The Russian Empire: Military Encounters and National Identity

  • Janet Hartley
Part of the War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850 book series (WCS)


In 1767, the preamble to Catherine II’s ‘Instruction’ stated that ‘Russia is a European State’. She was making a political and cultural statement rather than a geographical one. The ‘European’ expansion and strategic concerns of the Russian Empire, and for that matter the Soviet Union, have always concerned both Russia’s rulers and her international rivals more than her Asiatic ambitions. The expansion within Europe in the Napoleonic period was substantial and, at least in part, threatening to other states. To the north, Finland was taken over in 1809, after the south of the country had been acquired in 1721 and 1743. To the south, Georgia was absorbed in 1801 and Bessarabia in 1812, while Ukraine and the Crimea had become part of the empire between 1649 and 1792. To the west, the Congress Kingdom of Poland was ruled from Russia after 1815, after the eastern lands of the Polish-Lithuanian state had been acquired in the three partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793 and 1795. Nevertheless, it was an empire which had expanded even more rapidly eastwards than in other directions in the two centuries before the period discussed in this volume, to the extent that Russian settlers had reached not only the far eastern seaboard but had also settled on the coasts of California and Alaska. In the 1730s the Ural mountains had come to be regarded as the border between European and Asiatic Russia, and a border which was a low range of mountains was—for troops, settlers and a whole range of deserters, fugitive serfs and others who wished to lose their identities—far easier to cross than an ocean.


Indigenous People Early Nineteenth Century Orthodox Church Mountain People Russian Empire 
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  1. 1.
    This is an attempt to apply the Turner thesis, which has itself in recent years been much disputed in US histories, to Russia: see Frederick J. Turner, ‘The Significance of the Frontier in American History’, Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 41 (1893): 79–112Google Scholar
  2. 15.
    Michael Khodarkovsky, ‘Colonial Frontiers in Eighteenth-Century Russia: from the North Caucasus to Central Asia’, in Extending the Borders of Russian History: Essays in Honor of Alfred J. Rieber, ed. Marsha Siefert (Budapest, 2003), 138–139. The ambivalence of Russian perceptions of themselves as located between East and West in relation to the Caucasus later in the nineteenth century, as illustrated in the context of Russian literature, is discussed in Susan Layton, Russian Literature and Empire: Conquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to Tolstoy (Cambridge, UK, 1994), 76; and Katya Hokanson, ‘Literary Imperialism, Narodnost’ and Pushkin’s Invention of the Caucasus’, Russian Review 53 (1994): 336–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Janet Hartley 2010

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  • Janet Hartley

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