilled. Some started to say that Peter the Great was the antichrist himself. But the people in power didn&rsquot mind. Eventually, every powerful man in the government was part of the All-Drunken Synod&mdashincluding some of the clergy.

Did Peter the Great introduce the potato to Russia? - History

Peter the Great (1672 – 1725) began as the Tsar of Russia and eventually became the Emperor. He was the grandson of Tsar Michael Romanov and was made Tsar when he was only ten years old. His early life was incredibly privileged and he was educated by several notable intellectuals. In adulthood, Peter I was known for being very tall. Some historians believe he may have suffered from a form of epilepsy.

Tsar Alexis I, Peter’s father, died in January of 1676. Following this, his brother Feodor III became ruler. However, Feodor was chronically ill and died after less than ten years on the throne. Since Feodor had no children, a dispute arose about who should inherit the throne.

Ivan I was Peter’s older half-brother and next in line. However, as he was considered chronically ill and mentally unfit, he was passed over in the succession. Ivan’s side of the family was defeated by Peter’s, who was taken to the Kremlin to be established as Tsar. However, Ivan’s family managed to orchestrate a coup d’état. Many of Peter’s friends and family were murdered during this conflict.

A New Tsar

Ivan and Peter were proclaimed joint Tsars at the Miloslavskys’, Ivan’s family, insistence. Sophia Alekseyevna, Peter’s relative, who had orchestrated the rebellion in the first place, assumed power as the acting regent. She acted as regent for several years and advised Ivan and Peter in all matters when necessary.

Peter did not have much interest in ruling when he was young. In an attempt to foster his interest, he was sent away to Kolomenskoe where he learned military strategy. He became friends with some European soldiers who taught him Western military strategies. He also studied shipbuilding and became interested in developing a navy for Russia.

Peter was nearly eighteen when he returned to Moscow, and he intended to take power back from Sophia. She knew about this and tried to stage another coup d’état, but Peter managed to defeat her. Sophia was sent to a convent and had to give up her name and standing as a member of the royal family.

Peter Becomes Sole Ruler

Although Sophia’s rule was overthrown, Peter remained Tsar alongside Ivan V. However, his mother ruled as regent until she died in 1694. Ivan V remained Tsar for the rest of his life, dying six years later, making Peter the sole ruler of Russia.

Peter decided to travel around Western Europe and learn as much as possible about its culture. After his return, he westernized Russian technology and military tactics. His time abroad was spent trying his hand at different professions based on a strong belief in ‘meritocracy’. He worked many occupations, including dentistry.

The Westernization of Russia

Peter’s obsession with west was not constrained to matters like the organization of the military. He started to tax men that had beards and forced the people to wear western style clothes. He changed the calendar, opened technical schools, and banned the traditional Muscovite dress for all men. He introduced a variety of other reforms that radically changed the life of the people, many of which were widely disliked.

Peter’s reaction to these detractors was a swift and painful. He suppressed all forms of rebellion. All armed forces and state officials were made to wear modern clothes and shave their beards to speed along the modernization of Russia as Tsar Peter saw fit.

He believed in the concept of education and disliked hereditary positions, which he abolished during his reign. He made changes to the church and instated a council to govern it. He also greatly increased the amount of education that the people received, building the first universities in Russia. He endeavored to stop arranged marriages, something which affected him personally as his own arranged marriage was disastrous. Eventually, he sent his wife to a convent in order to free himself of matrimony.

St. Petersburg and the Emperor

Peter the Great decided to move the capital of Russia from Moscow to St. Petersburg. This was a massive project that required a city to be built on the Gulf of Finland. It took nearly a decade to complete and tens of thousands of people died during its production. St Petersburg remained the capital of Russia until the communist revolution in the year 1918.

Opposition in the Family

Both the clergy and the nobility disagreed with many of his reforms and there were many rebellions that Peter successfully suppressed. The nobility were, in large part, Peter’s family, and many of them were opposed to the changes he was making.

Peter the Great had 14 children, 3 or which survived to adulthood. Alexei was the eldest surviving child. However, Peter learned that he had been involved with plots to overthrow his reign and had him arrested. Alexei was interrogated and tortured for days before he confessed to treason. He was sentenced to death, yet he died in prison due to injuries sustained while being tortured.

Because of this, Peter the Great decided that the next ruler should not be determined by means of heredity. He instated reforms which disbanded hereditary claims to any position, angering many of the nobles.

The Death of Peter the Great

In his old age, Peter began to suffer from bladder and urinary tract problems. Doctors performed surgery and relieved around four pounds of urine from his bladder. Though he recovered for a time, the problems returned worse than before. He died on February 8, 1725 without naming an heir. An autopsy preformed after his death revealed that his bladder had been infected with gangrene.


Peter the Great was a very controversial figure that managed to expand Russia, westernize its culture, and establish it as a major European power. Under Tsar Peter’s rule, Russia became an empire.


The imperial title of Peter the Great was the following: [2]

By the grace of God, the most excellent and great sovereign emperor Pyotr Alekseevich the ruler of all the Russias: of Moscow, of Kiev, of Vladimir, of Novgorod, Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan and Tsar of Siberia, sovereign of Pskov, great prince of Smolensk, of Tver, of Yugorsk, of Perm, of Vyatka, of Bulgaria and others, sovereign and great prince of the Novgorod Lower lands, of Chernigov, of Ryazan, of Rostov, of Yaroslavl, of Belozersk, of Udora, of Kondia and the sovereign of all the northern lands, and the sovereign of the Iverian lands, of the Kartlian and Georgian Kings, of the Kabardin lands, of the Circassian and Mountain princes and many other states and lands western and eastern here and there and the successor and sovereign and ruler.

Named after the apostle, and described as a newborn as "with good health, his mother's black, vaguely Tatar eyes, and a tuft of auburn hair", [3] from an early age Peter's education (commissioned by his father, Tsar Alexis of Russia) was put in the hands of several tutors, most notably Nikita Zotov, Patrick Gordon, and Paul Menesius. On 29 January 1676, Tsar Alexis died, leaving the sovereignty to Peter's elder half-brother, the weak and sickly Feodor III of Russia. [4] Throughout this period, the government was largely run by Artamon Matveev, an enlightened friend of Alexis, the political head of the Naryshkin family and one of Peter's greatest childhood benefactors.

This position changed when Feodor died in 1682. As Feodor did not leave any children, a dispute arose between the Miloslavsky family (Maria Miloslavskaya was the first wife of Alexis I) and Naryshkin family (Natalya Naryshkina was the second wife) over who should inherit the throne. Peter's other half-brother, Ivan V of Russia, was next in line for the throne, but he was chronically ill and of infirm mind. Consequently, the Boyar Duma (a council of Russian nobles) chose the 10-year-old Peter to become Tsar with his mother as regent.

This arrangement was brought before the people of Moscow, as ancient tradition demanded, and was ratified. Sophia, one of Alexis' daughters from his first marriage, led a rebellion of the Streltsy (Russia's elite military corps) in April–May 1682. In the subsequent conflict, some of Peter's relatives and friends were murdered, including Matveev, and Peter witnessed some of these acts of political violence. [5]

The Streltsy made it possible for Sophia, the Miloslavskys (the clan of Ivan) and their allies to insist that Peter and Ivan be proclaimed joint Tsars, with Ivan being acclaimed as the senior. Sophia acted as regent during the minority of the sovereigns and exercised all power. For seven years, she ruled as an autocrat. A large hole was cut in the back of the dual-seated throne used by Ivan and Peter. Sophia would sit behind the throne and listen as Peter conversed with nobles, while feeding him information and giving him responses to questions and problems. This throne can be seen in the Kremlin Armoury in Moscow.

Peter was not particularly concerned that others ruled in his name. He engaged in such pastimes as shipbuilding and sailing, as well as mock battles with his toy army. Peter's mother sought to force him to adopt a more conventional approach and arranged his marriage to Eudoxia Lopukhina in 1689. [6] The marriage was a failure, and ten years later Peter forced his wife to become a nun and thus freed himself from the union.

By the summer of 1689, Peter, then age 17, planned to take power from his half-sister Sophia, whose position had been weakened by two unsuccessful Crimean campaigns against the Crimean Khanate in an attempt to stop devastating Crimean Tatar raids into Russia's southern lands. When she learned of his designs, Sophia conspired with some leaders of the Streltsy, who continually aroused disorder and dissent. Peter, warned by others from the Streltsy, escaped in the middle of the night to the impenetrable monastery of Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra there he slowly gathered adherents who perceived he would win the power struggle. Sophia was eventually overthrown, with Peter I and Ivan V continuing to act as co-tsars. Peter forced Sophia to enter a convent, where she gave up her name and her position as a member of the royal family. [7]

Still, Peter could not acquire actual control over Russian affairs. Power was instead exercised by his mother, Natalya Naryshkina. It was only when Natalya died in 1694 that Peter, now aged 22, became an independent sovereign. [8] Formally, Ivan V was a co-ruler with Peter, though being ineffective. Peter became the sole ruler when Ivan died in 1696 without male offspring, while Peter was 24 years old.

Peter grew to be extremely tall as an adult, especially for the time period. Standing at 6 ft 8 (203 cm) in height, the Russian tsar was literally head and shoulders above his contemporaries both in Russia and throughout Europe. [8] Peter, however, lacked the overall proportional heft and bulk generally found in a man that size. Both his hands and feet were small, [9] [ citation needed ] and his shoulders were narrow for his height likewise, his head was small for his tall body. Added to this were Peter's noticeable facial tics, and he may have suffered from petit mal, a form of epilepsy. [10]

During his youth, Peter befriended Patrick Gordon, Franz Lefort and several other foreigners in Russian service and was a frequent guest in Moscow's German Quarter, where he met his Dutch mistress Anna Mons.

Peter implemented sweeping reforms aimed at modernizing Russia. [11] Heavily influenced by his advisors from Western Europe, Peter reorganized the Russian army along modern lines and dreamed of making Russia a maritime power. He faced much opposition to these policies at home but brutally suppressed rebellions against his authority, including by the Streltsy, Bashkirs, Astrakhan, and the greatest civil uprising of his reign, the Bulavin Rebellion.

Peter implemented social modernization in an absolute manner by introducing French and western dress to his court and requiring courtiers, state officials, and the military to shave their beards and adopt modern clothing styles. [12] One means of achieving this end was the introduction of taxes for long beards and robes in September 1698. [13]

In his process to westernize Russia, he wanted members of his family to marry other European royalty. In the past, his ancestors had been snubbed at the idea, but now, it was proving fruitful. He negotiated with Frederick William, Duke of Courland to marry his niece, Anna Ivanovna. He used the wedding in order to launch his new capital, St Petersburg, where he had already ordered building projects of westernized palaces and buildings. Peter hired Italian and German architects to design it. [14]

As part of his reforms, Peter started an industrialization effort that was slow but eventually successful. Russian manufacturing and main exports were based on the mining and lumber industries. For example, by the end of the century Russia came to export more iron than any other country in the world. [15]

To improve his nation's position on the seas, Peter sought to gain more maritime outlets. His only outlet at the time was the White Sea at Arkhangelsk. The Baltic Sea was at the time controlled by Sweden in the north, while the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea were controlled by the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Empire respectively in the south.

Peter attempted to acquire control of the Black Sea, which would require expelling the Tatars from the surrounding areas. As part of an agreement with Poland that ceded Kiev to Russia, Peter was forced to wage war against the Crimean Khan and against the Khan's overlord, the Ottoman Sultan. Peter's primary objective became the capture of the Ottoman fortress of Azov, near the Don River. In the summer of 1695 Peter organized the Azov campaigns to take the fortress, but his attempts ended in failure.

Peter returned to Moscow in November 1695 and began building a large navy. He launched about thirty ships against the Ottomans in 1696, capturing Azov in July of that year. On 12 September 1698, Peter officially founded the first Russian Navy base, Taganrog.

Grand Embassy

Peter knew that Russia could not face the Ottoman Empire alone. In 1697, he traveled "incognito" to Western Europe on an 18-month journey with a large Russian delegation–the so-called "Grand Embassy". He used a fake name, allowing him to escape social and diplomatic events, but since he was far taller than most others, he did not fool anyone of importance. One goal was to seek the aid of European monarchs, but Peter's hopes were dashed. France was a traditional ally of the Ottoman Sultan, and Austria was eager to maintain peace in the east while conducting its own wars in the west. Peter, furthermore, had chosen an inopportune moment: the Europeans at the time were more concerned about the War of Spanish Succession over who would succeed the childless King Charles II of Spain than about fighting the Ottoman Sultan. [6]

The "Grand Embassy" continued nevertheless. While visiting the Netherlands, Peter learned much about life in Western Europe. He studied shipbuilding [16] in Zaandam (the house he lived in is now a museum, the Czar Peter House) and Amsterdam, where he visited, among others, the upper-class de Wilde family. Jacob de Wilde, a collector-general with the Admiralty of Amsterdam, had a well-known collection of art and coins, and de Wilde's daughter Maria de Wilde made an engraving of the meeting between Peter and her father, providing visual evidence of "the beginning of the West European classical tradition in Russia". [17] According to Roger Tavernier, Peter the Great later acquired de Wilde's collection. [18]

Thanks to the mediation of Nicolaes Witsen, mayor of Amsterdam and expert on Russia, the Tsar was given the opportunity to gain practical experience in the largest shipyard in the world, belonging to the Dutch East India Company, for a period of four months. The Tsar helped with the construction of an East Indiaman ship especially laid down for him: Peter and Paul. During his stay the Tsar engaged many skilled workers such as builders of locks, fortresses, shipwrights, and seamen—including Cornelis Cruys, a vice-admiral who became, under Franz Lefort, the Tsar's advisor in maritime affairs. Peter later put his knowledge of shipbuilding to use in helping build Russia's navy. [19] Peter paid a visit to surgeon Frederik Ruysch, who taught him how to draw teeth and catch butterflies, and to Ludolf Bakhuysen, a painter of seascapes. Jan van der Heyden, the inventor of the fire hose, received Peter, who was keen to learn and pass on his knowledge to his countrymen. On 16 January 1698 Peter organized a farewell party and invited Johan Huydecoper van Maarsseveen, who had to sit between Lefort and the Tsar and drink. [20]

In England, Peter met with King William III, visited Greenwich and Oxford, posed for Sir Godfrey Kneller, and saw a Royal Navy Fleet Review at Deptford. He studied the English techniques of city-building he would later use to great effect at Saint Petersburg. [21] When he left he gave the singer, and his mistress, Letitia Cross £500 to thank her for her hospitality. Cross said it was not enough. [22] The Embassy next went to Leipzig, Dresden, Prague and Vienna. He spoke with Augustus II the Strong and Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. [21]

Peter's visit was cut short in 1698, when he was forced to rush home by a rebellion of the Streltsy. The rebellion was easily crushed before Peter returned home from England of the Tsar's troops, only one was killed. Peter nevertheless acted ruthlessly towards the mutineers. Over one thousand two hundred of the rebels were tortured and executed, and Peter ordered that their bodies be publicly exhibited as a warning to future conspirators. [23] The Streltsy were disbanded, some of the rebels were deported to Siberia, and the individual they sought to put on the Throne — Peter's half-sister Sophia — was forced to become a nun.

In 1698, Peter sent a delegation to Malta, under boyar Boris Sheremetev, to observe the training and abilities of the Knights of Malta and their fleet. Sheremetev investigated the possibility of future joint ventures with the Knights, including action against the Turks and the possibility of a future Russian naval base. [24]

Peter's visits to the West impressed upon him the notion that European customs were in several respects superior to Russian traditions. He commanded all of his courtiers and officials to wear European clothing and cut off their long beards, causing his Boyars, who were very fond of their beards, great upset. [25] Boyars who sought to retain their beards were required to pay an annual beard tax of one hundred rubles. Peter also sought to end arranged marriages, which were the norm among the Russian nobility, because he thought such a practice was barbaric and led to domestic violence, since the partners usually resented each other. [26]

In 1699, Peter changed the date of the celebration of the new year from 1 September to 1 January. Traditionally, the years were reckoned from the purported creation of the World, but after Peter's reforms, they were to be counted from the birth of Christ. Thus, in the year 7207 of the old Russian calendar, Peter proclaimed that the Julian Calendar was in effect and the year was 1700. [27]

Great Northern War

Peter made a temporary peace with the Ottoman Empire that allowed him to keep the captured fort of Azov, and turned his attention to Russian maritime supremacy. He sought to acquire control of the Baltic Sea, which had been taken by the Swedish Empire a half-century earlier. Peter declared war on Sweden, which was at the time led by the young King Charles XII. Sweden was also opposed by Denmark–Norway, Saxony, and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Russia was ill-prepared to fight the Swedes, and their first attempt at seizing the Baltic coast ended in disaster at the Battle of Narva in 1700. In the conflict, the forces of Charles XII, rather than employ a slow methodical siege, attacked immediately using a blinding snowstorm to their advantage. After the battle, Charles XII decided to concentrate his forces against the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, which gave Peter time to reorganize the Russian army.

While the Poles fought the Swedes, Peter founded the city of Saint Petersburg in 1703, in Ingermanland (a province of the Swedish Empire that he had captured). It was named after his patron saint Saint Peter. He forbade the building of stone edifices outside Saint Petersburg, which he intended to become Russia's capital, so that all stonemasons could participate in the construction of the new city. Between 1713 and 1728, and from 1732 to 1918, Saint Petersburg was the capital of imperial Russia.

Following several defeats, Polish King Augustus II the Strong abdicated in 1706. Swedish king Charles XII turned his attention to Russia, invading it in 1708. After crossing into Russia, Charles defeated Peter at Golovchin in July. In the Battle of Lesnaya, Charles suffered his first loss after Peter crushed a group of Swedish reinforcements marching from Riga. Deprived of this aid, Charles was forced to abandon his proposed march on Moscow. [28]

Charles XII refused to retreat to Poland or back to Sweden and instead invaded Ukraine. Peter withdrew his army southward, employing scorched earth, destroying along the way anything that could assist the Swedes. Deprived of local supplies, the Swedish army was forced to halt its advance in the winter of 1708–1709. In the summer of 1709, they resumed their efforts to capture Russian-ruled Ukraine, culminating in the Battle of Poltava on 27 June. The battle was a decisive defeat for the Swedish forces, ending Charles' campaign in Ukraine and forcing him south to seek refuge in the Ottoman Empire. Russia had defeated what was considered to be one of the world's best militaries, and the victory overturned the view that Russia was militarily incompetent. In Poland, Augustus II was restored as King.

Peter, overestimating the support he would receive from his Balkan allies, attacked the Ottoman Empire, initiating the Russo-Turkish War of 1710. [29] Peter's campaign in the Ottoman Empire was disastrous, and in the ensuing Treaty of the Pruth, Peter was forced to return the Black Sea ports he had seized in 1697. [29] In return, the Sultan expelled Charles XII.

Normally, the Boyar Duma would have exercised power during his absence. Peter, however, mistrusted the boyars he instead abolished the Duma and created a Senate of ten members. The Senate was founded as the highest state institution to supervise all judicial, financial and administrative affairs. Originally established only for the time of the monarch's absence, the Senate became a permanent body after his return. A special high official, the Ober-Procurator, served as the link between the ruler and the senate and acted, in Peter own words, as "the sovereign's eye". Without his signature no Senate decision could go into effect the Senate became one of the most important institutions of Imperial Russia. [30]

Peter's northern armies took the Swedish province of Livonia (the northern half of modern Latvia, and the southern half of modern Estonia), driving the Swedes into Finland. In 1714 the Russian fleet won the Battle of Gangut. Most of Finland was occupied by the Russians.

In 1716 and 1717, the Tsar revisited the Netherlands and went to see Herman Boerhaave. He continued his travel to the Austrian Netherlands and France. Peter obtained the assistance of the Electorate of Hanover and the Kingdom of Prussia.

The Tsar's navy was powerful enough that the Russians could penetrate Sweden. Still, Charles XII refused to yield, and not until his death in battle in 1718 did peace become feasible. After the battle near Åland, Sweden made peace with all powers but Russia by 1720. In 1721, the Treaty of Nystad ended the Great Northern War. Russia acquired Ingria, Estonia, Livonia, and a substantial portion of Karelia. In turn, Russia paid two million Riksdaler and surrendered most of Finland. The Tsar retained some Finnish lands close to Saint Petersburg, which he had made his capital in 1712. [31]

Later years

Peter's last years were marked by further reform in Russia. On 22 October 1721, soon after peace was made with Sweden, he was officially proclaimed Emperor of All Russia. Some proposed that he take the title Emperor of the East, but he refused. Gavrila Golovkin, the State Chancellor, was the first to add "the Great, Father of His Country, Emperor of All the Russias" to Peter's traditional title Tsar following a speech by the archbishop of Pskov in 1721. Peter's imperial title was recognized by Augustus II of Poland, Frederick William I of Prussia, and Frederick I of Sweden, but not by the other European monarchs. In the minds of many, the word emperor connoted superiority or pre-eminence over kings. Several rulers feared that Peter would claim authority over them, just as the Holy Roman Emperor had claimed suzerainty over all Christian nations.

In 1717, Alexander Bekovich-Cherkassky led the first Russian military expedition into Central Asia against the Khanate of Khiva. The expedition ended in complete disaster when the entire expeditionary force was slaughtered.

In 1718, Peter investigated why the formerly Swedish province of Livonia was so orderly. He discovered that the Swedes spent as much administering Livonia (300 times smaller than his empire) as he spent on the entire Russian bureaucracy. He was forced to dismantle the province's government. [32]

After 1718, Peter established colleges in place of the old central agencies of government, including foreign affairs, war, navy, expense, income, justice, and inspection. Later others were added. Each college consisted of a president, a vice-president, a number of councilors and assessors, and a procurator. Some foreigners were included in various colleges but not as president. Peter believed he did not have enough loyal and talented persons to put in full charge of the various departments. Peter preferred to rely on groups of individuals who would keep check on one another. [33] Decisions depended on the majority vote.

In 1722, Peter created a new order of precedence known as the Table of Ranks. Formerly, precedence had been determined by birth. To deprive the Boyars of their high positions, Peter directed that precedence should be determined by merit and service to the Emperor. The Table of Ranks continued to remain in effect until the Russian monarchy was overthrown in 1917.

Peter decided that all of the children of the nobility should have some early education, especially in the areas of sciences. Therefore, on 28 February 1714, he issued a decree calling for compulsory education, which dictated that all Russian 10- to 15-year-old children of the nobility, government clerks, and lesser-ranked officials must learn basic mathematics and geometry, and should be tested on the subjects at the end of their studies. [34]

The once powerful Persian Safavid Empire to the south was in deep decline. Taking advantage of the profitable situation, Peter launched the Russo-Persian War of 1722–1723, otherwise known as "The Persian Expedition of Peter the Great", which drastically increased Russian influence for the first time in the Caucasus and Caspian Sea region, and prevented the Ottoman Empire from making territorial gains in the region. After considerable success and the capture of many provinces and cities in the Caucasus and northern mainland Persia, the Safavids were forced to hand over territory to Russia, comprising Derbent, Shirvan, Gilan, Mazandaran, Baku, and Astrabad. However, within twelve years all the territories would be ceded back to Persia, now led by the charismatic military genius Nader Shah, as part of the Treaties of Resht and Ganja respectively, and the Russo-Persian alliance against the Ottoman Empire, which was the common enemy of both. [35]

Peter introduced new taxes to fund improvements in Saint Petersburg. He abolished the land tax and household tax and replaced them with a poll tax. The taxes on land and on households were payable only by individuals who owned property or maintained families the new head taxes, however, were payable by serfs and paupers. In 1725 the construction of Peterhof, a palace near Saint Petersburg, was completed. Peterhof (Dutch for "Peter's Court") was a grand residence, becoming known as the "Russian Versailles".

Illness and death

In the winter of 1723, Peter, whose overall health was never robust, began having problems with his urinary tract and bladder. In the summer of 1724, a team of doctors performed surgery releasing upwards of four pounds of blocked urine. Peter remained bedridden until late autumn. In the first week of October, restless and certain he was cured, Peter began a lengthy inspection tour of various projects. According to legend, in November, at Lakhta along the Finnish Gulf to inspect some ironworks, Peter saw a group of soldiers drowning near shore and, wading out into near-waist deep water, came to their rescue. [36]

This icy water rescue is said to have exacerbated Peter's bladder problems and caused his death. The story, however, has been viewed with skepticism by some historians, pointing out that the German chronicler Jacob von Staehlin is the only source for the story, and it seems unlikely that no one else would have documented such an act of heroism. This, plus the interval of time between these actions and Peter's death seems to preclude any direct link. [ citation needed ]

In early January 1725, Peter was struck once again with uremia. Legend has it that before lapsing into unconsciousness Peter asked for a paper and pen and scrawled an unfinished note that read: "Leave all to . " and then, exhausted by the effort, asked for his daughter Anna to be summoned. [c]

Peter died between four and five in the morning 8 February 1725. An autopsy revealed his bladder to be infected with gangrene. [10] He was fifty-two years, seven months old when he died, having reigned forty-two years. He is interred in Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Peter was deeply religious, being brought up in the Russian Orthodox faith, but he had low regard for the Church hierarchy, which he kept under tight governmental control. The traditional leader of the Church was the Patriarch of Moscow. In 1700, when the office fell vacant, Peter refused to name a replacement, allowing the Patriarch's Coadjutor (or deputy) to discharge the duties of the office. Peter could not tolerate the patriarch exercising power superior to the Tsar, as indeed had happened in the case of Philaret (1619–1633) and Nikon (1652–66). Peter therefore abolished the Patriarchy, replacing it with a Holy Synod that was under the control of a senior bureaucrat, and the Tsar appointed all bishops.

In 1721, Peter followed the advice of Theophan Prokopovich in designing the Holy Synod as a council of ten clergymen. For leadership in the church, Peter turned increasingly to Ukrainians, who were more open to reform, but were not well loved by the Russian clergy. Peter implemented a law that stipulated that no Russian man could join a monastery before the age of fifty. He felt that too many able Russian men were being wasted on clerical work when they could be joining his new and improved army. [37] [38]

A clerical career was not a route chosen by upper-class society. Most parish priests were sons of priests, were very poorly educated, and very poorly paid. The monks in the monasteries had a slightly higher status they were not allowed to marry. Politically, the church was impotent. [39]

Peter the Great had two wives, with whom he had fourteen children, three of whom survived to adulthood. Peter's mother selected his first wife, Eudoxia Lopukhina, with the advice of other nobles in 1689. [40] This was consistent with previous Romanov tradition by choosing a daughter of a minor noble. This was done to prevent fighting between the stronger noble houses and to bring fresh blood into the family. [41] He also had a mistress from Holland, Anna Mons. [40]

Upon his return from his European tour in 1698, Peter sought to end his unhappy marriage. He divorced the Tsaritsa and forced her to join a convent. [40] The Tsaritsa had borne Peter three children, although only one, Alexei Petrovich, Tsarevich of Russia, had survived past his childhood.

He took Martha Skavronskaya, a Polish-Lithuanian peasant, as a mistress some time between 1702 and 1704. [42] Martha converted to the Russian Orthodox Church and took the name Catherine. [43] Though no record exists, Catherine and Peter are described as having married secretly between 23 Oct and 1 December 1707 in St. Petersburg. [44] Peter valued Catherine and married her again (this time officially) at Saint Isaac's Cathedral in Saint Petersburg on 19 February 1712.

His eldest child and heir, Alexei, was suspected of being involved in a plot to overthrow the Emperor. Alexei was tried and confessed under torture during questioning conducted by a secular court. He was convicted and sentenced to be executed. The sentence could be carried out only with Peter's signed authorization, and Alexei died in prison, as Peter hesitated before making the decision. Alexei's death most likely resulted from injuries suffered during his torture. [45] Alexei's mother Eudoxia had also been punished she was dragged from her home and tried on false charges of adultery.

In 1724, Peter had his second wife, Catherine, crowned as Empress, although he remained Russia's actual ruler. All of Peter's male children had died.


By his two wives, he had fourteen children. These included three sons named Pavel and three sons named Peter, all of whom died in infancy.

Name Birth Death Notes
By Eudoxia Lopukhina
Alexei Petrovich, Tsarevich of Russia 18 February 1690 [46] 26 June 1718, [46] age 28 Married 1711, Charlotte Christine of Brunswick-Lüneburg had issue
Alexander Petrovich 13 October 1691 14 May 1692, age 7 months
Pavel Petrovich 1693 1693
By Catherine I
Peter Petrovich 1704 [46] in infancy [46] Born and died before the official marriage of his parents
Paul Petrovich 1705 [46] in infancy [46] Born and died before the official marriage of his parents
Catherine Petrovna Dec 1706 [46] Jun 1708, [46] age 18 months Born and died before the official marriage of her parents
Anna Petrovna 27 January 1708 15 May 1728, age 20 Married 1725, Karl Friedrich, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp had issue
Yelisaveta Petrovna,
later Empress Elizabeth
29 December 1709 5 January 1762, age 52 Reputedly married 1742, Alexei Grigorievich, Count Razumovsky no issue
Maria Petrovna 20 March 1713 27 May 1715, age 2
Margarita Petrovna 19 September 1714 7 June 1715, age 9 months
Peter Petrovich 15 November 1715 19 April 1719, age 3
Pavel Petrovich 13 January 1717 14 January 1717, age 1 day
Natalia Petrovna 31 August 1718 15 March 1725, age 6
Peter Petrovich 7 October 1723 7 October 1723, born and died same day

Peter's legacy has always been a major concern of Russian intellectuals. Riasanovsky points to a "paradoxical dichotomy" in the black and white images such as God/Antichrist, educator/ignoramus, architect of Russia's greatness/destroyer of national culture, father of his country/scourge of the common man. Voltaire's 1759 biography gave 18th-century Russians a man of the Enlightenment, while Alexander Pushkin's "The Bronze Horseman" poem of 1833 gave a powerful romantic image of a creator-god. [47] [48] [49] Slavophiles in mid-19th century deplored Peter's westernization of Russia. Western writers and political analysts recounted "The Testimony" or secret will of Peter the Great. It supposedly revealed his grand evil plot for Russia to control the world via conquest of Constantinople, Afghanistan and India. It was a forgery made in Paris at Napoleon's command when he started his invasion of Russia in 1812. Nevertheless it is still quoted in foreign policy circles. [50] The Communists executed the last Romanoffs, and their historians such as Mikhail Pokrovsky presented strongly negative views of the entire dynasty. Stalin however admired how Peter strengthened the state, and wartime, diplomacy, industry, higher education, and government administration. Stalin wrote in 1928, "when Peter the Great, who had to deal with more developed countries in the West, feverishly built works in factories for supplying the army and strengthening the country's defenses, this was an original attempt to leap out of the framework of backwardness." [51] As a result Soviet historiography emphasizes both the positive achievement and the negative factor of oppressing the common people. [52]

After the fall of Communism in 1991, scholars and the general public in Russia and the West gave fresh attention to Peter and his role in Russian history. His reign is now seen as the decisive formative event in the Russian imperial past. Many new ideas have merged, such as whether he strengthened the autocratic state or whether the tsarist regime was not statist enough given its small bureaucracy. [53] Modernization models have become contested ground. [54] Historian Ia. Vodarsky said in 1993 that Peter, "did not lead the country on the path of accelerated economic, political and social development, did not force it to 'achieve a leap' through several stages. On the contrary, these actions to the greatest degree put a brake on Russia's progress and created conditions for holding it back for one and a half centuries!" [55] The autocratic powers that Stalin admired appeared as a liability to Evgeny Anisimov, who complained that Peter was, "the creator of the administrative command system and the true ancestor of Stalin." [56]

While the cultural turn in historiography has downplayed diplomatic, economic and constitutional issues, new cultural roles have been found for Peter, for example in architecture and dress. James Cracraft argues:

The Petrine revolution in Russia—subsuming in this phrase the many military, naval, governmental, educational, architectural, linguistic, and other internal reforms enacted by Peter’s regime to promote Russia’s rise as a major European power—was essentially a cultural revolution, one that profoundly impacted both the basic constitution of the Russian Empire and, perforce, its subsequent development. [57]

Peter has been featured in many histories, novels, plays, films, monuments and paintings. [58] [59] They include the poems The Bronze Horseman, Poltava and the unfinished novel The Moor of Peter the Great, all by Alexander Pushkin. The former dealt with The Bronze Horseman, an equestrian statue raised in Peter's honour. Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy wrote a biographical historical novel about him, named Pëtr I, in the 1930s.

  • The 1922 German silent film Peter the Great directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki and starring Emil Jannings as Peter
  • The 1937–1938 Soviet Union (Russia) film Peter the First
  • The 1976 film Skaz pro to, kak tsar Pyotr arapa zhenil (How Tsar Peter the Great Married Off His Moor), starring Aleksey Petrenko as Peter, and Vladimir Vysotsky as Abram Petrovich Gannibal, shows Peter's attempt to build the Baltic Fleet.
  • The 2007 film The Sovereign's Servant depicts the unsavoury brutal side of Peter during the campaign.
  • Peter was played by Jan Niklas and Maximilian Schell in the 1986 NBCminiseriesPeter the Great.
  • A character based on Peter plays a major role in The Age of Unreason, a series of four alternate history novels written by American science fiction and fantasy author Gregory Keyes. Peter is one of many supporting characters in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle – mainly featuring in the third novel, The System of the World.
  • Peter was portrayed on BBC Radio 4 by Isaac Rouse as a boy, Will Howard as a young adult and Elliot Cowan as an adult in the radio plays Peter the Great: The Gamblers[60] and Peter the Great: The Queen of Spades, [61] written by Mike Walker and which were the last two plays in the first series of Tsar. The plays were broadcast on 25 September and 2 October 2016.
  • A verse in the Engineers' Drinking Song references Peter the Great:

There was a man named Peter the Great who was a Russian Tzar
When remodeling his the castle put the throne behind the bar
He lined the walls with vodka, rum, and 40 kinds of beers
And advanced the Russian culture by 120 years!

Guided History

In the 17th Century, Russia was considered to be a backwards, and barbaric country in the eyes of the major powers in Europe. However, after the rule of Peter the Great, this view changed and Russia was no longer seen as a backwards nation stuck in medieval times, but rather as a major player in the Balance of Power in Europe. The time period that this Research Guide will focus on are the years in which Peter the Great was in power and the next half-century after his death, starting with the year he takes up power in 1682 and ending in 1800 (so as to give us some time to examine his legacy after his death in 1725).

Created by an Italian artist named Bartolomeo Rastrelli using a wax molding mask of Peter the Great's actual face in 1719

Before Peter the Great came into power though, Russia was in fact modernizing. In other words, he was not the beginning of change in Russia in the 16th Century however, there were many policies he put into effect to aid in these changes. The goal behind this Research Guide is to discover what these changes were and what forces Peter the Great put into effect in order to strengthen them. Through this guide, we will uncover who Peter the Great was as a person, what actions he took to modernize Russia, and how Russia changed as a result of his actions. This guide includes primary sources, books analyzing his rule, and online articles and encyclopedias in order to understand Peter the Great’s mark in history.

Introductory Sources

Klyuchevsky, Vasili. Peter the Great. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1969

Provides a good introduction to who Peter the Great was as a person in the beginning of this book. The focus of the book, however, is on the social and administrative changes that occurred under his rule. A good resource for understanding what actions Peter the Great took in order to modernize Russia.

Anderson, M. S. Peter the Great. London: Longman, 1995.

Anderson provides a great biography of Peter the Great and is an excellent place to start research from. The biography includes what Russia was like before Peter the Great came into power, an overview of the policies he put into effect, and the wars that he fights in and what he learns from them.

Sumner, Benedict H. Peter the Great and the emergence of Russia. London. 1962

This book offers some great information regarding the reforms that took place under Peter the Great. Sumner discusses reform in the Civil Government and Religion as well as the social and economic changes. There is some background information in the beginning chapters of the book, some of it is useful but is lengthy. I would suggest another source for background.

Dmytryshyn, Basil ed. Modernization of Russia Under Peter I and Catherine II. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1974.

While only half of the book focuses on Peter the Great, it is still a great resource in discovering what actions he took to modernize Russia. This book provides administrative decrees issued by Peter the Great as well as multiple assessments of his modernization.

Policies and Methods

An excellent source describing an anecdote of when Peter the Great made a trip to England where he meets with the religious group, the Quakers. Shows Peter the Great desire to learn more about the western world and how this meeting influenced his policies on religion in Russia.

Gives information on some of the books that Peter the Great had in his possession and how they influenced his decisions and gave him ideas. By examining the books he had in his collection we can gain a better understanding of what ideas were being presented to him and how he used the knowledge available in these books to pick and choose what he should do as a ruler.

Provides several anecdotes of who Peter the Great was as a person and specific cases of events that lead to the change in many of Russia’s policies. Though it is a useful source, it can be a bit difficult to understand at times when the article switches between the narrative and anecdote. However, this is a minor detail that can be overlooked.

Gives an overview of Peter the Great’s life as a youth and as a ruler. Goes into detail the policies he implements and the wars that he undertakes in order to increase Russia’s standing in the eyes of the rest of the European Powers.

Provides a good source of images of objects and people that are representative of the changes that Peter the Great put into effect in order to modernize Russia. Shows change in how Peter the Great wanted Russia to be viewed and how he wanted himself to be viewed.

French Fashion that Peter the Great required all members of his court to wear

A good source focusing mainly on Peter the Great’s modernization in the field of Naval Power. This article discusses how one of Peter the Great’s biggest goals for his trips to Europe was to discover modern ship building techniques so he could build Russia’s first navy.

A good source containing multiple primary source documents describing the technological advancement that Russia was making under Peter the Great. Describes how massive projects like building railroads or a fleet were undertaken at the time showing an in increase in modernization, for before Peter the Great, Russia had no navy and therefore no great ability to trade by sea (something essential in order to be considered a modern state)

An excellent lecture discussing not only the reforms in the military that lead to Russia’s territorial expansion but also on internal politics and the integration of Western ideals.

Legacy of Peter the Great

Cross, Anthony. Peter the Great through British Eyes: Perceptions and Representations of the Tsar since 1698. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Anthony Cross offers a great documentation and analysis of Peter the Great’s visit to England in 1698. The various types of primary sources exhibit the changing view on Peter the Great from the perspective of the British at the time of his visit and long after his death up until the 19th Century.

Riasanovysky, Nicholas V. The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Through Riasanovysky’s book, we find a new outlook on Peter the Great from the perspective of the different periods of thought that follow his death. Essentially this book focuses more on the legacy Peter the Great left behind and how people in Russia viewed him up until the late 20th Century. This book is filled with primary sources from each time period that is examined.

A short collection of primary sources describing how Peter the Great was perceived from the perspective of four individuals. Provides a good image of who Peter the Great was as a person and what his goals and interests were.

A good source for a quick overview of Peter the Great’s life, accomplishment, and legacy. Also provides multiple pieces of Artwork that depict him and the actions he takes to modernize Russia. Goes into detail about each picture describing the meaning behind each picture.

Russian ships on Parade in the Baltic Seas after the victory of the Great Northern War

Maps and Charts

A German depiction of St. Petersburg in 1718. Peter the Great killed thousands to build this city as fast as possible

A window into Europe

Peter the Great made it his duty to give Russia access to Europe via the sea, often referred to in history as a ‘window into Europe’. During the early years of his rule, Peter travelled undercover to Europe, where he grew fond of European traditions and was determined to implement them in Russia. He introduced various objects and commodities, such as tobacco, potatoes, coffee, chocolate. Moreover, he collected various objects and placed them in the first museum, the Kunstkamera. Despite the positive appearance of the changes, it is important to remember that they were forced. The nobility that refused to change their clothes and shave their beards, according to the new fashion, were mocked in public and punished by the tsar.

To the Stupendous Spud

From the Americas to Europe, back to the Americas – and into Asia and Africa – the potato has had quite a journey. It's alternately the cause of famines and the solution to grain shortages that previously plagued the world. It's perhaps responsible for much of the world's population boom since the 1700s and has reshaped everything from farming to warfare.

But above all? It's delicious! There's a reason potatoes are so popular – and I hope the history is as interesting as the taste.

Watch the video: If It Were Not Filmed No One Would Believe It