The History of Imperial Russia

Russia entered the Imperial phase of its history in 1721 when Peter the Great officially proclaimed the Empire’s existence. Little could Peter the Great have imagined just how vast his empire would later become, for Imperial Russia was to become one of the largest empires in the world. At one point during this time of Russia’s history, the country even gained control of part of North America. By the beginning of the 20th century, only the British Empire was able to rival this massive empire in terms of land size. The Russian Tsar was also the only absolute monarch to be found on the entire European continent.

The official establishment of Imperial Russia began shortly after the Great Northern War wherein the Swedish Empire was devastated, leaving the Russian Empire to be the dominant power in the Baltic Sea. This provided access to the sea and sea trade, which was very important for the longevity and development of this burgeoning nation. A short while later, Peter the Great saw fit to establish his new capital, Saint Petersburg, despite the fact that the land in the area was less than ideal for such a massive development. Nevertheless, the great city was built and it was from here that Peter the Great was able to bring Western European culture to Russia. By the time he had finished reshaping the nation, Russia was a major European power. His efforts to improve and expand his country and countrymen were continued by his successor, Catherine the Great, who ruled from 1762 to 1796. As part of efforts to establish Russia as one of Europe’s largest powers, land was claimed wherever possible and Russia’s borders expanded dramatically. The War of Polish Succession and the Seven Year’s War resulted in parts of Poland being annexed to the country while the Russian-Turkish wars enabled the empire to expand its borders to the Black Sea.

In 1812, Napoleon took on the massive challenge of invading this ever-expanding Empire. But, though he had nearly half a million soldiers from France as well as many more from other conquered states in Europe, he was later forced to retreat since the cold winter weather, guerilla forces and the Russian army proved to be too mighty a combination to defeat. The war resulted in Russia annexing Bessarabia and Finland to the empire. However after the war, several Russian officers came home with ideas of liberalism and several attempts were made to curtail the tsar’s powers. The Tsar fought back with several decades of harsh political repression. This repression and the conservative policies of Nicholas I impeded the country’s development and as a result Russian forces were defeated for the first time in decades in the Crimean War. Finally serfdom was abolished by Nicholas’ successor Alexander II in 1861 and attempts were made at industrialization. Soon, The Great War loomed and, though Russia did not wish to get involved in it, they did not wish to accept German domination of Europe either. Wartime lead to widespread problems, with a distinct distrust of the Imperial powers and economic hardships. This bred contempt and soon the Russian Revolution of 1917 broke out, decimating the Imperial Empire. It was this revolution that marked the end of Imperial Russia and the dawn of a new era in Russia's history.


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