These peasant adventurers, or Cossacks, were Russian pioneers, combining agriculture with daring military feats on horseback.
During the 16th century, the Cossacks not only conquered the Caspian Sea area but also moved into western Siberia, across the Urals, beginning the gradual takeover and settlement of these vast plains, which previously had been sparsely inhabited by nomadic Asian peoples.
Expansion also offered tsars a way to reward loyal nobles and bureaucrats by giving them estates in new territories.
Russia used slaves for certain kinds of production work into the 18th century.
Russia created trading connections with its new Asian territories and their neighbors.
Russia’s early expansion eliminated independent central Asia—that age-old source of nomadic cultures and periodic invasions in both the east and west.
Russia became a multicultural empire like the Mughal and Ottomans.
Particularly important was the addition of a large Muslim minority, overseen by the tsarist government but not pressed to integrate with Russian culture.
Western Contact and Romanov Policy.
The tsars realized that Russia’s cultural and economic subordination to the Mongols had put them at a commercial and cultural disadvantage.
Ivan III was eager to launch diplomatic missions to the leading Western States.
During the reign of Ivan IV, British merchants established trading contacts with Russia.
The tsars imported Italian artist and architects to design church buildings and the magnificent royal palace in the Kremlin in Moscow.
Ivan IV died without an heir which led to the Time of Troubles.
In 1613 an assembly of boyars chose a member of the Romanov family as tsar.
The Romanov Dynasty was to fuel Russia until the great revolution of 1917.
Michael Romanov was the first tsar of the Romanov Dynasty.
He reestablished internal order.
He drove out the foreign invaders (Sweden & Poland) and resumed the expansionist policy of his predecessors.
He gained the Ukraine, including Kiev, in the south.
Alexis Romanov abolished the assemblies of nobles and gained new power over the Russian Church.
His policies resumed the Orthodox tradition of state control over the Church.
His attack on Sweden left that country as a second-rate military status.
This gave Russia a “window on the sea”, including a largely ice-free port.
From this time onward, Russia became a major factor in European diplomatic and military alignments.
He moved his capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg (which he built).
What Westernization Meant.
He tried to streamline Russia’s small bureaucracy and altar military structure by using Western organizational principles.
He improved the military’s weaponry.
He created the first Russian navy.
He completely eliminated the old noble councils, creating a set of advisors under his control.
A tsar-appointed town magistrate served as final authority for elected town councils.
Peters ministers systematized law codes to extend through the whole empire and revised the tax system, with taxes on ordinary Russian peasants increasing steadily.
New training institutes were established for aspiring bureaucrats and officers.
Peter’s economic efforts focused on building up metallurgical and mining industries.
Landlords were rewarded for using serf labor to staff new manufacturing operations.
He encouraged upper-class women to wear Western style clothing and attend public cultural events.
He made no move to change gender relations among the masses of Russian peasants.
He required male nobles to shave off their beards and also wear Western clothes.
Peter and his successors founded scientific institutes and academies along Western lines and serious discussions of the latest scientific and technical findings became common.
Peter wanted economics development to support military strength rather than achieve wider commercial goals.
Westernization was meant to encourage the autocratic state, not to challenge it with some of the new political ideas circulating in the West.
i.Westernization that did occur brought many hostile responses.
3. Consolidation under Catherine the Great.
a. The death of Peter the Great in 1724 was followed by several decades of weak rule, dominated in part by power plays among army officers who guided the selection of several ineffective emperors and empresses.
b. After Peter III’s death, his wife Catherine the Great continued to rule as empress.
i. She defended the powers of the central monarch.
ii. She put down vigorous peasant uprisings which were led by Emalia Pugachev.
Catherine’s reign combined genuine Enlightenment interests with her need to consolidate power as a truly Russian ruler.
She imported several French philosophers for visits and patronizing the arts & sciences.
She summoned various reform commissions to discuss new law codes and other Western-style measures including reduction of traditionally severe punishments.
She was a centralizer and certainly an advocate of a strong tsarist hand.
She did give new powers to the nobility over the serfs.
She increased the harshness of punishments nobles could decree for their serfs.
She continued building St. Petersburg in the classical styles popular at the time in the West and encouraged leading nobles to tour the West and even send their children to be educated there.
Catherine pursued the tradition of Russian expansion by resuming campaigns against the Ottoman Empire, winning new territories in Central Asia, including the Crimea, bordering the Black Sea.
She accelerated the colonization of Russia’s holdings in Siberia and encouraged further exploration, claiming the territory of Alaska in Russia’s name.
She increased Russian interference in Polish affairs.
She was able to partition Poland eliminating it as an independent state.
Themes in Early Modern Russian History
1. Serfdom: The Life of East Europe’s Masses
a. After the expulsion of the Tartars, increasing numbers of Russian peasants fell into debt and had to accept servile status to noble landowners when they could not repay.
i. They retained access to much of the land, but not primary ownership.
ii. Serfdom gave the government a way to satisfy the nobility and regulate peasants when the government itself lacked the bureaucratic means to extend direct controls over the common people.
By 1800, half of Russia’s peasantry was enserfed to the landlords, and much of the other half owed comparable obligations to the state.
The nobility, concerned about potential social competition, prevented the emergence of a substantial merchant class.
Russia’s social and economic system worked well in many respects.
It produced enough revenue to support an expanding state and empire.
The system, along with Russia’s expansion, yielded significant population growth.
The system suffered from important limitations.
Most agricultural methods were highly traditional, and there was little motivation among peasantry for improvement because increased production usually was taken by the state or the landlord.
Manufacturing lagged behind Western standards, despite the important extension developed under Peter the Great.
Russia’s economic and social system led to protest.
By the end of the 18th century, a small but growing number of Western oriented aristocrats such as Radichev were criticing the regime’s backwardness, urging measures as far-reaching as abolition of serfdom.
More significant still were the recurring peasant rebellions.
Peasant rebellions had occurred from the 17th century onward, but the Pugachev rebellion of the 1770s was particularly strong.
Russia and Eastern Europe
Areas such as present-day Poland or the Czech and Slovak regions operated more fully within the Western cultural orbit.