Peter the Great’s Westernization of Russia Peter the Great’s Westernization of Russia In 1689, Tsar Peter I forced his way into power in Russia. Better known as Peter the Great, he overthrew his half-sisters regime and took control of the state. At this time, Russia was dealing with rapid expansion, yet it was still a very backwards country compared to the rest of Europe. Russia was also dealing with economic woes. Peter loathed this backward condition and devised a plan. Within ten years of gaining power, he began to travel through western Europe in search of skilled workers. On his tour of western Europe, Peter met kings, scientists, craft workers and ship builders.
He even worked undercover in a Netherlands shipyard in hopes of learning better methods of crafting vessels. Eighteen months later Peter returned to Russia and began to use this new wealth of knowledge to “westernize” his nation. His idea of westernization was the modernization of Russia. He wanted to “turn Russia to the west”. Peter the Great adopted many of the ideas used by Ivan the Terrible in the fifteenth century. He ruled as a tyrant and held himself above the law. Peter alarmed the nobility and churchmen with his new objective. He snipped off the beards of the Boyars, land-owning men of influence and wealth, and ended their sway in government.
Peter was determined to “civilize” nobility and even composed a book of manners. This book forbid such actions as spitting on floors and eating without utensils. He also promoted courtly discussions between men and women. Eventually he ended up increasing their power over the serfs, the countryside peasants. Next, Peter fortified Russias army and navy to ensure a strong military, established a modern iron industry to promote production, and expanded and added additional roads and canals for the purpose of stimulating trade.
Farming and manufacturing were also encouraged by the tsar. Unfortunately for the serfs they were not only burdened with the task of mandatory labor for the state, but they were left to deal with steep taxes as well. For them, a less than bountiful harvest often meant starvation. In the implementation of his new ideas, Tsar Peter had twelve hundred of the streltsy, the elite army corps who opposed westernization, executed and hung in public. He left their decomposing bodies on display in front of the Kremlin for months to dissuade challenges to his authority.
He even tortured his own son when he voiced opposition to Peters wave of change. These merciless actions stunned everyone and proved his determination and power. Peter also appointed a personal agent to regulate the affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church. This led to the church becoming a virtual extension of the state. In 1709, Peter defeated Swedish forces at the battle of Poltava and gained land on the Gulf of Finland.
He then moved the capital of Russia to the newly constructed port city of St. Petersburg. It is here that Peter flaunted his countrys rising wealth and created Peterhof, an elaborate palace emulating Louis XIVs Versailles. St. Petersburg was built by serfs and ensured Russias access to the west.
Peter the Great died in 1725. One major thing he left out of his idea of westernization appears to be the exploration and colonization of far off lands. He was more focused on strengthening Russia from within. While England, France, Spain and Portugal were heavily involved in exploration, Peter was working diligently to bring his nation to the same level as his western neighbors. He carried Russia a long way from Ivan the Terribles “time of troubles”.
His country was now much more powerful in terms of its military, its economy and its status in Europe. Peter had paved the road to a more powerful positon in the world economy. The reign of Peter the Great was not one of grand humanity but it led his country into the future. His hard work and stringency created a nation of power and influence out of the backwards and laggard realm that he had acquired. He was a stern man, often overly barbaric, but he achieved many of his “westernization” objectives. Without his rule, Russia may not have become the powerful nation that it needed to be in order to survive in the early-modern era.