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Bread upon the Waters

The St. Petersburg Grain Trade and the Russian Economy, 1703–1811

Robert E. Jones

Publication Year: 2013

In eighteenth-century Russia, as elsewhere in Europe, bread was a dietary staple—truly grain was the staff of economic, social, and political life. Early on Tsar Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg to export goods from Russia’s vast but remote interior and by doing so to drive Russia’s growth and prosperity. But the new city also had to be fed with grain brought over great distances from those same interior provinces. In this compelling account, Robert E. Jones chronicles how the unparalleled effort put into the building of a wide infrastructure to support the provisioning of the newly created but physically isolated city of St. Petersburg profoundly affected all of Russia’s economic life and, ultimately, the historical trajectory of the Russian Empire as a whole. Jones details the planning, engineering, and construction of extensive canal systems that efficiently connected the new capital city to grain and other resources as far away as the Urals, the Volga, and Ukraine. He then offers fresh insights to the state’s careful promotion and management of the grain trade during the long eighteenth century. He shows how the government established public granaries to combat shortages, created credit instruments to encourage risk taking by grain merchants, and encouraged the development of capital markets and private enterprise. The result was the emergence of an increasingly important cash economy along with a reliable system of provisioning the fifth largest city in Europe, with the political benefit that St. Petersburg never suffered the food riots common elsewhere in Europe. Thanks to this well-regulated but distinctly free-market trade arrangement, the grain-fueled economy became a wellspring for national economic growth, while also providing a substantial infrastructural foundation for a modernizing Russian state. In many ways, this account reveals the foresight of both Peter I and Catherine II and their determination to steer imperial Russia’s national economy away from statist solutions and onto a path remarkably similar to that taken by Western European countries but distinctly different than that of either their Muscovite predecessors or Soviet successors.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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Preface, Note on Usage, Units of Weight and Measure

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pp. vii-xiv

This book has been a long time in the making. It began as a continuation of my published research on the provinces of northeastern Russia that, while serving as a natural barrier, also connected St. Petersburg with the rest of a vast empire that extended to the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. ...

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pp. 1-8

The primary subject of this book is the provisioning of eighteenth-century St. Petersburg, a new and rapidly growing city created by fiat in an infertile region on the periphery of the Russian Empire. The book begins with Peter the Great’s founding of St. Petersburg in 1703 and his first efforts to provide its inhabitants with food at prices they could afford. ...

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Chapter 1. Founding and Feeding an Imperial City

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pp. 9-31

The creation of St. Petersburg as a seaport, capital, and metropolis marks a major turning point in Russian history. It proclaimed Tsar Peter I’s break with Muscovite Russia and ushered in the new, imperial period of Russian history, which would last until 1917.1 ...

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Chapter 2. Selling Flour in St. Petersburg

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pp. 32-58

Provisioning eighteenth-century St. Petersburg presented the imperial government with two distinct but closely connected worries: bringing or attracting a sufficient quantity of cereals to the city and ensuring that consumers could afford to buy them. The first goal argued for high food prices, while the second argued against them. ...

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Chapter 3. Sources of Supply

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pp. 59-80

Because cities do not produce food, they need to acquire it from places that produce more than enough to satisfy local demand. Paris, for example, ate cereals from Champagne and other surplus-producing provinces within France. Amsterdam brought Polish and Livonian grain from Danzig and Riga. Stockholm relied on grain from Estland and Lifland. ...

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Chapter 4. Production

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pp. 81-110

Although Catherine II was reluctant to treat grain as a mere commodity, like flax or wool, that was how grain traded on the market, and although her instruction to the Legislative Commission of 1767 identified money making and economic self-interest with merchants, those phenomena equally applied to the peasants and noble landowners ...

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Chapter 5. Commerce

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pp. 111-146

The transfer of ownership as cereals passed from barns and threshing floors in the south to market stalls and shops in the north was an important, indeed essential, component of the eighteenth-century Russian economy but one that has received little attention from historians. ...

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Chapter 6. Transportation

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pp. 147-179

Throughout the eighteenth century, the Russian imperial government worked to improve transportation from provincial Russia to St. Petersburg. Then, in the early nineteenth century, it expanded and intensified its undertakings by creating new routes and adding other ports to its list of destinations. ...

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Chapter 7. Exports

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pp. 180-203

Peter’s primary motive for seizing and holding the delta of the Neva was to open a path through which Russia’s abundant and relatively inexpensive commodities could enter the European and world markets. For most commodities, his plan succeeded, but for cereals, Russia’s most abundant and relatively inexpensive commodity, it failed. ...

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Chapter 8. Resolution

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pp. 204-219

Throughout the eighteenth century Russia’s rulers struggled to cope with a fundamental problem of economic geography: its best farmland, capable of producing a great surplus of grain, lay in the steppes to the south and southeast of the central and northern provinces where the great majority of Russians lived and far from Russia’s imperial capital ...

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pp. 220-226

The creation of the Mariinskii Canal and the port of Odessa closed a chapter in Russian history that had begun with the siege of Azov in 1695 and the founding of St. Petersburg eight years later. Together they finished essential components of Peter the Great’s agenda for making Russia a major European power. ...


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pp. 227-270


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pp. 271-290


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pp. 291-298

E-ISBN-13: 9780822978718
E-ISBN-10: 0822978717
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822944287
Print-ISBN-10: 0822944286

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 4 line drawings
Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Grain trade -- Russia (Federation) -- Saint Petersburg -- History -- 18th century.
  • Grain trade -- Russia (Federation) -- Saint Petersburg -- History -- 19th century.
  • Saint Petersburg (Russia) -- Commerce -- History -- 18th century.
  • Saint Petersburg (Russia) -- Commerce -- History -- 18th century.
  • Russia -- Economic conditions -- 18th century.
  • Russia -- Economic conditions -- 19th century.
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