In the Imperial Manner
IF ONE WERE TO SINGLE OUT the periods of Russia’s greatest expansion the choice would no doubt fall on the reigns of Ivan IV (1533–1584) and Catherine II (1762–1796). In the sixteenth century, Russia broke down the barriers restraining the movement of its population to the east by gaining control of the entire course of the Volga and by pushing on into Siberia. In the eighteenth century Russia secured its southern border by the acquisition of the northern shore of the Black Sea and, by eliminating the troublesome neighbors in the southwest and west, prepared the ground for the settlement and rapid economic development of the Ukraine.1 It is easy in retrospect to view these events as a working out of conscious designs, ideological tenets, and consistently purposeful actions. But such a view is too much of an ex post facto rationalization and it harbors the danger of anachronistic judgment. The uncontrolled and spontaneous movements of population, the search for adventure and wealth, the longing for effective protection against incursions by unruly neighbors, the historical memory of past political and spiritual unity, the expectation of a great political and economic international role, the desire to contribute to the spread of Christianity and to the liberation of brethren in religion from impious domination, the seizing of unexpected opportunities—these are some of the elements which, woven into an inextricable web, account for Russia’s expansion into a Eurasian empire.
KeywordsEighteenth Century Sixteenth Century Central Province Northern Shore Russian Government
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- For this aspect of the history of the southeastern European plain, see W. H. McNeill, Europe’s Steppe Frontier, 1500–1800: A Study of the Eastward Movement in Europe (University of Chicago, 1964).Google Scholar