On his journey to the West, Peter had visited Louis XIV's splendid new palace of Versailles. Like the Sun King, Peter invited the best European architects and artisans to design and build the palaces for his new city. Peter even planned the city's parks and boulevards himself, modeling them on those he had seen at Versailles.

Expanding to the East

Peter also expanded the Russian empire eastward toward the Pacific. Russian traders and raiders also crossed the plains and rivers of Siberia. Under Peter, Russia signed a treaty with China that recognized Russia's claim to lands north of China and defined the common border of the two empires.

In the early 1700s, Peter hired the Danish navigator Vitus Bering to explore what became known as the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska. After Peter's death, Russian traders built outposts in Alaska and northern California. Few Russians moved east of the Ural Mountains at this time, but the expansion made Russia the largest country in the world. It still is today, nearly 300 years later.

Painting of men in winter attire standing in the snow near a body of water with vessels; people in the background engaged in ship building activities.

The Bering expedition brought the Russians to the west coast of North America.

A Mixed Legacy

When Peter died in 1725, he left a mixed legacy. He had expanded Russian territory, gained ports on the Baltic Sea, and created a mighty army. He had also ended Russia's long period of isolation. From the 1700s on, Russia would be increasingly involved in the affairs of Western Europe. Yet many of Peter's ambitious reforms died with him. Nobles, for example, soon ignored his policy of service to the state.

Like earlier tsars, Peter the Great had used terror to enforce his absolute power. His policies contributed to the growth of serfdom, which served only to widen the gap between Russia and the West that Peter had sought to narrow.

Catherine the Great

Peter's successors in the Romanov dynasty were ineffective rulers. Russian nobles quickly reasserted their independence. Then a new monarch took the reins of power firmly in hand. She became known to history as Catherine the Great.

A German Princess Becomes Tsar

A German princess by birth, Catherine came to Russia at the age of 15 to wed the heir to the Russian throne. She learned Russian, embraced the Russian Orthodox faith, and won the loyalty of the people.

Painting of an older crowned woman wearing ermine fur, jewels, a silk dress and a ribbon likely holding a chivalric order star out of frame.

Catherine the Great, shown here in a 1794 portrait, took over the rule of Russia after the assassination of her husband, Tsar Peter III.

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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