The Military and Society in Russia: 1450-1917

By Eric Lohr; Marshall Poe | Go to book overview

EVALUATING PETER'S ARMY:
THE IMPACT OF INTERNAL ORGANIZATION
Carol B. Stevens

When Peter the Great inherited the Russian throne, he also inherited its military establishment. As he came to power, the army's earlier record of quite impressive accomplishments had been marred by defeats and retreats. A quarter century later, Russia's military forces were transformed, and, having defeated the Swedish Empire, were now viewed with increasing alarm by their European neighbors.

By many accounts, Peter's reforms were sweeping and profound, dispatching the complexities and hesitations of the pre-Petrine era and beginning anew to create permanent, standing forces worthy of a European empire. To some degree, the tsar himself was the source of this perspective, which included attempts to influence the interpretation of changes that were underway. His activities in this respect ranged from his sponsorship of military engravings intended to promote a Europeanized military ethos at home, to his hiring individuals in European capitals who, in another age, could only have been called his public relations agents.1 Many a scholarly study has concluded, relying heavily on the innumerable decrees and letters written by the royal reformer, that Peter was engaged in thoroughgoing reform. Comparisons to west European armies have suggested ways in which the Russian military matched, or even surpassed, its models.2

Not that this perspective on Peter the Great has gone unchallenged. Scholars have long disputed the perspective of radical and systematic transformation.3 Recently, in particular, it has been noted

____________________
1
James Cracraft, The Petrine Revolution in Russian Imagery (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997) with O. G. Ageeva, “Severnaia voina i isskustvo graviury, ” in Russkaia kul'tura v usloviiakh inozemnykh nashestvii i voin, ed. A. N. Kopylov (Moscow: AN SSSR, 1990), 154, 164; Peter Petschauer, “In Search of Competent Aides: Heinrich van Huyssen and Peter the Great, ” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 26 (1978), 492.
2
See, inter alia, Pavel O. Bobrovskii, Perekhod Rossii k reguliarnoi armii (St. Petersburg: Tip. V. S. Balasheva, 1885); Liubomir G. Beskrovnyi, Russkaia armiia i flot v XVIII veke (Moscow: Nauka, 1958) and Voennaia istoriia otechestva s drevnykh vremen do nashikh dnei 3 vols. (Moscow: Mosgorarkhiv, 1995), vol. 1, chapter 7 (hereafter VOI).
3
For example, various works by Nikolai I. Pavlenko, most recently, Petr velikii (Moscow: Mysl', 1990).

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