Peter the Great’s Reforms
A break with tradition
A military state
The Founding of St Petersburg
The Table of Ranks
Cultural revolution
Peter’s successors
Peter the Great: A focus for ongoing debate
Openness to isolation and back again
Category: historyhistory

Peter the Great’s Reforms

1. Peter the Great’s Reforms

2. A break with tradition

• Peter I (the Great) reigned
• A giant in stature and will.
• Interests: manufacture,
armed forces, practical
• The first Tsar to travel
outside Russia.
• ‘Great Embassy’ to Europe,
Peter the Great by Paul Delaroche

3. A military state

• 1698 – brutal suppression of the Streltsy
• Wars with Sweden, Turkey and campaigns
in the Middle East.
• Creation of a Russian navy.
• Many reforms driven by the need to power
the military machine.

4. The Founding of St Petersburg

• 1703: “Here shall be a town.”
• Grew up around the Peter and
Paul Fortress during war with
• Completed in 50 years, at
massive financial, material
and human cost.
• ‘A window on the West’; an
emblem of progress and
• “The most abstract and
intentional city in the whole
world” – Dostoevsky.

5. Westernisation

• 1700: imposition of Western dress on Russian
gentry – shaving of beards, frock coats instead
of kaftans.
• A symbol of Peter’s will and of the tone of his
• Stark division between gentry and peasantry.
• Resistance: Peter was called ‘the Antichrist’ by
some (‘Old Believers’).
• Peter adopts title of imperator (Emperor), 1721.

6. The Table of Ranks

• Peter systematised the principle of gentry
service to the State.
• Compulsory education (often abroad), followed
by army, navy or civil service.
• Table of Ranks instituted in 1722. 14 ranks,
equivalent across the army, navy and civil
• This stimulated a great preoccupation with social
rank and promotion (which is depicted – often
satirised - in works of Russian literature)

7. Cultural revolution

• Subordination of Church to State: creation of the
Holy Synod, 1721. Subordination of Russian
Orthodox Church: in this respect Peter has been
compared to Bolsheviks after 1917
• Development of the education system.
• Founding of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
• Adoption of the Julian calendar in 1700.
• Simplification of the Cyrillic alphabet.
• Publication of the first newspaper, Vedomosti
(News) and secular books.
• Women encouraged to ‘come out’ into society.

8. Peter’s successors

• Empresses Anna and Elizabeth
continued the cultural
• Discovery of the human body:
secular portraiture, sculpture,
Western fashions.
• Cult of classical antiquity.
• Performing arts: theatre, opera,
• Rastrelli and baroque architecture,
particularly in St Petersburg.
The Smolny Cathedral (photo by G. Shuklin)

9. Peter the Great: A focus for ongoing debate

Controversial means to achieve desirable
The Slavophiles of the 19th century didn’t
even view these ends as desirable or
good for Russia. They idealised pre-Petrine

10. Openness to isolation and back again

This pattern was common to Russia and
Extraordinary openness and eagerness to
imitate foreign ways
Under Nicholas I (19th c.) and Stalin (20th c.):
Isolation and fearfulness of ‘the foreigner’,
who might ‘infect’ and ‘contaminate’ the
population with ‘foreign’ ideas and lifestyles.


Equestrian statue to Peter the Great, Senate Square (Decembrist Square), St Petersburg.
Commissioned by Catherine the Great, executed by Étienne Maurice Falconet (1782).
English     Русский Rules