| Russian Empire |
Россійская Имперія (Russian Pre-reform)
Российская империя (ru-Cyrillic)
Rossiyskaya Imperiya (translit)
S nami Bog!
Съ нами Богъ!
"God with us!"
Bozhe, Tsarya khrani!
Боже, Царя храни!
"God Save the Tsar!"
Map of the Russian Empire with all of the territories that it possessed at different time periods shown together.
Spheres of influence
|Capital|| St. Petersburg|
|Languages|| Official language:|
Finnish, Swedish, Polish, German, Romanian
|Religion|| Official religion:|
Roman Catholic, Protestant, Judaism, Islam, Old Believers, Buddhism, Paganism
|Government|| Absolute monarchy by divine right|
|-||1721–1725||Peter I (first)|
|-||1894–1917||Nicholas II (last)|
|Chairmen of the Council of Ministers|
|-||1905–1906||Sergei Witte (first)|
|-||1917||Nikolai Golitsyn (last)|
|Legislature||Emperor exercises legislative power in conjunction with the State Council and State Duma|
|-||Upper house||State Council|
|-||Lower house||State Duma|
|-||Accession of Peter I||7 May [O.S. 27 April] 1682[c]|
|-||Empire proclaimed||22 October [O.S. 11 October] 1721|
|-||Decembrist revolt||26 December [O.S. 14 December] 1825|
|-||Abolition of feudalism||3 March [O.S. 19 February] 1861|
|-||Revolution of 1905||January–December 1905|
|-||Constitution adopted||23 April [O.S. 6 May] 1906|
|-||February Revolution||15 March [O.S. 2 March] 1917|
|-||October Revolution||7 November [O.S. 25 October] 1917|
|-||1866||22,800,000 km² (8,803,129 sq mi)|
|-||1916||21,799,825 km² (8,416,959 sq mi)|
|Today part of|
| a. ^ After 1866, Alaska was sold to the United States, but Batum, Kars, Pamir, and Transcaspia were acquired.|
b. ^ Renamed Petrograd in 1914.
c. ^ Russia continued to use the Julian calendar until after the collapse of the empire; see Old Style and New Style dates.
|Part of a series on the|
|History of Russia|
The Russian Empire (Pre-reform Russian orthography: Россійская Имперія, Modern Russian: Российская империя, translit: Rossiyskaya Imperiya) was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the short-lived Russian Republic, which was in turn succeeded by the Soviet Union. One of the largest empires in world history, the Russian Empire was surpassed in landmass only by the British and Mongol empires. At one point in 1866 it stretched from eastern Europe across Asia and into North America.
At the beginning of the 19th century, extended from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea on the south, from the Baltic Sea on the west to the Pacific Ocean and into North America on the east. With 125.6 million subjects registered by the 1897 census, it had the third largest population in the world at the time, after Qing China and the British Empire. Like all empires, it represented a large disparity in terms of economics, ethnicity and religion. Its government, ruled by an Emperor, was an absolute monarchy until the Revolution of 1905. Afterwards it became a constitutional monarchy, though its Emperor continued to wield considerable power during the new political regime until the final demise of the empire during the February Revolution of 1917, the result of strains brought about by participation in World War I.
- 1 History
- 2 Territory
- 3 Government and administration
- 4 Judicial system
- 5 Local administration
- 6 Economy
- 7 Infrastructure
- 8 Religions
- 9 Military
- 10 Society
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
Though the Empire was only officially proclaimed by Tsar Peter I, following the Treaty of Nystad (1721), some historians would argue that it was truly born either when Ivan III conquered Novgorod or when Ivan IV conquered Kazan. According to another point of view, the term Tsardom (Царство), which was used after the coronation of Ivan IV in 1547, was already a contemporary Russian word for empire, while Peter the Great just replaced it with a Latinized synonym. Perhaps the latter was done to make Europe recognize Russia as more of a European country.
Much of Russia's expansion occurred in the 17th century, culminating in the first Russian settlement of the Pacific in the mid-17th century, the incorporation of Left-bank Ukraine and the pacification of the Siberian tribes.
The eighteenth century
Peter I the Great (1672–1725) introduced autocracy in Russia and played a major role in introducing his country to the European state system. However, this vast land had a population of only 14 million. Grain yields trailed behind those of agriculture in the West, compelling nearly the entire population to farm. Only a small percentage lived in towns. The class of kholops, close to the one of slavery, remained a major institution in Russia until 1723, when Peter I converted household kholops into house serfs, thus including them in poll taxation. Russian agricultural kholops were formally converted into serfs earlier in 1679.
Peter's first military efforts were directed against the Ottoman Turks. His attention then turned to the North. Peter still lacked a secure northern seaport, except at Archangel on the White Sea, but the harbor there was frozen for nine months a year. Access to the Baltic was blocked by Sweden, whose territory enclosed it on three sides. Peter's ambitions for a "window to the sea" led him to make a secret alliance with Saxony in 1699, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Denmark against Sweden, resulting in the Great Northern War. The war ended in 1721 when an exhausted Sweden asked for peace with Russia. Peter acquired four provinces situated south and east of the Gulf of Finland. The coveted access to the sea was now secured. There he built Russia's new capital, Saint Petersburg, to replace Moscow, which had long been Russia's cultural center.
Peter reorganized his government based on the latest political models of the time, moulding Russia into an absolutist state. He replaced the old boyar Duma (council of nobles) with a nine-member Senate, in effect a supreme council of state. The countryside was also divided into new provinces and districts. Peter told the Senate that its mission was to collect tax revenues. In turn tax revenues tripled over the course of his reign. As part of the government reform, the Orthodox Church was partially incorporated into the country's administrative structure, in effect making it a tool of the state. Peter abolished the patriarchate and replaced it with a collective body, the Holy Synod, led by a government official. Meanwhile, all vestiges of local self-government were removed. Peter continued and intensified his predecessors' requirement of state service for all nobles.
Peter died in 1725, leaving an unsettled succession. After a short reign of his wife Catherine I, the crown passed to empress Anna who slowed down the reforms and led a successful war against the Ottoman Empire, which brought a significant weakening of the Ottoman vassal Crimean Khanate, a long-term Russian adversary.
The discontent over the dominant positions of Baltic Germans in Russian politics brought Peter I's daughter Elisabeth on the Russian throne. Elisabeth supported the arts, architecture and the sciences (for example with the foundation of the Moscow University). However, she did not carry out significant structural reforms. Her reign, which lasted nearly 20 years, is also known for her involvement in the Seven Years' War. It was successful for Russia militarily, but fruitless politically.
Catherine II, the Great, was a German princess who married Peter III, the German heir to the Russian crown. After the death of Empress Elisabeth she came to power, when her coup d'état against her unpopular pro-Prussian husband succeeded. She contributed to the resurgence of the Russian nobility that began after the death of Peter the Great. State service was abolished, and Catherine delighted the nobles further by turning over most state functions in the provinces to them.
Catherine the Great extended Russian political control over the lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Her actions included the support of the Targowica confederation, although the cost of her campaigns, on top of the oppressive social system that required serfs to spend almost all of their time laboring on their owners' land, provoked a major peasant uprising in 1773, after Catherine legalised the selling of serfs separate from land. Inspired by a Cossack named Pugachev, with the emphatic cry of "Hang all the landlords!", the rebels threatened to take Moscow before they were ruthlessly suppressed. Instead of the traditional punishment of being drawn and quartered, Catherine issued secret instructions that the executioner should carry the sentence out quickly and with a minimum of suffering, as part of her effort to introduce compassion into the law. She also ordered the public trial of Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova, a member of the highest nobility, on charges of torture and murder. These gestures of compassion garnered Catherine much positive attention from Europe experiencing the Enlightenment age, but the specter of revolution and disorder continued to haunt her and her successors.
In order to ensure continued support from the nobility, which was essential to the survival of her government, Catherine was obliged to strengthen their authority and power at the expense of the serfs and other lower classes. Nevertheless, Catherine realized that serfdom must be ended, going so far in her "Nakaz" ("Instruction") to say that serfs were "just as good as we are" – a comment the nobility received with disgust. Documents were also found after Catherine's death that showed she hoped to introduce a form of parliamentary democracy in Russia, but realized the empire was not yet ready for such a move, particularly due to the problem of serfdom. Catherine successfully waged war against the Ottoman Empire and advanced Russia's southern boundary to the Black Sea. Then, by plotting with the rulers of Austria and Prussia, she incorporated territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Partitions of Poland, pushing the Russian frontier westward into Central Europe. By the time of her death in 1796, Catherine's expansionist policy had turned Russia into a major European power. This continued with Alexander I's wresting of Finland from the weakened kingdom of Sweden in 1809 and of Bessarabia from the Principality of Moldavia, ceded by the Ottomans in 1812.
First half of the nineteenth century
Napoleon made a major mistake when, following a dispute with Tsar Alexander I, he launched an invasion of the tsar's realm in 1812. The campaign was a catastrophe. Although Napoleon's Grande Armée made its way to Moscow, the Russians' scorched-earth strategy prevented the invaders from living off the country. In the bitterly cold Russian weather, thousands of French troops were ambushed and killed by peasant guerrilla fighters. As Napoleon's forces retreated, the Russian troops pursued them into Central and Western Europe and to the gates of Paris. After Russia and its allies defeated Napoleon, Alexander became known as the 'savior of Europe,' and he presided over the redrawing of the map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna (1815), that ultimately made Alexander the monarch of Congress Poland.
Although the Russian Empire would play a leading political role in the next century, thanks to its defeat of Napoleonic France, its retention of serfdom precluded economic progress of any significant degree. As West European economic growth accelerated during the Industrial Revolution, which had begun in the second half of the 18th century, Russia began to lag ever farther behind, creating new problems for the Empire as a great power. This status concealed the inefficiency of its government, the isolation of its people, and its economic backwardness. Following the defeat of Napoleon, Alexander I had been ready to discuss constitutional reforms, but though a few were introduced, no major changes were attempted.
The liberal Tsar was replaced by his younger brother, Nicholas I (1825–1855), who at the beginning of his reign was confronted with an uprising. The background of this revolt lay in the Napoleonic Wars, when a number of well-educated Russian officers traveled in Europe in the course of military campaigns, where their exposure to the liberalism of Western Europe encouraged them to seek change on their return to autocratic Russia. The result was the Decembrist Revolt (December 1825), the work of a small circle of liberal nobles and army officers who wanted to install Nicholas' brother as a constitutional monarch. But the revolt was easily crushed, leading Nicholas to turn away from the modernization program begun by Peter the Great and champion the doctrine of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality.
The retaliation for the revolt made "December Fourteenth" a day long remembered by later revolutionary movements. In order to repress further revolts, censorship was intensified, including the constant surveillance of schools and universities. Textbooks were strictly regulated by the government. Police spies were planted everywhere. Would-be revolutionaries were sent off to Siberia - under Nicholas I hundreds of thousands were sent to katorga there.
After the Russian armies occupied allied Georgia in 1802, they clashed with Persia over control of Azerbaijan and got involved in the Caucasian War against the Caucasian Imamate. Russian tsars also had to deal with two uprisings in their newly acquired territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: the November Uprising in 1830 and the January Uprising in 1863.
The question of Russia's direction had been gaining attention ever since Peter the Great's program of modernization. Some favored imitating Western Europe while others were against this and called for a return of the traditions of the past. The latter path was advocated by Slavophiles, who held the "decadent" West in contempt. The Slavophiles were opponents of bureaucracy who preferred the collectivism of the mediaeval Russian mir, or village community, to the individualism of the West. Alternative social doctrines were elaborated by such Russian radicals as Alexander Herzen, Mikhail Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin.
Second half of the nineteenth century
Tsar Nicholas died with his philosophy being heavily disputed. One year earlier, Russia had become involved in the Crimean War, a conflict fought primarily in the Crimean peninsula. Since playing a major role in the defeat of Napoleon, Russia had been regarded as militarily invincible, but, once opposed against a coalition of the great powers of Europe, the reverses it suffered on land and sea exposed the decay and weakness of Tsar Nicholas' regime.
When Alexander II ascended the throne in 1855, desire for reform was widespread among the populace. A growing humanitarian movement, which in later years has been compared to that of the abolitionists in the United States before the American Civil War, attacked serfdom. In 1859, there were more than 23 million serfs living under conditions worse than those of the peasants of western Europe on 16th-century manors. Alexander II made up his own mind to abolish serfdom from above, rather than wait for it to be abolished from below in a revolutionary way.
The emancipation of the serfs in 1861 was the single most important event in 19th-century Russian history. It was the beginning of the end for the landed aristocracy's monopoly of power. Emancipation brought a supply of free labor to the cities, industry was stimulated, and the middle class grew in number and influence. However, instead of receiving their lands as a gift, the freed peasants had to pay a special tax for what amounted to their lifetime to the government, which in turn paid the landlords a generous price for the land that they had lost. In numerous cases the peasants ended up with the smallest amount of land. All the property turned over to the peasants was owned collectively by the mir, the village community, which divided the land among the peasants and supervised the various holdings. Although serfdom was abolished, since its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants, revolutionary tensions were not abated, despite Alexander II's intentions. Revolutionaries believed that the newly freed serfs were merely being sold into wage slavery in the onset of the industrial revolution, and that the bourgeoisie had effectively replaced landowners.
Alexander II invaded Outer Manchuria from the Chinese Empire between 1858–1860 and sold Russian America to the USA in 1867. In the late 1870s Russia and the Ottoman Empire again clashed in the Balkans. From 1875 to 1877, the Balkan crisis intensified with rebellions against the Ottoman rule by various Slavic nationalities, which the Ottoman Turks dominated since the 16th century. This was seen as a political risk in Russia, which similarly suppressed Muslims in Central Asia and Caucasia. Russian nationalist opinion became a major domestic factor in its support for liberating Balkan Christians from the Ottoman rule and making Bulgaria and Serbia independent. In early 1877, Russia intervened on behalf of Serbian and Russian volunteer forces when it went to war with the Ottoman Empire. Within one year, Russian troops were nearing Constantinople, and the Ottomans surrendered. Russia's nationalist diplomats and generals persuaded Alexander II to force the Ottomans to sign the Treaty of San Stefano in March 1878, creating an enlarged, independent Bulgaria that stretched into the southwestern Balkans. When Britain threatened to declare war over the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano, an exhausted Russia backed down. At the Congress of Berlin in July 1878, Russia agreed to the creation of a smaller Bulgaria, as an autonomous principality inside the Ottoman Empire. As a result, Pan-Slavists were left with a legacy of bitterness against Austria-Hungary and Germany for failing to back Russia. The disappointment at the results of the war stimulated revolutionary tensions in the country. However, he helped Serbia, Romania and Montenegro to gain independence from and strengthen themselves against the Ottomans.
Following Alexander's assassination by the Narodnaya Volya, a Nihilist terrorist organization, in 1881, the throne passed to his son Alexander III (1881–1894), a reactionary who revived the maxim of "Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Respect to the People" of Nicholas I. A committed Slavophile, Alexander III believed that Russia could be saved from turmoil only by shutting itself off from the subversive influences of Western Europe. During his reign Russia declared the union with republican France to contain the growing power of Germany, completed the conquest of Central Asia and demanded important territorial and commercial concessions from China.
The tsar's most influential adviser was Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev, tutor to Alexander III and his son Nicholas, and procurator of the Holy Synod from 1880 to 1895. He taught his royal pupils to fear freedom of speech and press, as well as disliking democracy, constitutions, and the parliamentary system. Under Pobedonostsev, revolutionaries were persecuted and a policy of Russification was carried out throughout the Empire.
Early twentieth century
In 1894, Alexander III was succeeded by his son, Nicholas II, who was committed to retaining the autocracy that his father had left him. The Industrial Revolution began to show significant influence in Russia. The liberal elements among industrial capitalists and nobility believed in peaceful social reform and a constitutional monarchy, forming the Constitutional Democrats, or Kadets. The Socialist-Revolutionaries (SRs) incorporated the Narodnik tradition and advocated the distribution of land among those who actually worked it — the peasants. Another radical group was the Social Democrats, exponents of Marxism in Russia. The Social Democrats differed from the SRs in that they believed a revolution must rely on urban workers, not the peasantry.
In 1903 in London (at the Social Democrat party's 2nd Congress) the party split into two wings – the gradualist Mensheviks, and the more radical Bolsheviks. The Mensheviks believed that the Russian working class was insufficiently developed and that socialism could be achieved only after a period of bourgeois democratic rule. They thus tended to ally themselves with the forces of bourgeois liberalism. The Bolsheviks, under Vladimir Lenin, supported the idea of forming a small elite of professional revolutionists, subject to strong party discipline, to act as the vanguard of the proletariat in order to seize power by force.[n 1]
Defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) was a major blow to the Tsarist regime and further increased the potential for unrest. In January 1905, an incident known as "Bloody Sunday" occurred when Father Gapon led an enormous crowd to the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg to present a petition to the Tsar. When the procession reached the palace, Cossacks opened fire on the crowd, killing hundreds. The Russian masses were so furious over the massacre that a general strike was declared demanding a democratic republic. This marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution of 1905. Soviets (councils of workers) appeared in most cities to direct revolutionary activity. Russia was paralyzed, and the government was desperate.
October Manifesto, which conceded the creation of a national Duma (legislature) to be called without delay. The right to vote was extended and no law was to become final without confirmation by the Duma. The moderate groups were satisfied. But the socialists rejected the concessions as insufficient and tried to organise new strikes. By the end of 1905, there was disunity among the reformers, and the tsar's position was strengthened for the time being.
In 1904, Nicholas and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, after having four girls, finally had a son, Tsarevich Alexei. However, Alexei inherited from Alexandra, who was a granddaughter of England's Queen Victoria, the genetic disease hemophilia, an illness which had afflicted many other European royal descendants of the queen. The illness of Alexei led to the astonishing rise of the semi-illiterate Siberian peasant Grigori Rasputin, at court, who had was said to have had healing powers for the heir to the throne. In time, he would have increasing influence on the court, especially the mystical Alexandra.
Tsar Nicholas II and his subjects entered World War I with enthusiasm and patriotism, with the defense of Russia's fellow Orthodox Slavs, the Serbs, as the main battle cry. In August 1914, the Russian army invaded Germany's province of East Prussia and occupied a significant portion of Austrian-controlled Galicia in support of the Serbs and their allies - the French and British. Military reversals and shortages among the civilian population, however, soon soured much of the population. German control of the Baltic Sea and German-Ottoman control of the Black Sea severed Russia from most of its foreign supplies and potential markets.
By the middle of 1915 the impact of the war was demoralizing. Food and fuel were in short supply, casualties were increasing, and inflation was mounting. Strikes increased among low-paid factory workers, and there were reports that peasants, who wanted reforms of land ownership, were restless. The tsar eventually decided to take personal command of the army and moved to the front, leaving Alexandra in charge in the capital. Alexandra, in turn, relied heavily on Rasputin. Rasputin's assassination in late 1916 by a clique of nobles ended the scandal but did not restore the autocracy's lost prestige.
On 3 March 1917, a strike was organized on a factory in the capital Saint Petersburg; within a week nearly all the workers in the city were idle, and street fighting broke out.
The strikers held mass meetings in defiance of the regime, and the army openly sided with the workers. A few days later a provisional government headed by Georgy Lvov was named by the Duma. Meanwhile, the socialists in Saint Petersburg had formed a Soviet (council) of workers' and soldiers' deputies, forming an uneasy alliance with the Provisional Government. With his authority destroyed, Nicholas abdicated on 2 March 1917 (Julian Calendar; the Gregorian date was 15 March). He and his family were subsequently executed in 1918, by the Bolsheviks, who had staged a coup in the fall of 1917, the Russian Civil War.
The administrative boundaries of European Russia, apart from Finland and its portion of Poland, coincided approximately with the natural limits of the East-European plains. In the North it met the Arctic Ocean. The islands of Novaya Zemlya, Kolguyev and Vaigach also belonged to it, but the Kara Sea was referred to Siberia. To the East it had the Asiatic territories of the Empire, Siberia and the Kyrgyz steppes, from both of which it was separated by the Ural Mountains, the Ural River and the Caspian Sea — the administrative boundary, however, partly extending into Asia on the Siberian slope of the Urals. To the South it had the Black Sea and Caucasus, being separated from the latter by the Manych depression, which in Post-Pliocene times connected the Sea of Azov with the Caspian. The West boundary was purely conventional: it crossed the peninsula of Kola from the Varangerfjord to the Gulf of Bothnia. Thence it ran to the Kurisches Haff in the southern Baltic, and thence to the mouth of the Danube, taking a great circular sweep to the West to embrace Poland, and separating Russia from Prussia, Austrian Galicia and Romania.
It is a special feature of Russia that it has few free outlets to the open sea other than on the ice-bound shores of the Arctic Ocean. The deep indentations of the gulfs of Bothnia and Finland were surrounded by what is ethnological Finnish territory, and it is only at the very head of the latter gulf that the Russians had taken firm foothold by erecting their capital at the mouth of the Neva. The Gulf of Riga and the Baltic belong also to territory which was not inhabited by Slavs, but by Baltic and Finnish peoples and by Germans. The East coast of the Black Sea belonged to Transcaucasia, a great chain of mountains separating it from Russia. But even this sheet of water is an inland sea, the only outlet of which, the Bosphorus, was in foreign hands, while the Caspian, an immense shallow lake, mostly bordered by deserts, possessed more importance as a link between Russia and its Asiatic settlements than as a channel for intercourse with other countries.
By the end of the 19th century the size of the empire was about 22,400,000 square kilometres (8,600,000 sq mi) or almost 1/6 of the Earth's landmass; its only rival in size at the time was the British Empire. However, at this time, the majority of the population lived in European Russia. More than 100 different ethnic groups lived in the Russian Empire, with ethnic Russians comprising about 45% of the population.
In addition to almost the entire territory of modern Russia,[n 2] prior to 1917 the Russian Empire included most of Ukraine (Dnieper Ukraine and Crimea), Belarus, Moldova (Bessarabia), Finland (Grand Principality of Finland), Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia (including Mengrelia), the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (Russian Turkestan), most of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia (Baltic provinces), as well as a significant portion of Poland (Kingdom of Poland) and Ardahan, Artvin, Iğdır, Kars and northeastern part of Erzurum from Turkey (then part of the Ottoman Empire). Between 1742 and 1867 the Russian Empire administered Alaska as a colony. The Russian-American Company also established settlements in Hawaii, including Fort Elizabeth and as far south in North America as Fort Ross Colony in Sonoma County just north of San Francisco. Both Fort Ross and the Russian River in California got their names from these Russian settlers, who had staked claims in a region that was, at the time, claimed as part of New Spain.
Following the Swedish defeat in the Finnish War and the signing of the Treaty of Fredrikshamn on 17 September 1809, the eastern half of Sweden, the area that then became Finland was incorporated into the Russian Empire as an autonomous grand principality. The Tsar eventually ended up ruling the Finland as a semi-constitutional monarch through his governor and a native Finnish Senate appointed by him. The Emperor never explicitly recognized Finland as a constitutional state in its own right, however, although his Finnish subjects came to consider the grand principality as one.
During World War I, Russia briefly occupied a small part of East Prussia, then part of Germany; a significant portion of Austrian Galicia; and significant portions of Ottoman Armenia. While the modern Russian Federation currently controls the Kaliningrad Oblast, which comprised the northern part of East Prussia, this is a different area than that captured by the Empire in 1914, though there was some overlap: Gusev (Ger: Gumbinnen) was the site of the initial Russian victory.
According to the 1st article of the Organic law, the Russian Empire was one indivisible state. In addition, the 26th article stated that "With the Imperial Russian throne are indivisible the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Principality of Finland". Relations with the Grand Principality of Finland were also regulated by the 2nd article, "The Grand Principality of Finland, constituted an indivisible part of the Russian state, in its internal affairs governed by special regulations at the base of special laws" and the law of 10 June 1910.
In 1744–1867 the empire also controlled the so-called Russian America. With the exception of this territory (modern day Alaska), the Russian Empire was a contiguous mass of land spanning Europe and Asia. In this it differed from contemporary, colonial-style empires. The result of this was that while the British and French Empire declined in the 20th century, the Russian Empire kept a large portion of its territory, first as the Communist Soviet Union, and latter as part of the present-day Russian Federation.
Furthermore, the empire at times controlled concession territories, notably the port of Kwantung and the Chinese Eastern Railway Zone, both conceded by imperial China, as well as a concession in Tianjin. See for these periods of extraterritorial control the relations between the Empire of Japan and the Russian Empire.
In 1815, Dr. Schäffer, a Russian entrepreneur, went to Kauai and negotiated a treaty of protection with the island's governor Kaumualii, vassal of King Kamehameha I of Hawaii, but the Russian Tsar refused to ratify the treaty. See also Orthodox Church in Hawaii and Russian Fort Elizabeth.
In 1889, a Russian adventurer, Nikolay Ivanovitch Achinov, tried to establish a Russian colony in Africa, Sagallo, situated on the Gulf of Tadjoura in present-day Djibouti. However this attempt angered the French, who dispatched two gunboats against the colony. After a brief resistance, the colony surrendered and the Russian settlers were deported to Odessa.
Government and administration
From its initial creation until the 1905 Revolution, the Russian Empire was controlled by its tsar/emperor as an absolute monarch, under the system of tsarist autocracy. After the Revolution of 1905, Russia developed a new type of government which became difficult to categorize. In the Almanach de Gotha for 1910, Russia was described as "a constitutional monarchy under an autocratic tsar." This contradiction in terms demonstrated the difficulty of precisely defining the system, essentially transitional and meanwhile sui generis, established in the Russian Empire after October 1905. Before this date, the fundamental laws of Russia described the power of the Emperor as "autocratic and unlimited." After October 1905, while the imperial style was still "Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias", the fundamental laws were remodeled by removing the word unlimited. While the emperor retained many of his old prerogatives, including an absolute veto over all legislation, he equally agreed to the establishment of an elected parliament, without whose consent no laws were to be enacted in Russia. Not that the regime in Russia had become in any true sense constitutional, far less parliamentary. But the "unlimited autocracy" had given place to a "self-limited autocracy." Whether this autocracy was to be permanently limited by the new changes, or only at the continuing discretion of the autocrat, became a subject of heated controversy between conflicting parties in the state. Provisionally, then, the Russian governmental system may perhaps be best defined as "a limited monarchy under an autocratic emperor."
Peter the Great changed his title from Tsar in 1721, when he was declared Emperor of all Russia. While later rulers kept this title, the ruler of Russia was commonly known as Tsar or Tsaritsa until the fall of the Empire during the February Revolution of 1917. Prior to the issuance of the October Manifesto, the Emperor ruled as an absolute monarch, subject to only two limitations on his authority (both of which were intended to protect the existing system): the Emperor and his consort must both belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, and he must obey the laws of succession (Pauline Laws) established by Paul I. Beyond this, the power of the Russian Autocrat was virtually limitless.
On 17 October 1905, the situation changed: the Emperor voluntarily limited his legislative power by decreeing that no measure was to become law without the consent of the Imperial Duma, a freely elected national assembly established by the Organic Law issued on 28 April 1906. However, the Emperor retained the right to disband the newly established Duma, and he exercised this right more than once. He also retained an absolute veto over all legislation, and only he could initiate any changes to the Organic Law itself. His ministers were responsible solely to him, and not to the Duma or any other authority, which could question but not remove them. Thus, while the Emperor's power was limited in scope after 28 April 1906, it still remained formidable.
Under Russia's revised Fundamental Law of 20 February 1906, the Council of the Empire was associated with the Duma as a legislative Upper House; from this time the legislative power was exercised normally by the Emperor only in concert with the two chambers. The Council of the Empire, or Imperial Council, as reconstituted for this purpose, consisted of 196 members, of whom 98 were nominated by the Emperor, while 98 were elective. The ministers, also nominated, were ex officio members. Of the elected members, 3 were returned by the "black" clergy (the monks), 3 by the "white" clergy (seculars), 18 by the corporations of nobles, 6 by the academy of sciences and the universities, 6 by the chambers of commerce, 6 by the industrial councils, 34 by the governments having zemstvos, 16 by those having no zemstvos, and 6 by Poland. As a legislative body the powers of the Council were coordinate with those of the Duma; in practice, however, it has seldom if ever initiated legislation.
The Duma and electoral system
The Duma of the Empire or Imperial Duma (Gosudarstvennaya Duma), which formed the Lower House of the Russian parliament, consisted (since the ukaz of 2 June 1907) of 442 members, elected by an exceedingly complicated process. The membership was manipulated as to secure an overwhelming majority of the wealthy (especially the landed classes) and also for the representatives of the Russian peoples at the expense of the subject nations. Each province of the Empire, except Central Asia, returned a certain number of members; added to these were those returned by several large cities. The members of the Duma were chosen by electoral colleges and these, in their turn, were elected in assemblies of the three classes: landed proprietors, citizens and peasants. In these assemblies the wealthiest proprietors sat in person while the lesser proprietors were represented by delegates. The urban population was divided into two categories according to taxable wealth, and elected delegates directly to the college of the Governorates. The peasants were represented by delegates selected by the regional subdivisions called volosts. Workmen were treated in special manner with every industrial concern employing fifty hands or over electing one or more delegates to the electoral college.
In the college itself the voting for the Duma was by secret ballot and a simple majority carried the day. Since the majority consisted of conservative elements (the landowners and urban delegates), the progressives had little chance of representation at all save for the curious provision that one member at least in each government was to be chosen from each of the five classes represented in the college. That the Duma had any radical elements was mainly due to the peculiar franchise enjoyed by the seven largest towns — Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, Riga and the Polish cities of Warsaw and Łódź. These elected their delegates to the Duma directly, and though their votes were divided (on the basis of taxable property) in such a way as to give the advantage to wealth, each returned the same number of delegates.
Council of Ministers
By the law of 18 October 1905, to assist the Emperor in the supreme administration a Council of Ministers (Sovyet Ministrov) was created, under a minister president, the first appearance of a prime minister in Russia. This council consists of all the ministers and of the heads of the principal administrations. The ministries were as follows:
- Ministry of the Imperial Court
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
- Ministry of War;
- Ministry of Navy
- Ministry of Finance;
- Ministry of Commerce and Industry (created in 1905);
- Ministry of Internal affairs (including police, health, censorship and press, posts and telegraphs, foreign religions, statistics);
- Ministry of Agriculture and State Assets;
- Ministry of ways of Communications;
- Ministry of Justice;
- Ministry of National Enlightenment.
Most Holy Synod
The Most Holy Synod (established in 1721) was the supreme organ of government of the Orthodox Church in Russia. It was presided over by a lay procurator, representing the Emperor, and consisted of the three metropolitans of Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Kiev, the archbishop of Georgia, and a number of bishops sitting in rotation.
The Senate (Pravitelstvuyushchi Senat, i.e. directing or governing senate), originally established during the Government reform of Peter I, consisted of members nominated by the Emperor. Its wide variety of functions were carried out by the different departments into which it was divided. It was the supreme court of cassation; an audit office, a high court of justice for all political offences; one of its departments fulfilled the functions of a heralds' college. It also had supreme jurisdiction in all disputes arising out of the administration of the Empire, notably differences between representatives of the central power and the elected organs of local self-government. Lastly, it promulgated new laws, a function which theoretically gave it a power akin to that of the Supreme Court of the United States, of rejecting measures not in accordance with fundamental laws.
For purposes of administration, Russia was divided (as of 1914) into 81 governorates (guberniyas), 20 oblasts, and 1 okrug. Vassals and protectorates of the Russian Empire included the Emirate of Bukhara, the Khanate of Khiva and, after 1914, Tuva (Uriankhai). Of these 11 Governorates, 17 oblasts and 1 okrug (Sakhalin) belonged to Asian Russia. Of the rest 8 Governorates were in Finland, 10 in Poland. European Russia thus embraced 59 governorates and 1 oblast (that of the Don). The Don Oblast was under the direct jurisdiction of the ministry of war; the rest had each a governor and deputy-governor, the latter presiding over the administrative council. In addition there were governors-general, generally placed over several governorates and armed with more extensive powers usually including the command of the troops within the limits of their jurisdiction. In 1906, there were governors-general in Finland, Warsaw, Vilna, Kiev, Moscow, and Riga. The larger cities (Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Sevastopol, Kerch, Nikolayev, Rostov) had an administrative system of their own, independent of the governorates; in these the chief of police acted as governor.
The judicial system of the Russian Empire, existed from the mid-19th century, was established by the "tsar emancipator" Alexander II, by the statute of 20 November 1864 (Sudebny Ustav). This system — based partly on English, partly on French models — was built up on certain broad principles: the separation of the judicial and administrative functions, the independence of the judges and courts, the publicity of trials and oral procedure, the equality of all classes before the law. Moreover, a democratic element was introduced by the adoption of the jury system and—so far as one order of tribunal was concerned—the election of judges. The establishment of a judicial system on these principles constituted a major change in the conception of the Russian state, which, by placing the administration of justice outside the sphere of the executive power, ceased to be a despotism. This fact made the system especially obnoxious to the bureaucracy, and during the latter years of Alexander II and the reign of Alexander III there was a piecemeal taking back of what had been given. It was reserved for the third Duma, after the 1905 Revolution, to begin the reversal of this process.[n 3]
The system established by the law of 1864 was significant in that it set up two wholly separate orders of tribunals, each having their own courts of appeal and coming in contact only in the Senate, as the supreme court of cassation. The first of these, based on the English model, are the courts of the elected justices of the peace, with jurisdiction over petty causes, whether civil or criminal; the second, based on the French model, are the ordinary tribunals of nominated judges, sitting with or without a jury to hear important cases.
Alongside the local organs of the central government in Russia there are three classes of local elected bodies charged with administrative functions:
- the peasant assemblies in the mir and the volost;
- the zemstvos in the 34 Governorates of Russia;
- the municipal dumas.
Since 1870 the municipalities in European Russia have had institutions like those of the zemstvos. All owners of houses, and tax-paying merchants, artisans and workmen are enrolled on lists in a descending order according to their assessed wealth. The total valuation is then divided into three equal parts, representing three groups of electors very unequal in number, each of which elects an equal number of delegates to the municipal duma. The executive is in the hands of an elective mayor and an uprava, which consists of several members elected by the duma. Under Alexander III, however, by laws promulgated in 1892 and 1894, the municipal dumas were subordinated to the governors in the same way as the zemstvos. In 1894 municipal institutions, with still more restricted powers, were granted to several towns in Siberia, and in 1895 to some in Caucasia.
The formerly Swedish controlled Baltic provinces (Courland, Livonia and Estonia) were incorporated into the Russian Empire after the defeat of Sweden in the Great Northern War. Under the Treaty of Nystad of 1721, the Baltic German nobility retained considerable powers of self-government and numerous privileges in matters affecting education, police and the administration of local justice. After 167 years of German language administration and education, laws were declared in 1888 and 1889 where the rights of the police and manorial justice were transferred from Baltic German control to officials of the central government. Since about the same time a process of Russification was being carried out in the same provinces, in all departments of administration, in the higher schools and in the Imperial University of Dorpat, the name of which was altered to Yuriev. In 1893 district committees for the management of the peasants' affairs, similar to those in the purely Russian governments, were introduced into this part of the empire.
Mining and Heavy Industry
|Ural Region||Southern Region||Caucasus||Siberia||Kingdom of Poland|
|Iron and Steel||17.3%||36.2%||-||-||10.8%|
The planning and building of the railway network after 1860 had far-reaching effects on the economy, culture, and ordinary life of Russia. The central authorities and the imperial elite made most of the key decisions, but local elites set up a demand for rail linkages. Local nobles, merchants, and entrepreneurs imagined the future from "locality" '(mestnost')' to "empire" to promote their regional interests. Often they had to compete with other cities. By envisioning their own role in a rail network they came to understand how important they were to the empire's economy. The Russian army built two major railway lines in Central Asia during the 1880s. The Trans-Caucasian Railway connected the oil center of Batumi on the Black Sea and the city of Baku on the Caspian Sea. The Trans-Caspian Railway began at Krasnovodsk on the Caspian Sea and reached Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent. Both lines served the commercial and strategic needs of the Empire, and facilitated migration.
|Saint Petersburg||2024||Baltic Sea|
The state religion of the Russian Empire was that of the Russian Orthodox Christianity. Its head was the tsar, who held the title of supreme defender of the Church. Although he made and annulled all appointments, he did not determine the questions of dogma or church teaching. The principal ecclesiastical authority was the Holy Synod, the head of which, the Over Procurator of the Holy Synod, was one of the council of ministers and exercised very wide powers in ecclesiastical matters. All religions were freely professed, except that certain restrictions were laid upon the Jews. According to returns published in 1905, based on the Russian Empire Census of 1897, adherents of the different religious communities in the whole of the Russian empire numbered approximately as follows.
|Religion||Count of believers|
|Buddhists and Lamaists||433,863|
|Other non-Christian religions||285,321|
|Other Christian religions||3,952|
The ecclesiastical heads of the national Russian Orthodox Church consisted of three metropolitans (Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev), fourteen archbishops and fifty bishops, all drawn from the ranks of the monastic (celibate) clergy. The parochial clergy had to be married when appointed, but if left widowers were not allowed to marry again; this rule continues to apply today.
It was a rural society spread over vast spaces; in 1913, 80% of the people were peasants. Soviet historiography proclaimed that the Russian Empire of the 19th century was characterized by systemic crisis, which impoverished the workers and peasants and culminated in the revolutions of the early 20th century. Recent research by Russian scholars disputes this interpretation. Mironov assesses the effects of the reforms of latter 19th-century especially in terms of the 1861 emancipation of the serfs, agricultural output trends, various standard of living indicators, and taxation of peasants. He argues that they brought about measurable improvements in social welfare. More generally, he finds that the well-being of the Russian people declined during the most of the 18th century, but increased slowly from the end of the 18th century to 1914.
Subjects of the Russian Empire were segregated into sosloviyes, or social estates (classes) such as nobility (dvoryanstvo), clergy, merchants, cossacks and peasants. Native people of the Caucasus, non-ethnic Russian areas such as Tartarstan, Bashkirstan, Siberia and Central Asia were officially registered as a category called inorodtsy (non-Slavic, literally: "people of another origin").
A majority of the people, 81.6%, belonged to the peasant order, the others were: nobility, 0.6%; clergy, 0.1%; the burghers and merchants, 9.3%; and military, 6.1%. More than 88 million of the Russians were peasants. A part of them were formerly serfs (10,447,149 males in 1858) – the remainder being " state peasants " (9,194,891 males in 1858, exclusive of the Archangel Governorate) and " domain peasants " (842,740 males the same year).
The household servants or dependents attached to the personal service were merely set free, while the landed peasants received their houses and orchards, and allotments of arable land. These allotments were given over to the rural commune (mir), which was made responsible for the payment of taxes for the allotments. For these allotments the peasants had to pay a fixed rent which could be fulfilled by personal labour. The allotments could be redeemed by peasants with the help of the Crown, and then they were freed from all obligations to the landlord. The Crown paid the landlord and the peasants had to repay the Crown, for forty-nine years at 6% interest. The financial redemption to the landlord was not calculated on the value of the allotments, but was considered as a compensation for the loss of the compulsory labour of the serfs. Many proprietors contrived to curtail the allotments which the peasants had occupied under serfdom, and frequently deprived them of precisely the parts of which they were most in need: pasture lands around their houses. The result was to compel the peasants to rent land from their former masters.
After the Emancipation reform, one quarter of peasants received allotments of only 2.9 acres (12,000 m2) per male, and one-half less than 8.5 to 11.4 acres; the normal size of the allotment necessary for the subsistence of a family under the three-fields system is estimated at 28 to 42 acres (170,000 m2). Land must thus of necessity be rented from the landlords. The aggregate value of the redemption and land taxes often reached 185 to 275% of the normal rental value of the allotments, not to speak of taxes for recruiting purposes, the church, roads, local administration and so on, chiefly levied from the peasants. The areas increased every year; one-fifth of the inhabitants left their houses; cattle disappeared. Every year more than half the adult males (in some districts three-quarters of the men and one-third of the women) quit their homes and wandered throughout Russia in search of labor. In the governments of the Black Earth Area the state of matters was hardly better. Many peasants took "gratuitous allotments," whose amount was about one-eighth of the normal allotments.
The average allotment in Kherson was only 0.90-acre (3,600 m2), and for allotments from 2.9 to 5.8 acres (23,000 m2) the peasants pay 5 to 10 rubles of redemption tax. The state peasants were better off, but still they were emigrating in masses. It was only in the steppe governments that the situation was more hopeful. In Ukraine, where the allotments were personal (the mir existing only among state peasants), the state of affairs does not differ for the better, on account of the high redemption taxes. In the western provinces, where the land was valued cheaper and the allotments somewhat increased after the Polish insurrection, the general situation was better. Finally, in the Baltic provinces nearly all the land belonged to the German landlords, who either farmed the land themselves, with hired laborers, or let it in small farms. Only one quarter of the peasants were farmers; the remainder were mere laborers.
The situation of the former serf-proprietors was also unsatisfactory. Accustomed to the use of compulsory labor, they failed to adapt to the new conditions. The millions of rubles of redemption money received from the crown was spent without any real or lasting agricultural improvements having been effected. The forests were sold, and the only prosperous landlords were those who exacted rack-rents for the land without which the peasants could not live upon their allotments. During the years 1861 to 1892 the land owned by the nobles decreased 30%, or from 210,000,000 to 150,000,000 acres (610,000 km2); during the following four years an additional 2,119,500 acres (8,577 km2) were sold; and since then the sales went on at an accelerated rate, until in 1903 alone close to 2,000,000 acres (8,000 km2) passed out of their hands. On the other hand, since 1861, and more especially since 1882, when the Peasant Land Bank was founded for making advances to peasants who were desirous of purchasing land, the former serfs, or rather their descendants, had between 1883 and 1904 bought about 19,500,000 acres (78,900 km2) from their former masters. There was an increase of wealth among the few, but along with this a general impoverishment of the mass of the people, and the peculiar institution of the mir—framed on the principle of community of ownership and occupation of the land--, the effect was not conducive to the growth of individual effort. In November 1906, however, the emperor Nicholas II promulgated a provisional order permitting the peasants to become freeholders of allotments made at the time of emancipation, all redemption dues being remitted. This measure, which was endorsed by the third Duma in an act passed on 21 December 1908, is calculated to have far-reaching and profound effects on the rural economy of Russia. Thirteen years previously the government had endeavored to secure greater fixity and permanence of tenure by providing that at least twelve years must elapse between every two redistributions of the land belonging to a mir amongst those entitled to share in it. The order of November 1906 had provided that the various strips of land held by each peasant should be merged into a single holding; the Duma, however, on the advice of the government, left this to the future, as an ideal that could only gradually be realized.
- List of Emperors of Russia
- Imperial Crown of Russia
- Regalia of the Russian tsars
- Expansion of Russia 1500–1800
- Russian conquest of Siberia
- Russian conquest of the Caucasus
- Russian colonization of the Americas
- List of largest empires
- General references
- Warnes, David. Chronicle of the Russian Tsars: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial Russia. Thames & Hudson, 1999.
- Ascher, Abraham. Russia: A Short History (2011) excerpt and text search
- Etkind, Alexander. Internal Colonization: Russia's Imperial Experience (Polity Press, 2011) 289 pages; discussion of serfdom, the peasant commune, etc.
- Hosking, Geoffrey. Russia and the Russians: A History (2nd ed. 2011)
- Mironov, Boris N. (1999) A Social History of Imperial Russia, 1700-1917 (2 vol. 1999)
- Mironov, Boris N. (2012) The Standard of Living and Revolutions in Imperial Russia, 1700-1917 (2012) excerpt and text search
- Mironov, Boris N. (2010) "Wages and Prices in Imperial Russia, 1703–1913," Russian Review (Jan 2010) 69#1 pp 47–72, with 13 tables and 3 charts online
- Stolberg, Eva-Maria. (2004) "The Siberian Frontier and Russia's Position in World History," Review: A Journal of the Fernand Braudel Center 27#3 pp 243–267
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- Russian Empire: All about Russian Empire and Russia (Russian)
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- General armorial of noble families in the Russian Empire (Gerbovnik)
- The Russian Imperial Collection at the Library of Congress