Peter the Great is one of the controversial leaders in the history of the world. He is acclaimed as the founder of modern Russia because of his technological advancement that he brought to Russia during his 42 year reign. Peter who became Czar in 1683 had the task of modernizing a crude nation which was hugely behind Western Europe in education, political organization and technology and economy. Peter as a young man became fascinated by Western way of living and begun to mix with people from Western Europe living in Russia mainly for business. Peters reforms in Russia as a Czar was mainly opposed by conservatives and many Russians who were mostly serfs because it contradicted with the traditions of Russia which was backward. Upon assumption on the throne, Peter personally visited Vienna, London and other Western European countries to learn about the technological advancement of Western Europe. The achievements of Peter the Great to be discussed this work will be divided into political, social and economic achievements.
Firstly, the political achievements of Peter begins with the making of Russia as a dominant power in Europe. Through wars and diplomacy, Peter was able to gain about one million square kilometres new territories. He allied himself with western European nations in order to ensure his security from the Turks and her allies. The new territories were economically advanced than main Russia and Peter used this opportunity to build modern cities such as St. Petersburg, Omsk, Petrozavodsk etc. Peter also was able to defeat Sweden in 1709 which was a dominant force in Europe at that time and had initially defeated Russia in 1700. Peter was able to able to organise and establish Russia’s first standing army and navy. Peter departed from the tradition of raising an army from the nobility in times of war and established an army made up of people from the lower classed and commanded by foreign officers and some members of the nobility. This helped to raise the army of Russia by 1925 with 200,000 soldiers, 48 battleships, 800 galleys and 28,000 sailors. This advancement in the army and navy coupled with the defeat of Sweden was the beginning of Russia’s power in European history and still runs to today.
Secondly, the re-organization of the structures of governors helped in the development of Russia. Before Peter’s reforms, government officials who helped in the governance of the state were mainly from the nobility (Boyar) and this people were mainly conservatives who resisted change. Peter abolished the ‘Boyar’ system and made appointment to civil service by merit and not by birth and formed a centralised government with a civil service and a senate (replaced the old council of nobles) appointed by him. This form of government made people appointed to civil service work by giving out their best since their appointment was based on merit and could be dismissed if the service rendered is unsatisfactory. Peter also made town to elect their own officials in the local administration and reported to him. Apart from all these systems created for governance, Peter also added the ‘Oberfiscal’ which was secretly created to check the honesty and integrity of government officials. Although there was absolute monarchy, the systems the Peter put in place to check the activities of government officials help promote accountability and honesty in the governance of Russia.
The major social achievement of Peter the Great in Russia is the introduction of western form of education. Before Peter the Great, Russian education was backward as compared to that of Western Europe with less emphasis on the sciences, mathematics and social science. Peter therefore made it his ambition to make sure that Russia have the right form of education needed for industrial and cultural development and did well by introducing subjects such as mathematics, science, engineering, social science and humanities. He established the School of Navigation, School of Medicine, School of Engineering and Mathematic and School of Social Science and Humanities. To ensure the efficiency of these schools, Peter brought in various academic experts from Western Europe to teach the subjects introduced in those schools. Apart from establishing schools teaching modern courses in Russia, Russian students were sent to the West to learn western education, technology and way of life. He also introduced mandatory education for male children of landowners. He gave Russia it’s first hospital, museum and first newspaper. These educational reforms laid the foundation for future Russian scholars in the 20th century.
Also, Peter’s introduction of western culture into Russia helped to improve the living conditions of the Russian. Before, Russian style of dressing was considered primitive as compared to that of Europe. His city that he built St. Petersburg was modelled after the city of Versailles in France and forced the nobles and their families to live in the newly built city. He forbade Russian men to leave their beard unshaven and introduced western dressing for both male and female. Also western tea parties which a served as a time for socialisation and entertainment was introduced. Also the introduction of the first Russian newspaper under Peter the Great helped improve communication in Russia. Thus, Russians were able to know of government policies even before they were implemented through the newspapers. Since Russia was behind Western Europe socially, these social reforms helped to improve the living conditions of the people and ‘enlightened’ them to the western culture.
At the economic level, Peter made great reforms that helped in the economic development of Russia. Peter through the western education and way of life introduced in Russia helped to educate farmers on the new methods of farming and this helped to increase the amount of land under cultivation. This thus helped in the production of raw materials to feed the newly established industries by the Czar. He established mines and factories that helped in the industrialisation of Russia and this can be said to the foundation of Russia’s manufacturing and mining industries up to today. He was able to balance Russia’s central budget after many years of deficit and was able to build a strong financial basis for his successors. Also by creating about 300 mines, mills and factories, large groups of the people were employed and this helped the people to earn an honest income and a lot of capital was created for other investments as the people employed had to pay income tax.
Lastly, the various form of taxation introduced by Peter which helped to finance his various developmental projects. Even though sometimes the taxes were too great for the people and there have been instances were a whole village would flee to avoid government officials collecting the various taxes, the accumulation of taxes meant more capital to establish factories. Also the confiscation of the church property which brought tension in Russia help the government to accumulate more capital for investment. All these helped Czar Peter to balance the central budget and pay long standing debts making Russia rich and debt free.
In conclusion, the reign of Czar Peter the Great is considered a turning point in Russian history and he is considered as the founder of modern and greatest leader in Russia of all time. He is thus acknowledge because of his political, economic and social reforms that he brought to Russia during his 42 year reign. Despite his remarkable achievements, the human costs involved is very great as people mainly serfs were worked out in the building of factories and cities and his huge taxes were too great for most of the serfs. He also tortured a lot of people who disagreed with his policies and conspired to overthrow him including his son who he tortured and executed and his sister who he immured. Despite his flaws, his achievements cannot be downplayed as he helped make Russia dominant power in Europe, re-organise the central government, introduced and improved education, brought western culture to Russia, established factories and balanced the central budget by clearing Russia out of debt.
Florinky Michael, A History and an Interpretation, pp 307-431.
Shirley D. M, A Short History of Russia, pp 71-179.
Sowards J. Kelly, Makers of the Western Tradition, 5th edition, St. Martins: New York (1991), pp 28-48.