Peter the Great

Peter the Great

Peter the Great

Peter the Great


The reign of Peter the Great represents one of the outstanding periods in the thousand-year-old history of Russia, a history dramatic in any case by reason of storms and upheavals in which acts of heroism alternated with frightful crimes and in which, for generations continuous darkness clouded and interrupted the development of national power.

Haloed in morning freshness, the origins of Holy Russia merged, in the imaginations of monkish chroniclers and popular singers with mankind's golden age. The scenery of various famous operas has made us familiar with this legendary country: green meadows, lakes of deepest blue, pink-walled cities with gilded cupolas, young warriors in shining armour, sword at belt, princesses with braided golden tresses, clothed in white linen....

But setting aside these poetic visions, objective historians have unanimously agreed that the first Russian State, established round about Novgorod and Kiev in the second half of the ninth century and converted to christianity by Byzantium about the year 1000 A.D. must be regarded as among the busiest and most civilized centres of the continent.

There was nothing surprising in that. Traces of human habitation on the Sarmatian plain went back to times immemorial and the development of society there had followed an uninterrupted course ever since the Scythians reigned over the Steppes and Greek colonies were founded on the Pontic shores.

When the Vikings from Scandinavia, close kin to the Normans of France, made their appearance on the great trade route which leads from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, the native people had welcomed with sympathy and kindness these Varangian intruders who were strong enough to protect them against the raids of the Nomads. This intermingling of Slavonic, Nordic and Byzantine elements was soon to produce astonishing results.

A flourishing trade linked the youthful State with India and China beyond Byzantium, and beyond the Baltic Sea with the great Western centres. The Grand Dukes of Kiev, descendants of the legendary Rurik, had contracted matrimonial alliances with every European dynasty. The wife of St Vladimir was a daughter of Byzantium; King . . .

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