Peter the Great
and the Sacrifice
of His First Born.
Dr. Ronald Fritze
March 14, 2004
I have not spared and I do not spare my life
for my fatherland and my people. . . .
Two things are necessary in government
namely order and defence.
[Peter the Great to Prince Alexis, 11 October 1715]
Russia has been a major power in the history of Europe and the world for several centuries. Considering the country's large population and a vast geographical region, it is hard to imagine that there was a time when Russia was not a great power. But as Rome grew out of a small settlement on seven hills next to the Tiber River to become a world empire, Russia grew from a small and somewhat remote settlement on the Moskva River to become another great empire.
Moscow and Muscovy avoided or survived the worst of the depredations by the Mongols during the thirteenth century. The way to greatness remained long, hard and almost as full of defeats as it was of victories. Russia's vast flat terrain left it open to invasions. The Mongols and Tatars raided the Russian lands for centuries following the initial devastations. Teutonic Knights, Swedes, Poles, and Ottoman Turks also joined in nibbling at Russian lands.
Distance and hostile neighbors kept the Russian states relatively isolated, but so did their religion. Orthodox Christian missionaries converted the Russians to Christianity. Russians embraced Orthodox Christianity fervently and looked to Constantinople and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch for leadership. The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 brought about a great change that also further isolated Russia. Moscow and its patriarch claimed the title of being the Third Rome, which also meant they would be protectors of other Orthodox Christians. Furthermore, they shared the Greek Orthodox hostility to Roman Catholicism, which added to their isolation from the West. Periodic multiple invasions and a religion with a fortress mentality helped make Russians very suspicious of foreigners and change.
Peter the Great was not a typical Russian in almost any aspect of his personality. He loved machines and technology and was always willing to try something new. Most importantly he believed that Russia needed to change, that is, to westernize, if it was to become great or even survive. And that it was he sat out to do. Whether it was shaving the beards of boyars, mocking Orthodox clergy, or slaughtering recalcitrant strelsty, Peter was determined to change Russian, westernize it and make it a great power. No one was allowed to stand in his way. As Peter told his son Alexis, he devoted his life to Russia and the Russian people and he expected others to do the same. He was willing to make painful sacrifices and very willing to inflict painful sacrifices on others for the good of Russia.
What constituted the good of Russia, however, was based solely on the judgment of Peter the Great. Alexis, the Crown Prince, saw things differently. He liked the old Russia that existed before his father's reforms. He supported the Old Believers in religion. Needless to say, he became the focus of the hopes of all Russians who opposed the changes imposed by Peter the Great.
Poor Peter faced the bitter realization that his very own son — if he were to succeed his father to the throne — would dismantle the great tsar's hard-won achievements and send Russia back into the disorder that Peter despised. As Peter had told Alexis in 1715, order was a necessity of good government. Seeing Alexis and his followers as a threat to his political order, Peter the Great launched a bloody coup that included the death of Alexis, possibly at his hand of his own father. Peter sacrificed his own son for what he saw as the welfare of Russia. It was a case when it was not good to be the king.
William Walks the Walk.
February 26, 2004.
Between 1689 and 1714 England fought two great wars with the France of Louis XIV. These wars helped to transform England into a world power through its eventual victory over France.
The Sun King Burned.
February 12, 2004.
"Every time I make an appointment, I make one ungrateful person
and a hundred with a grievance."
The Moderns Won.
February 2, 2004.
By its nature, the human mind is indeterminate; hence, when man is sunk in ignorance, he makes himself the measure of the universe.
What Price Power?
January 21, 2004.
An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia regitur orbis?
[Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?]
The Old Regime.
January 9, 2004.
"The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there."