What was Peter the Great Trying to Do?

Peter the Great is often times credited for transforming Russia and his reign is viewed as a great watershed moment in Russian history. As you read the two articles and two primary sources for Friday, think about how Peter’s reforms could lead to progress for Russia. Comment in 200-400 words, with specific examples, on how Peter’sTable of Ranks and Spiritual Regulation promoted progress. You may also comment on any limitations you see in the reforms’ abilities to reach the intended goals.

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About Karl Qualls

This blog was founded by Karl Qualls, Professor of History at Dickinson College. Karl has received the Constance and Rose Ganoe Memorial Award for Inspirational Teaching, Gamma Sigma Alpha National Honor Society Professor of the Year, and Student Senate Professor of the Year. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters, including a chapter in the textbook Russia and Western Civilization: Cultural and Historical Encounters (M.E. Sharpe, 2003) written in collaboration with his colleagues at Dickinson College. He is also author of the monograph From Ruins to Reconstruction: Urban Identity in Soviet Sevastopol after World War II (Cornell, 2009). His most recent book is Stalin’s Niños: Educating Spanish Civil War Refugee Children in the Soviet Union, 1937–1951 (Toronto, 2020). He teaches Russian, German, Italian, and eastern European histories, as well as courses on European dictators, urban history, historical methods, the Holocaust, and more.

4 thoughts on “What was Peter the Great Trying to Do?

  1. Peter the Great was trying to westernize Russia in terms of both the culture and the government. His Table of Ranks created a whole new way of ranking the boyar families. It was no longer about wealth or the age of the family, but now it was about how well the family could service the Tsar. They were ranked according to civil or military merit. This was a step towards a more Western ideology. He also separated the church and state. The church no longer had a political say and brought the government into a better approach to law making. It was no longer fueled by the churches need to control the law making and culture. The government could then focus on the needs of the people. But I think Peter pushed his reforms too quickly. He forced new culture shocks on the population and caused even larger waves of violence and anger. He was in such a hurry to westernize Russia that he didn’t realize how that would effect a culture used to practicing old traditions. The more he pushed the reforms, the more the people pushed back. He also felt no need to reform the peasant and lower class. He felt that if the upper class was a strong enough roll model, the peasants would follow suit. The reforms might have been more effective if they had been introduced over time.

  2. Peter the Greats various reforms during his reign helped to move Russia towards a more western society. During his reign this was considered to be forward progress. The biggest of his reforms were the Table of Ranks and the Spiritual Regulation. The table of ranks helped to clarify the order of the monarch. This made it easier for every office to clearly see what their relationship was to other offices. This also was the first time we see that people can move up in rank due in part to their own merit. In years past it had been based on ones lineage. Although linage was still important it no long played the role it had in the past. This show some progression but in reality it never worked as it was planned to with people still having to be born into the upper class to change their status. Peters also came forward with reforms for the church. These reforms were more helpful than the ones he enacted in the Table of Ranks. These reforms such as priests electing people close to them like sons to fill vacancies in the church. Peter believed this was harmful to the church and the way they carried out religious services making them unconcerned with church rituals. These reforms helped to legitimize the church and make them more structure like the western churches. Both reforms helped to clarify the rules of Russia both within the social order and the church. Organization is key to any ruling body and i think this is why they are seen as progress for Russia at the time.

  3. Peter the Great’s reforms of the aristocracy and Orthodox Church attempted to insight a more progressive society by putting into place a system of rank based on merit and education. Unlike the mestnichestvo, which had been abolished forty years prior to Peter’s reign, the rank of a noble correlated to their service to the Emperor and not their birth-given status. Peter sought a service class “composed of individuals capable of playing an active role in transforming society” (KM 247). He attempted to create this service class by, in addition to the merit system, imposing an education requirement on all young members of the service class (KM 248). In Peter’s opinion, an educated, deserving service class was necessary for Russia to progress as a nation. To reform the Orthodox Church, Peter abolished the patriarchate and instead, created a Holy Synod, a circuit of “lay and ecclesiastical officials” (KM 334) that reported to a procurator. Much like Table of Ranks, the Holy Synod attempted to extinguish heredity as a source of power, as shown in article 27. Without the personal interest of one’s family being involved, corruption based on personal gain would become much less common in the Orthodox Church. Peter’s reforms were put into place with the intent to eliminate corruption and lead to a more educated, deserving elite class. But the furious speed in which these reforms were put into place led to a psychological divide where the common man was dispirited and did not fully support the actions of the elite class.

  4. Peter the Great instituted a vast amount of reforms throughout Russia in an extremely short time period creating a huge gap among the nobility and the peasant class. He created The Table of Ranks, a system which redefined the status of classes and nobility. No longer were people categorized by birth or wealth but by merit. He created this system to promote his goals to westernize Russia by doing away with the mestnichestvo. He believed that by focusing his new western transformations on the upper class it would set precedence for the entire country and through immersion the lower classes would adapt to the new changes in the social structure as well. His mandates allowed those who had not previously been nobleman to gain status if he served a certain amount of years in the military. He also called for a mandatory education for all important people who served him. Although this sounds like an amazing achievement in such a short time, it was wrought with difficulties. The confusion of who had more power over who which was a major problem in the mestnichestvo was still prevalent in Peter’s new system. Not only that but his radical changes to societies orders and customs were too much for the common classes throughout Russia. He did not use force to make the working class obey his new orders, but let them watch the noble class and mimic their ways. This did not work however, instead the working class turned away from the reforms that were so different from their traditional beliefs, especially when Peter began to hack away at the essence of their faith by diminishing the church and limiting the power of the holy priests.

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