These Autocrats Ruled Russia for Centuries Before the Soviet Union (2023)

​The Russian honorific "czar"—sometimes spelled "tsar"—derives from none other thanJulius Caesar, who predated the Russian Empire by 1,500 years. Equivalent to a king or an emperor, the czar was the autocratic, all-powerful ruler of Russia, an institutionthat lasted from the mid-16th to the early 20th centuries. The 10 most important Russian czars and empresses range from the grouchy Ivan the Terrible to the doomed Nicholas II.


of 10

Ivan the Terrible (1547 to 1584)

These Autocrats Ruled Russia for Centuries Before the Soviet Union (1)

The first undisputed Russian czar, Ivan the Terrible has gotten a bad rap: The modifier in his name, grozny, is better translated into English as "formidable" or "awe-inspiring."Ivan, however, did enough terrible things to merit the faulty translation. For example,he once beat his own son to death with his wooden scepter. But he is also lauded in Russian history for greatly expanding Russian territory by annexing territories like Astrakhan and Siberia and establishing trade relations with England.

As part of his stronger relations with England, he pursued an extensive written correspondence with Elizabeth I. Most important for subsequent Russian history,Ivan brutally subjugated the most powerful nobles in his kingdom, the Boyars, and established the principle of absolute autocracy.


of 10

Boris Godunov (1598 to 1605)

These Autocrats Ruled Russia for Centuries Before the Soviet Union (2)

A bodyguard and functionary of Ivan the Terrible, Boris Godunov became co-regent in 1584, after Ivan's death. He seized the throne in 1598 following the death of Ivan's son Feodor. Boris' seven-year rule adumbrated the Western-looking policies of Peter the Great. He allowed young Russian nobles to seek their education elsewhere in Europe, importedteachers into his empire, and cozied up to the kingdoms of Scandinavia, hoping for peaceful access to the Baltic Sea.

(Video) Where did Russia come from? - Alex Gendler

Less progressively, Boris made it illegal for Russian peasants to transfer their allegiance from one noble to another, thus cementing in place a key component of serfdom. After his death, Russia entered the "Time of Troubles," which included famine, civil war between opposing Boyar factions, and open meddling in Russian affairs by the nearby kingdoms of Poland and Sweden.

Michael I (1613 to 1645)

These Autocrats Ruled Russia for Centuries Before the Soviet Union (3)

A rather colorless figure compared to Ivan the Terrible and Boris Godunov, Michael I is important for being the first Romanov czar. He initiated the dynasty that ended300 years later with the revolutions of 1917. As a sign of how devastated Russia was after the "Time of Troubles," Michael had to wait weeks before a suitably intact palace could be located for him in Moscow. He soon got down to business, however, ultimately begetting 10 children with his wife, Eudoxia. Only four of his children lived into adulthood, but that was enough to perpetuate the Romanov dynasty.

Otherwise, Michael I didn't make much of an imprint on history, ceding the day-to-day governance of his empire to a series of powerful counselors. Early in his reign, he did manage to come to terms with Sweden and Poland.


of 10

Peter the Great (1682 to 1725)

These Autocrats Ruled Russia for Centuries Before the Soviet Union (4)

The grandson of Michael I, Peter the Great is best known for his ruthless attempts to "Westernize" Russia and import the principles of the Enlightenment into what the rest of Europe still considered a backward and medieval country. He rearranged the Russian military and bureaucracy along Western lines and required his officials to shave their beards and dress in Western clothes.

(Video) 21: Unshakable Autocracy (Part One): Reaction and Russification

During his 18-month-long "Grand Embassy" to Western Europe, he traveled incognito, though all the other crowned heads, at least, were well aware of who he was, given that he was 6 feet, 8 inches tall. Perhaps his most notable achievement was the crushing defeat of the Swedish army in theBattle of Poltava in 1709, which raised the esteem of the Russian military in Western eyes and helped his empiresecure its claim to the vast Ukraine territory.


of 10

Elizabeth of Russia (1741 to 1762)

These Autocrats Ruled Russia for Centuries Before the Soviet Union (5)

The daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth of Russia seized power in 1741 in a bloodless coup. She went on to distinguish herself as the only Russian ruler never to execute even a single subject during her reign, although her tenure wasn't peaceful. During her 20 years on the throne, Russia became entangled in two major conflicts: the Seven Years' War and the War of the Austrian Succession. The wars of the 18th century were extremely complex affairs, involving shifting alliances and intertwined royal bloodlines. Suffice it to say that Elizabeth didn't much trust the burgeoning power of Prussia.

Domestically, Elizabeth was best known for establishing the University of Moscow and spending vast sums of money on various palaces. Despite her profligacy, she is still considered one of the most popular Russian rulers of all time.


of 10

Catherine the Great (1762 to 1796)

These Autocrats Ruled Russia for Centuries Before the Soviet Union (6)

The six-month interval between the death of Elizabeth of Russia and the accession of Catherine the Great witnessed the six-month reign of Catherine's husband, Peter III, who was assassinated thanks to his pro-Prussian policies. Ironically, Catherine was herself a Prussian princess who had married into the Romanov dynasty.

(Video) The Origins of Russian Authoritarianism

During Catherine's reign, Russia greatly expanded its borders, absorbing the Crimea, partitioning Poland, annexing territories along the Black Sea, and settling the Alaskan territory that was later sold to the U.S. Catherine also continued the Westernization policies that Peter the Great started, at the same time as she, somewhat inconsistently, exploited the serfs, revoking their right to petition the imperial court. As so often happens with strong women rulers, Catherine the Great was the victim of malicious rumors during her lifetime. Although historians agree that she took many lovers throughout her life, the notion that she died after having intercourse with a horse is untrue.


of 10

Alexander I (1801 to 1825)

These Autocrats Ruled Russia for Centuries Before the Soviet Union (7)

Alexander I had the misfortune of reigning during the Napoleonic Era when the foreign affairs of Europe were twisted beyond recognition by the military invasions of the French dictator. During the first half of his reign, Alexander was flexible to the point of indecisiveness, aligning with, and then reacting against, the power of France.That all changed in 1812 when Napoleon's failed invasion of Russia gave Alexander what might today be called a "messiah complex."

The czar formed a "holy alliance" with Austria and Prussia to counter the rise of liberalism and secularism and even rolled back some of the domestic reforms from earlier in his reign. For example, he removed foreign teachers from Russian schools and instituted a more religious curriculum. Alexander also became increasingly paranoid and distrustful, in constant fear of poisoning and kidnapping. He died of natural causes in 1825, following complications from a cold.


of 10

Nicholas I (1825 to 1855)

These Autocrats Ruled Russia for Centuries Before the Soviet Union (8)

One might reasonably claim that the Russian Revolution of 1917 had its roots in the reign of Nicholas I. Nicholas was the classic, hardhearted Russian autocrat. He valued the military above all else, ruthlessly repressed dissent in the populace, and in the course of his reign managed to drive the Russian economy into the ground. Even still, Nicholas succeeded in keeping up appearances, until the Crimean War of 1853, when the much-vaunted Russian army was unmasked as poorly disciplined and technically backward. It was also revealed at this time that there were fewer than 600 miles of railroad tracks in the entire country, compared to over 10,000 miles in the U.S.

(Video) The Russian Revolution - OverSimplified (Part 1)

Somewhat inconsistently, given his conservative policies, Nicholas disapproved of serfdom. He stopped short of implementing any major reforms, however, for fear of a backlash by the Russian aristocracy. Nicholas died in 1855 of natural causes before he could appreciate the full extent of Russia's Crimean humiliation.


of 10

Alexander II (1855 to 1881)

These Autocrats Ruled Russia for Centuries Before the Soviet Union (9)

It's a little-known fact, at least in the West, that Russia freed its serfs around the same time as U.S. President Abraham Lincoln helped free enslaved people. The individual responsible was Czar Alexander II, also known as Alexander the Liberator. Alexander further embellished his liberal credentials by reforming the Russian penal code, investing in Russian universities, revoking some of the nobility's much-resented privileges, and selling Alaska to the U.S. On the downside, he did respond to an 1863 uprising in Poland by simply annexing the country.

It's unclear to what extent Alexander's policies were proactive as opposed to reactive. The autocratic Russian government was under intense pressure from various revolutionaries and had to give some ground to avert catastrophe. Unfortunately, as much ground as Alexander ceded, it wasn't enough. He was finally assassinated, after numerous unsuccessful attempts, in St. Petersburg in 1881.


of 10

Nicholas II (1894 to 1917)

These Autocrats Ruled Russia for Centuries Before the Soviet Union (10)

The last czar of Russia, Nicholas II, witnessed the assassination of his grandfather Alexander II at the impressionable age of 13. This early trauma does a lot to explain his ultra-conservative policies.

(Video) CBSE Class 9 History - 2 || Socialism in Europe and the Russia || Full Chapter || By Shiksha House

From the perspective of the House of Romanov, Nicholas' reign was an unbroken series of disasters. His reign included the strange accession to power and influence of the unhinged Russian monk Rasputin; defeat in the Russo-Japanese War; and the 1905 Revolution, which saw the creation of Russia's first-ever democratic body, the Duma.

Finally, during the February and October Revolutions in 1917, the czar and his government were overthrown by a remarkably small group of Communists led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Less than a year later, during the Russian Civil War, the entire imperial family, including Nicholas' 13-year-old son and potential successor, was assassinated in the town of Yekaterinburg. These assassinations brought the Romanov dynasty to an irrevocable and bloody end.


Who ruled Russia before the Soviet Union? ›

The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia until 1917.

What was the autocratic rule of Russia? ›

Tsarist autocracy (Russian: царское самодержавие, transcr. tsarskoye samoderzhaviye), also called Tsarism, was a form of autocracy (later absolute monarchy) specific to the Grand Duchy of Moscow and its successor states the Tsardom of Russia and Russian Empire.

What was Russia's government before the Soviet Union? ›

Before the revolution, Russia was ruled by a powerful monarch called the Tsar. The Tsar had total power in Russia. He commanded the army, owned much of the land, and even controlled the church.

Who ruled Russia before the Russian Revolution quizlet? ›

Before the Russian Revolution, the country was ruled by a king, Tsar Nicholas II. He was the last Tsar of Russia and the end of the Romanov line.

Who ruled Russia in ancient times? ›

The first known people to set foot on Russian territory were called the Cimmerians. They ruled between 1000 and 700 BCE and were followed by the Scythians in 700 BCE. The Scythian nomads established a military state and defeated the Persians, but were nonetheless conquered by the Sarmatians in 3 BCE.

What is a Russian ruler called? ›

tsar, also spelled tzar or czar, English feminine tsarina, tzarina, or czarina, title associated primarily with rulers of Russia.

Who ruled autocracy? ›

Both Diocletian and Maximian ruled as autocratic leaders, strengthening the control of the emperor in a phase known as Dominate. The empire was extremely large, difficult to govern by a single emperor, and was ruled by a tetrarchy, instituted by Diocletian.

How did autocracy cause the Russian Revolution? ›

Economic collapse generated by the war, the aggravation of poverty and distress of the masses, the growth of antiwar attitudes and general dissatisfaction with the autocracy, all of this led to a revolutionary uprising in February 1917.

When the Russian Revolution took place who was the autocratic ruler of Russia? ›

The February Revolution was the first of two revolutions that took place in Russia in 1917. At the time of the revolution Russia was an autocracy, with Tsar Nicholas II holding absolute power over his people.

What type of government did the Soviet Union have until 1991 quizlet? ›

Soviet union had one type of government: authoritarianism (single-party).

Who were the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks? ›

The Mensheviks and Bolsheviks were factions within the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They aimed to bring revolution to Russia by following the ideas of socialist theoretician Karl Marx (1818–1883).

What was Russia called when it was in the Soviet Union? ›

Russian Republic (1917), Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (1917-1922, since 1922 - part of the USSR) Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1922-1991).

Who was the in control of Russia before the Revolution took place? ›

After major military losses during the war, the Russian Army had begun to mutiny. Army leaders and high ranking officials were convinced that if Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, the domestic unrest would subside.

Who ruled Russia before and during WWI? ›

The Russian tsar at the outbreak of World War I – and the nation's last tsar, as it turned out – was Nicholas II.

How was Russia ruled before the 1917 Revolution? ›

Before the Russian revolutions in 1917, the country was ruled by a monarchy. The leader of the country was a tsar who controlled the whole country, the majority of the land and property, the religious buildings, the armies, and the produce of the country.

Who were the first rulers of Russia? ›

List of Russian monarchs
Monarchy of Russia
First monarchRurik (as Prince)
Last monarchNicholas II (as Emperor)
Abolition15 March 1917
10 more rows

Who was the first ruler of the Russian Empire? ›

Russian Empire, historical empire founded on November 2 (October 22, Old Style), 1721, when the Russian Senate conferred the title of emperor (imperator) of all the Russias upon Peter I. The abdication of Nicholas II on March 15, 1917, marked the end of the empire and its ruling Romanov dynasty.

Who was the most famous ruler of Russia? ›

1. Peter the Great (1682-1725): Reformer Among Russian Leaders. From 1682 to 1725, Peter the Great reigned the Tsardom of Russia. He is called the “Tsar Reformer,” who modernized Russia and grew it into a European power, making him a reformer among Russian leaders.

What is another name for the Soviet Union? ›

Soviet Union, in full Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), Russian Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik or Sovetsky Soyuz, former northern Eurasian empire (1917/22–1991) stretching from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean and, in its final years, consisting of 15 Soviet Socialist ...

What were the old titles of Russian rulers? ›

Russian Titles and Patronymics
  • Tsar (in Russian Царь) was used 1547–1721 to denote the male ruler of Russia. ...
  • Tsaritsa or Tsarina (in Russian Царица) was the title of the female ruler of Russia or the title of a Tsar's wife. ...
  • Tsarevich (in Russian Царевич) was the title given to Tsars' sons before the 18th century.

Who ruled Russia in the 1800s? ›

In 1845, Alexander II began his reign as Tsar of Russia and presided over a period of political and social reform, notably the emancipation of serfs in 1861 and the lifting of censorship.

What is the meaning of autocratic rule? ›

: the authority or rule of an autocrat. : government in which one person possesses unlimited power.

What is the meaning of autocratic state? ›

government in which one person has uncontrolled or unlimited authority over others; the government or power of an absolute monarch. a nation, state, or community ruled by an autocrat. unlimited authority, power, or influence of one person in any group.

Was the Qin Dynasty autocratic? ›

The Qin Dynasty, which was the Chinese dynasty that lasted from 221 B.C.E. to 206 B.C.E., ruled as an absolute autocracy, which is a form of government ruled by one person with no checks and balances against them.

Who made the autocracy and popular in Russia? ›

People started rallying around Tsar. As the war continued he refused to consult the main parties and instead took advice from a monk called Rasputin which declared as the last major reason to make autocracy unpopular in Russia. Therefore, the correct answer is option-C.

How does autocracy get power? ›

In modern times, most autocrats gain power as part of a larger nationalist, communist, or fascist movement. Once in power, they eliminate all other kinds of authority in the country, such as judges, the legislature, and political parties.

What were the reasons why autocracy was unpopular in Russia? ›

People's anti-German sentiments extended to the Tsar's wife, Tsarina Alexandra, due to her German origins. The poor advisers like Rasputin made the autocracy unpopular. The armies were ill-equipped and not provided with enough support and this further discredited the government and the Tsar.

Who was the most autocratic Tsar of Russia? ›

Nicholas I, Russian in full Nikolay Pavlovich, (born July 6 [June 25, Old Style], 1796, Tsarskoye Selo [now Pushkin], near St. Petersburg, Russia—died February 18 [March 2, New Style], 1855, St. Petersburg), Russian emperor (1825–55), often considered the personification of classic autocracy.

Which country was autocratic with a tsar? ›

Autocratic government

This meant that the Tsar, and only the Tsar, governed Russia: Tsars believed that they had a divine right to rule Russia, their position and power had been given to them by God.

Who was first tsar and autocrat of Russia? ›

Ivan the Terrible was the first tsar of all Russia. During his reign, he acquired vast amounts of land through ruthless means, creating a centrally controlled government.

Who were the original inhabitants of Russia? ›

Historians say that the Finno-Ugric people were the first inhabitants of Russia, with many of our customs and fairytales descending from their civilization: the cult of ancestors, the love of forests and villages, our patience and communality. But what remains of the ancient civilization is contested.

What countries were originally part of Russia? ›

The Soviet Empire was made up of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia (now Belarus), Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirgiziya (now Kyrgyzstan), Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia (now Moldova), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

What is the old name of Russia? ›

In the Russian Tsardom, the word Russia replaced the old name Rus' in official documents, though the names Rus' and Russian land were still common and synonymous to it, and often appeared in the form Great Russia (Russian: Великая Россия), which is more typical of the 17th century, whereas the state was also known as ...

Was Ukraine ever part of Russia? ›

Most of Ukraine fell to the Russian Empire under the reign of Catherine the Great; in 1793 right-bank Ukraine was annexed by Russia in the Second Partition of Poland.

Where did White Russians come from? ›

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the term “White Russian” described ethnic Russians living in the area between Russia and Poland (today this includes Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia and Moldova).

Where did the Russian race come from? ›

The Russians were formed from East Slavic tribes, and their cultural ancestry is based in Kievan Rus'. Genetically, the majority of Russians are identical to their East and West Slavic counterparts; unlike northern Russians, who belong to the Northern European Baltic gene pool.

Was Finland ever a part of Russia? ›

Following Swedish losses in the 1808-1809 Finnish War with Russia, Finland became part of the Russian Empire from 1809 until its independence in 1917. Finland was a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire, although during this time it retained many of the laws that it had adopted while part of Sweden.

What does Soviet mean in English? ›

Soviets (singular: soviet; Russian: сове́т, tr. sovét, Russian pronunciation: [sɐˈvʲet], literally "council" in English) were political organizations and governmental bodies of the former Russian Empire, primarily associated with the Russian Revolution, which gave the name to the latter state of the Soviet Union.

Is Russia part of the First World? ›

Even if a country can trade large amounts of one resource, such as oil, it may lack the stable economy or government to be considered a first-world country. Nations such as China and Russia were once part of the Second World. Today, the nations are referred to as both first- and third-world countries.

Is Russia a Russian name? ›

The name Russia comes from a Medieval Latin name for Rus', a medieval state populated primarily by the East Slavs. In modern historiography, this state is usually denoted as Kievan Rus' after its capital city.

How old is Russian language? ›

The roots of Russian can be traced back about 4000 – 6000 years ago. At this time, the language known as Indo-European was beginning to split, with various communities of speakers migrating away from their homeland in the areas of modern-day Ukraine and Southwest Russia, forming their own dialects in the process.

What does Russia mean in English? ›

Meaning of Russia in English. Russia. /ˈrʌʃ.ə/ uk. /ˈrʌʃ.ə/ a country in eastern Europe and North Asia.

Why is Ukraine so important to the United States? ›

The United States reaffirms its unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters. The U.S.-Ukraine relationship serves as a cornerstone for security, democracy, and human rights in Ukraine and the broader region.

Where do Ukrainian people come from? ›

Under the influence of Christianity, the Slavic ancestors of the Ukrainians began to search for their place in Medieval Europe. A powerful medieval state called Rus' land or just Rus' was born and it developed into Ukrainian lands, meeting its golden age at the turn of the 11th century.

Why is Ukraine important to world? ›

The Russian Federation and Ukraine are among the most important producers of agricultural commodities in the world. Both countries are leading suppliers of agricultural products to global markets, where exportable supplies are often concentrated in a handful of countries.


1. The Russian Revolution - OverSimplified (Part 2)
2. The Russian Revolution in 7 minutes
(Visual Academy)
3. The end of a superpower - The collapse of the Soviet Union | DW Documentary
(DW Documentary)
4. History of Russia - Rurik to Revolution
(Epic History TV)
5. Russia: History, Geography, Economy and Culture
6. The Russian Revolution: The Overthrow of Tsarist Autocracy
(All About Defense )
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Laurine Ryan

Last Updated: 12/29/2022

Views: 5419

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (57 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Laurine Ryan

Birthday: 1994-12-23

Address: Suite 751 871 Lissette Throughway, West Kittie, NH 41603

Phone: +2366831109631

Job: Sales Producer

Hobby: Creative writing, Motor sports, Do it yourself, Skateboarding, Coffee roasting, Calligraphy, Stand-up comedy

Introduction: My name is Laurine Ryan, I am a adorable, fair, graceful, spotless, gorgeous, homely, cooperative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.