Peter the Greats influence upon Russian history cannot be underestimated. His reforms Westernized Russia even while they strengthened traditional institutions like the monarchy and the feudal system. Peter the Great revolutionized the way government, religion, class, military, and womens roles would function in the Russian Empire. Since Russia was so 'behind the times,' and they were not up to date with technology, Peter the Great's attempt to westernize Russia was a good idea, and worked in many ways. In 1689, Tsar Peter I forced his way into power in Russia. Most know him as Peter the Great, who overthrew his half-sister's regime and took control of the state.' During this time period, Russia was dealing with rapid expansion, but it was still a very backwards country compared to the rest of Europe.' Russia was also dealing with economic despair.' Peter the Great detested this condition and came up with a plan.' Within ten years of gaining power, he began traveling through Western Europe in search of accomplished workers.' On his tour of Western Europe, Peter the Great met kings, scientists, craft workers and ship builders.' He even worked undercover in a Netherlands shipyard in hopes of learning better methods of crafting vessels.' Eighteen months later Peter returned to Russia and began to use this new wealth of knowledge to 'westernize' his nation.' His idea of westernization was the modernization of Russia.'' He wanted to 'turn Russia to the West'.
Peter the Great adopted many of the ideas used by Ivan the Terrible in the fifteenth century.' He ruled as a tyrant and held himself above the law.' Peter the Great troubled the nobility and churchmen with his new objective.' He angered the Boyars, land-owning men of influence and wealth, and ended their influence'in government. 'The Tsar worked at the improvement of fashions, more properly speaking, and of dress. Until that time, the Russians had always worn long beards, which they cherished and preserved with much care, allowing them to hang down on their bosoms, without even cutting the moustache. With these long beards they wore the hair very short, except the ecclesiastics, who, to distinguish themselves, wore it very long. The Tsar, in order to reform that custom, ordered that gentlemen, merchants, and other subjects, except priests and peasants, should each pay a tax of one hundred rubles a year if they wished to keep their beards; the commoners had to pay one kopeck each. Officials were stationed at the gates'of the towns to collect that tax, which the Russians regarded as an enormous sin on the part of the Tsar and as a thing which tended to the abolition of their religion.1 Peter was determined to 'civilize' nobility and even composed a book of manners.' This book forbids such actions as spitting on floors and eating without utensils.' He also promoted courtly discussions between men and women.' Eventually he ended up increasing their power over the serfs, the countryside peasants. Next, Peter the Great outfitted Russia's army and navy to ensure a strong military, established a modern iron industry to promote production, and expanded and added additional roads and canals for the purpose of stimulating trade.' Farming and manufacturing were also encouraged by the Tsar.' This helped many Russians, by giving them jobs and protection. Their infrastructure was getting better, and more and more they were becoming like Western Europe. But, unfortunately for the serfs they were not only burdened with the task of mandatory labor for the state, but they were'left to deal with steep taxes as well.'' For them, a less than bountiful harvest often meant starvation. In the implementation of his new ideas, the Tsar had twelve hundred of the streltsy, the elite army corps who opposed'westernization, executed and hung in public.' He left their decomposing bodies on display in front of the Kremlin for months to dissuade challenges to his authority.' He even tortured his own son when he voiced opposition to Peter's wave of change.' These merciless actions stunned everyone and proved his determination and power.
Peter also appointed a personal agent to regulate the affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church.' This led to the church becoming'a virtual extension of the state.' In 1709, Peter defeated Swedish forces at the battle of Poltava and gained land on the Gulf of Finland.' He then moved the capital of Russia to the newly constructed port city of St. Petersburg.' It is here that Peter flaunted his country's rising wealth and created Peterhof, an elaborate palace emulating Louis XIV's Versailles.' St. Petersburg was built by serfs and ensured Russia's access to the west.
Peter the Great died in 1725.' One major thing he left out of his idea of westernization appears to be the exploration and colonization of far off lands.' He was more focused on strengthening Russia from within.' While England, France, Spain and Portugal were heavily involved in exploration, Peter was working diligently to bring his nation to the same level as his western neighbors.' He carried Russia a long way from Ivan the Terrible's 'time of troubles'.' His country was now much more powerful in terms of its military, its economy and its status in Europe.' Peter had paved the road to a more powerful positon in the world economy.
The reign of Peter the Great was not one of grand humanity but it led his country into the future.' His hard work and stringency created a nation of power and influence out of the backwards and laggard' realm that he had acquired.2 He was a stern man, often overly barbaric, but he achieved many of his 'westernization' objectives.' Without his rule, Russia may not have become the powerful nation that it needed to be in order to survive in the early-modern era.
The Westernization in many ways was beneficial to Russia.' For one, the adoption of Western culture put Russia in a fairly equal footing with the Imperial nations of the West (i.e. Britain, France, etc.).' Russia, doing so, was able to forge strong diplomatic ties with the West.' This, in a way, saved them from being colonized by the Western nations since the imperial powers preyed on countries that were technologically backward.' This was a rather ingenious move considering the frequent political struggles in Russian history. On the flip side, the Westernization of Russia included the suppression of traditional values.' Russia transformed from being a nation with a distinct cultural identity to one that was merely a cheap duplicate of the culture of the west.3' Luckily, for the most part, many of the Russians preserved their culture while adopting some aspects of the Western culture.