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Age of Absolutism: Russia. First, some geography Russia is BIG Physically diverse Ethnically diverse. Russia’s Time Zones. Topography of Russia. Rich Soil of the Steppes. Chernozen = “Black Earth” Grassland soils for growing cereals or for raising livestock “Bread Basket” of Russia

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Age of Absolutism: Russia

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First, some geography
  • Russia is BIG
  • Physically diverse
  • Ethnically diverse

Rich Soil of the Steppes

Chernozen = “Black Earth”

Grassland soils for growing cereals or for raising livestock

“Bread Basket” of Russia

Essential to Russia’s well-being


Themes in Russian History

Expansion by conquest

Need for warm-water port

The necessity of a strong, central government

These will dictate Russian policy




(before 1000 CE)

adoption of orthodox christianity
Adoption of Orthodox Christianity
  • The Mythic Story: The Rus leader Vladimir sent emissaries to visit Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. After visiting Constantinople, they were so astounded at the Hagia Sophia that they returned to convince Vladimir that Greek Orthodoxy was the best choice. Vladimir then married the sister of the Byzantine Emperor.
  • The Likely Story: Trade routes to Byzantium encouraged the exchange of ideas. Religion came this way. Orthodox Christianity established in late 900s.
the kievan rus
The Kievan Rus
  • Approx. 800-1150
  • Northwestern Russia
  • Independent City States, loosely connected, sometimes rivals
  • Strategic Cities:
    • Novgorod
    • Kiev
    • Moscow
Trade routes connecting the Kievan Rus with Europe and Asia(Note the connection between Novgorod and Constantinople)
  • Oldest Slavic city in Russia (859)
  • Eastern-most trading post with the Hanseatic League (furs)
  • Decline: Could not feed population, had to import grain
  • Annexed by the Grand Duke of Muscovy, becomes part of Kievan Rus
golden age of kiev
Golden Age of Kiev
  • 980-1054
  • Orthodox Christianity
  • Creation of the first East Slavic written legal code
  • Trade with the West brings prosperity

“Kievan Merchants Sailing Abroad”

Hereditary nobles, essential to the power of Kievan princes

Under Ivan III, government centralized, power of Boyar reduced

Felt equal to the Tsar, often caused trouble during crisis

Tsars begin to create a new form of nobility, loyal to them

kievan administration
Boyars occupied the highest state offices and through a council (The Duma) advised the Grand Duke of Muscovy.

Boyars received large grants of land and were the major legislators of the Kievan Rus.

The domestic life of Muscovite boyars was regulated by a code, the Domostroy.

This dictated rules regarding religion, family and social life, education, professions, and service to the Tsar.

Kievan Administration
the mongols invade russia 1237 1240
The Mongols Invade Russia: 1237-1240
  • Policy is to keep rival Russian states weak and divided
  • Golden Horde: Mongol name for Russian possessions
  • 1340s – plague weakens Mongol rule
  • Multiple Khanates and civil war furthers weakens Mongol authority
  • Muscovy challenges Mongol rule
the cossacks adventurer free man
The Cossacks“Adventurer, Free Man”
  • Disgruntled Boyars and escaped serfs
  • Originally independent guards, small bands
  • Maintained borders between eastern Europe and Russian states
  • Horsemen
  • Occasional uprisings against the Tsar
  • By 19th century, Tsars began to reward Cossacks in exchange for loyalty
    • Elite
    • Suppress domestic disorder
    • Abandoned the Tsar in 1917
  • Grand Duchy of Moscow
    • medieval Russian principality centered on Moscow between 1340 and 1547
    • Attacked, burned by Mongols in the 13th century, but geographically secure
      • River access to the Baltic and Black Seas
  • Ruled by ambitious and determined princes (the “Grand Dukes”)
the rise of muscovy
The Rise of Muscovy
  • Strong dynasty, smooth transitions
  • Rival states became further fragmented
  • Independent: Vasily II (1448) declares Russian Orthodox Church separate and self-ruling from Constantinople
  • Ivan III “The Great”
    • 1462-1505
    • Continues expanding Muscovite borders to include “ethnically” Russian (tripled during his reign)
    • The first true ruler of the “Russian” people
    • Centralized government
    • Denied Mongol authority
ivan iii the great
Ivan III (“The Great”)

Ivan III tearing the Great Khan’s letter requesting tribute payments in 1480.

ivan iii foreign policy
Ivan III: Foreign Policy
  • Christian Boyars start to see a Tsar as a defender against Islamic invaders, Mongols
  • Alliance with Denmark against growing Swedish threat
  • Rules of conduct for Boyar class
  • Moral code, with excerpts from Proverbs, as well as practical advice for all aspects of life (church, family, social customs)
  • Patriarchal
  • A wife which is good, laborious, and silent is a crown to her husband. Don't pity a youngling while beating him: if you punish him with a rod, he will not die, but become healthier.
ivan iv the terrible
Ivan IV: “The Terrible”
  • 1530-1584
  • Grandson of Ivan III
  • First to take title of Tsar
  • Inherited at age 3; Boyars become regents
ivan the terrible
Ivan The Terrible
  • Modernizations:
    • Standing army
    • Parliament of feudal estates, council of nobles
    • Unified religious practices
    • Left rural areas to “self-manage” but restricted mobility of peasants – led to permanent serfdom
    • Trade with England
    • Annexed land farther south, east: Russia becomes multi-ethnic
ivan the terrible1
Ivan the Terrible
  • Married 7 times
  • After death of first wife, suspicious of Boyars
  • Created his own territory of personal rule (Oprichnika) to combat Boyars
    • 1/3 of Russia at that time
    • Best land, trade cities
    • No taxes
    • In war with Sweden, Ivan ordered the death of 3,000 in Novgorod
    • Disbanded in 1572
      • Failure, but showed the might and strength of the Tsar
ivan the terrible2
Ivan the Terrible
  • 20 year war with Western Slavic states weakened his rule
  • Naval blockades hinder trade, drought, plague, Moscow burns in 1571 (invasion from Crimean Mongols)
  • Ivan becomes mentally unstable
    • Uses Oprichnika to pursue enemies
    • Massacre of Novgorod
    • Beat son to death
    • Probably poisoned by closest advisor (Boris Godunov)
    • Succeeded by son, Feodor, who left rule to Boris Godunov
boris godunov
Boris Godunov
  • Brother in law of Tsar Feodor
  • Murdered Ivan’s last remaining son
  • Fostered foreign relationships to modernize Russia
  • Made peace with Scandinavian countries
  • Always feared a challenge to his authority
  • Death (1605) left one son, who was murdered that year
time of troubles 1598 1613
Time of Troubles: 1598-1613
  • Little Ice Age continues to destroy harvests, create colder weather patterns (winter and summer), and weaken serfs
  • Aristocrats don’t respect Boris Godunov (a Boyar) as Tsar
    • Romanov’s lead faction Pretenders to the throne
    • Cossacks are restless on the borders
    • Pretenders to the throne: all claim to be the last son of Ivan
false dmitry
“False” Dmitry
  • 1605-1606
  • Granted freedoms, such as Serfs can change landlords once a year
  • Brought back exiled royal families, such as Romanovs
  • Alliances with Pope and Poland to convert to Catholicism
    • Married Polish princess
    • Boyars turn against him
    • Jumps out a window, breaks his leg, ashes shot toward Poland

Michael Romanov (r. 1613-1645)

  • Elected at 17 years
  • Dynasty lasts for 304 years (until 1917)

Romanov Dynasty(1613-1917)

Romanov Family Crest


Peter the Great (r. 1682-1725)

  • Grandson of Michael Romanov
  • Older half brother (Theodore/Feodor) died without heir
  • Older half brother, Ivan, is deemed too sickly to rule, so the Boyars choose Peter
  • Older half sister (Sophia) leads rebellion against him; orders murder of friends, relatives
    • Rebellion of the Streltsy
  • Ivan and Peter become joint Tsars
peter i
Peter I
  • Great modernizer
    • Imposed western ways (no beards, western clothing, French)
  • Suppressed rebellions
    • Rank is determined by service, not inheritance
    • Diminishes power of Boyars
  • Search for warm-water port (Black Sea)
    • Must defeat Ottomans, travels to Europe in 1697 to gain support of rulers
    • France and Austria are busy with war of Spanish Succession
  • Declared war on Sweden to gain control of the Baltic. Early Russian defeats.
great embassy
“Great Embassy”
  • Alliance making fails, so Peter simply stays and learns
  • Holland: shipbuilding and medicine
  • England: city building (rebuilt St. Petersburg)
  • Gains respect. At death, recognized throughout Europe as legitimate emperor and a rising power
rebellion of the streltsy 1698
While Peter is away, his sister, Sophia, attempts to overthrow him

He returns, wins, and forces her to become a nun. He loses only one man and personally helps execute over 1200 rebels.

Rebellion of the Streltsy: 1698
  • 1711: Peterdefeated by the Ottomans
    • Must give back Black Sea regions
  • Great Northern War: 1700-1720
    • Gives up Finland but gains the Baltic States as part of Russia
st petersburg
St. Petersburg
  • Peter wants a “Window on the West” so he builds a new capital to rival Versailles
  • Russia’s capital until 1918
  • Peterhof = Peter’s Palace
empress anna i
Empress Anna I
  • Daughter of Peter the Great's half-brother and co-ruler, Ivan V.
  • 1730-1740
  • Forced to sign papers naming Russia as a constitutional monarchy but ruled as an autocrat
  • Wide use of Secret Police
  • Married to a German prince, elevated Germans to high court positions
  • War against the Ottomans – gained southern territory
ivan vi
Ivan VI
  • Tsar 1740-41 (born 1740, died 1764)
  • Great grandson of Ivan V
  • Adopted by his great aunt, Empress Anna
  • Imprisoned, replaced on throne by Elizabeth, daughter of Peter I
  • Murdered after 20 years of imprisonment
empress elizabeth
Empress Elizabeth
  • Daughter of Peter the Great
  • November 25, 1741
    • Seized power from Empress Anna and the infant Ivan VI
  • "Who do you want to serve? Me, the natural sovereign, or those who have stolen my inheritance?"
  • Expands boundaries to include Finland
  • Involved in European wars
    • Pro-Austria, Pro English
    • Attempts to reduce power of Prussia
peter iii
Peter III
  • Elizabeth left no heir
  • Nephew of Elizabeth, hated all things Russian
    • Married to a German princess (2nd cousin)
  • Ruled for only 6 months in 1762
    • Arrested, abdicated, probably murdered by wife, Catherine
  • Probably incompetent to rule
  • Unpopular
    • While Tsar, made peace with Prussia
    • Willing to go to war with Denmark to regain “hereditary” territory
    • Intrigued by Lutheranism
    • But . . . incorporated capitalism and mercantilism
      • Serfs cannot be purchased by Industrialists
    • No longer forced nobles to serve in military
catherine ii
Catherine II
  • Empress 1762-1797
  • German, but loved all things Russian
  • Protégé of Empress Elizabeth
  • Gained territory from Ottomans and Lithuania/Poland
    • Crimean peninsula on Black Sea
  • Allied with Poland, Prussia, and Sweden to counter the Austrians
  • Feared uprisings
    • Pugachev Rebellion: caused her to become less tolerant, more autocratic later in life
an enlightened ruler
An Enlightened Ruler
  • Ambitious, intelligent, shrewd
  • Welcomed western ideas
    • Saw modernization as a way to advance Russian interests
  • “Age of Imitation”
    • Supported intellectualism
    • Foundation for great Russian art, music, and literature
  • Intellectual relationship with Voltaire
    • Believed in “enlightened rule”
paul i
Paul I
  • Son of Catherine, but raised by Empress Elizabeth (his great aunt)
  • Encouraged in love of Russia from birth
  • His death brings era of stability
    • Succession is no longer challenged
    • Through marriages, develop strong ties to Prussia and other German states

The Pendulum of Russian History

Pro-WestFor Progress and ChangeEncourage New Ideas andTechnology


  • Peter, Catherine
  • Intellectual elites
  • Merchants/businessmen
  • Young members of the middle class (middle class is very, very small)
  • Most Tsars
  • Russian Orthodox Church
  • Military
  • Boyars
  • Peasants