One of the results of the foreign policy of Catherine the Great was the annexation of considerable territories by Russia and its recognition as a great power. Russia began to play a leading role in world politics, which was largely due to its strong, well-trained army, and talented army and navy commanders. However, in a historical perspective, some of these successes subsequently turned into serious problems for Russia and its people.
An idea about the state of the Russian army and navy in the latter half of the 18th century is given by the exhibits in the central case. This is, above all, the unique model of the 66- gun warship of the Russian navy, supposedly, the “St. Eustace Placida” which sank in the battle with the Turks in the Chios Strait on June 24, 1770. On the left is the portrait of its captain A. I. Kruz.
Among the various samples of cold steel there are swords of infantry officers, sabres of hussars, and broad swords of cuirassiers, as well as personal honorary arms of officers presented to them right up to the early 19th century.
Firearms are represented by firelocks with trademarks of Tula and Sestroretsk arms factories, soldiers’ pistols, blinder-busses and cavalry firelocks using swan-shots (an original form of the bore made it possible to increase the range of action). The carbine with a rifling bore was made in Tula in 1797. Compared with smooth-bore guns, these were distinguished with greater precision. Units of infantry chasseurs were armed with these guns, and their appearance in the Russian army in the mid-18th century marked the beginning of a new battle tactics: instead of linear formation there was a scattered shooting line.
Among the samples of Russian artillery pieces the most interesting one was called “narwhale”, which combined the features of a gun and howitzer, could use all types of shells and possessed better ballistic qualities. These guns were successfully used in the Russian army for the entire century.
There are army rules and articles of war, as well as manuscripts of works by Russian military commanders, including the famous “Science of Victory” by Generalissimo Alexander Suvorov, which expounded the main premises of the strategy and tactics of military actions.
Exhibits in cases 2–8 tell about the successful solution of one of the principal foreign-policy problems of Russia in the 17th–18th centuries, namely, the diplomatic and military guarantees of the security of the southern borders of the state and an outlet to the Black Sea. The print above case 2 depicts the capture by the Russian army of the Turkish fortress of Khotyn on the right bank of the Dniester River during the First Russo-Turkish war in 1768–1774. One of the scenes shows Russian soldiers distributing food among the inhabitants of the fortress, emaciated after the five-month siege.
The map of Moldavia made at the headquarters of the 1stArmy and published in Amsterdam in 1773 was one of the most detailed cartographic works of the military department of Russia in the 18th century. The hand-written operative plan of the battle at the River Larga and the print by D. Khodovetsky “Victory of the Russian army at Kagul on July 21 (August 1)” demonstrated the legendary victories scored in Moldavia by the Russian army under the command of General-en-chef, Count P. Rumyantsev in 1770. After his defeat at Larga, the Khan of the Crimea, who was an ally of Turkey, laid down arms and stopped resistance. In the battle at Kagul the Russian army smashed the main forces of the Turkish army which largely surpassed it numerically. A greater part of Moldavia was liberated from the Turks. The war ended with the Russian troops crossing the Danube.
Count P. Rumyantsev was the first among the Russian military commanders to have been awarded the Order of St. George, First degree, instituted in 1769. He also received the rank of General-Field-marshal and the word “Zadunaisky” was added to his surname.
Beside the portrait of P. Rumyantsev there are pictures of some outstanding participants in the operations against the Turkish navy during the First Russo-Turkish war: Admiral G. Spiridov, who commanded a squadron in the First Archpelago expedition near the shores of Greece and took a leading part in the battle at Cesme on June 24–26, 1776; General Count A. Orlov, the brother of the empress’s favourite and the author of the plan of a naval expedition to the Mediterranean and the commander-in-chief of the naval and land forces during the expedition, who was also awarded the Order of St. George, First degree, and the word “Chesmensky” was added to his surname. Pictures of the 18th century depict various moments of the Cesme battle. They were made from the originals by the English artist R. Patton for the emperor’s palace in Peterhof.
cases 3, 4
After almost all Turkish warships were destroyed in the Cesme Bay, the Russian fleet blockaded the Dardanelles, having taken the commanding position in the sea. Cases 3 and 4 contain exhibits connected with the legendary victories: the deed presented by Catherine the Great to Count A. Orlov, giving him the right to change his coat-of-arms after the victory at Cesme. There is also a fragment of the boarding of the ship “St. Eustace” which was sunk in the battle in Chios Strait (the beginning of the Cesme battle), and the sun-dial with compass which belonged to one of the participants in the battle, navigating officer Strugovizinov. A unique item of decorative-applied art connected with the Cesme victory was a dinner set of Count A. Orlov-Chesmensky (case 14) made at the famous Meissen china factory (Germany) in 1769–1774 on order of Catherine the Great and presented to him, according to his family legend, by the empress personally.
There is a report written by Count P. Rumyantsev himself to Empress Catherine the Great on the signing of peace with Turkey, and also the picture “Reception by the Great Visier of the Russian Ambassador, Prince N. Repnin on November 28, 1775”, which tell about the victorious end of the First Russo-Turkish war.
On June 14, 1771, as a result of the battle at Perekop, the 2nd Russian Army commanded by General-en-chef V. Dolgoruky captured by storm the eight-kilometer-long fortified line stretching from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov and occupied the Crimea. Thus the Crimean khanate was deprived of Turkish protection and was annexed by Russia in 1783. The panorama depicting this historic battle belonged to V. Dolgoruky who, by a decree of Catherine the Great, added the honorary name “Krymsky” to his surname. The picture, obviously made during the war, showed with wonderful precision the positions of the combatant armies, as well as a multitude of interesting military details.
Case 5 contains richly decorated Turkish weapons — rifles, pistols, sabres, yataghans and a bunchuk, the symbol of power of a Turkish pasha.
Exhibits in cases 6, 7 and 8 are devoted to the events of the Second Russo-Turkish war of 1787–1791. The uniform of a private from the pattern introduced in 1784, shortly before the beginning of the military hostilities, is of special value. As a result of the reform carried out by the president of the Military Collegium, Prince G. Potyomkin, the new uniform became more convenient for wearing, because it took into account the special conditions of the military operations in the south.
In case 6 there are prints depicting major victories of the Russian army during the Second Russo-Turkish war, most of which went to the credit of the legendary military commander A. Suvorov. Case 8 contains a letter written by the commander-in-chief of the Russian army G. Potyomkin to A. Suvorov in which he informed him of the award of the Order of St. George, First degree, conferred on him for the victory at Rymnik, and also the patent for the rank of lieutenant- colonel of the Preobrazhensky Regiment of the Guards for the capture of the impregnable fortress of Izmail in December 1790. To be able to justly evaluate this award, suffice it to say that Catherine the Great herself had the rank of colonel of the Guards.
Above cases 7 and 8 there is a hand-drawn map of the Akhtiar harbour (June 1783) — the first hand-drawn map of Sevastopol founded on June 3, 1783, after the Crimea became part of Russia. It was built as a base of the Black Sea fleet created by Prince G. Potyomkin, which scored two important victories in 1790 — in the Kerch Bay and at Tendra Island.
In 1798–1799 Russia waged a war with France as a member of the second anti-French coalition. During the Italian and Swiss campaigns the Russian army commanded by A. Suvorov and the Russian navy commanded by F. Ushakov scored a number of important victories, which were justly regarded as the crown of the Russian art of war in the 18th century (cases 9–11).
Case 11 shows French weapons, among them the barrel of a howitzer of the late 18th century captured by the Russian troops during the Italian campaign in the battle at Novi on August 4, 1799.
The most dramatic episode of the Swiss campaign — the battle for the Devil’s Bridge over the Reis River on September 14(25), 1799, was depicted on the rare colour print of I. Vendramini made after the original of R. Ker Porter (1805).
Personal belongings of A. Suvorov are contained in case 9. Among them are the star and ribbon of the Order of St. George, First degree, and a bone snuffbox with a portrait of Emperor Paul I. On its side the following inscription was carved: “1799. For driving the French out of Italy and crossing Saint-Gotard to Generalissimo A. V. Suvorov for remembrance”. The highest military rank was conferred on Suvorov by the emperor personally.
The medal minted by the government of the Republic of Seven United Islands in honour of Admiral F. Ushakov, who played the decisive role in liberating the islands of the Aegean Sea from the French (case 11), is of great interest. On the obverse side is a portrait of the admiral and the inscription in Greek: “Fyodor Ushakov, Russian valiant blessed admiral. 1800”, and on the back side is the Island of Corfu and the inscription in Greek: “To the Saviour of all Ionian islands — Kefalonia”.
Exhibits in case 12 are devoted to the relations of Russia with the peoples of the Caucasus and Transcaucasus in the latter half of the 18th century. The memorable medal “On Accepting Georgia into Russian State. 1790” was minted in honour of the signing of the Georgiyevsky treaty with Tsar Erekle II of Georgia in 1783, in accordance with which Eastern Georgia became part of Russia. Under the treaty the Russian troops commanded by Count V. Zubov entered into the Caspian possessions of Iran in 1796 in order to stop the raids of Persian and Turkish units to Georgia. As a result, a considerable part of the territory of Azerbaijan was occupied. The print made on the basis of a drawing by the military topographer G. Sergeyev, who participated in the Persian campaign, shows the Novoshemakha khan taking the oath of allegiance to Russia in 1796. Apparently, it was in connection with this event that the valuable present to the Russian commander was made — a silver goblet with enamel stamps and the inscription in Arabic: “To Count Valerian Alexandrovich Zubov from Hussein Ali-khan, the ruler of Baku, the month of Rabilsan 1211” (case 13). The threats of Iran forced the rulers of Georgia again to appeal to Russia for help and salvation of the country from complete devastation. Case 12 contains the official edition of the manifesto of Paul I on Georgia joining Russia (January 18, 1801).
In case 13 there are separate parts from the so-called order sets, dinner sets, cutlery, etc. for laying tables for gala dinners given for the knights of the highest orders of the Russian Empire — St. George the Triumphant, St. Andrew the First Called, and St. Alexander Nevsky. These dinners were given once a year in the Winter Palace on the name day of the saint — patron of the order. These sets were made at F. Gardner’s factory in the village of Verbilki near Moscow in 1777–1780.
Using the pretext that the main forces of Russia were engaged in the war with Turkey, Sweden tried to win back the Baltic Coast. Among the materials devoted to the Russo-Swedish war of 1788–1790 mention should be made of the excellent water-colour plan of the Vyborg battle on June 22, 1790, the campaign biggest. This is one of the three plans of different stages of the battle kept in the History Museum.
cases 16, 17
Exhibits in cases 16 and 17 tell about Russia’s participation, along with Prussia and Austria, in the dismemberment of Poland, which was due primarily to the downfall of its statehood, economic dislocation, and sharp national and social contradictions. The European political cartoons — “Three monarchs dismember Poland on the map” and “The European Pie” drawn in the 1770s, are interesting to see. Some of the exhibits show the undoubtedly positive consequences of this division — the unification of a greater part of Ukrainian and Byelorussian lands within the framework of the Russian Empire (the manifesto of 1793 and the medal “On return of Russian lands from Poland in 1772–1793). However, there were negative consequences, too: the abolition of the Polish state (a portrait of the last Polish King Stanislaw-Augustus Ponyatowski). There are also materials about the Polish people’s struggle for their independence, among which are a portrait of the national hero of Poland, General Tadeusz Kosciuszko, and a print “Suvorov in Warsaw”.
The picture “Political Balance of Europe in 1791” by an unknown artist expressed in an allegorical form the growing international prestige of Russia at the end of the 18th century. This was manifested, among other things, in international support to the Declaration of “armed neutrality” (1780) proclaimed by Russia during the war between England and its American colonies. The declaration gave neutral powers the right to defend their commercial vessels with the use of arms. The squadrons commanded by the Rear-Admiral S. Khmetevsky and Admiral V. Chichagov were despatched to Scandinavia and the Mediterranean to protect Russian ships (case 16).