The Elusive Empire
Kazan and the Creation of Russia, 1552–1671
Publication Year: 2012
In 1552, Muscovite Russia conquered the city of Kazan on the Volga River. It was the first Orthodox Christian victory against Islam since the fall of Constantinople, a turning point that, over the next four years, would complete Moscow’s control over the river. This conquest provided a direct trade route with the Middle East and would transform Muscovy into a global power. As Matthew Romaniello shows, however, learning to manage the conquered lands and peoples would take decades.
Russia did not succeed in empire-building because of its strength, leadership, or even the weakness of its neighbors, Romaniello contends; it succeeded by managing its failures. Faced with the difficulty of assimilating culturally and religiously alien peoples across thousands of miles, the Russian state was forced to compromise in ways that, for a time, permitted local elites of diverse backgrounds to share in governance and to preserve a measure of autonomy. Conscious manipulation of political and religious language proved more vital than sheer military might. For early modern Russia, empire was still elusive—an aspiration to political, economic, and military control challenged by continuing resistance, mismanagement, and tenuous influence over vast expanses of territory.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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List of Illustrations
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In the spring of 2005 I was teaching a seminar on the Muscovite Empire at Hamilton College. On the last day of class, my students discussed the various problems and challenges Muscovy’s tsars faced in managing their empire. After we covered a broad span of issues, I asked them a final question—considering all the problems, why did the empire work? No one, including me, had an answer. ...
Glossary of Terms
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In 1552 Muscovy conquered the city of Kazan, the center of a once powerful khanate.1 Both were successor states of the Qipchaq Khanate (itself a successor of the Mongol Empire), though Muscovy had the advantage over Kazan of size, population, and resources. This was the first Orthodox victory against an Islamic state since the fall of Constantinople, and the Russian ...
1. Imperial Ideas
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There is no mystery about the imperial aspirations of early-modern monarchs. All desired territorial aggrandizement; all planned for increasingly large armies to enforce their wills. Machiavelli’s observations of the Italian city-states inspired The Prince, but its lessons were applied as truths across Europe. The policies suggested by Machiavelli’s precepts reflected an ongoing political transformation across ...
2. Conflicted Authorities
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And the instructions regarding criminals—brigands and thieves and other evildoers—are the same as in Moscow. But it is forbidden to put them to death for their crimes, no matter what they may be, without reporting to the tsar and without his instructions, and no one dares to do this except in Siberia and Astrakhan and Terek, because it takes too long for messages to reach the tsar in Moscow ...
3. Foreign Interests
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Possession of Kazan and Astrakhan provided Muscovy control over two of the central entrepôts of the Volga River.1 The first defensive line protected the northern end of the trade route by the 1570s, increasing the ease of merchant travel from Moscow to Kazan (and perhaps as far as Tetiushii, farther south along the Volga). New forts and towns along the length of the Volga, in ...
4. Loyal Enemies
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During the first one hundred years following the defeat of Kazan, Russian plans for the frontier emphasized the establishment of steppe and internal security. Yet even after 1650, internal resistance to tsarist authority, however nominal, and potential raids by nearby nomads tested Russian resilience. Turkic groups threatened both sides of the newly defined border (the ...
5. Irregular Subjects
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Muscovy’s frontier required labor to function economically and militarily. Merchants and long-distance trade provided some of the economic resources necessary, but the new towns and settlements required agricultural labor. This labor also supported the Russian Orthodox Church, the local administration, and supplied the garrisons. While the cavalry served as the elite ...
6. Subdued Rebels
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By 1670, the Muscovite government, despite setbacks, had made considerable progress toward pacifying the Volga basin. Moscow increasingly had constrained the local administration with a strict set of proscriptions against their discretionary authority, reducing the voevody to agents, record keepers, and functionaries, greatly diminishing their former independence. Both domestic and foreign ...
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Contemporary foreign observers habitually observed and considered Russia’s expansion and tsarist rule in only one dimension. Not surprisingly, many viewed Russia through the lens of “orientalist” ideas.1 They assessed it to contrast its ways with the more familiar traditions of their own countries; viewed it as an Asiatic monolith, uniform and ruled absolutely by the tsar; or imposed on it systems and schemes resembling the ideas of utopian socialists or ...
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Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2012