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Peter the First

Peter the First

Peter I the Great (Peter Alekseevich Romanov) (1672 - 1725) was born in Moscow in 1672, a son of tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich; since 1682 – a Russian tsar; reigned independently from 1689. Became the first Russian Emperor in 1721.

Peter the Great is an outstanding statesman, political and military figure, commander and skilful diplomat; the founder of the Russian Regular Army and Navy. As a child, he got private all-round education at home. Being a man of strong, inflexible will, persistence and high workability, he continued his education throughout his life, acquiring new information and skills in different spheres of knowledge, paying special attention to the military and naval science. In the 80th of the XX Century he organized a so-called “poteshny regiment” (regiment consisted of only boy-soldiers) which later became a prototype of the Russian Army Guards. From1698 to 1693 he studied how to build ships at the Plescheevo Lake. In 1697-1698 he successfully passed a complete course of artillery sciences in Konigsberg, worked as a carpenter on the shipyards of Amsterdam, took a theoretical course of shipbuilding in England.

Peter I in Deltford in 1698 Daniel Mcleese Mid-XIX Century. Peter I in Deltford in 1698. Collection of London Gallery.

He introduced various significant changes and reforms such as establishment of the Senate, Naval board; decree on the obligatory recruit service; formation of the Regular Army and Navy. Peter the First was particularly interested in and even obsessed with the naval science. In 1697-1698 he not only studied shipbuilding in Amsterdam but also worked on the shipyards to acquire and hone the practical skills needed. Passed a shipbuilding and naval strategy course in England. On coming back to Russia, he was at the head of the ship construction process for the Russian Navy as well as some sea fortresses. He took an active part in the formation of the merchant fleet and development of the navigation practice in Russia. More than 200 metallurgical enterprises opened during the reign of Peter the Great, made Russia the world’s leader in cast-iron melting, which helped meet the demands of the growing industry, army and fleet. Furthermore, Peter founded textile canvas mills and manufactories.


Peter the First

With the purpose of educating and training the naval staff, Peter set up a School of Mathematical and Navigation Sciences in Moscow (1701) and the Naval Academy in Saint-Petersburg (1715). Apart from that, he organized a lot of geographical expeditions for the north-eastern seas exploration.

Throughout the time of his reign Peter the Great showed a deep professional understanding of the tasks and challenges that lied ahead of Russia. He introduced key reforms aimed at both overcoming the huge gap that existed between Russia and highly-developed European countries and rational, sustainable use of its vast natural resources.

He assisted in all possible ways to a continuous rise of national economy and country’s production enterprises building as well as its defence potential strengthening. Peter encouraged development of domestic industry and weaving mills; means of communication; domestic and foreign trade, sciences and culture. His hectic, non-stop activity was extremely conducive to the economic, political and cultural growth of Russia, transforming it into the greatest power. While reforming the government structure, Peter provided for the country centralization strengthening.

Azov. Seizure of the Fortress
K. Porter
Azov. Seizure of the Fortress

As a remarkable military figure, Peter is ranked among the most highly-educated and talented founders of Armed Forces, military and fleet commanders both in the Russian and world history of the XVII Century. His major life-work was strengthening of the Russia’s military might and increasing of the role it played on the international arena. He had to continue the Turkish war that had started in 1686, wage long-standing struggle for Russia’s outlet to the Northern and Southern seas. As a result of the Azov campaign (1695-1696), the Russian troops took by force the port of Azov, thus enabling Russia to strengthen its position on the Azov Sea shores.

Under the command of Peter the Great Russia won a triumphant victory in the bloody Northern war of 1700-1721 and gained the access to the Baltic Sea which enabled our country to establish direct relationships with the European countries. The most famous and legendary battle-ground of the Northern war, that went down to history, was a Potlavskaya battle in the year 1709 when the Russian army under the skilful command of Peter the First utterly and completely destroyed the Swedish troops headed by king Charles XII, who, after the unconditional defeat, fled to the Osman Empire together with the ukranian traitor-hetman Mazepa.

Portrait of Emperor Peter the First
V. Kryukov. Portrait of Emperor Peter the First

After the victory in the Northern war, Russia became one of the greatest powers in Europe. After the Persian campaign of 17722-1723, Russia took possession of the western shores of the Caspian Sea with the cities of Derbent and Baku.

Under Peter the Great, the Russian Army and fleet were strictly organized in the most efficient way, i.e., the Army was divided into regiments, brigades and divisions while the Fleet – into squadrons, divisions, subdivisions and detachments; a Unified Dragoon Regiment cavalry was formed. The cornerstone of the Armed Forces organization was the obligatory recruit service and the gentry compulsory military service introduced in 1705. With the purpose of the field army control and management, a rank of Commander-in-chief (Field-Marshal – General) was introduced; its equivalent in the Navy was Admiral-General. A military council (“concilia”) with the field headquarters was established.

Peter the First, the commander of the four United Fleets in 1716
L. Karavakk
Peter the First, the commander of the four United Fleets in 1716

Paying a lot of attention to the technical modernization and advancement of the Army and Navy, peter the First not only encouraged the development and construction of the modern ships, new kinds of effective artillery weaponry and ammunition but also established a well-thought-out deployment system of the Russian Fleet on the Azov sea, Baltic sea and Caspian sea. A great number of rowing and ailing vessels were built. The Navy, formed during the reign of Peter, waged active and intense military campaigns in coordination with the land forces operations. It is in Peter’s time that the infantry started being equipped with the percussive flint-lock guns and home-made bayonets. Over the period of 1701-1719, Peter opened Navigation, Artillery, Engineering schools as well as Naval Academy in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. He also introduced military ranks, orders and medals.

Peter the Great was the founder of the Russian Naval school, which produced such legendary commanders as P.A. Rumyantsev, A.V. Suvorov, F.F. Ushakov, M.I. Kutuzov. Peter’s strategic planning and far-sighted thoughts passed ahead of time envisaging the further development of his country. His strategy was grand, even aggressive, aimed at crushing defeat or annihilation of the enemies’ armies. He cleverly and skillfully grouped the troops and weaponry at those crucial directions where the defeat of the enemy was expected to be. The victories in battles were gained through concerted actions of all kinds of forces. A defeat of the enemy was followed by a full-scale pursuit. While besieging a fortress, it was considered necessary to launch a swift thrust or attack after conducting a preparatory engineering actions and intensive bombardment (the same technique was used in seizure of Noteburg in 1702 and Narva and Derpt in 1704, etc.). While carrying out military operations during battles, innovative and daring march-maneuvers were conducted. Following Peter’s decree, in order to secure active defense of the Russia’s borders in the beginning of the XVIII Century, extensive construction of coastal fortification lines, fortresses and naval bases (Peter and Paul Fortress, Kronshtadt, Revel, Taganrog, etc) was initiated.

Preserving and multiplying valuable military traditions and unique distinguishing features of the Russian art of war, Peter also took into account the achievements and innovations of the European military science and practices, critically analyzing the possibility of their adjustment to the Russian reality. Being famous for his quick temper, difficult character and strict demand for accurate and immediate fulfillment of his orders, Peter, nevertheless, encouraged initiatives put forward by his subjects. Peter introduced a new tactics of artillery grouping in battles and fortresses seizure; fortification of flanks with a help of grenadier regiments; field redouts arrangement as well as saber attacks of the cavalry and bayonet attacks of the infantry. Peter the First was an author and editor of several statutes and regulations, theoretical and historical works such as “Naval Statute”, “Naval Regulations”, “Admiralty and Shipyard Management Regulations”, “The Book of mars or Military science”, etc.

Ãàíãóò. Ñðàæåíèå 27 èþëÿ 1714 ã.
A.P. Bogoluybov. 1876
Gangut Battle. 27 July, 1714

As a diplomat, Peter the First showed a deep true understanding of the Russia’s foreign policy and objectives, ability to both take advantage of the situation and compromise. It was usual for him to hold negotiations and conclude treaties and international agreements. During his trips to northern European countries as a member of the Great Consulate in 1697-1698, he facilitated the formation of the Anti-Sweden Northern Alliance, which was officially established in 1699. Peter’s diplomacy made use of the contradictions that existed between the European powers in the most effective ways, preventing England undermining the peace talks between Russia and Sweden, which had been initiated in 1719, and ended in Nishtadt Peace treaty signing in 1721.

Grenham Battle. 27 July, 1720
F. Perro. 1841
Grenham Battle. 27 July, 1720

During the reign of Peter the Great, the Russian Army and Navy won several epoch-making victories: battle of Poltava (1709); sea battles near Gangut (1714), Grenham (1720) and others. All these were conducive to Russia transforming into a great power. Peter the First died in 1725. He was buried in Peter and Paul Cathedral in Peter and Paul Fortress. He went down in the Russian history as an outstanding statesman and military leader, who was able to feel and understand all the developmental tasks and needs that Russia faced at that time, and greatly contributed to Russia becoming a great power.