This semester I am taking Imperial Russia as my senior capstone and due to its reading and writing intensive desires, several papers of various lengths shall be posted to this blog. I hope you shall enjoy it and learn something about the interesting nation of Russia during its finest hour.
Some may ask who exactly was Peter the Great? I myself had only known that he was a Russian tsar who sought to Westernize Russia. The first few lectures of my class have brought me up to speed on the history of Russia and its culture and clime; truly a interesting place- from a distance. Being from the warm sunny South, my blood wouldn’t last long in the long Russian winters and therefore this class will most likely be the closest I ever get to Russia. Here’s a brief summation of Peter the Great (1672-1725)from a brief biographical article on St. Petersburg.com:
Peter was a grandson of Tsar Michael Romanov (who was crowned as Tsar in 1613). In 1682 Peter was proclaimed Tsar at the tender age of 10. But due to power struggles between different political forces in the country, the young Tsar was forced to rule jointly with his brother Ivan, under the patronage of their sister Sofia. In 1689, after a failed coup d’etat, Sofia was overthrown and exiled to a convent. When Tsar Ivan died in 1696, Peter remained monarch and engineered a series of reforms that were to put Russia among the major European powers of the day. Peter opened Russia to the influences of the West and invited the best European engineers, shipbuilders, architects, craftsmen and merchants to come to Russia and modernize the country. Hundreds of Russians were sent to Europe to get the best education possible and learn the different arts and crafts that would sustain Russia in its future growth.
One of Peter’s main goals was to regain access to the Baltic Sea and Baltic trade. In 1700 he started the Northern War with Sweden, which lasted for 21 years, and resulted in a victorious Russia taking the vast lands on the Baltic coast as its spoils of war. During the course of the war St. Petersburg was founded (1703) on the delta of the Neva River and the city rapidly grew to become a major seaport, as Russia gained greater and greater access to European trade routes.
In 1712 Peter the Great moved the Russian capital to St. Petersburg and continued to channel all the country’s energy and resources into the construction of his European “paradise”. When the Northern War ended in 1721 Russia was declared an Empire and Peter the Great proclaimed himself its Emperor. Meanwhile, Peter continued his political and economic reforms. He reorganized the government: established the Senat as the highest government institution and 10 semi-ministries ” kollegii”. Peter introduced a new poll tax, which brought him funding for an active foreign policy and for boosting national manufacturing and trade. The “Tsar-reformer” was the first leader to organize a Russian regular army and found the Russian navy (he was also an experienced shipbuilder). Peter the Great was buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.
Peter’s personality has been the cause of much debate and discussion in the 300 years since his death. He was a big strong man (6′ 8” inches – 2.04 meters) who, unlike previous Russian monarchs, was not afraid of physical labor. He was an experienced army officer and navy admiral, a skilful shipbuilder and an amazingly energetic personality. It has to be said that Peter was also very cruel. Several coup attempts against him ended with mass executions. He personally interrogated his own son Alexei, whom he suspected of plotting against him, and installed him as the first inmate of a high security political jail in the Peter and Paul fortress. Nevertheless, the scale of Peter’s personality and massive reforms have inspired generations of historians, writers and ordinary Russian people.
Here is my response to two Russian writers and how they described him as an effective ruler.
Of the two principal texts we read, Mikhail Vasil’evich Lomonosov’s Panegyric to the Sovereign Emperor Peter the Great deals more in depth in answering this question since his treatise is in fact an extolling of Peter the Great as an example to the new Empress of Russia, Elizabeth. Nonetheless, Feofan Prokopovich’s Sermon on Royal Authority and Honor also sheds light on the subject as well, as he uses Scripture to defend Peter’s right to exercise authority over the people of Russia. Both writers see him as an effective ruler and one whose reign was the best for Russia.
Feofan only extols Peter’s effectiveness as a ruler toward the very end of his sermon, the greater portion being used to bash down the excuses of any antinomian rebel who “try, as though winged, to be theologians; however, because of the crudity of their brains, they appear as babblers, understanding neither the Scriptures nor the Power of God” (16). Feofan describes Peter as a “father” to the people and thereby defends his right to have the people respect him as such (25). Yet Feofan describes him in greater terms on page twenty-eight and proclaims him to be the effective leader he was. Feofan states this,
And if one is actually resisting God Himself when he resists powers that are perverse and do not know God, then what word will we call it, not merely resisting, but even more, daring against the true believing monarch, even him who has so benefited Russia, so that from the beginning of the All-Russian state, however many may be found by historians, they cannot point out one equal to him [Peter the Great].
Furthermore, Feofan argues that Peter managed the civil and military powers of the Russian state greater than any other Russian ruler and “renewed Russia in everything, or rather given her a new birth” (28). He also states that because of “his providence and labors that everyone received glory and freedom from care” (28). Using such arguments, Feofan admonishes the people to remember their ruler as a good man and a great king (an effective king) and not disrespect him and to consider it a great glory to die for their sovereign.
Lomonosov’s treatise is more replete with the praise of Peter the Great than the former sermon and will therefore be easier to discuss. First of all, Peter’s rule is praised for his victories and military prowess. Such prowess insured the succession of his daughter to inherit his wonderful empire. Lomonosov mentions several examples of Peter’s prowess: his victory at Poltava, riding in triumph into Moscow, the extirpation of traitors, etc that can be found on page thirty two. His effectiveness as a ruler is proven or expounded by Lomonosov on the following page when he states that “Peter, having protected Russia from pillage, brought joy, secure and serene, in place of gloomy fear; Elizabeth saw the light of day that she might pour the sunshine of happiness over us and free us from the gloom of sorrows” (33). His effectiveness as a ruler is proven by his ability to save an entire nation from disunity, etc. (33). His effective rule, now present or inherited by his daughter, gives prosperity to Russia as “gold and silver flow out of the bowels of the earth” and “subjects are relieved of their burdens” (34). Furthermore he increased knowledge in the land and trained artisans and craftsmen thus bringing Russia out of the darkness into the light from the West (35). He brought in physics and mathematics, once thought to be engines of sorcery thus bringing Russia into the full vigor of World trade and power (36). His effective rule was further present in his ability and desire to build a great navy which blessed the land of Russia (41). His efforts, and even personal efforts, to build new towns, roads, harbors, and fortresses strengthened his rule (42). Peter’s effective reign was in the eyes of Lomonosov due to his piety and wisdom which were endowed by God (45). To sum up Lomonosov’s treatise, he argues that Peter was such a great ruler that no other ruler, not even Rome, comes close to besting what he did in his short life for the empire of Russia. He states that the two hundred and fifty years of Roman prowess from the First Punic War to Augustus was achieved by Peter in his lifetime (48).
It is in the mind of Prokopovich and Lomonosov that Peter was indeed an effective ruler through his deeds and wisdom. His much debated methods of bringing the Western world to Russia are praised as methods which raised Russia to a rank it had not yet achieved before. Such effectiveness is also attested in the perpetuity of the Empire. While others may criticize Peter the Great for his process of westernizing Russia, these two writers show none of that and condemn anyone who says otherwise. Peter not only achieved more than any other tsar but made sure this would last for generations to come. Lomonosov deals explicitly with this in his panegyric about Elizabeth and compares her in the light of her father. Such is the effectiveness of Peter as a ruler.
The articles (and their quotes) are from Marc Raeff’s book Russian Intellectual History: an Anthology, Humanity Books, 1966, Print.