Peter the Great is so called because he was one of the most important leaders in Russian history.
The most visible of Peter the Great’s accomplishments was the foundation of the city of St Petersburg. But this is far from being his most important accomplishment. Under Peter’s leadership, Russia was transformed into the Russian Empire, and became one of the most powerful states in Europe with a modern, efficient military. His reforms also had an impact on the domestic political structures of Russia that has resonated through Russian history and can still be felt today.
Peter the Great Military Accomplishments
Peter recognised that Russia’s previously precarious existence was largely because it didn’t have enough military might. Its armies were drawn together whenever needed from villagers with little military experience, and contained very few professionals. To address this, he formed Russia’s first standing army in 1699 and invested heavily in its training.
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At the same time, Peter the Great built the first real Russian navy, and used this to secure a number of notable military victories, notably the capture of the Ottoman city of Azov in July 1695.
Peter’s military reforms allowed him to expand the size of Russia through military conquest. Gains against the Ottomans in the South were matched by military victories over Sweden in the North.
Formation of St Petersburg
The city of St Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great on 27 May 1703, following the capture of the nearby Swedish fortress of Nyenskans. The city allowed Russia to secure its presence in the Baltic and, in 1713, became Russia’s capital. Apart from a brief period between 1728 and 1732 St Petersburg remained the capital of the Russian Empire until just after the Empire’s demise in 1917.
During Peter the Great’s reign, many churches and universities were established in the city, and early work began on its famous canals.
There were other cities founded by Peter the Great, but none has matched St Petersburg in terms of development or importance to Russian history.
Peter the Great Domestic Reforms
Peter knew that Russia could not secure its military gains unless they were underpinned by a strong and prosperous state. To that end he embarked on a series of political reforms at home. Russia’s antiquated administrative system was ripped up and remodelled twice during Peter’s reign. He finally settled on a system loosely based on the provincial system of the Swedes he had just defeated. Taxes, needed to support the new state and its increasingly large military, were reformed and a poll tax was introduced, increasing government revenues by 600% between 1680 and 1724.
Peter the Great also introduced land reforms, giving landowners considerably more control over peasants. These reforms supported the development of the Russian economy in the short term, but entrenched the system of serfdom which was to cause so much trouble for his ancestors.
Although Peter took inspiration for many of his reforms from abroad (he toured Western Europe in 1697 and 1698 on a ‘Grand Embassy’ that took him to countries including France, Austria and England – for Peter the Great westernisation was essentially the same as modernization), he knew that Russia could not sustain its reforms unless it was able to generate ideas of its own. To that end he placed a great emphasis on education. Under his direction, Schools of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Navigation and Maths were founded, and Russia’s first state newspaper – the Vedomosti – published its first edition.