Russia's Foreign Trade and Economic Expansion in the Seventeenth Century: Windows on the World

Russia's Foreign Trade and Economic Expansion in the Seventeenth Century: Windows on the World

Russia's Foreign Trade and Economic Expansion in the Seventeenth Century: Windows on the World

Russia's Foreign Trade and Economic Expansion in the Seventeenth Century: Windows on the World

Synopsis

This study is the first comprehensive assessment of Russia's commercial relations with the outside world in the seventeenth century and of the relationship between trade and economic growth. Based on exhaustive research in some thirty archival repositories, it represents the first systematic quantification of commodity flows across the range of Russia's trade partners. The book reveals late Muscovy to have been an increasingly open economy, experiencing remarkable commercial expansion driven in large part by its interaction with the outside world. It fundamentally debunks the notion of pre-Petrine Russia as a closed and stagnant, essentially mediaeval, society and established a clear link between seventeenth-century economic policy and Russia's subsequent rise to become one of the great powers of the world.

Excerpt

This book reviews some key aspects of what became the last century of the state that called itself the Grand Duchy of Muscovy. To many, that state continues to represent a stubborn vestige of the Middle Ages, a repository of Byzantine traditionalism with few cultural or other links to the rest of Europe. The West, in contrast, was undergoing a remarkable commercial revolution having embraced fundamentally different, “modern” values in the Renaissance and the Reformation alike. By the 18th century, however, the “medieval” Muscovite grand duchy had transformed itself into a mighty empire with an energetic and far-sighted leader at its helm, the much lionized, nearly mythological Peter “the Great” who is credited with turning his back on old Muscovy and opening Russia's “window on Europe.”

Yet Peter was as much as child of Muscovy as was the empire he established. This monograph is an attempt, among other things, to highlight the crucial role that the West played in Muscovy's transformation during the century leading up the Great Northern War. It demonstrates that foreign merchants, through their interest in Muscovite raw materials and semi-processed products, lent a crucial impetus to the dramatic growth in the productive activities of urban artisans and the rural sector alike. Foreign trade fuelled the Russian economy with specie and supplied the state at many critical points with weapons and other key products. The West, through its merchant-entrepreneurs, was a key agent in Russia's rise to the stature that eventually allowed it to challenge other European powers. When Peter broke the Baltic barrier, he was treading a road well travelled by his compatriots and Western—and even Asian—merchants alike. This book is an attempt to show that the Petrine transformation was only possible after some of the key developments described here. The commercial revolution of 17th-century Russia thus raises some important questions about the received notion of late Muscovy as a stagnant and isolated society awaiting its savior in the great Romanov reformer.

A work of this magnitude inevitably invites difficult choices and, as a result, represents a number of compromises. My desire to do full justice to my sources and to provide relevant factual information to those interested in pursuing further some of the numerous . . .

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