He improved waterways and canals, developed mining and textile manufacturing, and backed new trading companies. Peter succeeded in refashioning Russia from a medieval backwater into a rising European—and Asian—power.

Expanding Russia's Borders

From his earliest days as tsar, Peter worked to build Russia's military power. He created the largest standing army in Europe, built a world-class navy from scratch, and set out to extend Russian borders to the west and south. To achieve these goals meant fighting Russia's neighbors.

Seeking a Warm-Water Seaport

Peter's chief goal was to win a warm-water port, a port that was not frozen in winter. Russian seaports, located along the Arctic Ocean, were covered in ice most of the year. A warm-water port would increase Russia's ability to trade with the West.

Painting of a man standing in a boat pointing to the distance, surrounded by sailors at work, with a white flag bearing an eagle flying.

Peter wanted to gain access to a warm-water port and the open sea. His first step toward this goal was to capture Azov, a town in what is now southwestern Russia, from the Turks. This painting shows the successful capture of Azov in 1696.

The nearest warm-water coast was located along the Black Sea. To gain control of this territory, Peter had to push through the powerful Ottoman Empire. In the end, Peter was unable to defeat the Ottomans and gain his warm-water port. The drive to achieve this goal motivated future Russian tsars, and by the late 1700s, Catherine the Great would succeed.

The Great Northern War

In 1700, Peter began a long war against the kingdom of Sweden, which at the time dominated the Baltic region. Early on, Russia suffered humiliating defeats. A Swedish force of only 8,000 men defeated a Russian army five times its size. Undaunted, Peter rebuilt his army, modeling it after European armies.

Finally, in 1709, he defeated the Swedes and won territory along the Baltic Sea. On this land, Peter would build a magnificent new capital city, St. Petersburg.

A “Window on the West”

St. Petersburg became the great symbol of Peter's desire to forge a modern, Western-oriented Russia nation. Seeking to open a “window on the West,” he located the city along the swampy shores of the Neva River, near the Baltic coast. He forced tens of thousands of serfs to drain the swamps. Many thousands died, but Peter's plan for the city succeeded.

Illustrated map of the city of saint Petersburg, with inscriptions in German, showing a grid of city infrastructure arranged amidst a series of canals.

Analyze Maps

This historical map shows the city of St. Petersburg, built by Peter the Great. What are the benefits of St. Petersburg's location? What are the challenges?


End ofPage 440

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