Petrine reforms

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Peter I the Great oversees gardening work,
history paintings by Vasily Pavlovich Chudojarow

The Petrine Reforms are the collective name for the reforms in various areas of public and private life in Tsarist Russia and the Russian Empire , which were carried out by Tsar Peter I from his return from the Great Embassy (1698) to the sudden death of Emperor Peter I . (1725) have been enforced.

They were initiated and enforced under the conditions of the long and ultimately victorious Great Northern War with Sweden. In many cases one improvised, there was no general plan. The often erratic Petrine reforms affected the military, administration, taxes, the economy and the church. People, regardless of their class, were forcibly placed in the service of the state. In contrast to previous tsars, Peter I believed that effective modernization of the country should not be limited to the military, but should encompass all of contemporary life.

The Petrine reforms broke with the old Russian traditions (establishment of secular schools, suppression of the power of the church) and contributed to the modernization of the Russian Empire, which ultimately led to Russia becoming a great power in the 18th century.

Tsarism Russia at the end of the 17th century

At the turn of the 18th century, Tsar Peter the Great opened the tsarism, which was partly frozen in medieval structures, to Western European influences and promoted science and culture. At the time, Russia was behind most Western European countries in terms of technology. The shielding policy of the state apparatus and the church, which only left gaps where the West was needed, had contributed to this. In the event of a warlike threat, the Moscow state also resorted to the aristocracy and, because of its weak financial strength, was not able to successfully protect the huge, inadequately developed territory everywhere.

The young ruler had an exact picture of Western Europe through his stays in the Moscow suburbs of foreigners, the Nemezkaja sloboda , and his stays during his first big trip abroad from March 1697 to August 1698, the so-called Great Legation, in the Netherlands and England Knowledge and its technology.

Reform work

State restructuring

A comprehensive reform policy required a strong and capable bureaucracy that could pass on the measures. The existing administrative bodies were inadequate for this purpose. The initial reforms in this area were hasty, but after the Battle of Poltava they were worked out more carefully. Foreign specialists and scholars were also often called in to draw up drafts and regulations.

Territorial territorial reforms

The territorial reforms can be divided into three phases:

  • The first phase began with the city reform of 1699 - in order to limit the abuse of power by the Voevodes , Peter I had town halls built for the cities in a ukase on January 30, 1699 . Mayors appointed by the merchants should address all tax and legal issues of the traders in order to grant the merchants legal security , but to secure the state undiminished tax flow.
  • the second section followed with the government reform of 1708/09 - with a ukase, the state territory was divided into eight governorates , the tax revenue of which served the respective commanders to supply troops. This initiated decentralization ensured that in the event of a war in which Russia found itself, at least parts of the country would remain defensible.
  • The last phase took place with the renewed reorganization of the governorate in 1719 - the order to reorganize the provinces was issued on May 29, 1719: initially the governor was deprived of many rights, so the Voevode passed the taxes directly to Petersburg, bypassing the governor. The now 11 governors essentially retained their military powers. Second, the number of provinces under Voevoden was increased to 50. Finally, Petersburg set up a large number of new offices in the local administration to anchor the separation of powers.


From 1711, the Senate, as the highest central authority, was the focus of reform efforts. The Senate was a group of the highest dignitaries in the country who had an advisory role and should be able to lead the government in Peter's absence. With the ukase of February 22nd, 1711 nine men became senators, whereby with the body chancellery as part of the old boyar duma also personal continuities came to light. The Senate was in charge of the judiciary and the entire field of domestic affairs. The previously passed boyar duma was then removed. Wherever possible, the Senate was filled with people who were selected on the basis of their competence. The military and foreign ministries played a key role in this, they were always in close contact with the tsar. The Senate existed until 1917 with only a few changes.


The reform of the central offices had been prepared for a long time and observed abroad; Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz , for example, gave useful tips. Other countries such as Sweden sometimes served as role models. As a result of this - the most modern innovation - so-called colleges were introduced, which roughly had the function of ministries. Peter introduced ten of these colleges, which had the following portfolios:

  • Mountain (mining)
  • Manufactory (Manufactories)
  • Commerce (trade)
  • Staatskontor ( state finances )
  • Chamber (Finances of the Tsar), was subordinate to the Senate
  • War (military)
  • Admiralty (Navy)
  • Outside (outside)
  • Justice (justice)
  • Church affairs (only added in 1721, stood next to the Senate)

The colleges were formed by the high nobility. Many administrative problems arose with the colleges due to overlapping departments and competition. But this administrative system remained in principle until 1917. There were major changes in the areas of culture, church, science and education.

Relocation of the capital

The newly built Saint Petersburg and Neva, copperplate engraving by Joseph Valeriani and Michail Ivanovich Machajew , 1753.

The new capital was regarded by the Russian people as a symbol of the strange, incomprehensible, useless and idolatrous novelty. The negative attitude was caused by the great sacrifices demanded the construction of the city, and through the use of force in the Peuplierung the city. Soon after the death of Peter I, the capital was relocated to Moscow for a short time.

For a successful and sustainable reorganization of the administrative apparatus, however, a significant signal was required to break with the deadlocked Moscow traditions. This signal was offered after Russian troops had advanced to the Neva estuary on May 1, 1703 . The Tsar had the Peter and Paul Fortress built on May 16, according to his own plan , with the aim of establishing a permanent "window to the north" and thus making the opening for modernization clear. The first Dutch merchant ship arrived in November, and at the same time the first Russian commodity and exchange exchange was established.

In the years that followed, the expansion of the planned new capital , Saint Petersburg, was pushed ahead in spite of all sacrifices. To this end, Tsar Peter ordered 24,000 workers to work in the swamps of the newly conquered delta of the Neva for the summer months from 1704 onwards . From 1708 the number rose to 40,000. Riots broke out, especially in southern Russia. In 1712 the government was moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg. In order to promote the new central role of the city as a window to the north , Tsar Peter I forced the diversion of almost all Russian foreign trade from the most important Russian foreign trade port of Arkhangelsk to St. Petersburg.

Military reforms

During the reign of Tsar Peter I from 1689 to 1725, Patrick Gordon , François Le Fort and others laid the foundations for a modern army based on Western European models. The initial spark for the fundamental reform turned out to be the catastrophe following the Battle of Narva in the Great Northern War in 1700, in which the Russian army proved to be clearly inferior to a much smaller Swedish force. At that time, the Tsar had an army of 100,000 men, which was weakened by 30,000 men by the dissolution of the Strelitzen regiments in 1698 and the expulsion of the Strelitzen from the army. Apart from four regiments, the army was poorly armed and even worse trained and managed.

Since the main Swedish army was tied to the Polish theater of war, Tsar Peter I took advantage of the situation and gradually rebuilt the army. The army could be strengthened again through recruitment and in 1705 it comprised 200,000 soldiers again, after 34,000 in 1700. Peter I appointed foreign experts who were to train the troops - equipped with modern weapons - in the methods of Western European warfare. In order to quickly rebuild the artillery that was lost at Narva , Peter I had church bells confiscated to make cannons from them. In spring 1701, the Russian army again had 243 cannons, 13 howitzers and 12 mortars. After that, further efforts were made under the guidance of skilled Dutch gun founders to further modernize the artillery. 15,000 new muskets were bought in Liège , Europe's oldest and most important arms factory .

Further points of the army reform of 1705 and before:

The Tsarist Army was able to grow from 40 to 78 regiments between 1701 and 1706 , and by 1709 it was completely renewed and reorganized so that it was able to keep up with the disciplined Swedish troops and achieve a decisive victory in the Battle of Poltava win and turn the war around.

Since Peter the Great did not wage war in only 2 years in his 36 years of reign, there were numerous levies. Between 1705 and 1713 during the Great Northern War alone, there were 10 muster that called around 337,000 men to arms. However, the conditions of service were so poor that around 45,000 Russian soldiers were fatally injured during the Great Northern War, but 54,000 died of illness.

Another reform of Peters, which was also very important for increasing the efficiency of the army, was the reform of the rank table in 1721. Originally, according to the old rank table, no one was allowed to serve in the army under someone whose rank was lower than the rank of their own father. This led to the fact that suitable military personnel could not take on leadership roles in associations, provided that sons of higher-ranking nobles served in these associations. This massively weakened the clout of the Russian army. This system was overruled by Sofia Alexejewna , but only replaced by the new hierarchy in 1721. Especially in the guard regiments , which emerged from the game regiments of Tsar Peters, the nobility was committed. The compulsory service was handled strictly. Every male adult nobleman had to be active in the regiment. The service of the nobility was about 25 years.

To finance the new Russian army and the newly established Russian fleet , Peter the Great introduced poll tax in 1718 for the serf peasants and the taxable citizens of the cities.

Due to the poor conditions in the army, desertion was growing on a large scale at the time. A census made by the Russian administration showed 198,876 deserters between 1719 and 1727.

Economic reforms

Peter built a mercantilist economy. This particularly includes his strong promotion of the manufactories . When Peter took office, there were only ten factories in Russia. The promotion of industry was closely related to the needs of the army during the long war years. But there were also many manufactories and factories that produced consumer goods. Some factories, among them the Menshikov mirror factory, were already working for export. In 1716 the spinning wheel was introduced in Russia. A year before his death, Peter I ordered that all foundlings should be educated to be craftsmen and manufacturers. In his last year of reign, there were about 100 factories, including some with more than 3,000 employees - outstanding the arms factory of Tula . The German mining specialist Baron von Hennin, who was chairman of the mining college, played a major role in the development of the iron and steel industry . At the end of the government, the statistics register a balanced state budget of about ten million rubles .

Church reform

Relations between the Tsar and the Church had been strained since Peter's accession to the throne. Tsar Peter I felt the hands of the church behind the strikers . He suspected conspiratorial powers of the monks also in the monasteries. The clergy stood united (believers and old believers ) against the innovations of Peter. The clergy had great power among the people, so that Tsar Peter I had to integrate the church into his reforms. The death of Patriarch Adrian (1628–1700) on October 16, 1700 suited him. Tsar Peter I prevented the election of a new patriarch and instead appointed a patriarchate administrator who, unlike the patriarch, did not embody the dignity of Russian Orthodox infallibility. It was only after the Great Northern War that Tsar Peter I began reforming the Russian Orthodox Church .

On January 25, 1721, a state authority was created by the Spiritual Regulations, the Most Holy Conducting Synod (the Spiritual College), which took the place of the Patriarchate. The members swore an oath of office to the tsar, so that this institution became dependent on the tsar. Tsar Peter I created a ministry for church affairs, so to speak, and at the same time abolished church independence. The ecclesiastical jurisdiction was restricted, as was the property of the monasteries, which he also cut the number of monks.

Social reforms

Educational reforms

Peter the Great worked energetically for the promotion of culture, education and science in his empire. In realizing his reform intentions - which had shaped him in particular during his shorter stays abroad in the Holy Roman Empire in 1711 and 1712/3, the Tsar made use of the early German Enlightenment, which was to become the predominant school of thought in Russia in the 18th century. In particular, the first important Russian scientists Tatishchev , Lomonossow and Trediakowski were highly influenced by German scholars such as Leibniz and Wolff .

The great importance that the Tsar attached to education for the development of a modern society was shown by his numerous decrees, through which schools of various types were brought into being. Nevertheless, the secular school system remained in a mess because of a lack of money and teachers. Another project that Tsar Peter tackled was the establishment of an Academy of Sciences, which was founded in December 1725 after his death by his successor Catherine I as the Russian Academy of Sciences . In close connection with the founding of the academy were the exploration and exploration of his vast empire that he ordered. The research expeditions to the Far East inspired by Peter I. B. Bering's expeditions gave Russian science important impulses and promoted the economic and cultural development of the empire.

Calendar reform

A change in the old order (starina) took place, for example, through a calendar reform , whereby the Byzantine calendar was abolished. So September 1, 1699, which should have been the beginning of 7208 in Moscow, was not celebrated, but instead January 1, 1700 in a secular way. The Julian calendar was introduced (it was in Protestant countries in comparison usually 11 days back to the Gregorian calendar ).

Tax reforms

In order to rationalize taxation, the poll tax was introduced in 1718 , according to which all male rural residents should be equally burdened with the entire tax burden of a village. Actually intended as a relief for the peasants, the situation of the peasants had deteriorated considerably due to the constant financial demands of the tsar and the frequent recruiting. In all strata of the population there was considerable resistance to the reform policy, which was expressed in desperate popular uprisings, which in turn were suppressed with brutal force on the orders of the Tsar. Tsar Peter I did not see that the oppressive tax burden, the peasants' bondage and serfdom were the main reasons for the slow progress in the Russian Empire.

Caricature on the reform of Peter the Great: the beard of an old-believing Russian is cut off, woodcut for a leaflet, late 17th century

Tsar Peter the Great had the impression that the Russia of his time adhered too much to traditional traditions and that the country needed modernization in some sectors. In his opinion he was strengthened by impressions that he had gained on his trip to Western Europe. Among other things, flowing full beards were seldom seen in the countries he visited and the clothing of the countries he visited also seemed more functional to him than the robes of his subjects. He therefore resolved to change various things in his kingdom.

When he came home from abroad, July 26th became July. / September 5, 1698 greg. A reception was given in the castle of Preobrazhenskoye , at that time the tsar's seat outside Moscow, to which many dignitaries appeared. Peter the Great saw the opportunity to set an example for the dawning of times. He asked for barber's equipment and cut off the long beards of his visitors himself. Only three people escaped their beard loss: his former guardian Tichon Strešnev (1644–1719), the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Adrian I and the very old Prince Čerkasskij. A few days later the tsar gave his court jester the order to continue the procedure of cutting off his beard at court. At the tsar's table there was always a barber-trained servant who trimmed the hair of every beard who appeared while the meal was still going on.

As if that weren't enough, on September 5, 1698, Peter published a ukase , which urged men, except clergy and farmers, to shave off their full beards. But resistance from those affected remained. He thereupon imposed a levy on full beard wearers, which was ordered again by the tsar in 1701 and 1705. Farmers who came to a town had to pay the tax if they wanted to keep their beard.

Nobility reform

In 1722 a ranking table was introduced in the course of the nobility reform . It allowed civil and military ranks to be compared directly, should the supremacy of the old hereditary nobility , the boyars , be broken and a nobility dependent on the crown created. Only a third of the nobility were allowed to devote themselves to civil service; the military took precedence.

In order to strengthen St. Petersburg, the city on the Baltic Sea, many Russian nobles had to build it there, in a city without a hinterland and with an unhealthy swampy climate. Because whoever wanted to advance in Peter's empire had to adapt to the necessary modernization in his opinion. Under Peter, many people rose from the landed aristocracy or from more modest backgrounds, such as Heinrich Ostermann , Alexander Menshikov , Peter Schafirow . But the old boyar families, the Sheremetyevs, Dolgorukis, Apraxins and Peter Tolstoy also took on Western European titles such as prince or count. Other people who experienced an unexpectedly rapid rise were Tsarina Catherine I , who had been a Lithuanian maid, Menshikov, who is said to have been a pastry maker, and Lefort, a commoner from Geneva. Ostermann, one of Peter's best diplomats, was the son of an innkeeper from Westphalia and Peter Schafirow was a converted Jew. There are many examples of Peter promoting able people on merit. He once appointed a serf who had anonymously made a good suggestion for improvement to head the office. But of course Peter could not ignore the nobility and neither could he fill all key positions in administration and the army with upstart people and foreigners. Peter wanted the nobility to fill the positions they deserved in administration and the army and to actively help shape his state, of course in Peter's sense of modernization. The boyars should of course have the necessary qualifications. They had to learn arithmetic, languages, geometry and ballistics, send their sons abroad and much more. Those who proved themselves and went along with the policy of the tsar could rise very high. Even the conservative aristocrat was forced to take part if he did not want to be socially and politically sidelined and outplayed by foreigners. In Russia, the nobility still had a great influence in rural areas.

Assessment and continuation of the reform work

The assessment of the reform work of Peter I is not uniform, as he brought the forces of the lower classes to the brink of exhaustion in his attempts at modernization. His pioneering role in the modernization of Russia, which had long been emphasized, was put into perspective: many of his reforms were rooted in the advances of his predecessors in the late 17th century.

Peter I's successors basically continued the modernization of Russia, which he intensified, even if many of his reforms were initially reversed. But the power of the Petrine transformations was so great that the process of modernization in Russia became irreversible even under the later, weak emperors. Above all, Empress Catherine II ( the Great ) , born German princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst, tied in with the Petrine reforms and at the same time continued the ambivalent tendencies of Peter's reform work, as an enlightened ruler using autocratic methods of power.

See also


  • Goehrke / Hellmann / Lorenz / Scheibert: World History - Russia , Volume 31, Weltbild Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1998
  • Manfred Hellmann, Klaus Zernack, Gottfried Schramm: Handbook of the History of Russia , Volume 6
  • Gerhard Müller: Theological Real Encyclopedia: Religious Psychology - Samaritans , Volume 29
  • Christoph Schmidt: Russian history 1547-1917 , Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag
  • Hans-Joachim Torke: The Russian Tsars, 1547-1917 , CH Beck

Individual evidence

  1. Manfred Hellmann, Klaus Zernack, Gottfried Schramm: Handbuch der Geschichte Russlands , Volume 6, S. 300
  2. ^ Goehrke / Hellmann / Lorenz / Scheibert: World History - Russia , Volume 31, Weltbild Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1998, p. 174
  3. ^ Goehrke / Hellmann / Lorenz / Scheibert: World History - Russia , Volume 31, Weltbild Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1998, p. 177
  4. ^ Goehrke / Hellmann / Lorenz / Scheibert: Weltgeschichte - Russland , Volume 31, Weltbild Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1998, p. 186
  5. Christoph Schmidt: Russian History 1547-1917 , Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, p. 33
  6. Lothar Rühl: Rise and Fall of the Russian Empire , Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 1992, p. 175
  7. a b Duffy: Russia's Military Way to the West , p. 17
  8. Christoph Schmidt: Russian History 1547-1917 , Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, p. 32
  9. a b Christoph Schmidt: Russian History 1547-1917 , Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, p. 37
  10. Hans-Joachim Torke: The Russian Tsars, 1547-1917 , CH Beck, p. 170
  11. Hans-Joachim Torke: The Russian Tsars, 1547-1917 , CH Beck, p. 172
  12. ^ Goehrke / Hellmann / Lorenz / Scheibert: World History - Russia , Volume 31, Weltbild Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1998, p. 198
  13. Hans-Joachim Torke: The Russian Tsars, 1547-1917 , CH Beck, p. 175
  14. Note: The date August 26th used by the source can only be a Julian date, because according to the Theatrum Europaeum , Volume 15, page 475, Tsar Peter the Great is definitely on September 4th 1698 of the Gregorian calendar in Moscow arrived.
  15. Peter Hauptmann: Russia's Old Believers . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005, ISBN 978-3-525-56130-0 , p. 92 ( preview in Google Book search).
  16. Bernhard Stern: History of public morality in Russia , Volume 1, Chapter 2: The barber as an educator . 1907. E-Text in Lexikus full-text library , accessed on July 12, 2009
  17. Tages-Anzeiger of September 5, 2008: Peter the Great forbids beards , queried on July 10, 2009
  18. Wilhelm Binder: Peter the Great. Alexievich and his time . Kalbfell-Kurtz, Reutlingen 1844, p. 94 ( preview in Google Book search).
  19. Th. B. Welter: Textbook of world history for schools. A free edit Extract from the author's major works . Coppenrath'sche Buchh., Münster 1861, p. 319 ( preview in Google Book search).
  20. ^ Goehrke / Hellmann / Lorenz / Scheibert: Weltgeschichte - Russland , Volume 31, Weltbild Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1998, p. 183
  21. Gerhard Müller: Theologische Realenzyklopädie: Religionspsychologie - Samaritaner , Volume 29, P. 499