Peter the Great (1672 - 1725)
Peter the Great (1672 - 1725)



Early Life
Peter the Great as a Child
Peter the Great as a Child

Peter the Great was a Russian czar in the late 17th century. He is known for his extensive reforms, and credited with westernizing Russia into a enlightened nation.
Growing up Peter the Great had an unusual childhood that was different from the czar’s before him. Born the 14th child of czar Alexis, by his second wife, Natalya Naryshkina, Peter’s early reign was interrupted due to a power struggle between feuding family members, after Alexis passed away when Peter was only four. The Mikoslavskys family wanted to put the feeble-minded Ivan V on the throne, whereas the Naryshkin's voted for Peter's rule. In the end, Peter was forced to rule together with Ivan V up until 1696, when Ivan V perished and Peter remained the sole successor of the throne. Even though it was supposedly a joint rule, Ivan V controlled most of the power. Peter was pushed away from the throne for most of his childhood because of this skirmish, and in most cases this would seem to be a bad thing. However, for Peter, it resulted in a more secularized education outside the confines of a palace. Occupying himself with carpentry, joinery, and blacksmithing, and additionally having a knack for military matters, Peter was open to learning a lot more than the standard education. His childhood experiences would further help him change Russia as a whole, and leave his legacy behind.
The Grand Embassy
The Grand Embassy (1697 - 1698)
The Grand Embassy (1697 - 1698)

A statue of Peter working incognito.
A statue of Peter working incognito.

From 1697-1698 Peter the Great embarked on an expedition to Europe, bestowing upon him the achievement of being the first czar to receive an education both in Russia and abroad. The expedition was led by Peter himself, who went along incognito under the name of Peter Mikhailov. The goal of the expedition was to strengthen Russia’s alliance with different European countries, so that they could fight evenly against the Ottoman empire in its struggle for the northern coastline of the Black Sea. While in Amsterdam and England, Peter gained extensive knowledge of shipbuilding, and carpentry; this knowledge would help Peter create an even more powerful navy later on in his reign. However the embassy was cut short due to revolts by the streltsy back in Russia. Ultimately the initial goal of the expedition failed, but Peter gained the knowledge to reform Russia’s navy, as well as Russia as a whole, into an evolved and enlightened nation.

When Peter the Great came to rule solely by himself in 1696, he undertook Russia on a series of reforms that would establish him as one of the greatest Russian czar's in history.
Peter the Great's Military Reforms
The Streltsy
The Streltsy

Before Peter the Great came to power, the Russian army was indeed considered a military, however it could not be called a Russian one. The streltsy were professional military units that were commonly used for Russia’s purposes at the time, however, they were officered by foreigners. Other than the streltsy, Russia had no professionalized military forces. This was a problem at the time because compared to the armies of the great European nations in the west, Russia was lacking in every category. When Peter came to power he established a regular army on completely modern lines for Russia in the place of the unreliable streltsy and the militia of the gentry. In addition, he gradually took away some of the influence the streltsy had on political and military matters, and eventually he abolished them outright. This led to a huge shift in power because Russia finally had a military they could call their own, and they did not have to rely on the streltsy anymore. By creating a standing army of European standards from the ground up, Peter single-handedly provided Russia with the fighting power to change into a westernized powerhouse.




Peter the Great's Religious Reforms
The Holy Synod (1917)
The Holy Synod (1917)
Before Peter the Great came to power, the Russian Orthodox Church was quite different than the other religions spread across the rest of Europe. It was completely separate in its hierarchy and the Church acted on their own, resulting in a devout fear of change among the common people. This was a problem at the time because if Russia did not change their ancient outlook, they would have been lost in time to the ever-evolving European nations. When Peter initially came to power, he shut down the prophets that were administering fear among the people, and made himself the head of the Orthodox Church in 1700. These changes to the Church led to an absolutist regime, as Peter was at the top of the hierarchy in both Church and State. Due to this, he accumulated a lot more power and influence compared to any czar before him. Near the end of his reign, he manifested his ideals within the Church by abolishing the patriarchy altogether in 1721, transforming the central administration of the church into a department of the state. This institution adopted the title "The Holy Synod". He formed a council of clerics that he himself would appoint; with this measure, the Church effectively became an arm of the state. The Holy Synod lasted for over 200 years before Russia re-instated the patriarchy in 1918, effectively showing how influential Peter's reforms actually were.

Table of Ranks
Table of Ranks (Document)
Table of Ranks (Document)
Peter the Great continued to change Russia for the better and in 1722 he introduced the Table of Ranks, a class system that stood in place up until 1917. This was a document defining the classification of all military, naval, court, and civilian officials into fourteen classes, from fourteen as the lowest up to the first. The Table of Ranks was designed to create a “social elevator” for hard working military and government officials and to reduce the abuse of appointments and promotions in service. The Table of Ranks acted as a government for Russia. It was easily comparable to different institutions of European parliaments set in place at the time. However, the Table of Ranks was superior to the institutions in the west because it was a system of of promotion based on personal ability and performance rather than on birth and genealogy. Peter introduced a structured hierarchy based off of western ideals, something that was essential for the people of Russia to evolve into an enlightened nation.




Creation of Saint-Petersburg
St. Petersburg (2016)
St. Petersburg (2016)

Peter the Great left his mark on the world by manifesting the ideals he upheld in the creation of a westernized town at the heart of Russia, St. Petersburg. The reforms Peter set in place wouldn’t have lasted in Russia if Peter didn’t do something to make them last. In order for the concepts he strived for to stay alive, he needed the common people to carry out what he started. In 1712 Peter named St. Petersburg the capital of Russia, and a new culturally advanced society was born. Different concepts of science, architecture, and fashion flourished in St. Petersburg, proving that this town would continue to carry on Peter’s westernized morals and legacy even after he perished. Additionally, St. Petersburg was Russia's first warm water port, allowing them access to sea's Russia never had contact with before. This led to the creation of one of the greatest navy's Russia's ever had.
Peter the Great's Navy
Portrait of Peter the Great and his Navy
Portrait of Peter the Great and his Navy
Peter the Great did not stop at only creating a standing army; during the majority of his reign he created and honed the Russian Imperial Navy. Prior to Peter coming to power, there had been no need for an outstanding naval force as the Tsardom of Russia had no direct access to the sea. However, Peter grew up with heavy influence focused on the creation of ships, and naval forces. Additionally, with the creation of St. Petersburg, Russia finally had access to the sea. Understanding that he needed a naval force to compete with the westernized powerhouses in Europe, he set to work, and by 1725, Russia had 48 ships and 800 galleys. He took an active part in the formation of the merchant fleet and development of the navigation practice in Russia. More than 200 metallurgical enterprises opened during the reign of Peter the Great, making Russia the world’s leader in cast-iron melting, which helped meet the demands of the growing industry, army, and fleet. Peter provided employment, commercial, and economic growth to the whole of Russia, and succeeded in creating a huge navy that would impose Russia as a leading power strong enough to rival Charles XII in the Great Northern War.


The “Great Man Theory” of history stipulates that it is great individuals who drive history. Peter the Great is the type of man that comes along once in a century.
Peter the Great Signature
Peter the Great Signature



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