An ancient empire
The powerful East Slavic state of Kievan Rus arose in the 9th century and existed for 300 years.
Back then, Russia nearly became a Muslim country, but the ruler Vladimir realized his people would be unhappy under a religion that prohibits wine. So in 988 Kievan Rus converted to Orthodox Christianity.
In the 13th century Kievan Rus was invaded by the Tatars. Their state was called the Empire of the Golden Horde. The Tatars ruled over Russia for three centuries.
Ivan the Terrible
Moscow replaced Kiev as the new center of power. In 1547 Ivan the Terrible crowned himself the first Tsar. He was called “the Terrible” for his cruel campaigns against the nobility, killing many who displeased him. He started out as a reformer—reorganizing the military, proclaiming a new legal code, and curbing the influence of the clergy. Ivan turned Russia into a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state.
In 1552 Ivan crushed the Tatar stronghold of Kazan. This campaign began the expansion of the Russian Empire into Siberia.
From Poles to Romanovs
Soon after Ivan’s death, the state weakened. In 1613 Mikhail Romanov, one of the closest surviving relatives of the royal family, became Tsar. The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia for the next 300 years until the 1917 Revolution.
Western Europe was going through a political and economic boom. Under the early Romanov rulers, Russia was not able to keep up with Europe.
Peter’s great capital
Peter the Great became Russia’s ruler in 1696. Peter started a program to change Russia into a European state by modernizing Russia’s military and administrative structure, simplifying the alphabet, changing the calendar, and more. Within nine years, a new capital called St. Petersburg sprang up, at tremendous human and financial cost.
Peter took the title of Emperor, and Russia officially became the Russian Empire in 1721. Peter the Great is a controversial figure in Russian history. He made Russia a powerful European player, but he made brutal and costly changes.
Catherine on the throne
Forty years later, another ambitious and cruel ruler took the Russian throne – Catherine the Great. Coming to power in a revolt against her husband, Catherine became one the most powerful European monarchs, known as a great patron of the arts and literature.
Napoleon sent packing
Napoleon’s fatal Russian campaign began in June 1812. The Russians knew they couldn’t defeat the French army on a battlefield. They retreated. With the French heading for Moscow, the locals panicked and retreated. Napoleon’s army found Moscow empty, and a huge fire destroyed much of the city.
Noble revolt to serf freedom
Russia emerged from the war more powerful than ever. But in December 1825 a group of young army officers attempted a revolt, but they failed.
Tsar Alexander II was a successful warrior and diplomat. He transformed the military, the administration, and the tax system, improving Russia’s industrialization. He freed the 20 million serfs in 1861. Some historians consider this the most important event in 19th-century Russian history.
Source: A Brief History of Russia
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