The Russians, like the people of Bohemia, Croatia, Servia, Dalmatia, and Poland, are of the Slavonic race, numbering in all about one-third part of the whole population of Europe. Up to the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, The Muscovites, or Russians, had made no figure in European history commensurate with their numbers and territory, and with the capacity for greatness which they share with other members of the Aryan family of nations. The reason of this is to be found mainly in the position held by their country, which ex-posed them to the constant attacks of Tartar races from Central Asia, and rendered them incapable of coping with the Germanic nations in the center and north of Europe.
Russia appears first as a. Kingdom in the Ninth Century, when the Scandinavian chief, Rurik, conquered the country, and ruled, with Novgorod as his capital, from 865 to 879. At the end of the Tenth Century, King Vladimir, the Russian Charlemagne, embraced Christianity on marrying a Princess of the Eastern Empire, promoted the conversion of his people, and introduced an alphabet along with the rudiments of Greek civilization. In the Thirteenth Century the Tartars from Asia, under successors of Genghis Khan, overran the whole country, and founded a state at Kazan, on the Volga, which long held Russia in virtual subjection and kept her from attaining any power or importance in Europe. Successive subdivisions of territory among the sons of the Sovereign prevented Russia from having any historical existence as a united state until the middle of the Fifteenth Century. During part of this period of confusion, an independent Republic existed at Novgorod, then the greatest center of commerce, and a rich and powerful city.
The founder of Russian independence and unity was Ivan Vasilovitz (or Vassilivich), Ivan III of Russia, who, in the last half of the Fifteenth Century, attacked the Tartars, took Kazan, subdued Novgorod, freed his country from Tartar sway, and reunited the ancient dominions of Russia. The country thus became powerful, but was cut off still from the Baltic by the Poles and the Swedes, and from the Black Sea by the Tartars of the Crimea. Ivan IV, surnamed “The Terrible,” from the cruelties of the latter part of his reign, ruled from 1546 to 1584, and did much for Russian progress. He extended the Empire to the Caspian Sea; began the conquest of Siberia; fought with the Poles, the Swedes, and the Tartars, and ultimately maintained his position. He made a treaty of commerce with England, published a code of laws in 1550, introduced printing into Russia, and helped forward art and learning. The dynasty of Rurik ended in 1598, seven centuries after the founding of the Russian nationality. After a time of anarchy and civil war, caused by pretenders to the throne, Michael Feodorovich, of the house of Romanoff, became Czar, or Emperor, in 1613; from him is descended the ruling line of Russia. Under him much territory was yielded to Poland and to Sweden which latter nation had become an important element in European politics. Michael then devoted himself to the internal improvement of Russia, in the way of laws and trade, and died in 1645. Under his son Alexis (1645-1676), a code of common or fundamental laws was established, and the power of Russia continued to grow. It was a son of Alexis who founded the real modern importance of Russia, and first gave her a place among the chief powers of Europe. This man was the world-famous Peter the Great, the subject of an article in the volume, “Foreign Statesmen.”
Peter the Great ruled Russia from 1689 till 1725, and effected wonders of energy and wisdom. His genius and will triumphed over difficulties, disadvantages and dangers that nothing but the highest capacity and determination could have overcome. Consigned by his relatives, from ambitious motives, to a youth of ignorance and rude debauchery, he gave early proofs of ability in the study of military science under instruct-ors obtained by himself. To the end of his life his appearance, habits, and manners were those of a semi-savage, who had succeeded in civilizing a nation, but had never tamed and polished himself.
Determined to make Russia truly great and formidable, Peter gave his first thoughts to the acquirement of a seaboard and a navy. From Archangel he went cruises on board Dutch and English ships, in order to learn seamanship himself. He brought to Russia ship-builders from Venice and from Holland; he sent Russians to learn shipbuilding abroad; he built a fleet which floated down the Don, and conquered (in 1696) the town of Azov from the Turks. This gave at once an opening for the future to the waters of the Black Sea. He paid no heed to the remonstrances against reform which came from his reactionary Boyars, or nobles, and in 1697 suppressed, with great severity, a revolt of the Strelitz or bodyguard, the tumultuous Praetorians of Russia. In 1697 Peter set out for Western Europe to see for himself the wonders of her developed culture, and to obtain means and models for carrying out the vast designs which he had formed for the improvement of his people. Working as a shipbuilder in the yards of Saardam, Holland, taking his weekly wages, dressed as a common carpenter, he at the same time studied carefully every process of manufacture to which his eager eyes and active mind could find access. In 1698 he passed over to England, where he was made welcome by William III. But he would have none of princely state or entertainment, and passed his time chiefly in the dockyard at Deptford, smoking his pipe at night, and drinking beer and brandy with his companions at a tavern. On his way home Peter studied at Vienna the organization of the German army, and returned to his capital, Moscow, in September, 1698. His army was then developed on the German model, and Peter, serving first as a private soldier, worked his way up to an officer’s commission, compelling the young nobles to follow his example.
Peter started his social reforms with the introduction of the Dutch and German style of dress, instead of oriental robes, and the emancipation of the ladies of Russia from Asiatic seclusion. He established a regular system in the revenue, made himself virtually head of the Church, and modified the power of the clergy. Schools of navigation and mathematics were founded; new breeds of cattle brought in from Poland; foreign artisans of all kinds introduced; manufactories of arms, tools, and fabrics established, and a beginning made in working the mineral treasures of the country. During the reign of this great sovereign every department of state was remodeled the army, the national religion, the system of education, the established laws, and the administration of justice. What Russia now is she owes largely to the persistent efforts of a most sagacious and enlightened man, who forced her, with tyrannical energy, from the jungle of barbarism into the paths of progress and civilization.
It was on the ruins of Sweden that Russia rose to greatness in Europe. In 1696 Peter had conquered Azov from the Turks, giving Russia an outlet on the Black Sea. But Russia was still excluded from the Baltic, and a position on that coast could only be secured at the expense of Sweden, which was at that time one of the powerful Nations of Europe. Finland, Livonia, Esthonia, and other districts east of the Baltic were Swedish Provinces, and in Germany she held the Duchy of Bremen, part of Pomerania, and other territory. In 1697, at the. age of fifteen, Charles XII became King of Sweden, and his youth and seeming helplessness encouraged his neighbors to attack him. In 1700, Peter of Russia, believing his army to be fit for the field, joined Denmark and Poland in war against Sweden. All three aggressors soon found that in the young Sovereign of the North they had grievously mistaken their man Russia, indeed, with a glance at her early history, may be said to have “caught a Tartar.” The Swedish King was a born soldier, heading one of the best armies in Europe. He turned first upon Den-mark, attacked Copenhagen by sea and land, and fairly frightened the Danes into peace. In November, 1700, Charles, with 10,000 men, totally defeated 80,000 Russians at Narva, on the south coast of the Gulf of Finland. He then marched against Augustus of Poland, who was besieging Riga. Charles gained a decisive victory, pursued Augustus into Poland, defeated him again, and dethroned him in 1703, acquiring by these exploits a military renown which attracted to his camp in Germany Marlborough and other great generals.
Peter had not been present at Narva, and received the news of his army’s overthrow with a cool expression of confidence that his men would learn from the Swedes in time how to beat them in their turn. He was willing to pay the price for a lesson in coming conquest. While Charles XII was in Poland and Germany, Peter gained some successes over the Swedish Generals, and in 1703 he laid, on the banks of the Neva, the foundations of his future capital, St. Petersburg. The successes of the Swedish King had made him believe him-self invincible, and when Charles left Saxony in September, 1707, to invade Russia at the head of 40,000 well-appointed Swedes, a crisis had come for Peter, for Russia, and for the future history of Europe. The work of Peter’s reforms in Russia was still incomplete, and with his fall the country would have gone back into the chaos of barbarism from which it was just emerging. If Moscow had been captured by Charles XII, the fate of Russia would have been sealed, and she would never have become, as she has, one of the most formidable and potent factors in the politics of Europe and of Asia. Fortunately for Russia, Charles proved himself, in his last campaign, to be as poor or as rash in strategy, as ignorant or as regardless of the real art of war, as he undoubtedly was an able tactician and daring soldier on the field of battle.
The Czar Peter had assembled a force of 100,000 men to meet his antagonist, and the mistakes 0f Charles made his task an easy one. Instead of striking at the enemy’s heart and marching straight on Moscow, the Swedish King turned southward to the Ukraine district, where Mazeppa, a revolted Cossack chief, had promised to join him. Peter avoided a decisive encounter, laid waste the country, and left his foe at the mercy of long marches, broken communications, want of supplies, and the Russian climate. In October, 1708, Peter attacked General Lewenhaupt, who was coming from Livonia to join Charles with reinforcements and provisions. The Swedes were overwhelmed by numbers; after three days’ desperate fighting the cannon, ammunition, and food wagons were lost, and Lewenhaupt reached Charles in the Ukraine with only a few thousand harrassed and starving survivors. The Russian winter of 1708-9 greatly reduced the Swedish force, and the crisis came in the summer of 1709. Early in 1709, Charles XII, at his wits’ ends for supplies, resolved to besiege Pultowa, a town in Southern Russia, between Kharkov and the River Dneiper, which was one of Peter’s chief magazines of stores. The Czar marched to its relief with 60,000 men, and a decisive action was fought on July 8th. The forces of Charles numbered but 24,000, of whom one-half only were Swedes, and the Russians held a strong position defended by wellarmed works. The Swedish King had been disabled by a wound, and could not lead his men on in person. The dreadful day of Pultowa, on which the Swedes fought with a valor worthy of their old renown, decided the fate of Sweden and of Russia. In their repeated attempts to storm the Russian redoubts the Swedish regiments perished under the bullets of renewed masses of defenders, and though Charles, carried in a litter into the hottest fire, did all that he could to repel the counter-attacks of the Russians, the result was a total rout for the Swedish force. A few hundreds of men only escaped with Charles across the Dnieper, into what was then Turkish territory. The Czar cried out, in the joy of complete success, that “the foundations of St. Petersburg at last stood firm.” His port on the Baltic was secure; all fear from Sweden was at an end; the Russian army stood forth, in the face of Europe, as a disciplined, efficient, victorious, and self-reliant array.
After a stay of some years in Turkey, and vain efforts to recover his position by the Sultan’s aid, Charles XII returned to Sweden in 1714, and in 1718 was killed, during a war with Norway, at the siege of Frederikshall. It has always been believed that the cannon-ball which killed him as it grazed his head was murderously fired from the Swedish works. What is certain is that the brave, rash, obstinate, just, and chivalrous Charles of Sweden a man of great virtues and great faults, unduly elated by success, but not broken by misfortune was found leaning, dead, against the parapet, with his hand on his sword, and the portrait of the great Gustavus Adolphus, with a prayer-book, in his pocket. Since his return from Turkey, Charles had given signs of a chastened spirit and more enlightened aims. He was more gentle and moderate in demeanor, more ready to use policy than force, and was full of plans for improving the navy and the commerce of his country. With his death died Sweden’s hopes of ranking as a leading power in Europe.
Sweden now yielded territory on all sides to her neighbors. The Duchy of Bremen was given up to George I of Hanover and England, lands on the South-ern Baltic coast to Prussia, and, after war with Russia, the treaty of Nystadt (a town on the Southwest coast of Finland, near the Aland Isles) was concluded with Peter in 1721. By this arrangement Sweden ceded to the new Northern Power, Livonia, Esthonia, and other territory southeast of the Baltic. In 1743, after more unsuccessful war with Russia, Sweden lost part of Fin-land under the Treaty of Abo, and much anarchy was endured at home from oligarchic rivalries which almost suppressed monarchical power. Gustavus III, who had restored the royal authority and established a constitution, was assassinated by a conspiracy of nobles in 1792. In 1809, after war with Russia, Sweden lost the rest of Finland, the Aland Isles, and other territory. In 1810 the present Swedish royal family came near to the throne in the election by the Swedish Parliament of Bernadotte, one of Napoleon’s marshals, as Crown Prince, and he became King of Sweden as Charles XIV in 1818. Under him Sweden made great advances in trade and agriculture. Norway had been yielded by Denmark to Sweden under the treaty of Kiel in 1814, and Sweden thus became mistress of the whole Scandinavian peninsula, having lost all other outlying possessions. The present King of Sweden (1899), Oscar II, is a grandson of Bernadotte.
In 1721, after the Peace of Nystadt, Peter assumed the title of Emperor of all the Russias, and was styled by his Senate of nobles “the Great,” and “Father of His Country.” The title amounted to a claim over all the Russian Provinces held by Poland, and gave great offense to the German Emperors of the West. In 1723 Peter founded the Academy of Sciences at St. Peters-burg, and died in 1725, leaving the throne to his widow, Catharine I. Launched fairly on her new career, Russia has henceforth a history of conquest and annexation to East, and South, and West of her already vast dominion. Her acquisitions from Sweden have been already named.
The greatest sovereign of Russia, next to Peter the Great, was the Empress Catharine Il, who is the subject of a sketch in the volume, entitled “Famous Women.” She reigned with great ability, energy, and success from 1762 to 1796, assisted by her Minister and General, Potemkin (in power from 1776 to 1791), and her famous Field Marshal, Suwarof (or Suwarrow). War with Turkey from 1768 to 1774, ended by the Peace of Kainardji (in Bulgaria), opened to Russia the navigation of the Black Sea, and gave up the chief ports on the Sea of Azov, and Kinburn, on the open Euxine, at the mouth of the Dnieper. Catharine had already taken from the Tartars and Circassians the territory between the Don, the Volga, and the Caucasus, on the highway to Asia Minor, and she now acquired the great outlet into Asia by the Caucasus range the Pass of Dariel. It is to be specially noted as to this important Treaty of Kainardji, which is a monument to Russian diplomatic skill, that to the Empress of Russia was hereby secured the right to protect the Greek religion and its Churches in Turkey. It is well known what is implied in, and has followed from, this crafty stipulation.
The Tartars of the South were subdued in 1783, the Crimea was annexed, and the fortress of Kherson was built on the Dnieper to strengthen the position of Russia on the Black Sea. In 1787 the war with Turkey was renewed, and Catharine made her entry into Kherson under a triumphal arch, which bore, in Greek characters, the threatening legend, “The way to Byzantium.” Suwarof now displayed his bravery and skill in repeated defeats of the Turks, crowning his work in 1790 by the renowned and sanguinary storming of Ismail, on the northernmost of the three streams of the Danubian mouth. The Peace of Jassy, in 1792, strengthened the position of Russia by confirming previous conquests, and by making the Dniester the’ boundary between the Russian and Turkish Empires. As results of this treaty, the fortresses of Nicholaieff, Odessa, and Sebastopol afterward arose.
The progress of Russia westward during the reign of Catharine was not less remarkable. Disunion and anarchy had reduced Poland to abject weakness, and in 1772 Catharine of Russia, Frederick the Great of Prussia, and the Empress of Austria joined in the first partition of Poland, sharing certain provinces among them. In 1793 Russia again attacked Poland, Suwarof forced his way to Warsaw, and a second partition was made between Russia and Prussia. In 1795 Poland ceased to exist as an independent State, by the division of all her remaining territory between the above three Powers. It must be remembered, with reference to a matter on which much false sentiment and wasted wrath have been expended, that the conduct of the Polish Nation had made her continued existence as a separate State impossible, and her extinction necessary for the peace and comfort of her neighbors, and that, as regards Russia, most of her share in the partitions was territory inhabited by Russians who were members of the Greek Church, and had been conquered by Poland in the time of Russia’s weakness. The close of the Eighteenth Century saw Russia brought, by the conquest of Poland, into the middle of the Continent, and into the thick of European affairs.