In 1697, Peter set out to learn about Western technology and ways for himself. He spent hours walking the streets of European cities, noting the manners and homes of the people. He visited factories and art galleries, learned anatomy from a doctor, and even had a dentist teach him how to pull teeth.

In England, Peter was impressed by Parliament. “It is good,” he said, “to hear subjects speaking truthfully and openly to their king.”

The Westernization of Russia

Returning to Russia, Peter brought a group of technical experts, teachers, and soldiers he had recruited in Europe. He then embarked on a policy of westernization, the adoption of Western ideas, technology, and culture.

Some changes had a symbolic meaning. He forced the boyars, or landowning nobles, to shave their traditional beards and wear Western-style clothes. To end the practice of secluding upper-class women in separate quarters, he held grand parties at which women and men were expected to dance together. Russian nobles opposed this radical mixing of the sexes in public, but they had to comply.

To impose his will, Peter became the most autocratic of Europe's absolute monarchs, meaning that he ruled with unlimited authority. Determined to centralize royal power, he brought the Russian Orthodox Church under his control. He forced the haughty boyars to serve the state in civilian or military jobs.

Illustration of men in in seventeenth century clothing on a construction site, with one man being shown a large diagram of building plans by other men.

In this image, Peter the Great is studying the building plans for St. Petersburg. The establishment of the city was one of his most important and long-lasting achievements.

Extending Serfdom

Peter knew that nobles would serve the state only if their own interests were protected. Therefore, he passed laws ensuring that nobles retained control over their lands. This included the serfs who were tied to those lands.

Under Peter's rule, serfdom spread in Russia at a time when it was dying out in Western Europe. Further, he forced some serfs to become soldiers or to work as laborers on roads, canals, and other government projects.

A Harsh, Effective Ruler

Peter showed no mercy to any who resisted his new order. When elite palace guards revolted, he had more than 1,000 of the rebels tortured and executed. Then, as an example of his power, he left their rotting corpses outside the palace walls for months.

Peter was known not only for cruelty but also for remaking Russia. He imported Western technology, simplified the Russian alphabet, and set up academies for the study of mathematics, science, and engineering. To pay for his reforms, Peter adopted mercantilist policies, such as encouraging exports.

Painting of a man in a striped buttoned casual shirt and hat, with hair loose and face unshaven.

While visiting the Netherlands, Peter the Great disguised himself as a ship carpenter's apprentice to study shipbuilding.

Draw Conclusions

Why might Peter disguise himself like this?


End ofPage 439

Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments