What Was The Russian Empire?

Monument to Russian Emperor Peter the Great in Kronstadt, Russia near the Finnish border.

5. Background and Initial Formation

It had been a difficult period of time in Russia that proceeded the reemergence of Russian dominance at the end of the 15th Century with the rise of Tsar Ivan III (Ivan the Great). In addition to hundreds of years spent under Mongol-Tatar yoke after the conquests of the Golden Horde, the backwardness of the country caused the relatively low spread of urban life, worsened by the war at the northern frontiers with Sweden and Prussia, and conflicts on the borders close to the Black Sea in the south, where Turkey had held strong positions. As a multinational monarchial state, the Russian Empire appeared in the early 18th Century, and existed until the early 20th Century. It took its roots in an earlier formation called the Russian state, which Peter the Great declared as the Russian Empire in 1721.

4. Rise To Power And Accomplishments

In 1914, the territorial administrative division of the country resulted in 81 provinces and 20 regions with 931 cities. Some provinces and regions were united in general governorships, such as those centered in Warsaw, Irkutsk, Kiev, and Moscow, and in the region of Amur, the Steppes, Turkestan, and Finnish lands. The official vassals of the Russian Empire included the Emirate of Bukhara and Khiva Khanate. The Russian Empire was a hereditary monarchy headed by an emperor. Members of the emperor's family formed the Imperial House. Legislative power was exercised by the Emperor himself at first. Then, in 1810, legislative authority was given to the State Council and, after 1906, to the State Duma. The monarch had an influence on the Senate and the Council of Ministers, and he was the supreme head of armed forces, which included the Russian Army and the Russian Navy. Through the existence of Russian Empire, the Russian Christian Orthodox Church had been a part of the state as well, and the national hymn began with the words "God Save the Tsar." The entire population of the country was considered as subjects of the Russian Empire, and the male population over 20 years of age was required to swear allegiance to the Emperor. The subjects of the Russian Empire were divided into 4 classes or "statuses". Namely, these were the nobility and the clergy at higher levels of society, while at lower levels were found the urban inhabitants (honorary citizens, guild merchants, tradesmen and craftsmen, artisans and craft) and rural inhabitants (the peasants). Legislative resolves had been put together in the Complete Collection of Laws of the Russian Empire. The coat of arms of the Russian Empire was the two-headed eagle with the royal regalia. The state flag was a cloth with white, blue, and red horizontal stripes.

3. Challenges and Controversies

The series of wars waged by Peter the Great were aimed to address the national logistical problems, chiefly that of the Russian Empire struggling to gain access to the seas. It would not be possible to overcome the technical and economic backwardness of the country without sea ports and fleets, and these would also help to eliminate the political and economic blockades on the part of Western European countries and Turkey. As a result of the expansive and, at times, brutal, control over the state by Peter the Great, and then continued by the influential Catherine II, the Russian Empire expanded to an area of 22.4 million square kilometers. In the 18th Century, it included the Baltic, Right-Bank Ukraine, Belarus, parts of Poland, Bessarabia, and the Northern Caucasus. From the 19th Century on, Finland, the rest of the Caucasus, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and Pamir were also added. According to an 1897 census, the Empire had attained a population of 128.2 million by the end of the 19th Century. The vast lands were a home to more than 100 big and small nations, and non-Russians accounted 57% of the population's ethnic demography. The Russian language was declared as the official language nonetheless, and made compulsory in all public institutions. The capital of the Empire was St. Petersburg, a city built by Peter the Great in the Finnish Bay.

2. Decline and Demise

In the course of its history, the Russian Empire of the second half of the 19th Century passed from a feudal socioeconomic foundation to one grounded in capitalism. At the beginning of 20th Century, economic and social tensions in the Russian Empire, seriously weakened by an unsuccessful involvement in the First Wold War, paved the path for revolutionary conditions to arise. By the Autumn of 1917, rebellious moods were aggravated amid extremely deteriorating political situations in the country. Huge military expenditures, galloping inflation (since February, the ruble had depreciated by 7 times), and the fall of law and order, all combined with an increase in expectations by the imperial powers. In response, demands of people, fueled by revolutionary propaganda, contributed to a decrease in business activity and a decline in living standards. Shortages of food supplies in the cities had also become an acute problem.

1. Historical Significance and Legacy

The revolutionary upheaval of 1917-1919 destroyed the multinational Russian Empire and put a halt on an extension of its boundaries. Most parts of the Russian Empire turned into Soviet Republics, which later formed a union state, becoming the country of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (commonly referred to as the USSR or Soviet Union). Other parts of the former Russian Empire, where the Soviet government was not approved, became independent states.


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