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Peter the Great, was he really so great?

a clock hanging from a pole

June 9 marks the 348th anniversary of the birth of Peter the Great, the great reformer of Russia, and the founder of the city of St Petersburg.

Emperor Peter the Great, in Russia we call him also Peter the 1st (1672-1725), made a real technical and cultural revolution in the country. He was the first in the dynasty who rejected a number of outdated norms and brought a breath of fresh air to the knowledge and culture of Russia and at the same time protecting the Russian identity. His mental cruelty, unpredictable and explosive nature, combined with a sharp mind, turned him into one of the greatest rulers of the Russian Empire.

a person wearing a costume

Jean-Marc Nattier, Portrait of Tsar Peter I

We have collected some interesting facts about Peter the Great and his reign.

  • Peter the Great ruled the country for 43 years, it is one of the longest terms in the history of the country. Most of the other rulers were on the throne much less, with the exception of Ivan the Terrible and several others.


  • He was both the last Russian tsar and the first Russian Emperor.


  • Peter the Great became a great reformer. The Emperor separated the church from the state. Thanks to Peter, Russia became a secular country.


  • Peter was actively involved in the education of the population. There appeared free schools for all classes and the career of the nobility depended directly on the level of education received.

a person standing next to a body of water

Nikolai Dobrovolsky, Here a city will be


  • Peter the Great wanted Russia to become close to Europe. He built St Petersburg according to foreign designs, faced the halls of the palaces with Dutch tiles and even made the nobles look like foreigners. The emperor obliged upper classes and the clergy to shave their beards in order to “transform the secular goats” (quote from the Decree of Peter the Great).


  • Peter the Great established a strong fleet, “cut a window to Europe” and conquered new lands. To win the Northern War, which lasted 21 years, the emperor introduced new rules for soldiers. Certain classes had to perform military service fo the whole life. It was due to this that Peter the Great was able to prepare powerful fighters and win the war with the Swedes.


  • Having won the Northern War, Russia became the strongest state in Europe and began to be called the Russian Empire. In October 1721, Peter I took the title of Peter the Great, father of the Fatherland and the Emperor of All Russia. That is why he is called the Great.

a living room filled with furniture and vase of flowers next to a fireplace

Mikhail Shankov, Peter the Great taking a rest


  • Peter the Great married at the age of 17 at the insistence of his mother. The first wife of the emperor was the noblewoman Evdokia Lopukhina. But the marriage was unsuccessful. Peter did not love her. In the end, he signed a decree according to which Evdokia was given to the convent and was sent to a monastery.


  • The second wife of Peter the Great was a commoner, the daughter of a peasant – Marta Skavronskaya. Marta was a laundress and did not have an education suitable for life at court. However, Peter fell in love with her. The ruler gave her a new name, and so Catherine I appeared in the history of Russia.


  • It is known that the emperor loved only Catherine. Only she could calm him when he was angry and soothe the pain when the tsar had convulsions of facial muscles. Nevertheless, Catherine had a talent for intrigues on the side, which greatly annoyed her beloved husband. Once Peter the Great caught a lover, executed him, and hung his head in Catherine’s room – as a sign of punishment.


  •  Peter the Great traveled in Europe for two years where he found inspiration for his famous reforms. 


  •  Emperor Peter the Great invented skates. He is the first person in the world to create shoes with blades for ice skating. Before him, the blades were attached to shoes using special fasteners and could be removed.


  • It was he who designed famous fountain cascades in Petergof. 


  • The ruler struggled with drunkenness in every possible way. He awarded the most hardened alcoholics with medals that weighed 7 kg. Of course, the emperor forbade removing the “honorary” medal from the neck. Heavy drinkers carried heavy medals for months.

a large building

Peterhof fountains


  • The ruler allowed women to refuse marriage to a man whom they do not want to marry. At the same time, Peter the Great forbade women to work on ships. He took women on board only in rare cases.


  • Peter the Great brought rice and potatoes to the territory of Russia.


  • One of the emperor’s hobbies was dentistry – he personally liked to pull teeth to the patients. Boyars from the inner circle usually fell under this fate.


  • It was he who ordered the New Year to be celebrated on the night of December 31 to January 1, introducing in Russia a chronology according to the Julian calendar.

a group of rope

  • Peter the Great died of pneumonia, developed from an ordinary cold. And he earned a cold by taking part in the rescue of drowning soldiers during a flood that occurred in the Gulf of Finland.


  •  Peter the Great did not have time to write a will, therefore, after his death, a palace coup took place in the country.