Peter The Great

Mixed Legacy


Peter was very motivated and determined to improve Russia's government, economy, and people. When Peter died in 1725, he left a mixed legacy. He had expanded Russian territory, gained ports on the Baltic Sea, and created a great army. He also ended Russia’s long period of isolation. From the 1700s on, Russia would be involved in the affairs of Western Europe. Many of Peter’s reforms died with him. For example, nobles soon ignored his policy of service to the state. Peter the Great had used terror to enforce his absolute power. His policies contributed to the growth of serfdom, which served to widen the gap between Russia and the West.

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Peter Expands Russia’s Borders from his earliest days as tsar, Peter worked to build Russia’s military power. He created the largest standing army in Europe, built a world class navy from scratch, and set out to extend Russian borders to the west and south. Peter wanted a Warm-Water Port to increase Russia’s ability to trade with the West, Peter desperately wanted a warm-water port, one that would be free of ice all year round.

In the early 1700s, Peter hired a Danish navigator Vitus Bering to explore that became known for discovering the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska. Russian pioneers crossed into Alaska and migrated south to California. A few Russians moved east of the Ural Mountains at the time, but the expansion made Russia the largest country in the world. On the land won from Sweden, Peter built a new capital city, St. Petersburg. He open a “window on the West,” he located the city on the Baltic coast along the swampy shores of the Neva River.


Controlling the Church and the Nobles Peter pursued several related goals. He wanted to strengthen the military, expand Russian borders, and centralize royal power. To achieve his goals, he brought all Russian institutions under his control, including the Russian Orthodox Church. He also forced the landowning nobles, to serve the state in civilian or military positions. Some changes had a symbolic meaning. For example, after returning from the West, Peter stipulated that boyars shave their beards. He also forced them to replace their old fashioned robes with Western style clothes.

To end the practice of secluding upper-class women in separate quarters, he held huge parties at which women and men were expected to dance together. Russian nobles opposed this radical mixing of the genders in public, but they had to comply. Peter knew that nobles would serve the state only if their own interests were protected. Therefore, he passed laws ensuring that nobles retained control over their lands, including the serfs on those lands. In doing so, Peter strengthened serfdom. Under his rule serfdom spread in Russia, long after it had died in Western Europe. Further, he forced some serfs to become soldiers or to work as laborers on roads, canals, and other government projects.