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Peter the Great vs. Catherine the Great – Who Was Greater?

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1128
  • Category: Russian

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During the strife and civil unrest of Russia, after the death of Ivan the Terrible in 1584, there was an prevailing demand for a powerful leader ready to rule and reestablish Russia to become more stable, more westernized, and most importantly, to become a reckonable force. Russia answered by providing a czar and a czarina to rebuild Russia and lead it away from the troubles it faced following its Mongolian rule–Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. These two rulers did precisely what was required for them to do for Russia to accelerate and become a nation able to boast its power.

Like many other rulers who rule with an iron fist, Czar Peter I was not someone one would label amiable or even simply cold to others–he was cruel. He was a tall man who possessed a fiery temper, which he did not attempt to suppress. Peter I was cruel and ruthless to the point where he locked up his own son in prison under suspicion of infidelity and let him die there. On the other hand, Catherine the Great was well composed and well educated and tought herself the philosophies of Voltaire and various other well-known philosophers of her time. She was quite the opposite the characteristics–mental instability, immaturity, and inappropriate behavior–Peter the Great passed down to Catherine II’s husband Peter III, which was the primary reason for Peter III and Catherine the Great’s mutual hatred for each other.

Despite the faults in Czar Peter as a person, he accomplished many great deeds in his reign, thus earning him the reserved title “the Great.” Peter the Great knew unerringly what Russia needed from him to thrive. That included access to warm-water ports on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. Russia, being landlocked at very high latitude, has only frozen ports, which made outside trade near impossible. And thus, the Ottoman Empire was the wall they faced in obtaining warm-water ports. Peter realized that he needed two things to reach his goal; he needed help from the rest of Europe and a more efficient Russia. In 1697, Peter set out to accomplish his goal of defeating the Turks by going to Western Europe to form alliances with other countries interested in bringing down the Ottoman Empire. Although he was unable to accomplish this goal, the czar was able to become familiar with the culture, society, technology, and life itself of the West. Furthermore, he met leaders in many fields of activity and learned from scientists and artisans.

Next, Peter followed the example given by the reorganization of the French army; Peter, too, reorganized his army and equipped it with more advanced weapons. He put his new military to the test in a lengthy war lasting 21 years with Sweden. The war resulted in the gaining of territory, which allowed access to the Baltic Sea. On this new territory, Peter established the city St. Petersburg along the Gulf of Finland. In addition, Peter relocated the capital from Moscow to the new city of St. Petersburg to bring the Russian government closer to Western Europe. This city became known as Russia’s “window to the west.” Peter’s relocating of the capital showed the czar’s devotion to westernization of Russia. To westernize Russia, he let women take roles that were more active in the community, made the nobles change from the long robes apt for Russia’s long and unforgiving winters to more western clothes, and even made beards be shaved. However, the changes Peter made in trade, finance, industry, and government were the factors which truly changed Russia. Peter placed taxes on nearly everything to provide money for the army and navy and encouraged foreign trade and manufacturing.

Peter also made another rather large change in Russia. Rank and privileges of nobility depended on the services done for the government instead of the origin of one’s family. Peter granted enormous fiefs with thousands of serfs to nobles in reimbursement for services done for the government. This action somewhat differed from the rest of Peter’s contributions since serfdom was declining rapidly in the rest of Europe yet not in Russia. In spite of all the contributions made by Peter, he was unable to westernize fully Russian society completely, which is fully understandable knowing the size of Russia. However, Czar Peter let Russia grow into a great power under his rule, a feat only a few individuals have accomplished.

Catherine the Great was a powerful woman who managed to throw her own husband off the throne and claim it for herself. Although she possessed many feminine qualities and supported art, science, literature, and theater, this was not what earned her the title of “the Great” nor did many people care. Her foreign policies and further expansion of Russia was what made her great. Under Catherine’s rule, the nobles became further immersed into becoming more westernized; they spoke French and lost touch with most of the Russian people. Russia still needed warm-water ports, and to satisfy this need, Catherine engaged in war with the Turks and was victorious. This war gave Russia control over the northern shore of the Black Sea and a protectorate over the Crimea.

One of Catherine’s greatest achievements was the Partitioning of Poland. In the three partitions, Austria, Prussia, and Russia simply engulfed wanted territory for themselves. Although Poland engulfed by Russia alone, but instead taken over together with Prussia and Austria, Russia was able to gain the largest portion of Poland. The Partitionings were made possible because of Poland’s ineffective government, which was highly indecisive. Through portioning Poland and war with the Ottoman Empire, Catherine the Great contributed over 200,000 miles to Russia’s land, which let Russia extend into central Europe and also let Russia become a reckonable force in Europe.

Both of “the Great’s” contributed much to the future occurrences in Russia and eventually what makes up present day Russia. However, when comparing the two, one would have to say that Peter the Great did a more difficult job and started the westernization of Russia along with the search for warm-water ports. He was the initiator of Catherine’s achievements and thus Czar Peter was the greater of the two. Peter acquired the first warm-water ports using his reorganized army. All Catherine had to do was to use the army Peter established to defeat the Turks. Moreover, while Peter made changes in the economy of Russia and encouraged trade and manufacturing, Catherine simply claimed some of Poland’s land together with Prussia and Austria. Peter the Great paved the road and Catherine the Great simply made use of it. Although Catherine did make many contributions, Peter was greater to be able to accomplish many of the things he did for Russia.

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