European History Pt. 20 — Russia

Last time I did Prussia, a small empire on the plains that stretched from the North Sea to the innards of Asia. Russia is similar. It was an empire that was militarily dominant and grew by slow aggrandizement. It became one of the three main powers in Eastern Europe.

Russia is such a big topic that there is no way to really get at all of it, and so the book basically picks up around 1650, which it claims marks the point at which the Tsardom of Muscovy turned in to modern Russia. However, the book makes an interesting point. While the Dutch were building New Amsterdam (soon to be New York) in the 1630s and the English were making Boston, Russians were conquering Siberia and stretching to the Pacific.

The book also makes the point that Greek Orthodox was VERY different than Catholicism. For instance, it did not support traditions of learning or charity. Arabic numerals were not used. NOT USED!

Russia went through the time of troubles from 1604-1613 (so just before the 30 years war in western europe) and the period ended with the ascendancy of the long-lived Romanov dynasty. The Romanovs helped gain power by promising the landlords that they would have unlimited power over the labor that worked their manors. Hence, an aggressive type of serfdom became the norm in Russia. Religion didn’t help either, as most of the Orthodox reforms initiated by the church were just puppet maneuvers made at the behest of the ruling Romanovs.

Everything changed in 1682, when Peter the Great became Tsar of Russia. He had learned shipbuilding in Amsterdam and wanted to bring western technology and political organization to Russia.

He warred constantly (he was at war every year of his reign except for 2), but his chief beef was with the Swedes, who had a very powerful army at this time. Over a protracted campaign that utilized Russia’s famously devastating winter, Russia was able to destroy Sweden utterly as a world power and to push into Europe as far as the Elbe. The military that he used to accomplish these victories became sophisticated in the European sense, with uniforms and artillery. He then turned this army inward and ensured that Russia stayed unified.


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