Peter the Great was a very important man to Russia. He looked at his country and realizing how backwards everything was, he set his life on bringing it up to Modern European standards. When Peter made a decision he didn’t rest until he had done what he set out to do. His ways were intelligent yet obvious; gain more coastline, open up trade routes, bring in knowledgeable people, and to educate the people of Russia. His life was dedicated to modernizing his people and their living conditions. One thing that was not consistent in the resources that I used was what Peter’s intentions really were. The video on Peter the Great seemed to infer that Peter wanted to modernize Russia, and to do this he needed to strengthen his army and create a navy. The class text book, on the other hand, implies that Peter’s main goal was to create a strong and powerful army, and that the ‘westernization’ of Russia was a byproduct of that. My third source, Infopedia (computer encyclopedia) stated that the modernization of Russia included the creation of an army capable of contending with the western world. Another point that the video stressed which the text book and the encyclopedia did not was the opposition that Peter faced from Russian traditionalist church followers. Also, Peter’s stepsister was only mentioned in the video viewed in class.
Peter Alexeevich, later to be known as Peter the Great, was born on May 30, 1672. He was the fourteenth child of his mother, although not all of them had lived past infancy. He was raised by a nurse although he knew his mother and she made herself a part of his childhood. Peter was spoiled rotten as the son of the czar. Around the time of Peter’s birth Russia was very different from many other countries. They had none of the technology of their European neighbors, they still were using the manor system, they had no seaports, and there was no real system of education. Russia was considered to be very barbaric and uncivilized by every other country. Much of this was caused by Russia’s separateness and size. Knowledge took a very long time to travel through the country since they had no seaports that stayed open all year round. They had mountains separating them from Europe that were difficult to cross. The weather was cold and windy, and the winters were very hard on the people. The country itself was often not very stable, and there were always skirmishes or attempted takeovers. All these things helped Russia to be considered a very low, barbaric country and shaped it up for the coming of Peter the Great.
When Peter was young and wanted to play war, which was his favorite game, the czar had the sons of men assigned to him, and he had his own armies. His father supplied him and the others with weapons, horses, uniforms, and when Peter turned eleven, real cannons replaced the wooden ones they had used before. Peter treated all the boys kindly and equally. He became close friends with them all and encouraged them to work their way up through the ranks, no matter what their social status. Peter practiced what he preach, starting at the lowest position and working his way up. This would be his policy throughout his life; he didn’t care much for rank, just for merit.
While at home, Peter received no formal education worth mentioning, but he gathered information of all kinds and tried to spread it through Russia. When Peter grew up a little, he began to visit parts of the country specifically designated to foreigners. They were isolated because the czar thought they were a bad influence on the Russian people because of all their alien ideas. Peter often sat in the taverns and talked to craftsman about their trade, their country, and everything else that he could think of. He went to their shops with them to see how their trade worked and how it was accepted and used by the people. The German Suburb, in particular, showed Peter how backwards and behind Russia was compared to Europe. This realization made Peter determined to bring Russia into the modern and European world.
A very important day in Peter the Great’s life was when he and a Dutchman named Frans Timmerman were visiting the sheds of a family estate. Peter saw a boat in a corner and asked Timmerman what it was. It was a small English sailboat. When he asked what it was for and found out that it could sail against the currents and winds, he was hooked. He had Timmerman fix it up and started sailing it every day. The importance of the boat was that it showed Peter what a great idea it was to build a Russian navy. In order to do that Peter would have to gain some more coastline. All of Russia’s ports froze in the winter and couldn’t harbor a navy.
Peter’s time in the German Suburb convinced him to travel to Western Europe. This was the start of the eighteen month Great Embassy. Peter decided to travel as a junior member, and anyone who addressed him as the czar would be killed. While Peter was in Europe he worked at carpentry, shipbuilding, and learned many other trades. He learned surgery, but limited himself to pulling teeth. Many people recognized Peter, since he had grown to six feet, eight inches tall. Because of this, Peter moved the Embassy to another city many times so he could work and learn in peace and quiet. In Holland he worked at an enclosed shipyard, and with the help of a few other men, he built a ship from start to finish. He had other men learn things like how to navigate with the new equipment from Europe. They also learned about science and mathematics. When they returned to Russia Peter planned to set up a public school system and educate everyone. Peter met the kings and nobles of the countries he visited and convinced many of them to appreciate Russia and the things that they could do. At the end of the Great Embassy’s trip King William III of England had his navy simulate a gigantic mock fight for Peter. It delighted him and maximized his hunger for a strong navy.
When Peter returned from Europe due to a rebellion that was occurring, the Russian nobility was glad to see him because he’d been gone for so long. When they bowed to him he was quoted as saying “You must stop doing that. If you give such honor to a man, what is left to give God?”
Peter started forcing his European ideas on the Russians immediately. When he saw men wearing beards, he personally cut them off or made them pay a tax. If a man’s robe was long and extravagant he’d cut them short and tear off the jewelry. He forced everyone except the peasants to dress in the European style. The women of Russia were brought out of seclusion and encouraged to join in public gatherings. Also fathers couldn’t force their daughters to enter a marriage unwillingly.
The influence in Peters journey through Europe began to appear. He set up schools for mathematics, science, and navigation. He had a Museum of Science built and encouraged people to visit it by serving free coffee and wine and making it free to enter. He set up a canal system, started producing wine instead of beer, and had many factories built.
Because of Peter’s ambitions he needed a large army. Every family had to send their sons to enter the military for a twenty-five year term. Peter needed a seacoast for his navy so he sparked a war with Sweden. After defeating the Swedes, Peter finally conquered a portion of the Gulf of Finland. This became the site of St. Petersburg, the city Peter built to be the new capital of Russia. The place was a cold, frozen, swamp, but Peter wanted his city there anyway. He had thousands and thousands of men work on building the city as fast as possible. Some men even dug the frozen earth with their hands. Disease, starvation, and freezing weather claimed the lives of almost thirty- thousand men. This did not matter to Peter. When construction was completed no one wanted to live their due to the cold weather, but Peter forced all nobility to reside in St. Petersburg. The city soon became known as Venice of the North.
On January 16, 1725, Peter got an infection while out working on the city. He died on the 28th at the age of fifty-three years. Russia cried for him for a long time and later a statue, the Bronze Horseman was built for him. Peter the Great’s reign had a permanent and strong effect on Russia. He gained Russia’s first all-year seaport; he built Russia’s first navy and made it another side to their threat. He helped modernize the look and style of the people and brought Russian women out of seclusion; before they had been isolated in their homes. He built the Academy, the Museum of Science, and made schools available to everyone. Perhaps his greatest legacy was how he built St. Petersburg and brought it to importance in the world. Peter’s achievements had a lasting effect on Russia and the rest of the world.
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