The Russian Empire
Episode #9 of the course “The Most Powerful Empires in History”
The Russian Empire lasted about 200 years, and it stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. In its peak, the Russian Empire controlled 8.8 million square miles, which was about 15% of the earth’s total land mass.
Czar Peter, a member of the Romanov dynasty that ruled Russia in the early 1600s, founded the Russian Empire in 1721 following a war and a favorable peace treaty with Sweden. He wanted to create a Russia that would be both wise and prosperous. He encouraged the development of industry, commerce, and relations with other peoples. Peter’s death in 1725 slowed progress significantly, and only when Catherine II became empress in 1762 did the country begin to develop once more.
Catherine shared Peter’s desire for modernization and development. She ruled the Russian empire with absolute power, but she still felt a responsibility to be fair and just to her people, so she opted for a combination of territorial expansion and diplomacy.
Catherine decentralized the government and encouraged more local control. The local authorities were elected, and the delegates dealt with the local and district-wide issues. This emphasis on local control and fairness allowed the Russian Empire to thrive and prosper. Nonetheless, problems arose because of a combination of a poor tax system (one where they taxed the middle and lower class but not the clergy and the noblemen) and a desire for more representation in the national government.
Eventually, the people became unhappy with the rule of the czars and wanted a different form of government. The Bolshevik Party (communists) ultimately came to power after the czars fell. They created the Soviet Union, which, until the end of the 20th century, was one of the world’s major military and economic superpowers.
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