Russia History – Peter the Great and His Reforms Part I

By | February 15, 2022

Born on May 30, 1672, Pietro showed a keen interest in military life from a young age, indeed, the precise desire to seriously organize the armed forces of Russia: at the age of seventeen he had already carried out real sieges of cities and set up two regiments that were to later become very famous in the history of the Russian Empire. At the same time Pietro was learning the art of the typographer, the blacksmith, the carpenter: there was no profession that he did not want to know at least in broad terms. His mental form will no longer undergo substantial changes: when he goes to Holland and England, it will be the great technical advances of those countries that will enthuse him; for the problems of culture he will almost flaunt his contempt. And he seems to have contempt for every “theoretical” problem, for any question that does not relate to an evident “usefulness” of the moment. All of Peter’s great reforms derive from practical necessities: a century and a half later, the “nihilists”, who will fight an all-out struggle against the Tsarist regime, will be animated by the same “practical” and empirical spirit in the reform projects that they will dream for the future.

Pietro’s childhood and youth were rough: at the age of ten he witnessed the blood orgies that took place on the occasion of the Strelcy revolt; a few years later, his life is continually in danger during the risky seafaring exercises on the great lakes of Russia. From his earliest years he therefore got used to not considering too much either his own life or the life of others. Determined to modernize and westernize the customs of Russia, he will resort, if necessary, to cruel systems of Asian tyranny to carry out his plans: and, probably, without these “Asian” systems, any attempt at reform would have run aground against the forces of tradition and indifferentism. Therefore, in order to evaluate Peter’s work, there was a need not to forget the usefulness that ideas and projects had for Russia that in a more civilized environment could have appeared truly simplistic or crude;

According to thefreegeography, the orgies of the young Tsar together with his friend Lefort, or in the company of Matteo Naryškin and his “Hangover Company”, often reach the extreme limits of vulgarity and obscenity; in a state of full drunkenness, these cheerful revelers imitate the religious ceremonies of the Orthodox Church. It seems that the young Peter wants to challenge the older generations, the whole past of Byzantine Russia from the kaftanylong. The young Tsar dresses European-style and becomes a loyal visitor to the so-called “German district” of the capital; there he gets to know the Germans and the Dutch and learns about Western habits and customs. A few years later, defying the indignation of all the traditionalist currents (who organized a conspiracy against him, soon and bloody repressed), the tsar made the decision to personally make a trip abroad. In fact, this “study trip” took place in the years 1697 and 1698. In Königsberg Pietro perfected himself in the use of firearms, in Amsterdam he studied the construction of war frigates, in England he began to study naval engineering, he attended in Woolich foundries and practiced artillery shooting.

The trip abroad was however interrupted by the announcement of a new revolt of the strelcy, who, supported by the conservative elements, believed, given the absence of the tsar, to have an easy success. The revolt of this body of Praetorians was suppressed with extreme energy by the loyal troops. Meanwhile, Peter was trying to return to Moscow with maximum speed: by now the Tsar was determined to take revenge on those who had terrified him in the past, on those who continually undermined his throne, on those who tried in every way to oppose his work of modernization of the Russia. The extermination of the Strelcy, partly carried out personally by Pietro himself, certainly remains an episode of exceptional repressive ferocity.

Peter’s internal reforms, although dictated by urgent needs and having such a markedly empirical character, transformed the face of Russia.

Military service took on a completely new aspect: until then the nobles, owners of lands, had to, upon mobilization, present themselves equipped with their men and horses; military service shifted from “land” to “physical persons”; It could no longer be enough for the state to subsidize the nobles during the war: the increasingly complex aspect of war actions required that the army be financially concerned (even in peacetime) exclusively with the state. From 1705 the military conscription began to become more or less regular. Army discipline became particularly severe. Without this strengthening of the army, the conquest of the Baltic coast would never have assumed a stable aspect (it is evident the importance that this outlet to the sea was assuming for all interests connected with trade). At the same time, the Russian Baltic War Fleet originated.

Russia History - Peter the Great and His Reforms 1