Peter the Great

Themes

Espitia, Cesar L.

AP European History, Period 2
December 17, 1998
Peter, overall, was an important step for the Russians during his reign. Although he was a man of hatred due to his childhood, his quests to Westernize Russia were paramount. He brought numerous things from the west whenever he visited such great nations as France, among many others. He mimicked everything he was, at times imposing harsh edicts on the people of Russia in order for them to comply. Little by little, Peter began to gain power comparable to that of Louis XIV, by undermining everyone including the nobility.

Although Peter was very much barbaric by nature, he was humorous and civilized. Yet his greatest virtue was his jealousy for all the wealth the West had obtained. Therefore his curiosity took the best of him. He wished to know how and why everything worked and how he could improve it. It is true he absorbed all that he saw but his incorporations were utilitarian. He wished and sought everything that would make his country catch up to the West. This of course would prove to be a difficult task, one that incorporated innumerable amounts of bloodshed and torture throughout Russia. Reason being that the nation was extremely religious and thus hostile to radical changes in common life. Peter during his reign had a mind of a child, umprejudice to all that he saw. He even became tolerable of all religions and allowed them to build churches, all except the Jesuits. He though that they propagandized their religion far more than the others did.
To fortify his country, Peter put a lot of effort to give Russia a modern army, an efficient government, industry, commerce, and ports that could reach the world. Peter economized everything except human life. The first step he took to become an absolute ruler was to diminish his lavish lifestyle. He drastically cut all royal extravagances; everything including cooks, balls, receptions, etc. Unkingly as it may sound it did help raise his revenue; he even turned over his possessions in the name of the state. It even got to the point where his friends would pay for a share of the meal being eaten at a picnic, to the underpayment of his palace staff.
Women in Peters life were the same; he saw them as minor incidents in his life. He underpaid prostitutes for their services, yet he did have several mistresses and strumpets. Only one caught his eye and soul Catherine I. Catherine did what no other woman could, she got through all the anger of the Czars pitted soul and found a tender spot within. Catherine was first seen by Russia as a strumpet, and Peter never did formally recognized (although she had bore his children) until 1722, when he crowned her empress. Her influence over him was good in many ways. For one, he improved his manners and etiquette. She somehow managed to moderate his drinking to the point where if Peter had friends over and was extremely drunk, Catherine would only need command him quietly to come home and he obeyed. At other times Catherine I would be able to persuade the Czar to not torture or kill several prisoners.The one thing she never tried to do was influence politics. However, she did request of him to see that friends and family be provided for.
By this time Peter had gained absolute power yet he took it for granted. He agreed with many of what Louis XIV and Cromwell had said, taking into consideration that only one absolute ruler, without any noblemen, was necessary to serve the state. Peter saw himself not as a despot but as a servant to the state. In order to indirectly prove his power he had St. Petersburg built. It took years of intense labor and numerous deaths to complete the project. The palace was not only built upon a swamp, but also upon the bones and bodies of many of the peasant who helped build it. Mimicking Louis XIV, he ordered the noblemen to build houses around St. Petersburg in order to keep an eye on them. The boyars, under great protest, built them. Later on, he made St. Petersburg the capital of Russia because he hated the ecclesiastical atmosphere found in Moscow and he wished the noble to see the future of Russia through his window to the West.
Next Peter wished to build an army that would guard the Russian commerce through the Baltic Sea. This idea triumphed for a while, yet it was readily decimated because of Nature itself. See Russia is naturally a land-locked country. Yeah sure there is water tot he north of it, but it is frozen nearly all year. Furthermore, the merchant marine was disorganized and badly built. The ships began to fall apart because of the rotting wood and cracking masts. Due to this Moscow took its revenge and became the capital of Russia again.
The only permanent reform during Peters reign was the army. Before Peter the entire army was dependent upon peasants led by their lords. This army was poorly disciplined, and armed. In building a standing army, the boyars were undermined, yet the soldiers were equipped with the latest technology. The reason he took such a forward step was because he needed it in opening the Baltic, and transforming the Russian economy and government.
One of the most remarkable things that Peter did that no other ruler did was to improve the status of woman. He encouraged them to learn, remove their veils, dance, sing, make music, etc. He issued edicts forbidding prearranged marriages, and requiring at least a month and a half of between betrothal and marriage in order to insure that the couple does love each other before being wed. However from this women did have more illegitimate births and since there was great opposition to Peter especially from the religious groups and clergy, this would be used against him.
Within religion, Peter abolished patriarch after the death of Patriarch Adrian. He left the place void until he finally filled it with a new position, the Holy Synod. This official would only be able to comply to whatever Peter the Great said not the church. All properties of the church were turned over to the Czar, and ecclesiastical courts were curtailed. The bishops were now appointed by the bureaucracy and miracle centers became limited. Furthermore, Peter being tolerant of religion allowed several religions to assemble churches in the Nevski Prospekr, which came to be known as Prospect of Tolerance. This in turn made terminated the Middle Ages of Russia.
Besides this the economy of Russia grew immensely under Peter. A new class of aristocrats rose, these would be the new leaders of the new economy that Peter would build based on industry, taxation, commerce, etc. The first thing he did was to cultivate all the natural resources that Russia had to offer. Tobacco, mulberry and vine were cultivated along with the breeding of horses and sheep. Besides these iron was mined to the point that in 1710 Russia ceased to import iron, it had enough to become an exporter of the product. He brought foreign artisans and managers and prodded the Russians of every rank to learn the new methods of industrial arts. All those who didnt want to comply were threatened with torture. During this time the amount of factories grew to 233; the most ever seen in Russia ever. High protective tariffs were imposed to shield the industries from foreign nations. However, the merchant class demanded more from the Czar, and wished to be treated less like serfs. In 1723 Peter complied in an edict and raised the social status of that class. Wars, however, forced the ruler to allow the government to monopolize various industries. Taxation became exhaustive. Nearly everything became taxed; even those men who wished to retain their beards. Peter, however, did not include the nobility and clergy. All this, overall, devastated the coinage.
As part of the Cultural Revolution, Peter imposed on the Russians many new ideals of the West. He modeled the new Russian alphabet after that of the Greeks, angering many of those that belonged to the Orthodox Church. He finally allowed the publication of the first Russian newspaper, Gazette of St. Petersburg. He ordered printing presses to be brought to Russia and people to work them. Many of the scriptures and books found in Russia were changed to the new alphabet. He built a grandiose library that was filled all the latest books of the West. He further allowed the building of science and technical schools that would improve the intellectual capacity of those in Russia. Noble children were sent to these schools, and after his death an expedition was formed that would finally solve the enigma of Russia and North America being united. Vitus Bering later carried out the expedition across the Pacific Ocean.
The aftermath of all the things Peter did somewhat reverse everything he had done. The Russians were used to the bad conditions they had lived in prior to Peter, but under his rule things got extremely worse. Crime spread and begging continued, although Peter tried to stop this by setting up relief centers, yet this didnt help much. Everyone in Russia had extreme hatred towards Peter; many even wanted to kill him. This, however, never even dented Peters spirit. This was seen when he even tortured his son Alexis. Alexis was tortured until his death during 1718.
In the long run, Peter tried to make things better for Russia. Some of the things that were implemented during his reign lasted, and later modified. He dragged Russia kicking and screaming, into a new age of Westernization. Although in his mind he wished to do good, it turned out to be somewhat worse, yet it has to be accredited to him that during his reign the people were united (unfortunately against him), and the economy flowed smoothly.