The second floor of the exposition of the State History Museum opens with a room displaying monuments of history and culture related to one of the brightest and most dynamic periods in the history of our Motherland. The reforms and transformations during the reign of Peter the Great considerably changed the image of the country, having separated medieval Rus from new Russia.
In the centre of the exposition, just as in the centre of the epoch, stands the gigantic figure of the tsar-reformer. Among the exhibits connected with the personality of the tsar is a winter carriage with small micaceous windows in which he was believed to have traveled to Arkhangelsk, the uniform of an officer of the Preobrazhensky Regiment of the Guards from the tsar’s wardrobe, and also a gala portrait of the tsar painted by an unknown Moscow artist, which is shown for the first time after a painstaking restoration work. Presumably, the portrait was painted in Arkhangelsk during Peter’s stay there in 1702.
In case 13 there is a sculptural portrait of Peter the Great made in the early 20th century. The mask made by sculptor B. K. Rastrelli in 1719, in the emperor’s lifetime, served as the original for the sculpture. In the same case there are unique state seals of Russia. The Big state seal of 1703 which was used to finally endorse international treaties is especially interesting.
There is a portrait of Peter at the age of 25 made by P. Skhalken, as well as portraits of his followers and comrades-in-arms, “the fledgelings of Peter’s nest,” as Pushkin called them. Among them are Prince Y. Dolgoruky, one of the highest state officials famous for his incorruptibility and courage (he fled from Swedish captivity, where he had spent ten years, on a vessel which he seized), and Count F. Apraksin, General-admiral, the governor of Azov and the first head of the Admiralty who scored several important victories over the Swedes in the Northern war.
Cases 1–11 contain items related to the foreign policy pursued by Russia under Peter the Great. The creation of a regular army and navy, military and diplomatic successes, and the development and broadening of international contacts earned Russia the status of a full-fl edged and respected member of the “European house”.
The Grand Mission of 1697–1698 (case 1) as a member of which Peter left Russia incognito for the first time, contrary to old customs, and visited a number of European countries for several months, is considered the beginning of the epoch of his reforms. The case contains the silver cross of F. Golovin, “the second ambassador” of the Grand Mission, who was in charge of Russia’s foreign policy from 1700. The cross was a family treasure and the inscription on it said that the member of the Boyar Duma A. Golovin blessed his son, the future head of the foreign-policy department, in 1677.
The print by I. Musheron, hanging above the case, shows the fireworks in Amsterdam which ended the festive dinner in honour of the Grand Mission. Beside it, is a West European print of 1716 on the subject of the formation of the anti-Swedish Northern alliance. It depicts the allies of Peter the Great: Frederic IV of Denmark; Friedrich-Wilhelm I of Prussia; Friedrich- August, the King of Poland, and their common enemy Charles XII.
Cases 2-10 are devoted to the Northern war of 1700– 1721 between Russia and Sweden. As a result of brilliant military victories and difficult international negotiations Russia achieved its main aim, namely, to gain an outlet to the Baltic Sea. The rare print made by J. Leopold, above case 2, shows the first major battle between the Russian and Swedish armies at Narva in November 1700. Peter drew the main lesson from his defeat, namely, that it was necessary to speed up the formation of a regular army.
Among the Russian memorable medals in honour of the main battles on land and sea at the first stage of the Northern war are “In memory of the capture of Schlisselburg 1702” and “In memory of the seizure of two Swedish warships in the Neva estuary 1703” (case 2). There is also a document signed by Peter he Great entrusting Colonel Lang to recruit officers for the Russian army in Denmark.
The patent for a rank endorsed by the state seal was dated 1721 and issued to “Captain of the Navy I. Mukhanov (case 3). Peter included him in the Grand Mission and he studied navy building and organizational work in Holland, served in the navy, took part in battles during the Northern war and retired in the rank of rear admiral in 1726.
сases 4, 5
Victory in the Northern war would have been impossible without the radical transformations of the armed forces and the creation of the navy. Cases 4 and 5 contain the first Russian military rules and regulations and articles of war compiled with the direct participation of Peter the Great. These documents were valid in the Russian armed forces right up to the end of the 18th century.
A company standard of 1706 which belonged to the Preobrazhensky Regiment of the Guards, one of the first such units of the regular army, which fought courageously in the Poltava battle, can be seen above case 6. In it there are the firearms and cold steel used by the regular army in Peter’s time, samples of uniform (the uniform of a private of the Semyonovsky Regiment of the Guards, and boots of cavalry men of the early 18th century), as well as captured Swedish weapons. A picture by an unknown Russian artist, “The Triumph of Peter the Great”, shows him on horseback trampling underfoot the lion — the symbol of Sweden. The picture is based on the print made by D. Golyakhovsky and presented to Peter the Great right after the Poltava battle. The surrender of the Swedish army on June 30, 1709, is depicted on C. Simonot’s print made in Paris in 1725.
The exhibits of case 7 are also connected with the Poltava battle. Among them are the official deed for the possession of land issued to General Y. Bruce, the commander of the artillery, who displayed great courage and skill during the Northern war and in the Poltava battle, and a Swedish sword found near Poltava two hundred years later.
Russia’s successes in the military operations on land were followed with the abolition of Sweden’s domination on the sea. Case 8 contains a numismatic rarity — the double gold piece with Peter’s profile, which was given as an award to the participants in the naval battle at Cape Gangut on July 27, 1714. That was the first major victory of the young Russian navy, which was the key event, on a par with the Poltava battle, of the Northern war. M. Bakua’s coloured print shows the beginning of the Gangut battle, when the Russian vessels encircled the Swedish ships by a crafty manoeuvre.
After the Gangut victory the Russian-Swedish negotiations began for the termination of the Northern war. Under the Russian-Swedish peace of Nystad signed in 1721, the former Swedish provinces in the Eastern Baltic region were given over to Russia for “perpetual possession”. The book on “Ratification of eternal peace reached in Niestadt” printed in St. Petersburg is shown in case 9. The exquisite smoking pipe made of walrus bone and decorated with mother-of-pearl and inlaid in silver dated “1723” (case 8) was specially made on the occasion of the celebration of Russia’s victory over Sweden.
The successful termination of the Northern war was the result of not only the victories of the Russian army, but also the diplomatic efforts of Russia and, above all, Peter the Great personally, who achieved the international recognition of the new political realities in the course of his negotiations with representatives of the European countries involved in the conflict. Case 9 shows memorable medals minted in Paris in the spring of 1717 on the occasion of the Russian tsar’s visit to France. There is also the rare French engraving by J. Desmaret (1718) showing a meeting of Peter the Great with the young King Louis XV in Versailles.
Among the mementos of the Northern war there is a massive iron plate used as a bell, because, due to the shortage of copper in Russia in the beginning of the war, church bells had to be remelted for making cannons (case 10). A wooden model of the Russian rowing vessel “Som” is nearby, which took part in the Gangut battle.
The exhibits of case 11 are connected with the wars with Turkey in 1710–1713 and Persia in 1722–1723, which were called the Prut and Persian campaigns.
There is a rare item — the map of the Caspian Sea “made on the instructions of His Imperial Majesty in 1719, 1720 and 1721 and transferred to the Paris meridian by Guillome Deslile, the first geographer of the king in Paris”. This was the first reliable map of the Caspian Sea made on the basis of instrumental surveys of Russian officers and geodesists in 1715 – 1720. A copy of the map was sent to the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1721, where it was awarded a gold medal.
Cases 14–18 contain materials telling about reforms in state management, culture and everyday life. The transformations mostly concerned the latter. The image and way of life of the nobility and the upper crust of merchants, as well as the tsar’s court changed radically. Items in case 14 show the reform of the calendar — transfer to the new chronology based on A. D., celebration of the New Year on January 1 (previously, chronology was based on the time of the Creation of the World and the new year began on September 1), the new order of things (clothes of European style, the shaving of beards, regular assemblies of the nobility, with the participation of women who traditionally led a secluded life). All these measures were introduced on a legal basis under the threat of fines and punishment.
Small copper “beard counters” of 1705 are of special interest. They were issued to confirm payment made for wearing a beard which was enormous at the time — 60 roubles a year for a nobleman and an ordinary city dweller. “The Honest Mirror of the Youth, or Instructions for Daily Behaviour” was the first manual, as it were, containing the rules of social behaviour. Besides, there is also the first Russian printed newspaper “Vedomosti” founded in 1703, which expounded and popularized Peter’s reforms.
Engravings and prints were a new phenomenon in Russian fine art which was largely used by the tsar for propaganda to popularize his policies. There are prints by famous artists A. Shkhonebek and A. F. Zubov, showing some of Peter’s innovations: fireworks in honour of the victories in the Northern war, the foundation of St. Petersburg in May 1703 on the land along the Baltic Sea shore won from Sweden which was made the capital of Russia, samples of West European architecture in Moscow, interior decorations in European style, new customs and habits at the court, etc.
Case 15 demonstrates samples of tableware and various household utensils which came into being in the first quarter of the 18th century and were constantly used in the everyday life of the nobility: silver dinner sets, artistically decorated glass goblets, cups and glasses with scenes from the Bible. New beverages, such as tea and coffee, became widespread at the time. There are coffee- mill and teapot made of traditional Russian vessel for drinking called “bratina” on display. Besides, one can also see the silver glass with the inscription “Vivat, Vivat, Tsar Pyotr Alexeyevich” and the picture of the Biblical hero Samson tearing the mouth of a lion — the symbol of victory over Sweden. Such inscriptions and pictures were connected with signing a peace treaty and giving Peter the Great the title of Emperor by the Senate and the name “Great” and “Father of the Nation”, which he agreed to accept to the three cheers of “Vivat!”
On the right of case 15 one can see objects typical of the interior of Peter’s time: an exquisite little table cabinet, mirror, and original chairs and tables.
The reforms and transformations required new knowledge and habits and the training of specialists in various fields. In 1701 a School of mathematical and navigation sciences was founded, which was housed in the Sukhareva Tower, and, following it, other special and primary (secular and church) schools. Case 16 shows textbooks and study aids, among them “Grammar” by M. Smotritsky and “Arithmetic” by L. Magnitsky, as well as an additional aid to the latter entitled “New Method of Arithmetic” by V. Kiprianov. Above case 16 one can see the basic rules of calculation with the use of Arabic numbers which replaced the Slav letters denoting the numbers.
Some boyar and noblemen’s children received education abroad. There is an interesting document — a certificate given to I. and A. Golovkin allowing them to travel abroad for studying various sciences. This is an original identification paper and at the same time a request addressed to foreign authorities to help the youngsters.
In case 17, there is a printing press made in 1711 on instructions of Peter the Great. He indicated that it should have been light and portable enough for taking and using it on numerous trips. It was one of the two printing presses made in the 18th century and preserved to this day. It was taken on the Prut and Persian campaigns, and after that it was used at the Synod print shop in Moscow for quite some time. One of the first books printed in ordinary letters, namely, “Geography General” by B. Varenius is lying on top of the press. In 1710 Peter the Great reformed the Cyrillic alphabet, having excluded from it a number of obsolete and useless letters. This made easier learning to read and write and was an important step in the development of book printing.
Items showing the reforms of the state apparatus and the new bodies of power set up by Peter the Great are exhibited in case 18. A print of the mid-18th century shows the building of state collegiums (bodies of central management in charge of individual branches), which replaced old managerial bodies in 1717 – 1721. The “General Statute” contained the rules and regulations of the state civil service in the 18th — beginning of the 19th century, the “Church Statute” determined the new system of religious management, and the “Table of Ranks” put to order the civil and military service. These legislative documents were of great importance for the epoch of Peter the Great (the last two of them were valid right up to 1917).
Items contained in case 19 describe the different attitude of Peter’s contemporaries to his transformations. Striving to return to the old customs and habits, many representatives of the boyars and nobility rallied around Aleksey, Peter’s son by his marriage with E. Lopukhina. The tragic confrontation between the father and son ended with a trial and Aleksey’s death in 1718. Works written by supporters of the tsar’s policy and reforms, especially the treatise by Archbishop Theophanes Prokopovich entitled “The Truth of the Monarch’s Will”, substantiated the right of the tsar to appoint his successor, which was proclaimed by Peter the Great in his Statute on Succession to the Throne of 1722.