Topic: Russia, 1645-1741

Topic: Russia, 1645-1741

Which of the following was more important in modernizing Russia?

(i) The building of St. Petersburg

(ii) The formation of the Senate

Explain your answer with reference to both (i) and (ii). (12 points/marks)

High level Student Response: (Exceeds the Standard)

St Petersburg was built on captured territory as a sign of the success of Peter’s policy of strengthening Russia. It was an important symbol of royal power and modernization. It was built in the modern European style and it was intended as part of Peter’s policy of opening ‘a window on the West’ by its situation on the Baltic. It was intended as a contrast to the old fashioned, land locked Moscow. It was city which could be accessible to trade and visitors from the West. Its palaces gave western style dwellings to the aristocrats who came there because it was the seat of the court and government. Its churches were in a modern architectural style showing the change from the old Believers. Its admiralty building showed a belief in sea power, a major feature of the modern West. However, the focus on the modern western based capital meant that there was a gulf between the capital and the provinces that remained a feature of the Tsarist regime. A westernized court had a modern setting but that did not mean that Russia as a whole was westernized or that Peter behaved like a western ruler.

Though important as a symbol, the more ambitious policies needed a different kind of more effective and western-style government so the creation of the Senate had more to do with effective power than the new capital which was more to demonstrate that power. The existing chancelleries were inefficient and had overlapping authorities, so the new Senate took on specific responsibilities each headed by a top official with more clearly defined responsibilities. This remained the system until new ministries were created by Alexander I. The Senate had emerged as a group of officials to look after royal business in the Tsar’s absence. It developed into regular supervision of the army, navy, trade and state finances as a permanent body. Thus though it was more ‘western’ it developed out of the Tsar’s personal delegation of his authority. Its scrutiny by other royal officials called fiscals showed the Tsar’s lack of trust in any delegation of authority. In theory administration was modernized but there were severe limitations in that the army still collected many taxes and the creation after 1725 of different supervisory bodies, so a permanent efficient system of national government by men trusted by the monarch did not emerge. It might be seen then that the impressible symbolic capital which showed the hopes for westernization was more important as the realities of Russia did not match the image.

Teacher Comment: This student earned 12 out of 12 points/marks

  • There is clear line of argument here which considers why both might be seen as important but comes to a view based on a critical look at the actual effects of the changes in government.
  • There might be more support on the Senate, but there is analysis and judgment and some detailed knowledge.

Medium Level Student answer (Partially Meets the Standard)

Peter had travelled in Europe and seen the new architecture of the European cities so wanted a new capital in classical style, not the Old Russian ornate and eastern style domes. His new city which was named after him was going to be his ‘window on the west’ and was built not in the center of European Russia like Moscow but as a city which faced out towards Europe. It had western style palaces like the Winter Palace and fine boulevards and canals and was like no other Russian city. It encouraged the nobles to build their great houses in the western style, too and foreign diplomats could see a European style city with parks, wide streets and classical buildings and bridges and think that they were dealing with a modern monarch not a Tartar like Asiatic ruler. So the city became a center for culture and was important as it showed western influences.

The Senate was also important as Peter needed to change the old style Russian way of governing and have a new style where there were officials responsible for every different aspect of government not like in a mediaeval type government where those who administered the state had overlapping duties and there was no clear areas of government. This was important as Peter wanted to build up his army and navy and also to make other important changes in Russia so he needed a modern government such was developing in the west. He had to make sure the senate was supervised but the new government was more modern and effective so it was more important than the capital which was more for show.

Teacher Comments: This student received 5 out of 12 marks

  • The importance of both elements is shown if in somewhat general terms and a judgment, though not very developed is offered.
  • There is some knowledge, though not very detailed and the answer is focused on the question.