Russian Empire

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Российская Империя
Rossijskaja Imperija
Russian Empire
Flag of the Russian Empire Flag of the Russian Empire Coat of arms of the Russian Empire 1882–1917
Flag 1699-1858; 1883-1917 Flag 1858-1883 coat of arms
Motto : Съ нами Богъ! ("God with us!")
Flag of Russia.svg navigation Flag of Russia.svg
Constitution until 1906: none (absolute monarchy)
1906–1917: Basic State Laws of the Russian Empire of April 23, 1906
Official language Russian
Other languages Ukrainian , Belarusian , Finnish , Estonian , Latvian , Lithuanian , Polish , German , Yiddish , Swedish , Romanian , Crimean Tatar , Georgian , Azerbaijani , Armenian , Greek , Kazakh , Uzbek , Kyrgyz , Turkmen , Tajik , Mongolian , Manchurian, Paleosiberian languages , Obugrian languages and others.
- 1721 to 1728
- 1728 to 1730
- 1730 to 1917

Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Form of government Absolute Monarchy
Form of government autocracy
Head of state Emperor
Head of government Prime Minister (1905-1917)
- 1866
- 1914

24,484,624 km²
22,766,770 km²
- 1916

approx. 181,537,800
Population density 8.1 inhabitants per km²
currency ruble
founding 1721
independence Until March 3rd jul. / March 16,  1917 greg.
National anthem Bosche, Zarja chrani!
Russian Empire with zones of influence (light green) 1865
Russian Empire 1912

Russian Empire is next to Empire Russia in the science of history common name for the Russian Empire in the period from 1721 to 1917. The official name is Russian (Все-) Российская империя , transcription: (VCE) Rossiyskaya Imperija , literally "(All- ) Russian Empire ". The terms Russian Tsarist Empire and Tsarist Russia are also sometimes used, although Tsar Peter the Great replaced the title of Tsar in 1721 with that of the Emperor.

At the time of its greatest expansion in the middle of the 19th century, the territory of the Russian Empire represented the third largest empire in world history (after the British Empire and the Mongol Empire ) and the largest contiguous modern empire. As a result of the February Revolution in 1917 , the Empire fell.



The empire reached its greatest expansion between 1742 and 1867 (with the incorporation of the territory of the present-day states of Estonia , Latvia , Lithuania in the Baltic States , Finland , a large part of Poland , regions in northeastern Turkey and Alaska ) and was thus (according to Mongolian Reich ) the largest contiguous state or area of ​​rule in history.

In 1917 the empire bordered ten neighboring countries: Norway , Sweden , the German Empire , Austria-Hungary , Romania , the Ottoman Empire , Persia , Afghanistan , China and Japan's Korea . It also bordered the Baltic Sea , the Black Sea , the Caspian Sea , the Pacific Ocean , the Okhotsk Sea , the Bering Sea , the East Siberian Sea , the Laptev Sea , the Kara Sea , the Barents Sea and the White Sea .

The territory of Russia last covered with around 22.7 million square kilometers, almost one sixth of the mainland of the world. In a west-east direction, it stretched from the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean for almost 10,000 kilometers. It stretched nearly 5000 kilometers from north to south.


In addition to the territory of today's Russian Federation , the empire in Europe included the Baltic Governments of Estonia , Livonia and Courland , Congress Poland , Lithuania , most of Ukraine , Belarus , Moldova and Finland (as the Grand Duchy of Finland ).

In Asia south of the Caucasus , today's Armenia , Azerbaijan and Georgia belonged to the empire. The area also included the provinces of Ardahan , Artvin , Iğdır and Kars in what is now Turkey . In Central Asia , the General Government of Turkestan and the vassal states of the Emirate of Bukhara and Khanate Khiva belonged to the Russian state. They included the territory of the modern states of Kazakhstan , Kyrgyzstan , Tajikistan , Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan . Alaska was considered a Russian colony until 1867 . From 1797 to 1818 (with an interruption from 1807 to 1813) the Jever rule belonged to Russia as an exclave .


Ethnic map of European Russia before World War I.

The Russian Empire inherited the character as a multi-ethnic empire from Tsarist Russia and expanded it even further in the course of its 196-year existence. The people who supported the state were the Russians ("Great Russians"), whereby Ukrainians ("Little Russians") and Belarusians were also seen as an integral part of a triune Russian people .

From earlier times the empire included a large number of smaller Finno-Ugric and Siberian tribes as well as Tatars , Chuvashes and Bashkirs of Turkic origin . With the acquisition of the Baltic provinces at the beginning of the 18th century, in addition to the Baltic peoples, there was also a significant German-Baltic population, which subsequently played a significant role in Russian politics and society.

The expansion into Central Asia, which began in the middle of the 18th century, brought Kazakh nomads and the partition of Poland added a considerable Polish and Jewish population. Up to 1917 about two thirds of all Jews in the world lived in the Russian Empire, the vast majority of them in the so-called Paleon of Settlement .

In the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland , Finns and Swedes were among the subjects of the Romanovs. Further expansions of Russia made Caucasian and various Central Asian peoples subjects of the Russian crown. According to the first all-Russian census of 1897 , Great Russians only made up about 49% of the total population of the empire.

This census just before the turn of the 20th century showed a population of 125,640,021 people. Finland , Bukhara and Khiva were not taken into account.


Tsar Peter I as emperor (since 1721)

Tsar Peter I.

The history of the Russian Empire begins in 1721 with the victory in the Great Northern War over the great power Sweden and the rise to a great European power. To underline the new status in the European power structure, Peter I , Tsar and Grand Duke of Russia since 1682 , had the Russian tsarism renamed "Russian Empire" and officially changed the monarchy from Tsar to Emperor (Император, Imperator ). At the same time, this corresponded to an orientation towards the Western European model, which Peter also implemented in his domestic political reforms .

Due to that legal act of 1721 by the All-Russian Emperor ( imperator wserossijskij ) Peter the Great , the official name of the Russian Empire changed: The term imperija (" Imperium ") replaced the previously used term zarstwo (" Empire ", literally " Zartum ") . In official parlance, the Hellenized form Rossija , which had only been used occasionally, now finally replaced both the word Rus and the middle name Moscow .

The proclamation of Peter I as emperor caused a sensation in the European public and was perceived by the governments of most states as a provocation. It was difficult for Russian diplomacy to achieve international recognition of the new ruler's title.

The age of the empresses

Catherine I and Peter II (1725 to 1730)

After Peter's death in 1725, his wife Catherine I succeeded him to the throne. She was under the influence of Alexander Danilowitsch Menshikov , to whom she left the business of government with practically no restrictions. But just two years after taking office, Katharina died. Her successor was the grandson of Peter the Great, Peter II , who soon ousted Menshikov and moved his court to Moscow . But Peter also died of smallpox soon after taking office, without leaving an heir. After his death, the court was relocated to St. Petersburg again.

Anna (1730 to 1740)

Empress now became a half niece of Peter the Great, Anna Ivanovna . It put a brake on many of Peter the Great's reforms that were still in effect at the time. The money was withdrawn from promoting education and other endeavors and spent on lavish and lavish court ceremonies. One of the military events of her reign was the campaign by Burkhard Christoph von Münnich against the Crimean Chanate , which considerably weakened this long-dangerous enemy of Russia. Under Anna, many Germans gained considerable influence in the Russian state, including Ernst Johann von Biron and Heinrich Johann Ostermann . Their repressive methods of rule soon became very unpopular and led to a coup in 1741 in which the daughter of Peter the Great Elizabeth Petrovna became empress.

Elisabeth (1741 to 1762)

Elisabeth's reign was the opposite of Anna's model of rule. High state offices were given back to Russians, and modernization and further development of the country were initiated again. For example, Elizabeth supported Mikhail Lomonosov in founding the Moscow State University . Elizabeth Petrovna passed some very liberal laws, including the abolition of the death penalty in Russia and not once carried out during her reign. Elisabeth, who relied heavily on the nobility , promoted the arts and architecture, on her initiative the Winter Palace of Saint Petersburg, the Catherine Palace and many other famous buildings were built. St. Petersburg, also called the Venice of the North, finally rose to become an important metropolis. In the Seven Years' War the Russian army conquered large parts of Prussia , including Berlin . The death of Elisabeth in 1762, known as the miracle of the House of Brandenburg , averted the total defeat of Prussia. The Prussian-friendly nephew (his father was the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp) of Elisabeth, Peter III. , gave Prussia back all conquered territories.

Catherine II (1762 to 1796)

Katharina the great

From the general dissatisfaction with the politics of Peter III. a conspiracy arose in the course of which his wife Catherine II ("the great one") came to power. It also continued the modernization course of its predecessor. Together with her favorite Grigori Potjomkin , she designed a bold vision, the so-called " Greek Project ". It intended to break the power of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and to create a coherent Orthodox empire from the Aegean Sea to Russia. The straits as well as Constantinople should come under the control of Russia. A series of wars against the Ottoman Empire actually brought this goal closer, even if it was never fully realized. Large parts of southern Russia and southern Ukraine came to the Russian Empire. Numerous new cities such as Sevastopol , Odessa and Yekaterinoslav were founded in the new regions, which were grouped under the name of New Russia . Catherine had great power in Poland and exerted great influence on its decisions and throne relationships. Finally, she decided, together with Prussia and Austria , the partitions of Poland , in which large areas of Russia secured.

Domestically, it was confronted with a massive peasant and Cossack revolt ( Pugachev revolt ) in 1773 . It resulted from the stricter regulations for serfdom. Katharina was able to bloodily suppress the uprising, but large parts of the southern Volga and Ural region remained devastated by the civil war-like uprising for a long time. Many Germans were invited to Russia as settlers to rebuild and repopulate these areas. Catherine also eliminated the autonomy of the Ukrainian Cossacks and instead gave them lands in the Kuban area . The French Revolution of 1789 finally repelled them from the liberal ideas to which they still clung in the early days of their rule.

By 1812 Finland , Georgia, and Bessarabia became Russian.

The developed autocracy (1796 to 1855)

Paul I (1796 to 1801)

The Palace Square in Saint Petersburg

After Katharina's death on November 17, 1796, she was followed by her son Paul I (1796-1801), who, according to his opponents, had become a suspicious, capricious tyrant through a wrong upbringing. Initially, he issued some benevolent ordinances in favor of serfs and Old Believers . The family law passed by him in 1797 is also important. For the succession to the throne it determined the right of the firstborn in a directly descending line and thereby the priority of male descendants over female as a constitutional law. Another law separated part of the crown farmers as property of the imperial family under the name of Apana farmers . Out of distrust of the revolutionary ideas of the French Revolution , Paul forbade attending foreign schools and universities, introduced increased censorship and strict supervision of all foreigners and foreign travelers living in the Reich, and punished any free expression of opinion with capricious arbitrariness .

He only took part in the coalition wars against France when the Knights of the Order of Malta, who had been expelled from Malta , elected him Grand Master of the Order of Malta in October 1798 and called for his help against France. In the Second Coalition War he provided auxiliary troops under General Hermann for the British intended landing in the Netherlands, for the war in southern Germany (under General Rimski-Korsakow ) and in Italy (under Suworow ). Even Sultan Selim III. he sent a fleet of 4,000 soldiers to Constantinople to help.

Suworow achieved his most brilliant successes in Italy, where he worked with the Austrians through victories at Cassano d'Adda (April 27, 1799), Trebbia (June 17-19) and Novi Ligure (August 15). drove the French out of the Po area . When he then advanced on his famous march over the Gotthard Pass into Switzerland to unite with Rimsky-Korsakov, the latter had been defeated shortly before (September 26) near Zurich , and Suworow had to turn over the Panixer Pass to Graubünden from where he returned to Russia. The landing in the Netherlands also ended with a surrender (October 19). Emperor Paul attributed these failures to the ineptitude of the allied commanders.

Annoyed by the British occupation of Malta on September 15 and the defeats, he broke away from the coalition and concluded the second armed neutrality in December 1800 , following the model of the neutrality treaty initiated by Catherine II of February 26, 1780 to restrict British sea power with Sweden, Denmark and Prussia. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland immediately responded with an attack on Copenhagen . Paul then planned an alliance with France and an invasion of British India; However, before hostilities between Great Britain and Russia broke out, Paul was murdered by some nobles on March 24, 1801.

Alexander I (1801 to 1825)

Alexander I of Russia

His 23-year-old son Alexander I (1801-1825) immediately renounced armed neutrality in a treaty with Great Britain in order to be able to devote himself to the works of peace. Raised according to Rousseau's principles, he raved about humane ideals without, however, using his unlimited rulership, which he did not renounce, with energy and perseverance for their realization. In place of the colleges founded by Peter I, he set up eight ministries (1802), created the State Council (1810, also called Reichsrat ) to examine and advise on all new laws and measures of the government , sought to regulate the finances and put in place to reduce the Army costs at military colonies . He abolished serfdom in the Baltic provinces and mitigated it in Russia itself. The number of grammar schools and elementary schools increased considerably, universities (in Kazan and Kharkov ) were newly established or (in Dorpat and Vilnius ) reorganized.

He soon realized that his peaceful, even friendly, attitude towards France was only being used by Napoleon to be able to switch to arbitrariness in Central Europe. In 1805 he joined the third coalition against France . But the Russian army under Kutuzov , which united with the Austrians in Moravia, was defeated at Austerlitz on December 2, 1805 and had to evacuate Austrian territory as a result of the armistice between France and Austria.

His friendship alliance with Friedrich Wilhelm III. loyal, Alexander came to the aid of Prussia in 1806, when the ruins of the army were pushed back over the Oder after the battle of Jena and Auerstedt ( fourth coalition ). The Russians fought the French in Poland in the undecided battles of Czarnowo (December 23-24), the Battle of Pultusk and Golymin (December 26, 1806), and in Prussia the murderous but not decisive battle of Prussian Eylau (December 7-8) February 1807), but were defeated on June 10th near Heilsberg and on June 14th near Friedland (East Prussia) after a lengthy armistice .

At a personal meeting with Alexander on June 25th, Napoleon succeeded in completely winning the tsar over to himself. On July 7th, Alexander made the peace of Tilsit with Napoleon . In doing so, he left Prussia completely in the lurch. He even got rich in the Białystok border district at the latter's expense . In a secret federal treaty, they shared rulership over Europe. More details were determined at a second meeting in Erfurt ( Erfurt Princely Congress , September to October 1808). Russia left Napoleon to rule Germany, Spain and Portugal and joined the continental blockade against Great Britain. In return, Russia was allowed to conquer Sweden and Turkey.

As early as the beginning of 1808 Russia had declared war on Sweden and had an army deployed in Finland, which was conquered in a short time; In 1809 Russian troops crossed the ice of the Gulf of Bothnia , occupied the Åland Islands and the opposite Swedish coast. Charles XIII Sweden had to make the Peace of Frederikshamn (September 17, 1809) and cede all of Finland to Russia as far as the Tornea River and the Åland Islands.

The second victim of the Tilsit Alliance was Turkey. Provoked by Napoleon, she began the eighth Russo-Turkish War (1806–1812) on December 30, 1806 . The Russians invaded the Danube principalities, triumphed over the Turks at Batin on the Danube in September 1810 and at Rustschuk in October 1811 and enforced the Treaty of Bucharest (May 28, 1812), through which the Prut determined the border between the two empires would. A war with Persia was ended at the same time by the cession of a strip of land on the west bank of the Caspian Sea with Baku .

As soon as these wars were over, the Russian Danube Army under Admiral Tschitschagow had to intervene in the war with France in 1812 . The cause of the war was Napoleon's arrogance, who believed he no longer needed Russia as an ally and wanted to rule Europe alone. In 1809 he enlarged the Duchy of Warsaw to include Western Galicia , arbitrarily robbed Duke Peter Friedrich Ludwig von Oldenburg , a close relative of the Russian imperial family, of his land and called for a tightening of the continental blockade, but refused to evacuate Prussia, which was requested by Russia.

On 12./24. June 1812, Napoleon crossed the Russian border with his Grande Armée of 612,000 men. The Russians were vastly outnumbered. Nevertheless, they defeated Napoleon by avoiding an open field battle, retreating into the vastness of the Russian Empire (already the largest territorial state at that time) and tiring the enemy with guerrilla warfare.

The left wing of the French under Jacques MacDonald , to which the Prussian auxiliary corps was attached, advanced into the Baltic provinces; the right, under Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg , advanced into Volhynia . The main army under Napoleon himself took the direction of Moscow , reached Vilnius on June 28, Vitebsk on July 28, and only encountered the 116,000-strong Russian western army under Barclay de Tolly near Smolensk in mid-August . This offered resistance, but was defeated on August 17th. The Russians covered the further retreat by fighting at Walutina Gora (August 19), Dorogobush (August 26), Vyazma (August 29) and Gschatsk (today Gagarin , September 1). After Mikhail Kutuzov had taken over the supreme command, they dared the battle of Borodino again on September 7th . It is true that after a persistent and terribly bloody fight they had to vacate their position and surrender to Moscow, which Napoleon entered on September 14; but the French army had not only melted down to 100,000 men, but was also exhausted and tired of war, and instead of being able to enforce peace through possession of Moscow, Napoleon found the city abandoned by almost all inhabitants and doomed to annihilation; since the evening of 15 September, allegedly on the orders of the governor began Rostopchin set fire in Moscow (he has this version later rejected) that almost put in six-day rampage the whole city to ashes and the French of the funds deprived of maintenance.

Napoleon could not spend the winter in Moscow, and after Alexander put off his peace proposals and then rejected them, he withdrew on October 18. He first turned against Kaluga in order to find winter quarters in the still untouched southern stretches of land, but was thrown back north by Kutuzov near Malojaroslavz on October 24th and now had to continue his retreat to Smolensk through completely drained areas, with his rearguard continuing from Cossacks swarmed and attacked. The army suffered terribly from the lack of food and the early cold, and was already in the process of disintegration when it reached Smolensk on November 9th.

Russian troops enter Paris, 1814

The further retreat was endangered by the fact that the Russian Southern Army under Chichagov after being pushed back by Schwarzenberg and the Northern Army under Wittgenstein , which had not been able to prevent the advance of the French into the Baltic provinces and had fought twice unsuccessfully at Polotsk (August 17-18 and October 18-19), were able to unite on Napoleon's line of retreat. With difficulty, using the last of their strengths, the French forced November, before this union, the crossing over the Beresina ; but in a deplorable condition the rest of the army reached Vilna on December 6th, where they could not hold their own either. The waste Yorcks by the French (December 30) urged the same initial 1813 and for vacating the Vistula line.

The Russian troops were also severely decimated and exhausted by the losses and strains of the winter campaign, and there were many influential people at the Russian headquarters for an immediate and most advantageous peace with France. But Napoleon was by no means inclined to do so, and Alexander, too, urged the continuation of the war in league with Prussia in the wars of liberation .

The first campaign, commanded by the Russian generals, Wittgenstein and Barclay, ended after the battles at Großgörschen and at Bautzen with the retreat to Silesia. In the second part of the war, however, when Austria, Great Britain and Sweden had joined the sixth coalition , the Russian troops took an excellent part in the victories, especially of the Silesian army from 1813–1814, through which Napoleon was driven out of Germany and was finally overthrown. Along with Metternich , Emperor Alexander played the most important role in the Council of Allies . He often helped the urgent advice of Prussian statesmen and generals to victory. After his plan to raise Bernadotte to the French throne was thwarted , he brought about the restoration of the Bourbons and the protection of France in the first peace of Paris .

At the Congress of Vienna he demanded that Prussia's acquisitions from the Third Partition of Poland go to Russia and that Prussia be compensated for them with Saxony . Prussia would have become a satellite of Russia that would have reached far into Central Europe. In doing so he brought about a conflict with Austria and Great Britain; Metternich and the British Foreign Minister Castlereagh tried to prevent threatened Russian domination. In February the conflict was settled with some concessions from Russia. Russia received the actual Poland, the so-called Congress Poland , as a special kingdom, which was also given its own liberal constitution. Its possessions now expanded in the west to close to the Oder, while in the far east it expanded beyond the Bering Strait over part of North America. It covered over 20 million square kilometers with about 50 million inhabitants.

In 1815, Emperor Alexander I was celebrated in Europe as “the savior of Europe” and played a key role in the reorganization of Europe at the Congress of Vienna. The Holy Alliance of Russia, Austria and Prussia was also founded at his suggestion . Russia now dominated continental Europe until the Crimean War put an end to that supremacy in the 1850s. Alexander died in Taganrog on the Sea of ​​Azov in late 1825 without leaving any descendants.

Nicholas I (1825 to 1855)

Emperor Nicholas I.

According to the succession plan, his brother Constantine would actually have followed him on the throne; however, he had already renounced the throne in 1822. Alexander had therefore secretly designated his brother Nikolaus Pavlovich as his successor. After the death of Alexander it was only Constantine who was proclaimed ruler; when he refused, the situation at times became confused. When the Petersburg garrison was sworn in to Emperor Nicholas I , disappointment in the lack of domestic political reforms led to the unsuccessful Decembrist uprising in 1825 .

Nicholas I, who ruled until 1855, was a rather cautious ruler who saw himself primarily as the keeper of the existing internal and external order. He supported the reaction in Europe; Nikolaus repeatedly threatened an army of intervention if national unrest broke out , for example in Belgium . Inside, Nicholas ruled strictly autocratic. Under his aegis, the secret police, later the Ochrana , was brought into being.

In the Russo-Turkish War (1828/1829) Russia defeated the Ottoman Empire and gained territories in the southern Caucasus . Moldova, Wallachia and Serbia became autonomous and came under Russian influence. In 1830/1831 there was a Polish uprising , which also spread to Lithuania, but was successfully suppressed. When Muhammad Ali Pasha advanced as far as Anatolia in the fight against the Turkish sultan in 1832 , Nicholas sent troops to support the sultan. In the revolutionary year of 1848, Russian troops helped put down the rebellious Hungarians in the Habsburg Empire. Nikolaus was critical of a possible German unification and at the Olomouc Conference he exerted strong pressure on Prussia to prevent a small German unification under the leadership of Prussia and to restore the German Confederation in its old form.

From 1850 onwards, colonial policy also became increasingly important in Russia. Russia expanded its sphere of influence to Turkestan and the Caucasus in the early age of imperialism from 1852 to 1888 and also harbored unrealistic ambitions for China and India ( The Great Game ). Vladivostok was founded on the Pacific in 1860 as a solid base for a more active and aggressive Russian policy in the Far East.

From 1853 to 1856 the Crimean War broke out , in which Russia was subject to an alliance of Great Britain, France, Piedmont and the Ottoman Empire. The war was fought not only in the Crimea itself, but also in the Baltic Sea, the White Sea and the Black Sea. During the war the backwardness of Russia made itself unpleasantly noticeable; the equipment of the land army was inadequate and the Russian fleet was completely out of date and unable to withstand a test of strength with the British Royal Navy .

Emperor Alexander II "the liberator" (1855 to 1881)

Emperor Alexander II "the liberator"
The abolition of serfdom in Russia (picture from 1914 from the Slavic epic by Alfons Mucha )

Emperor Alexander II embarked on far-reaching reforms after Russia's backwardness had become evident during the Crimean War. Serfdom was abolished in 1861 ; the judiciary was reformed and so was the Imperial Russian Army . Alexander pushed through these reforms against great opposition. In 1867 he sold Alaska to the United States .

After the Turkish-Russian War 1877–1878, in the course of which Russia achieved Bulgaria's independence from the Ottoman Empire , the idea of Pan-Slavism , i.e. the unification of the Slavic peoples under Russian rule, spread. These ideas weren't new; however, they were increasingly being heard in Russia through a nationally-minded press and agitators. At the Berlin Congress , however, Russia suffered a setback, because the creation of a Greater Bulgaria, as Russia was striving for, met fierce opposition from Great Britain and Austria-Hungary, who wanted to prevent Russia from breaking through to the Adriatic. In Russia, several radical groups were formed in these decades, which sought to overthrow. The best known of them was the anarchist group Narodnaya Volja (People's Will). Several unsuccessful attacks were carried out on Alexander . On March 11, 1881, the tsar was murdered by two assassins from this group .

Alexander III (1881 to 1894) and Nicholas II (1894 to 1917)

He was followed by his son as Emperor Alexander III. after, who, also influenced by the murder of his father, took a course hostile to reform and ruled in a strictly autocratic manner. In doing so, he relied primarily on the army and the secret police, the Ochrana . Traditionally, the army also performed police duties in the interior of Russia. Alexander's son Nicholas II , who succeeded him to the throne in 1894, continued this policy.

The development of the Russian East also fell into this epoch. From 1891 to 1901 the Trans-Siberian Railway was built between Vladivostok and Chelyabinsk , which was to connect the west and east of the empire with one another; The settlement of Siberia was also favored by this. In 1896 Russia gained influence over Manchuria through the construction of a junction, the Transmandschurian Railway , but this led to conflicting interests with Japan ; both sought to expand at the expense of China .

So it came from 1904–1905 to the Russo-Japanese War , which Russia lost. Russia had problems from the start, because the theater of war was far from the actual center of power. Japan, an ally of Great Britain since 1902 , attacked the Russian base at Port Arthur without declaring war beforehand and sank part of the Russian Far East squadron. On April 13, 1904, there was the first sea battle, which ended with the victory of the Japanese. These now occupied the heights around the fortress Port Arthur and began the siege. From the heights they also took the Russian ships under fire; in August the remaining fleet attempted another breakthrough. In another sea battle, the remaining Russian ships were sunk. Nicholas II, however, was stubborn and not yet ready for peace, which was also demanded by large circles, from large industrialists to the military. After the Russian Baltic Fleet had circled half the world, it came on the 14th and 15th / 27th. and May 28, 1905 at Tsushima in the Strait of Korea and Japan for the battle with the Japanese fleet under Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō . Again the Russian was defeated by the Japanese fleet.

After the fortress of Port Arthur was conquered by the Japanese, Russia had to agree to the Portsmouth peace treaty brokered by US President Theodore Roosevelt . September 1905 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire .

Full coat of
arms of the Russian Empire (1883)
Opening of the Duma in 1906

Due to the lack of domestic political reforms and the conflict between supporters of rapprochement with the West ( Westerners ) and opponents of such rapprochement ( Slavophiles ), Russia was increasingly falling behind the other great powers economically. The corruption in the country was widespread and higher than in Western countries. In addition, the strong centralization of the state was not always an advantage. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg , but also in other Russian cities, circles of intellectuals, communists and anarchists emerged. They were made by Tsar Alexander III. brutally persecuted. His successor, Nicholas II, maintained his father's policy. In addition, there were social problems that arose in the course of the industrialization of the country, as well as a famine in 1890. In 1898 the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Russia (predecessor of the Communist Party of Russia ) was founded, in which from 1903 the Bolsheviks under Lenin took the lead. The defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War only increased dissatisfaction and large demonstrations took place. After the St. Petersburg Bloody Sunday in 1905, an unsuccessful revolution took place in Russia from 1905 to 1907 , which, however, showed the emperor the discontent in the country.

Emperor Nicholas II convened a parliament , the Duma , under sustained pressure , which , however, he had repeatedly dissolved in the following period. For this purpose, a constitution was drawn up, the basic state laws of the Russian Empire . In historical studies, the Duma is sometimes referred to as a sham parliament .

In terms of foreign policy, Russia entered into an alliance with France in 1892 after the German Kaiser Wilhelm II refused to extend the reinsurance contract in 1892 . After the defeat in the Far East, Russia returned its attention to Europe and the Balkans. However, after the lost war and unrest since 1905, it was very weakened and had to watch as Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina with the backing of the German Empire in 1908 . Tensions in the Balkans continued to increase, because the Ottoman Empire, "the sick man on the Bosporus", was increasingly falling apart. In 1907, Russia concluded an agreement with Great Britain that resolved the disputes in Asia and established mutual spheres of interest. The Triple Entente was thus formed. The arms race accelerated in Europe . The general situation became increasingly gloomy and a major European war became more and more likely.

The last colonial acquisition of the Russian Empire before the start of World War I was the Tuva region , which was declared a Russian protectorate in April 1914 .

Russia in World War I up to the October Revolution (1914 to 1917)

The First World War began in August 1914 . As an ally of Serbia , France and Great Britain, Russia stood against the German Empire, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. After some initial successes against the Central Powers , especially in Galicia , Russia suffered several heavy defeats; Poland and a large part of the Baltic region were lost . The supreme command in the headquarters in Baranowitschi (from August 8, 1915 in Mogiljow ) was initially transferred to Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolajewitsch (August 2 - September 5, 1915). In view of the very critical situation at the front, Nicholas II took over the command on September 9th. But he wasn't much more successful; after another year with the eventual failure of the Brusilov offensive , Russia was facing economic and military collapse, even if it had succeeded in significantly increasing its initially inadequate arms production.

Russian soldiers march to the front, 1914

In March 1917, the February Revolution brought the end of tsarist rule . Alexander Kerensky proclaimed a democratic republic. On March 15, the Kaiser was replaced as Commander-in-Chief. The attempt by Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich to re-head the army remained an episode; under pressure from the protesters, the Provisional Government was forced to remove him from office.

After Alexeyev (March 24 - June 4) Brusilov (June 4 - August 1) became Commander in Chief of the Army. The offensive on the front against the Central Powers, which was mainly propagated by Kerensky, quickly failed in July 1917. Brusilov was followed by Kornilov (August 1st - September 9th). He saw in the left and in the workers 'and soldiers' councils the decisive danger for Russia and demanded from Kerensky dictatorial powers. He then deposed Kornilov as commander-in-chief. However, Kornilov refused to give up his authority and appealed to the people of Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) to follow him against the councils and the Provisional Government. But Kornilov's attempted coup was unsuccessful because the people - and the left-wing groups - supported Kerensky. Kerensky became the new Commander-in-Chief (September 12 - November 16). Since the German Reich wanted to destabilize the situation in Russia and end the war in the East, Lenin , who had previously been in exile in Switzerland , arrived in Petrograd with German help in April . There, after a failed uprising in July , the Bolsheviks launched the October Revolution in October . Headquarters took a hostile stance towards the Bolsheviks and on November 7th made a call to the army to fight the Bolsheviks. On November 20, Headquarters received an order from Lenin to begin negotiations on an armistice with Germany and its allies, but on November 22, Supreme Commander Duchonin refused to carry out the order. On December 3, the headquarters released Kornilov and other generals from custody in Bychow Monastery , which encouraged the beginning of the civil war .

On December 3, 1917, the headquarters of revolutionary forces led by Nikolai Krylenko was taken and Duchonin was murdered, whereupon Krylenko took over the post of Supreme Commander. On that day the headquarters were disbanded except for the staff of the Supreme Commander in charge of carrying out the demobilization of the army. On March 5, 1918, the post of Supreme Commander in Chief of the Army was revoked and his staff disbanded. The capital of Russia was moved back to Moscow in 1918 . Poland , Finland , the Baltic States and temporarily Belarus and Ukraine became independent at the end of the First World War.

Political system

The Gotha court calendar of 1910 describes Russia as a " constitutional monarchy under an autocratic tsar". This apparent contradiction reflects the difficulty in describing Russia's political system. At the beginning of the 20th century, the empire was subject to constant changes in the system of rule. The tsar, who saw himself as the “emperor and autocrat of all Russians”, ruled over the empire unreservedly by the grace of God . Only after the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the introduction of the first constitution in 1906 was its power somewhat restricted.

Yet the principles of autocracy were jealously guarded. The "unrestricted" rule of the Tsar was deleted, but a real constitutional or even a parliamentary monarchy was not created.


The Russian hereditary monarchy had developed from the Grand Dukes of the Grand Duchy of Moscow . The first tsar was Ivan the Terrible , who was crowned in 1547. After long turmoil , the title of tsar was held by the Romanovs from 1613 to 1725 , and then continued by the Romanow-Holstein-Gottorp family . The tsars saw themselves as the successors of the Basileus , the emperor of the Byzantine Empire .

Peter I the Great changed his title from "Tsar" to "Kaiser" (" Imperator ") in 1721 , but the title of Tsar was partially retained in the full ruler's title, namely in relation to the former Tatar khanates (in Russian: Tsarists) Kazan , Astrakhan and Sibir . The use of "Imperija", borrowed from Latin , stood for the modernity sought by Peter I in accordance with Western European absolutism .

Before the 1905 October Manifesto, the power of the emperor was only limited by the fact that the tsar had to be a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and obey the house law of the Romanovs. The ruler restricted himself through the manifesto.


Before October 1905, when the first Duma was convened with the October Manifesto , Russia was considered an autocratic and absolutist monarchy . After October 1905 and the opening of the Duma on April 27th, July / May 10, 1906 greg. If various laws were passed to open up the country, the Basic Law of 1906 in Russia granted basic rights and freedoms for the first time . From now on, no law could come into force without the approval of the Duma. However, this could be dissolved by the emperor, he also had a right of veto .  


From 1750 until the end of the 18th century, the imperial army had around 186,000 men in regular formations. In addition, there were irregular Cossack associations. These made a total of about 200,000 men. At the beginning of Napoleon's Russian campaign in 1812, around 250,000 men were ready in the western part of the Russian Empire. In addition, there were an indefinite number of soldiers in the Asian part of the country. After the Napoleonic Wars and the leading role in the defeat of Napoleon in the subsequent Wars of Liberation , many saw the Russian Empire as the strongest European military and land power. After losing the Crimean War , France took this position, which in turn was replaced in 1871 by the newly founded German Empire . As in other European countries, the Russian army grew steadily during the period of imperialism in the 19th century. In 1874 conscription was introduced . In 1898 the total peacetime was around 950,000 soldiers. In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 the army numbered 2.1 million men, and when the First World War broke out in 1914, four million men were mobilized with a peacetime strength of 1.3 million. With full mobilization in the event of war, 2.8 million men were available in 1888, five million in 1904 and 13 million in 1914.

In 1914 the Russian Army was numerically the largest in the world, but the power of the so-called “Russian steamroller” suffered from serious equipment deficits due to the country's relatively weak industrial base. At the beginning of the First World War, around half of the infantry divisions lacked weapons, ammunition and especially modern equipment such as communications. In addition, there was the notoriously poor supply situation for the Russian army.

The Russian Navy , purposefully expanded by Emperor Peter the Great at the beginning of the 18th century, was even larger than the British fleet in the early 1870s. Due to the rapid technical progress, however, the ships became obsolete, while the officers were insufficiently trained. The shortcomings of the Russian Navy finally became evident in the 1905 naval battle near Tsushima .


Web links

Commons : Russian Empire  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. On this day Mikhail Romanov abdicated. De facto, the Russian Empire existed under the Provisional Government until the October Revolution on October 25th . / 7th November  1917 greg. further. De jure the empire existed until the adoption of the Constitution of Soviet Russia on February 27th July. / March 12,  1918 greg. .
  2. Peer Hempel: German-speaking physicists in old St. Petersburg (= writings of the Federal Institute for East German Culture and History, vol. 14), Oldenbourg, p. 254 fn. 22 .
  3. a b Klaus Zernack : Handbuch der Geschichte Russlands , Volume II: 1613-1856. From fringe state to hegemonic power. Hiersemann Verlag, Stuttgart 1986, p. 353.
  4. Reinhard Wittram: The Russian Empire and its shape change. In: Historische Zeitschrift 187, issue 3 (June, 1959), pp. 568–593, here p. 568.
  5. ^ Gundula Helmert: The concept of the state in Petrine Russia , Duncker & Humblot, 1996, p. 33.
  6. In recent historiography also Allrussländisches Imperium ( Lexikon der Geschichte Russlands , CH Beck, 1985, p. 192; Günther Stökl : Russische Geschichte. From the beginnings to the present (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 244). 5th, expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-520-24405-5 , p. 362; Frithjof Benjamin Schenk : Aleksandr Nevskij , Cologne 2004, p. 147) or Russian Empire (Carsten Goehrke: Russia , Paderborn 2010, p. 87).
  7. See, for example, Andreas Zimmermann , State Succession in International Law Treaties , Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 2000, pp. 86 , 90 .
  8. Except for the Kaliningrad region , the Kuril Islands and Tuva
  10. ^ Zernack: Handbuch der Geschichte Russlands , Vol. II 1613-1856, p. 352.
  11. Birgit Scholz: From Chronology to Modern History. The Varangian Question in Russian, German and Swedish Historiography. Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden 2000, p. 24 .
  12. Wittram: The Russian Empire and its shape change. In: HZ 187 (1959), pp. 568-593, here p. 569.
  13. Goehrke: Russia , Paderborn 2010, p. 15.
  14. Cf. Dieter Albrecht, Karl Otmar Freiherr von Aretin, Winfried Schulze: Europa im Umbruch 1750-1850 , Oldenbourg, Munich 1995, p. 359 ; Theodor Schieder (Ed.): Handbook of European History, Vol. 5. Europe from the French Revolution to the nation-state movements of the 19th century , with co-workers. by Mathias Bernath. Edited by Walter Bussmann, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1981, 2nd edition 1998, ISBN 3-12-907570-4 , p. 636 .
  15. ^ Justus Perthes: Gothaischer Hofkalender . Verlag Justus Perthes, Gotha 1910, Russia, p. 74 ( genealogical pocket book of the princely houses [accessed on April 21, 2009]).
  16. ^ Andreas Kappeler: Russian history . Beck, Munich 2008, ISBN 3-406-47076-9 , "Russländisches Imperium (1700-1917)", pp. 31 (on: Google Books [accessed April 21, 2009]).
  17. Kappeler: Russian History , p. 21 ff.
  18. Kappeler: Russian History , p. 32 ff.