Russia 1450-1750 Essay Sample
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Russia 1450-1750 Essay Sample
* Still under control of the Mongols
* Isolated Russia from many of the advancements made in Western Europe during this time * Began a period of territorial expansion and government reform after freedom from Mongols * Embarked on an aggressive program of westernization in order to leap forward and make up for lagging * Forced imposition of European culture on the people of Russia would create an identity crisis for Russians that continues to this day
Breaking the Mongols’ Grip
* Mongol occupation gave Russians some of the tools they would need for liberation and independence * Mongols set up Russia as a tributary feudal state and selected Moscow as the location from which tribute payments would be collected * Center of power shifted from Kiev to Moscow
* The Orthodox Church followed this path as well and made Moscow the bureaucratic center of the Russian Orthodox Church * But more significantly, Mongols enlisted local Russian princes around Moscow to aid in the collection of tributary payments; this not only strengthened the Duchy of Moscow but gave them the administrative experience they would need for independence * Not surprisingly, the Duchy of Moscow would spearhead the struggle for independence against the Mongols * Between 1450 and 1480 Russia cast off Mongol rule and proceeded on a course of territorial expansion and political centralization.
All Ivans Great and Terrible
* Ivan III – 1st significant leader
* Married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor and claimed continuity with the Imperial Roman and Byzantine Empire
* Proclaimed Moscow ‘3rd Rome’
* Exploited close ties with the Orthodox Church to give legitimacy to his wars of territorial expansion
* Increase power of Central Russian government and drew more land under his control * Ivan IV – Son of Ivan III
* Cruel ruler known to execute his enemies
* Defeated the Kazan Khanate (Mongol empire that was pestering Russia)
* Had many Russian aristocrats (boyars) taken care of to ensure his rule
* Killed many of them
* Forced many of them into different areas to weaken their class by getting rid of the local connections that gave them power and influence
* Because of this, Tsars in Russia would have autocratic rule and be absolute
Peter the Great
* Military reform
* Built the army by offering better pay and also drafted peasants for service as professional soldiers
* Created a navy by importing western engineers and craftsmen to build ships and shipyards
* Used experts to teach naval tactics to recruits
* His Gunpowder Empire developed better weapons and military skills.
* Building the infrastructure
* The army was useless without roads and communications
* Peter organized peasants to work on roads and do other service for the government.
* Expansion of territory
* The navy was useless without warm water ports
* Peter gained Russian territory along the Baltic Sea by defeating the powerful Swedish military
* Tried to capture access to the Black Sea, but he was soundly defeated by the Ottomans who controlled the area.
* Reorganization of the bureaucracy
* In order to pay for his improvements, the government had to have the ability to effectively tax its citizens
* The bureaucracy had been controlled by the boyars, but Peter replaced them with merit based employees by creating the Table of Ranks
* Eventually did away with titles of nobility.
* Relocation of the capital – Peter moved his court from Moscow to a new location on the Baltic Sea, his “Window on the West” that he called St. Petersburg. The city was built from scratch out of a swampy area, where it had a great harbor for the navy. Its architecture was European, of course. The move was intended to symbolically and literally break the hold that old Russian religious and cultural traditions had on government.
2. By the end of the seventeenth century, Russia remained an agricultural nation with limited cultural achievement. Peter I, called the Great, concentrated on emulation of the West as a means of developing a more diverse economy and culture.
3. Tsarist Autocracy of Peter the Great
4. Peter retained the autocratic structure of Russian government. He recruited bureaucrats from outside the ranks of the aristocracy and granted titles of nobility to those who served well. He improved the Russian military through the introduction of Western reforms. The tsar created the Secret Police to prevent dissent and oversee the bureaucracy. In foreign affairs, Peter attacked both the Ottoman Empire and Sweden, his rival on the Baltic Sea. Victories over Sweden allowed the tsar to move his capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
5. What Westernization Meant
6. Peter the Great streamlined the military and political organization of Russia along Western institutional lines. The army, local administration, and the Orthodox Church were all brought more firmly under autocratic control. Economic reforms concentrated on Russia’s mining and metallurgy sectors. Improvement allowed Russia to achieve independence in these areas from the West. In order to cut off the Russian elite from their traditional cultural background, Peter enforced Western styles of dress and personal appearance.
Schools emphasizing mathematics and science were constructed to introduce Western intellectual developments. Among the elite, Peter successfully Westernized Russian society. Changes did not extend to peasants or commoners. New manufacturing sectors in Russia continued to be based on partially coerced labor systems. The intent of the economic development was to strengthen the military, not to enter the global commercial system. Some elements of Russian society bitterly opposed the reforms as attacks on traditional Russian customs.
7. Consolidation Under Catherine the Great
8. After the death of Peter the Great in 1724, there were a series of weak rulers dominated by the military. In 1761 the retarded Peter III became tsar, but was rapidly replaced as the effective power by his wife, Catherine the Great. Catherine continued the policy of autocratic centralization and suppressed the uprising of peasants under Emelian Pugachev. Catherine flirted with Enlightenment ideas and attempted legal reforms along Enlightenment concepts. However, Catherine also favored centralization and a strong tsarist hand, and she strengthened the power of the nobility over the Russian peasantry.
The nobility continued to serve as the primary source of recruits for the bureaucracy and military. Landlords gained almost absolute jurisdiction over the peasants who resided on their estates. Catherine turned rapidly against Western ideas during the French Revolution and censored Russian intellectuals who criticized autocracy. Catherine pressed the attack on the Ottoman Empire, gaining lands in the Crimea. Russia colonized Siberia, and explorers reached Alaska and the California coast. Catherine directed an aggressive foreign policy against Prussia and Poland. In 1772, 1793, and 1795, Russia participated in the partition of Poland, which ceased to exist as an independent state. In some ways, Russian expansion was reminiscent of the early United States.
* Themes in Early Modern Russian History
2. Unlike the West, Russian economy continued to rely on a coercive labor system and a repressive serfdom. The Russian nobility enjoyed a position of power because of its authority over the peasantry and its service relationship to the state.
3. Serfdom: The Life of East Europe’s Masses
4. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Russia saw an intensification of serfdom. After the expulsion of the Mongols, the Russian nobles, with the consent and assistance of the central government, gained almost exclusive ownership of the land. When new conquests were added to the Russian empire, serfdom was extended. By 1800, half of the peasantry was enserfed to the nobility, the other half to the state. An act of 1649 made the status of serfdom hereditary.
In much of Russia, the condition of serfdom approached slavery. Eastern Europe also adopted a coercive labor system based on serfdom. Coerced labor supported the dependent agricultural economy of eastern Europe within the global commercial network dominated by the West. In Russia and most of eastern Europe, it was possible for landlords to sell whole villages of serfs as manufacturing laborers. Serfs were not quite slaves. They remained free to manage their village governments, but they were subject to taxation, owed labor services to lords and the government, and were subject to landlords’ jurisdiction. The onerous conditions produced occasional rebellions, such as the Pugachev revolt of the 1770s.
5. Trade and Economic Dependence
6. Aside from the nobility and the serfs, there was little social stratification in Russia. There were few artisans and an inadequate merchant class. Without classes directly related to commerce and manufacturing, the state was left to handle trade and industrialization. International trade was handled through Western merchant companies located in the capital city. The Russian economy was sufficiently expansive to support military conquest, a substantial nobility, and population growth. Both agricultural and industrial production lagged behind Western standards. To a certain extent, Russia was self-sufficient and did not fall into total dependence on the West. Russia’s most profitable trade was with central Asia and internal. Russia did become increasingly dependent on exports of raw materials to the West to support its program of acculturation. Russia’s political dominance in central Asia set it apart from other dependent regions of the world.
7. Social Unrest
8. The conditions of Russia did produce intellectual dissatisfaction and criticism of the government. Peasants resented the overweening authority of their landlords, and rebellions were frequent. Both intellectual and peasant dissatisfaction engendered repressive measures on the part of the government. Russia’s total dependence on serfdom as a source of labor produced an inflexible economy that eventually challenged the country’s political and social stability.
The expansion of Russia reduced eastern Europe to a narrow band separating Russia from the West. Poland, the Czech, and Slovak regions of Europe remained more a part of the Western tradition than part of the Russian cultural milieu. These areas participated in the scientific revolution and the Protestant Reformation of the West. Even those areas that remained outside of Russian political control tended to fall under the aegis of the authoritarian regimes of Prussia and Austria. Perhaps the most striking political feature of the period was the decline of Poland from the largest entity in eastern Europe to subdivision among Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The existence of a dominant aristocracy, coercive agricultural labor systems, and the absence of a substantial merchant class were common to eastern European nations and Russia. The eclipse of Poland highlighted the emergence of the Russian empire in Europe and central Asia.