Emperor Peter I of Russia (1672-1725) was one of the European rulers that was influenced by the Enlightenment ideals. He was responsible for many decrees, and tried to modernize and westernize Russia.

Reasons for starting reform[edit | edit source]

Peter the Great, ruler of Russia from 1682 until his death in 1725, was well aware that before him there had only been one Russian prince that had had the courage to travel outside of his country. This was the great duke of Kiev, Iziaslav, who in 1075 went to Mainz, as a guest of King Henry IV. For most Russians, crossing the border into another country meant treason. But even if the boyars and the clergy insisted that he should not go, Peter followed his own way. Indeed, he took his court to Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Copenhagen, Venice, London; but avoided France because Louis XIV was supporting the Ottomans – Russia’s enemies at the time. His traveling court, the great embassy, included 250 persons. It left Moscow on March 10, 1697. The king was traveling incognito, under the name of Piotr Mihailov. When he reached Coppenbrügge (a village that today is in Lower Saxony, Germany) he was invited for dinner at the princess Sophie of Hanover and her daughter, Sophie-Charlotte, princess of Brandenburg. The king was using his hands to eat, he stained everything with sauce, and he did not know how to use the napkin. However, the young Peter was determined to learn about as many cultural practices and conventions as possible. He ran from here to there; he stopped the carriage every few minutes to measure a bridge, to examine a wind mill, or to talk with the people at the sawmill; he went to shipping yards, he greeted the whale fishermen who came back from Greenland, he studied topography, he followed the anatomy courses of Professor Frederik Ruysch. He even took part in surgical interventions and bought his own medical kit, which he carried with him always. In London, fascinated by the parliamentary system, he secretly attended a meeting of the Lords.

Peter wanted to be a living encyclopedia, and to share everything that he studied with his fellow countrymen. However, he had to return to Russia because of a rebellion of the Streltsy.

Fascinated by the economically prosperous countries and regions, he decided to implement a series of reforms in order to completely change his country after the most progressive models of that time. This change, however, would agitate the spirits among the Russian population, whose traditions were about to change dramatically.

The decrees and their implementation[edit | edit source]

After defeating the Streltsy, Peter started his reformation period by ordering to all his boyars to cut their beards. Then he applied the same law to all the men in the kingom, except the clergy (Decree on Shaving, 1705). For those who refused, the king placed a fee of 100 rubles a day. He also decided upon the clothes the Russian people and noblity were to wear (Decree on Western Styles, 1701), using the French, Saxon or German fashion; another fee of five thousand rubles was placed for those who refused to obey. People complained the new clothing style was not suitable for the harsh weather in Russia.

Another major change would come with the reformation of the calendar. So he adopted the Gregorian calendar. So he decided that on January 1, 1700, people should ornate the gates of their houses and take part at the church masses. The population was more confused than troubled: some could not understand how God created the world during winter. Others, however, were quoting from the Bible, saying that the Antichrist was the one who would change the weather, so they believed that Peter I was in fact the Antichrist.

In 1702, women were allowed to take part at social events, and the engagement (six months before the marriage) became compulsory. After seeing the customs in England, Peter decided that women should be allowed to attend social gatherings and mingle with men.

One year later in Moscow, the first Russian newspaper was published. It was called "News from Moscow". The paper was composed of four pages, filled with short news about what was going on both in Russia and in Europe. The life of Alexander the Great of Macedon was translated by Quintus Curtius; and arithmetic textbooks and even a dictionary were prepared.

In 1699 Cannon-builers school was founded in Moscow, and in 1701 the School of Mathematic and Navigation Sciences was chartered in the building of Sukharevskaya Tower. It became the predecessor of the Navy Academy, established in 1715 in St. Petersburg. In 1707 the School of Medicine was chartered, and engineering, shipbuilding, navigators, miners and crafts schools were established. In provinces Primary education was represented by three types of schools: 46 diocesan schools, teaching clergymen; 42 counting schools, teaching local petty officials; garrison schools, teaching the children of soldiers. In addition to it in 1703-15 a special general school - pastor E. Gluk's ‘gymnasium’, teaching mostly foreign languages - worked in Moscow.

Another set of reforms regarded the domestic policy. At that time, Russia was essentially divided between three sections of government: local, provincial and central.

In local government, in January 1699, towns were allowed to appoint their own officials. Three years later, another law decided that towns would be governed by an elective Duma and a Mayor, which replaced the old system of appointed sheriffs, and in 1724 the emperor decided that towns could govern themselves through elected guilds of better citzens and noblity.

Concerning the provincial government, in 1707 Peter divided Russia into 8 provinces called guberniia; each guberniia was then divided into districts called uezd. Further divisions followed during the next years, until they came up with 12 guberniia, 40 provintsiia and a great number of uezd. The Gubernator – the leading person of a gubernia, was the one who answered directly to Peter the Great.

For the central government, the emperor made available a number of jobs; All careers were open to the talented and educated - though, invariably, this favored the side of the nobility. However, Promotion in the civil administration or the military in theory was on merit. Those who reached the top step in both ladders were automatically granted hereditary noble status.

The agricultural reforms were the less effective ones. The superstitious and conservative attitude of those in agriculture and the sheer size of the country, meant that government officials had great difficulty getting out to rural areas and imposing the will of the emperor on those who lived there. More, the supremacy of the local lord over his people was deeply entrenched.

The main decrees and their dates[edit | edit source]

  • A Decree on a New Calendar, December 20, 1699
  • Decrees on the Duties of the Senate
  • Decrees on Compulsory Education of the Russian Noblity, January 12 and February 18, 1714
  • A Decree on Primogentiure, March 23, 1714
  • An Instruction to Russian Students Studying Navigation
  • A Decree On The Right of Factories To Buy Villages, January 18, 1721
  • Table of Ranks, January 24, 1722
  • A Decree on the Founding of the Academy, January 28, 1724
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