A Trip to Russia under Tsar Peter I



A Trip to Russia under Tsar Peter I


Without a doubt the most famous Tsar in Russian history, Peter I, or Peter the Great (r. 1682-1725) epitomized the transition of Russia into a ‘Europeanized’ power during the early 18th century. He was determined that Russia should gain international recognition among the great powers of Europe and worked to bring the culture and prestige he felt would lend greater credence to Russian superiority. He did this primarily through an attempt to bring Russia closer with Europe, particularly Western Europe. This is most clearly remembered in his erection of St. Petersburg as a grand European city on the Baltic. To research and promote this project, Peter traveled extensively in Europe and hired experts from major Western European cities into Russia to complete architectural and engineering plans for the grand city (Wiesner-Hanks, 357).
Despite this level of imitation of Europe, Peter was not content with emulating the power and prestige of other European nations, he wanted to show Russian dominance and become a significant European leader. Peter, of course, already had significant resources at hand as the tsar of the largest European nation, and an enormous population of serfs, however, one point in which Russia consistently fell behind was in naval and maritime power. While this may seem ironic given the enormous length of the Russian coasts, Swedish dominance in the Baltic Sea and the strength of the Ottoman Empire in the Black Sea meant that Russia was often isolated from the rest of Europe (Wiesner-Hanks, 357). This circumstance gave Peter the impetus for a massive reorganization of the military, introducing conscription and the training of military officers to offer Russia a chance of defeating the disciplined Swedish military in the Baltic (Wiesner-Hanks, 357).
Additionally, Peter was very interested in overseas colonies similar to those held by many Western European nations in the Americas and the East Indies. Shortly before his death, he sent Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirokov on a mission east to explore the potential for Russian expansion beyond the Kamchatka Peninsula. Because no European explorers had yet to explore the Northwest coast of the Americas, it was unknown what lay east of Russia. Indeed there were many rumors that Russia was in fact connected to the Americas through a land bridge, and Peter was interested in claiming this land for Russia. Setting off in 1724, Bering and Chirokov had to travel the length of Russia before constructing ships on the coast of Kamchatka. Despite sailing a good distance from the Russian coast (most historians estimate the voyage was so close to the Alaskan mainland that if the weather had been clearer they would have spotted it,) they returned to Russia without having found a path to the Americas. It was not until the second expedition in 1741 that Bering and Chirikov found land in the Americas with both spotting land in South-central and Southeast Alaska (respectively) within a day of one another. Despite Bering’s death on the return voyage, Russia laid claim to this new territory which offered a wealth of resources until they finally sold it to the United States in 1867.


G. L. Grove


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G. L. Grove, “A Trip to Russia under Tsar Peter I,” HIST 139 - Early Modern Europe, accessed March 25, 2023, http://earlymoderneurope.hist.sites.carleton.edu/items/show/120.

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