Russian Empire

See also: European history

The Russian Empire was the largest contiguous country in modern times, and the predecessor of the Soviet Union and present-day Russia. Reaching its maximum size during the mid-19th century, it included much of east and central Europe (including Finland and Poland), all of Siberia, much of Central Asia, and briefly Alaska, though the degree of actual control by the tsarist authorities usually declined quite notably going from west to east.

Though two world wars and Soviet iconoclasts have swept away parts of the Russian heritage, there are still many sites and artifacts left to see.


I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Winston Churchill, 1939

The Rus was a kingdom in Kiev, possibly founded by Swedish Vikings. Both Russia, Ukraine and Belarus claim heritage to the Rus.

In the Middle Ages, eastern Europe was divided between several kingdoms and nomadic peoples such as the Mongols, until the Grand Duchy of Moscow became dominant in the 16th century, proclaiming their ruler to be the Tsar, and heir to the Roman Empire. Russian propaganda had proclaimed the ruler of Moscow to be the leader of a "third Rome" (the first being the Roman Empire and the second being Byzantium) already upon the fall of the Byzantine Empire, and the than Grand Duke of Moscow married a niece of the last Byzantine Emperor to reinforce his claim.

Russia became a great power under Peter the Great, who pushed back a Swedish invasion in the Great Northern War during the early 18th century, annexed the Baltic States and proclaimed the Russian Empire, Российская империя; see also Nordic history.

A hundred years later, Russia was invaded again by Napoleon, who also failed.

Siberia and the Russian Far East were colonized during the 19th century, with the expansion of the trans-Siberian railroad. The Russians also tried to colonize North America, but ended up selling their tenuous hold on Alaska to the United States. Through world history, only the Mongolian Empire and the British Empire have possessed a larger land area than Imperial Russia.

Russian expansion was held back when they lost the Russian-Japanese War in 1904-05. The defeat contributed to the Russian Revolution of 1905, which reduced the Tsar's power.

In 1914, Slavic separatists assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, leading to an Austro-Hungarian ultimatum against Serbia. As the Russian Tsar backed up their Serbian "brothers" (Pan-slavic ideas being common at the time), Germany honored their alliance with Austria, leading to a destructive conflict, today known as World War I.

Though the Russian people struggled in the war, the Tsar was stubborn to keep fighting. The rising dissent led to the February Revolution in 1917, where he was replaced by a short-lived Provisional Government. The October Revolution the same year brought the Bolshevik government to power, and the foundation of the Soviet Union, which rose to a global superpower, until its dissolution in 1991.


While most historical cities are in Central and Northwestern Russia, as well as Ukraine, Russia spread east during the Imperial Age, with most settlements in Siberia and the Russian Far East rather young in comparison.

Many old Russian cities have a kremlin (Кремл), essentially a castle or fortress, small or large, some better preserved than others. The largest and by far the most famous one is the one in Moscow, internationally known as the Kremlin, a phrase that is also a metonym for the Russian (and Soviet) government.

See also

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