Peter the Great

Essay by waqua82High School, 12th grade November 2014

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Alan Wang


The Russia of the early seventeenth century was a decentralized, stagnant mass of landlocked area that seemed to be stuck in the European Middle Ages. Whereas western nations like France and Britain were steeped in the likes of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution, Russia had experienced none of them, retaining instead the cruel practice of serfdom, a largely agrarian economy, and no emphasis on education or military might. The person who changed this was Peter the Great. A six-foot-seven giant with extensive and meticulous knowledge of western culture, Peter set out to completely modernize Russia based on the culture and values of his western counterparts. The effects of his reforms forever changed the landscape of his country, inserting Russia amongst major European powers and transforming his landlocked backwaters into a centralized, formidable nation. Such reforms had influences in the social, economic, and political realm of Russia.

In many cases, the social reforms of Peter were the stepping stones for his reforms in other areas. Before he rose to power, the expansion of Russia into eastern Asian territories decreased the influence of "white Russians". The people spoke and wrote in a different language as compared to the Latin alphabet of the western countries and was primarily a Christian Orthodox country as compared to the largely Catholic influence of the west. Peter's reforms attempted to address this cultural gap as a way to more closely tie Russia with the rest of Europe. He encouraged people to dress in western clothing, discouraged "Asian-looking" beards, promoted drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. He disapproved of the Asian custom of sleeping with shoes on, saying that "Ladies and Gentlemen of the court caught sleeping with their boots on will be instantly decapitated."1 Besides these aesthetic changes, however, Peter also improved...