July 6, 2022
Russian Empire (Russian: Росси́йская Импе́рия, spelled until 1918 as Pоссsiйская Имперiя), also known colloquially as Imperial Russia or Czarist Russia, to differentiate it from Soviet Russia and modern Russia, was a state that existed from 1721 until it was overthrown by the February Revolution in 1917. One of the greatest empires in human history, spanning three continents, the Russian Empire was surpassed in land mass only by the British and Mongol empires. The rise of the Russian Empire happened in association with the decline of rival neighboring powers: the Swedish Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Persia and the Ottoman Empire. He played an important role between 1812 and 1814 in defeating Napoleon's ambitions to control Europe and expanded west and south. The Romanov Dynasty ruled the Russian Empire from 1721 to 1762, and its German-descendant Cadet branch, the House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov, ruled from 1762. In the early 19th century, the Russian Empire stretched from the Arctic Ocean, in the north to the Black Sea in the south and from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean. Until 1867 the empire also comprised Alaska in North America (Russian America). With 125.6 million individuals registered by the 1897 census, it had the third largest population in the world at the time, after Qing China and India. Like all empires, it included great economic, ethnic and religious disparities. There were numerous dissident elements, who launched numerous riots and assassination attempts; they were closely watched by the secret police, with thousands exiled to Siberia. Economically, the empire had a predominantly agricultural base, with low productivity on large estates worked by serfs (until they were freed in 1861). The economy slowly industrialized with the help of foreign investment in railways and factories. The land was ruled by a nobility (the boyars) between the 10th and 17th centuries and later by an emperor. Tsar Ivan III (1462-1505) laid the foundations for the empire that came later. He tripled the territory of his state, ended the rule of the Golden Horde, renovated the Moscow Kremlin and laid the foundations of the Russian state. Tsar Peter the Great (1682-1725) fought countless wars and expanded an already massive empire into a major European power. He moved the capital from Moscow to the new city of Saint Petersburg and led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the medieval and traditionalist social and political customs with a modern scientific and rationalist system. Catherine the Great (reigned 1762-1796) ruled during a golden age. It expanded the Russian state through conquest, colonization and diplomacy, continuing the policy of modernization initiated by Peter the Great. Tsar Alexander II (1855-1881) promoted numerous reforms, most notably the emancipation of all 23 million serfs in 1861. His policy in Eastern Europe involved protecting Orthodox Christians under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. This connection in 1914 led to Russia's entry into World War I on the side of France, the United Kingdom and Serbia, against the German, Austrian and Ottoman empires. The Russian Empire functioned as an absolute monarchy until the 1905 Revolution and then became a constitutional monarchy. The empire collapsed during the February Revolution of 1917, largely as a result of massive failures in its participation in World War I.