Tag Archive: Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

The past two weeks have looked at the rise of Russia and its colonial expansion across the Urals. As explained last week, though its drive eastwards was immensely successful, Russia’s efforts to combat other European rivals proved less fruitful, apart from its conquest of much of what is today the Ukraine. But, even as it continued to expand its territory, Russia stagnated politically. That is, until the rise of the Romanovs, and, especially, the rise of Peter the Great.


Peter the Great, as depicted posthumously by Paul Delaroche in 1838. Public domain. Current version uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by User:Trzęsacz.

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Last weekend, we looked at the rise of the Russian state. This weekend, we will learn about the early expansion of Russia and its colonial efforts, up until about the time of Peter the Great. Before we proceed, however, it would be useful to explain what “colonialism” actually is. “Colonialism” is more than just a particular state extending its power over another – imperialism does that as well. The terms are related, but colonialism is particular form of imperialism. The key difference between “colonialism” and “imperialism” in general is the method of control: Imperialism tends to control another state or people group directly – it may grant the subject country significant autonomy, but it still holds direct control. Colonialism operates similar to this, but it does it chiefly through colonies – groups of settlers from the parent state who settle in a new region.

When discussing the history of Russia and its conquests, defining Russia as a colonial power is controversial and complicated. Russia used colonial methods, but melded these with more traditional style imperial conquests. Also, typically colonial empires expanded across oceans and along coasts, whereas Russia expanded almost entirely across land (and expand it did – every year from 1551 to 1700, the Tsardom gained roughly 35,000 square kilometers). But, they settled areas with populations tied to the home state, and so, even though did not actually call these settlements colonies, they functioned in a similar enough manner that they can be defined as colonies. With that taken care of, let us now explore the history of Russia’s early colonial efforts.

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