Why did the renaissance never reach Russia?


In the middle of the 17th century, Russia opened to the west under Tsar Peter the Great. This development was interrupted under Soviet rule from 1917 to 1991.

A view of the Shtandart sailing ship, a copy of Peter the Great's ship, from the roof of the Hermit Museum overlooking the Neva River in St. Petersburg. (& copy AP)


Since entering the modern age, Russia has been a European state. In changing shapes and under changing names - as the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation - this country played a key role in shaping the history of Europe. The multiethnic state, which stretches over two continents - Europe and Asia - and which differed from the Latin-influenced Occident through its orientation towards the Byzantine Eastern Church, came closer and closer to the core states of Europe in the course of modern times in terms of power and social policy and contributed its part Development of European thought and culture.

Rise to a major European power

A political and social organization formed in what would later become Russia, initially under the influence of other cultures. In the middle of the ninth century, a system of soon-to-be Slavic, related, Norman-Scandinavian rulers emerged along the trade routes between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. Urban settlements such as Kiev - the capital that gave the rulers its name -, Vladimir and Suzdal, which also functioned as a mansion, fortress, tribute administration, ecclesiastical center and long-distance trading base, became bases. During this phase, the ruling dynasty of the Ryurikids, from which the Russian tsars later descended until 1598, gained the upper hand.

Under the Kiev Grand Duke Vladimir I, the saint (978-1015), Christianity established itself in Russia from Byzantium. The integration into the Orthodox missionary area meant in the long run the separation from the Latin-Christian part of Europe, which with the Reformation, Renaissance and Enlightenment developed a development that was not followed in Russia. The exchange with the West came to a complete standstill when the Kievan Rus broke up under the Mongol storms of 1223, 1237/38 and 1239/40 and the partial principalities fell under the suzerainty of the western Mongol khanate, the "Golden Horde" with their seat, for a century and a half in Sarai on the Lower Volga. During this phase Moscow became the new center of power for the Rus. In 1380 it was so strong that it was able to put an end to the Mongolian sovereignty in a victorious battle on the "Schnepfenfeld" on the Don. As a result, Moscow expanded its territory.

Ivan III (1462-1505) described himself for the first time as "Russian Grand Duke and Tsar" and emphasized with this title, derived from the designation "Caesar", his claim to equality with the empire in the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation". In 1510 in Pskow the monk Filofej developed the idea of ​​Moscow as the "Third Rome" - as the third center of Christianity after Rome and Byzantium.

A generation later, Ivan IV (the Terrible, 1547-1584) was crowned "Tsar and autocrat of all great Russia" - a title that included the right to succeed to the Byzantine imperial dignity. Under his rule, the empire was expanded to the east and south in the context of imperial power politics. Internally, a phase of reforms was followed by the regiment of terror, the oprichnina. The Ryurikid dynasty ended with his son Fyodor, who died in 1598 without a successor. After a phase of smuta, the turmoil, a new beginning was made in 1613 with the election of the boyar Mikhail Romanov (1613-1645). The boyars were members of the nobility in ancient Russian history. It was then his descendant Peter I (1682 / 1689-1725) who modernized Russia with a hard hand and opened the "gates to Europe".

Autocratic modernization

The tsarist power had already come into contact with the European powers in the 16th century. With Sweden and Poland she waged war in alternating coalitions for possession of the Baltic region. In the 17th century the connection with Western and Central Europe became more important. Russian politics could no longer ignore economic developments and shifts in the balance of power in Western Europe.

Tsar Peter built up a seaworthy fleet, enlarged the army and trained it according to Western models. He redesigned the central administration by creating colleges (ministries) structured according to specialist tasks following the Swedish model, and he pursued a mercantilist economic policy by promoting trade and domestic production by setting up factories. Foreign specialists were brought into the country, Russians sent abroad to study. On January 1, 1700, the tsar also abolished the old Byzantine calendar, which was replaced by the Julian calendar, following the example of the Protestant countries. (The more precise Gregorian calendar, which was used in the Catholic regions and by which we still adhere today, was not introduced in Russia until February 14, 1918.)

But large parts of society, especially the peasantry, remained unaffected by the Petrine attempt at modernization. The contradiction between the tradition-oriented majority of the population and the modern-absolutist regime determined the social and intellectual life of Russia well into the 20th century. But Peter's reforms created the prerequisites for the country's rise to become a major European power. After defeating the Swedes in 1709 in the Battle of Poltava, Ukraine, the Tsar assumed the imperial title, which was immediately recognized by Prussia and the States General of the Netherlands, and by most of the other European powers over the course of the next 50 years.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Russia became an important factor in European politics. Under Peter's successors, the empire expanded southwards in wars with the Ottoman Empire and westwards through the Polish partitions. In the Napoleonic Wars at the beginning of the 19th century, the tsarist empire played a decisive role as an opponent of Napoleonic France, then as an ally and finally as a member of the anti-Napoleonic alliance, which also played a key role in the reorganization of Europe at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In the years that followed, Russia joined forces with the conservative powers Habsburg and Prussia as part of the "Holy Alliance" and, as "European gendarme", achieved a decisive role on the continent. The tsarist government pursued a restorative-conservative policy and turned against all freedom movements of the time.