The naval program of Tsar Peter I. “the Great“ and its strategic framework

Term Paper, 2007

30 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The tsar's family background and education
2.1 Peter’s vision: Breaking Russia’s isolation (opening to the west)
2.2 First military success: The capture of the Fortress of Azov
2.3 Roman advent in Moscow
2.4 Creating a glourious person

3. Building a navy
3.1 Modernizing the army
3.2 Structure of the navy

4. Impact on Russia
4.1 Impact on the productive level
4.1.1 Factories
4.2. Impact on the social level
4.2.1 The Table of Ranks
4.2.2 Recruiting workers
4.2.3 Education of to-be navy officers
4. 3 Impact on the behavioural level
4.3.1 A change in thinking
4.3.2 Opposition to the Petrine reforms

5. What happened after Peter’s death?

6. Conclusion

7. Literature
7.1 Sources
7.2 Pictures

8. Appendix

1. Introduction

The British Telegraph published the article entitled “Navy to cut its fleet by half’ on its cover on the 5th January 2007. The article stated that “what was once world's most formidable fleet“, has to be reduced by half. The reason given for those major cuts is as often money.1

In the 17th century British sailors along with other European sailors formed the backbone of Tsar Peter the First’s fleet. Even then a fleet cost a huge amount of money, not just building it but maintaining it in shape or even going to war. Peter was very willing to spend that money because his opinion was that “every potentate leader of an army has one arm but the one who has a fleet also has two arms“.2

Although times have changed since then the British are still concerned about the sizes of the fleets of other European nations: “the French Navy, which will be far superior to the Royal Navy after the cuts”. A senior officer was also quoted saying: "What this means is that we are now no better than a coastal defence force or a fleet of dug-out canoes. The Dutch now have a better navy than us."

As shown, even today having a big fleet is connected with pride, power, and potential that no one wants to be lacking. To further understand Peter’s ambitions I started this work with a short overview of his family background and adolescence.

This paper deals with the impact on the productive, social, and behavioural levels that Tsar Peter I. had on Russia when he was building the navy. I will not deal with the beginning of the industrialisation but will touch the economic sector when it comes to shipbuilding for example.

The Tsar tried to change the Russian’s attitude towards a European one, wanting a modern western Russian culture. Therefore he took over western administration standards, removed old traditions and habits and decreased the power of the church.3 European laws and economic-political related acts became Russian laws just out of fashion although the conditions were not necessarily equal.4

The most famous and radical change in appearance was the cutting of the traditional beards. He also fashioned German clothes and hairstyles including wigs. Along with that came the habit of smoking tobacco and new destinations for holidays and new ways of spending them.5

In Peter’s time the nobility lost some ground but the ruling class was not replaced so there were no fundamental changes in society. Although the creation of the navy and all the changes that came along with it were huge achievements, we cannot talk of an industrial or economic revolution but a cultural revolution.6

The building of St Petersburg was one of the major projects in Peter’s times.7 After the victory against Sweden he could have chosen the city Nye as his new resident city but he decided to build a new one representing all the achievements of technical and naval knowledge he and his state had gained.8 In that time the old capital Moscow lost a lot of power and influence. St Petersburg was dedicated to the west and shipbuilding. It can be seen as a symbol of the era of Peter the Great.9

2. The Tsar’s family background and education

Peter I. was born on 30th May 1672, son of the Tsar Aleksei and Natal’ia Kirillovna Naryshkina. (See figure 1) He had two elder half brothers named Fedor and Ivan of whom the latter was mentally disabled.

His father died in 1676 and Fedor became Tsar. His death in 1682 was followed by family power struggles. The family Miloslavskaia (Tsar Aleksei’s first wife’s family) fought against the Naryshkinas (second wife’s family) both claiming the crown.

Peter became co-Tsar with Ivan but actually his half-sister Sophia ruled. Peter had to live isolated away from Moscow in Preobrazhenskoe. In that royal village he was not formally educated.

From time to time he had to travel to Moscow and take part in official ceremonies in his capacity as co-Tsar but in fact his half-sister Sofiia ruled together with her lover Vasilij Golicyn in place of Ivan, who was only 15years-old.10

His focus became military and especially navy games. He even had a toy village with a toy fleet which he could sail on with his friends.11Peter’s interest in the navy increased after he had met Europeans living in Russia’s capital who impressed him with their technical knowledge.

Together with the toy fleet he had play-regiments with real soldiers who he trained with the help of foreign officers. They rose in importance in the political fight against Sophia and when Peter became the sole-power Tsar they became real Guards-regiments.12These regiments were named Preobrazhensky and Semenovsky.13

When Peter was 17 he was married to Evdokija Fedorovna Lopuchin. But in 1799 Peter sent her into a convent and married again in 1712. His second wife Catherine was ‘found’ in Marienburg in 1702 when the Russian army captured the town. Peter and Catherine probably got secretly married in 1707 but officially in St Petersburg five years later.14In 1696 Peter became the full-power Tsar.15He as a believer in absolutism never doubted the righteousness of his power. He had a strict and religious education.16Foreigners were surprised how hard he worked although he was Tsar.17

Peter was the first Russian leader who spoke a foreign language; Dutch was the lingua franca of the maritime world. He also was the first Russian leader who left a lot of records behind because he had them preserved by his government and subsequent ones. His frequent unconvential behaviour made foreigners write letters in which the historical events are 18 preserved as well.18

2.1 Peter’s vision: Breaking Russia’s isolation (opening to the west)

A trip to Archangel in 1694 inspired Peter’s wish to be able to trade with the West the whole year around. He wanted a harbour with permanent access to an ice free sea. The seaways were a safe way to transport goods. Trade was definitely one of Peter’s objectives to build a fleet. Through the exchange of goods he hoped to overcome Russia’s isolation.

But there were certain limitations when heading westwards: “the Baltic Sea, the most direct route to Europe” was in Sweden’s hands, the Black Sea under control of the Ottoman Empire, and the Caspian Sea stops at the Asian land edge.19(see fig. 2 and 3)

The situation of Russia -named heartland- according to LeDonne’s theorem had only a few possibilities how to enlarge the size of the empire and to gain access to the Seas. Expanding over the Swedish-Russo frontier would grant access to the Baltic Sea while expanding southwards invading the Ottoman Empire would results in gaining the Black Sea with harbours at the Mediterranean Sea.20

Peter had inherited tense relations with the Ottoman Empire. Therefore he hoped to profit from the newest technological development in Europe to strengthen his position.21

The late 1680s and early 1690s Peter mostly spent at Lake Pereiaslavl22 with his specialists Franz Timmermann and Karsten Brandt from the Netherlands. The Dutch carpenter and the former gunner’s mate helped Peter to build a small fleet to sail on the River Preobrazhenskoe and later on Lake Pereiaslavl.23 Peter worked hard and gained a lot of knowledge concerning sailing. He learned the basic things which he needed before he could build up a navy.

Besides these foreigners Peter was very close to Francois Lefort, a Swiss soldier who had entered the Russian service in 1676, a Scotsman named Patrick Gordon, an army leader and James Bruce, son of a Scottish soldier in the Russian army.24

2.2 First military success: The capture of the Fortress of Azov

In 1686 Russia had joined in a Holy Alliance with Poland, Austria, and Venice against Islam. Seven years later Peter started to organize his own campaign against the Turks after the two strikes under the reign of Sophia had failed. This failure was one reason why she had to give regency to her half-brother.25 Now Peter put more focus on the coasts attacking the fortress of Azov directly by sailing from the River Don into the Black Sea, while 120,000 army men were at the lower River Dnepr. (See fig. 5)

This first campaign was unsuccessful but in a second one Peter captured the fortress.26One week after the victory in the Black Sea, the returning troops marched trough Moscow with Tsar Peter Alekseev leading the naval crews. He had effectively learned how to use ships not just as toys but as ‘instruments-of-war’. With access to the Sea he could now justify the building of a real navy.27

2.3 Roman advent in Moscow

In order to celebrate the great victory over the Turks Peter had a classical arch built held by Hercules on one side and Mars on the other. The procession started at nine in the morning and went on until nightfall. The people of Moscow had never seen such an event before. Peter’s intention was to impress the people with his armies and to mark a date when changes began28. Andrei Vinius read a verse which made the cultural shift even more obvious:

“General! Admiral! The chief of all naval forces, You came, you saw, you conquered the proud foe...”29 With these lines and the arch decorated with Roman gods Peter made known the shift from Byzantine to a Roman imperial model. He tried to behave like a European emperor and wore a German black coat and was accompanied by his European supporters during the parade. But the development that had taken place in European countries to get to the point where they were had taken time. Peter just skipped that part and tried to introduce European standards from one day to the other.30

All the sudden changes along with Peter’s behaviour in his teenage years let the suspicion grow that the Tsar was not Russian but in fact the son of a German. Peter had never worn a traditional beard, in the 1690s he dressed in Western clothes and he ate meat during fasts. Rumours spread that he had been a substitute for a daughter born to the Tsaritsa.31

He acted like Louis XIV. the role model for an absolute king of his times. With fireworks he demonstrated that he owned the heavens as well and he gave himself all the rights which were previously only reserved for God.32

After his triumph over Sweden in 1703 Peter had another arch built that was decorated with the classic motif of Persus rescuing Andromeda from the sea monster. The lines accompanying it said that Persus represented Russia and Andromeda the conquered territory of Ingermanland, while the sea monster was Sweden.33

2.4 Creating a glorious person

On the gates built to commemorate the Swedish victory Peter was personified as Ulysses, Persus, and Hercules. The text along with it explained that he was holding “the defeated Swedish lion by a chain”. The Hercules figure destroyed two serpents symbolizing Peter’s crushing of the streltsy rebellion.

There were plenty more sermons, speeches, and paintings that represented the Tsar as Mars, Agamemnon, Neptune, Jupiter, and Hercules.

Peter entertained the people with strong images, parades and put himself in the position of a hero, just like the French King Louis XIV. had done with his aristocracy.34

Peter saw himself as the first servant of his state closely following the maxim of the French king l'etat c 'est moi.35

As the first servant of the state he behaved just like the soldiers and seamen under his command much to the astonishment of a British merchant who wrote this letter to his brother:

“He’s no proud man, I assure you, for he’ll eat or be merry with anybody... He’s a great admirer of such blunt fellows as saylors are. He invited all the nasty tars to dinner with him where he made ‘em so drunk that some slop’t some danced, others fought-he amongst ‘em... None can complain of his frolicks since he himself is allways the first man.”36

3. Building a navy

The centres of shipbuilding were Perejaslavl, Voronez, und Archangel. After 1711 Peter turned his full attention to the wharfs located nearby to St Petersburg and in the city itself when most of the ships were built for the Baltic Sea. Achievements during 1713 and 1719 were mostly due to English masters who increased the quality of Russian ships to meet western European standards.37 (See fig. 6)

Dutch as well as English officers and seamen helped man the Baltic sailing fleet until sufficient numbers of Russians could be recruited and trained, a situation that was not uncommon at the time. Owing to the rapid growth of state navies in early modern Europe, seamen were in relatively short supply. Hiring foreigners was a standard recourse especially in France and the Netherlands. Between the 1650s and 1720s, for instance 40 to 60 percent of crews on Dutch ships were foreigners (mainly Danes, Norwegians, and Germans).

One significant difference between Europe and Russia was the size of Peter’s naval program as well as the speed with which it was implemented, and the cultural changes it inspired.38

For the Tsar it was far more complicated to find workers and engineers than to attract capitalists. Because of the lack of volunteers he forced orphans, criminals, prisoners of war, and heretics to work for him. Ultimately, peasants owned by the state were consigned in perpetuity, or leased out to factories. Slavery and industrialisation went hand in hand in the early days of Russia trying to modernize herself.

Technicians could not be conscripted but had to be bought. For those Peter went to Europe. He did not only recruit foreign engineers but sent Russians to Europe to be educated.39


1, last visited 14.02.2007 Cover: Peter discovered the little boat (botik) at the royal estate Izmailovo in 1688. It was probably built by Dutch craftsmen following an “English-type” design in the 1640s. Following his inaugural sailing lessons in the boat on waters near Moscow, Peter had stored it for safekeeping in the Kremlin (1701). It later appeared at various parades of his successors. (Cracraft, James: The Revolution of Peter the Great. Cambridge 2003. p. 50f)

2Pinl, Harald: Der Kriegsschiffbau Russlands zwischen 1725 und 1762. Langenhagen 2003. p. 15.

3Goehrke, Carsten et al.: Fischer Weltgeschichte, Band 31 Rußland. Frankfurt am Main 1972. p. 175. (Fischer Weltgeschichte)

4 Stökl, Günther: Russische Geschichte. Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. 6. Auflage. Stuttgart 1997. : p.

5 Cracraft: p. 124.

6 Cracraft: p. 77.

7The city was named after the apostle Petri not -as often mistaken- after the Tsar himself.

8 Wittram, Reinhard: Peter der Grosse. Der Eintritt Russlands in die Neuzeit. Berlin, Göttingen, Heidelberg 1954. p. 103.

9 Wittram: p. 106 and Stoelzel, Heinz: Die russische Marine in der Zarenzeit. Vortrag bei der 11. Historisch­Taktischen Tagung der Flotte am 30. November 1967. p. 7.

10Wittram: p. 60.

11Phillips, Edward J.: The Founding of Russia’s Navy. Peter the Great and the Azov Fleet, 1688-1714. Westport 1995. p. 31.

12Stökl: p. 336f.

13Hughes, Lindsey: Peter I., in: Encyclopedia of Russian History. Volume 3. New York 2004. p. 1168.

14Cracraft: p. 11.

15Phillips: p. 35.

16Wittram: p. 24f.

17 Wittram: p. 28.

18Cracraft: p. 21.

19Phillips: p. 35.

20 LeDonne, John P.: The Russian Empire and the World, Containment. New York, Oxford 1997. p. 89.

21Cracraft: p. 32.

22Nowadays known as Lake Pleshcheev, approximately 135km northeast of Moscow.

23Phillips: p. 32f. Timmermann is the Dutch word for carpenter.

24Cracraft: p. 5.

25Phillips: p. 37.

26Phillips: p. 38 and 44. There are different years stated in the literature. Goehrke: p. 1694.

27Phillips: p. 44.

28 Wortman, Richard S.: Scenarios of Power. Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy. From Peter the Great to the Death of Nicholas I.Volume One. New Jersey, Chichester 1995. p. 42f.

29 „.. .The commander's courage defeated the Turks, Deprived them of weapons and stores, Fierce battle subdued the Moslems, Crushed their ambitions, set their ships aflame.“ Wortman: p. 42.

30 Wortman: p. 43.

31 Wortman: p. 44.

32 Wortman: p. 45.

33 Wortman: p. 47f.

34Wortman: p. 48.

35 Kivelson, Valerie A.: Autocracy in the Provinces. Seventeenth Century. California 1996. p. 270.

36Cracraft: p. 16.

37Wittram: p. 101.

38Cracraft: p. 47.

39Blackwell, William L.: The Industrialization of Russia. An historical perspective. 2. Edition. Arlington Heights 1982. p.11.

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The naval program of Tsar Peter I. “the Great“ and its strategic framework
Helmut Schmidt University - University of the Federal Armed Forces Hamburg
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Peter I, Navy, Geopolitics, Military History, Russia, St Petersburg, Russia's Navy
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Birte Wachtel (Author), 2007, The naval program of Tsar Peter I. “the Great“ and its strategic framework, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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