The New Student's Reference Work/Russia, Empire of

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Russia (rŭsh′ä), Empire of, covers a large part of eastern Europe and northern and central Asia, a territory more than twice as large as Europe. Its main divisions are European Russia, with less than a fourth of the whole area but with three fourths of the population; Finland, Poland, Siberia, Caucasia, Turkestan and the Transcaspian region, besides the dependent countries of Khiva and Bokhara.

The entire area of the empire is 8,647,657 square miles, one seventh of the land-surface of the globe.  This includes (besides European Russia) Poland, Finland, the Caucasus, Transcaucasia, Turkestan, Siberia, the Transcaspian and the Amur region.  The Arctic Ocean made up the whole Russian seaboard, till, at the end of the 17th century, she won the Baltic and Black Sea shores.  On the north the Arctic Ocean and White, Kara, Bering and Okhotsk Seas are valuable for fishing and hunting, but these coasts are frozen a great part of the year, and Nova Zembla and the other islands are uninhabited.  Vladivostok, at the head of the Gulf of Peter the Great on the Japanese Sea, is one of the finest roadsteads in the world.  The chief Russian sea is the Baltic with the Gulfs of Finland, Bothnia and Riga, on which are four of the five chief ports — St. Petersburg, Reval, Libau and Riga.  The Sea of Azov is the great gulf of the Black Sea, whose main ports are Odessa, Batum and Taganrog.  The Caspian Sea furnishes fish for all Russia; into it falls the largest river of Europe, the Volga.

Surface and Drainage[edit]

Caucasus, Finland, Poland, Siberia and Turkestan are described under these heads. A plain 700 miles wide crosses European Russia from southwest to northwest. The Urals, a series of ranges running southwest to northeast, are highest at Mt. Iremel — 4,680 feet. The Niemen, Dwina, Neva, Onega and North Dwina rivers have their sources in the broad, central plain and in general flow northwest, while the Dnieper, Don and Volga rise in the same plain but flow southeast. The three other large rivers are the Vistula, Dniester and Pruth. The headwaters of some of these rivers have been connected by canals, as the Volga and Neva, so that St. Petersburg stands not only at the mouth of the Neva but at the real mouth of the great Volga basin. The tundras of the Arctic shore are in the main covered with mosses and lichens. South of the tundras are forests of evergreens, and south of these, forests of oak, birch and hornbeam. Still further south are the Russian steppes or prairies.


The population in 1909 was 160,095,200, distributed in the six great territorial divisions of the empire as follows: European Russia 116,505,500; Poland 11,671,800; Caucasia 11,392,400; Siberia 7,878,500; Central Asian Provinces 9,631,300; and Finland 3,015,700.  Of the population it is estimated that 66 per cent. are Russian Slavs; seven per cent. Poles; five per cent. Finns; nine per cent. Turco-Tartars; three per cent. Jews.  A recent partial census shows that the number of Jews in Russia exceeds 5,000,000.  The chief cities are St. Petersburg, the capital (population, with suburbs, 1,870,000), Moscow (1,468,563), Warsaw (764,054), Odessa (520,000), Kiev (320,000), Lodz, Poland (393,526) and Riga (318,400).  Class distinctions are marked.  There are the nobility, the clergy, the professions, the merchants and the peasants.  The last comprise three fourths of the population and include the former serfs.  They are poor and ignorant, working the soil under hard conditions.


The wide expanse of the empire presents great diversities of climate. North of latitude 67° is the polar region. Between that parallel and 57° the mean temperature varies from 32 to 40°, the mercury going to 30° below zero in winter. In the temperate region between 57° and 50° the mean annual temperature varies from 40° to 50°, while in the warm southern region the mercury often reaches 100° in summer, though the winter often shows extreme cold with heavy snows.

Mineral Resources[edit]

Russia is rich in minerals of all kinds. Gold is found in the Urals and Siberia; silver and lead in Siberia, the Kirghiz steppes, Caucasia and Finland; platinum in the Urals; zinc in Poland; tin in Finland; cobalt and manganese in Caucasia; while iron is abundant in most parts of the empire. Salt is got from the southern lakes; coal from Poland and about the Don River and other parts of Russia; and petroleum in Baku.


In European Russia, exclusive of Poland, the arable land is estimated at 401,435,000 acres; there are 474,000,000 acres of forest and 191,473,000 of grazing-land. Of the whole area 36 per cent. belongs to the state, the imperial family, towns etc.; 42 per cent. to the peasants; and 47 per cent. to private owners. In 1906 the area devoted to crops, including European Russia, Poland and Asiatic Russia, was: cereals 228,791,000 acres; potatoes 10,095,000; meadows 89,143,000. The production for the year 1910 was: wheat, European Russia, 699,413,000 bushels; Asiatic Russia 76,282,000 bushels; rye 867,622,000 bushels; barley 458,992,000 bushels; oats 1,045,991,000 bushels. Root-crops, including sugar-beets, are abundant. Cotton is raised in Turkestan and other provinces; also tobacco and silk. In 1910 the number of horses was 33,166,000, cattle 50,588,000, sheep and goats 79,166,000.


Russia did not become a manufacturing nation to any great extent until the serfs were freed. Her manufactures now amount to $1,460,000,000 annually. In 1911 there were 15,721 manufacturing establishments, employing 1,951,955 men and women. The chief branches of industry include textiles, sugar, leather, wood and paper.

Commerce and Transportation[edit]

Wheat and other grain-products, together with animals, head the list of exports. In 1909 the value of exports was 1,427,300,000 rubles, and of imports 909,300,000 rubles. Inland trade is much helped by the great yearly fairs at Nijni-Novgorod, Kharkoff and other cities. Trade is carried on in great part by means of the great network of rivers, besides which there are 45,078 miles of railroad. The government owns more than half of the roads. The Siberian railway (q. v.), completing the line from St. Petersburg to the Pacific coast, with its branches extends over 6,000 miles, and was built in ten years at a total cost of about four hundred million dollars. There are 55,000 miles of navigable rivers, beside 507 miles of canals and 711 miles of canalized rivers.


Most of the schools are under the ministry of public instruction, though many special schools are under separate ministers. The total contribution for education in 1911 was 121,030,167 rubles, about 5,000,000 being for universities. There are universities at St. Petersburg (8,955 students), Moscow (10,087), Kharkov (4,473), Kiev (5,208), Kazan (3,049), Odessa (3,195), Yuriev or Dorpat (2,699), Tomsk (1,295), Warsaw (1,328), and Saratov (107). Total number of students, 40,396 (in 1910). According to the latest report (1911), the total number of all schools in the Russian Empire (high, middle, special and primary) was 112,549, attended by 6,234,525 pupils.


With a population of nearly 95 millions of Russians and 48 millions of other races, it is possible for Russia to raise immense armies. Military service is compulsory, service beginning at 21 and extending to the close of the 43rd year. The peace-strength of the army is 1,200,000 and the war-footing about 4,000,000.


Russia’s navy was largely destroyed in the war with Japan. The present strength includes 6 battleships, with 4 building and 2 projected, 14 cruisers, 7 torpedo-gunboats, 66 destroyers and 33 building, 50 torpedo-boats and 22 submarines.


The government is a constitutional, hereditary monarchy, but in fact the whole power is united in the emperor whose will alone is law. On Aug. 6, 1905, however, an elective state-council (Duma) was created, and a law was promulgated granting to the people the firm foundations of public liberty,based on principles of the inviolability of person and freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association, and providing that no law shall come into effect without the approval of the Duma. The Duma consists of members elected for five years and representing the provinces and the greatest cities: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, Kiev, Lodz, Odessa and Riga (law of 1907). Under a manifesto and ukases, published in March of 1906, the Council of the Empire consists of an equal number of elected members and members nominated by the emperor. The Council of the Empire and the Duma have equal legislative powers and the same right of initiative in legislation and of addressing questions to the minsters.

The administration of the empire is still intrusted to four boards or councils. These are (1) the Council of the Minsters, which consists of a president and an unlimited number of members appointed by the emperor, which has advisory power in matters of legislation but no power to change laws of the realm; (2) the Ruling Senate, which promulgates the laws and also is the high court of justice for the empire; (3) the Holy Synod, to which is committed the superintendence of religious affairs; and (4) the Committee of Ministers, which consists of all the ministers or heads of departments and other functionaries, and of which the privy councilor is president.

Russia is divided into governments, each ruled by a governor; Finland alone has a representative government. But in most parts of Russia there is considerable local self-government. Peasants make four fifths of the whole population. The other classes are burghers, merchants, the clergy and the military. Among the peasants of Great Russia, the mir, made up of all the village householders, distributes in allotments the land, which is held in common, buys farm-machinery, and hires doctors, teachers etc. Taxes are mainly in the hands of the zemstvos or district-assemblies, elected by nobles, clergy, town-householders, peasants and landowners, but their rights were greatly curtailed in 1890.

Though Russia has trial by jury, it does not apply to political cases, and every year from 15,000 to 20,000 prisoners are exiled to Siberia, many without trial.


The Russians are Slavs, and conquered Russia from the west, fighting eastward from the Baltic. However, the name of Russes was first given to Norse warriors who yearly passed through these Slav lands on their way to enter the Byzantine emperor’s service at Constantinople. These captains seem to have been asked to protect the Slavs, and one of them, Rurik, with three of his brothers, settled there. Vladimir (980–1015) was baptized a Christian, and soon after his death Kieff, the “mother of the Russian towns,” rivaled Constantinople in greatness. Under Yaroslav, who gained control of most of the Russian towns and died in 1054, the first written Russian law was compiled. During the next 200 years the Russians steadily conquered eastward. Towns and colonies were founded, which in reality were free republics, the only bonds between the different cities being those of language, race, religion and the unwritten law that the prince who was asked to defend a town should be a descendant of Yaroslav. In this period the trading cities of Novgorod, Pskov and Smolensk rose to importance. Slavery existed, though the workers of the soil were its owners, the slaves either being prisoners of war or those who remained in a servant’s position for more than a year. In these years also the boyars, the chief warriors, began to gain power, settling the peasants on free lands and making themselves their landlords. Andrei Bogalubski (1157–74) was the prince who changed the center of gravity of Russia from Kieff to the region where Moscow was afterwards founded. He built the city of Vladimir, and plundered and burnt Kieff in 1169. Soon Nijni-Novgorod was founded as a rival of Novgorod, and this region, the home of the Great Russians, grew powerful.

In 1224 the Mongols and Tartars, who under Genghis Khan had conquered Manchuria, North China, Turkestan and Bokhara, won a decisive battle against the Russians on Kalka River. Prom this time Russian princes paid tribute to the khan; their courts, which now had an eastern appearance, were surrounded by Tartars and Mongols; and it was with Mongol help and armies that the rich rulers of Moscow reduced to their rule the formerly independent principalities around them. The Mongol conquest threw Russia 200 years behind the civilization of the rest of Europe, and gave Poland, Lithuania and Livonia a chance to rise into power.

It was in the 14th century under the leadership of Moscow that the Russians first tried to throw off the Mongol yoke. Dimitri Donskoi (1359–89) fought an indecisive battle at Kulikovo, followed the next year by the Mongols for the last time storming Moscow, burning it and killing 24,000 of its people. Ivan III (1462–1505) was the first prince of Moscow to call himself Ruler of all Russia. He conquered Novgorod, and refused to pay further tribute to the khan. A Tartar-Mongol army of 150,000 men, sent to punish him, met the Russians on the Oka, and after a nine months’ encampment retreated without fighting, and Russia again was free.

Ivan IV, Ivan The Cruel, was the first to take the title of tsar, and was Russia’s first absolute ruler. When at three he came to the throne, the boyars were all-powerful, and a struggle was forced upon him, in which he was successful. Under Ivan’s feeble son Feodor (1584–98) the regent Boris Godunoff forbade the peasants to leave the estates on which they worked and thus sowed the seed which grew into the serfdom that cursed the country for the next 270 years. This regent murdered Ivan’s son Dimitri. On Godunoff’s death a runaway monk, who lived for some time among the Cossacks (“free men”), imposed himself on Russia as the murdered Dimitri. His assassination at the end of a short reign was followed by the conquest of the czardom by Sigismund of Poland. The country was freed by a general rising, started, by Minin, a Nijni-Novgorod merchant, and aided by the Cossacks. The Poles were driven out, and Mikhail Romanov (1612–45), whose grandmother was Ivan’s first wife, was chosen ruler. (See Romanoff, The House of)

In the reign of Alexis (1645–76) Russia, chiefly by the aid of the Cossacks, at last gained the upper hand in the long struggle with the rival Slav power of Poland. Up to the reign of Peter the Great (1689–1725) the country had in many respects been Mongol; this able ruler, who first called himself emperor and founded the new capital of St. Petersburg, made it European. He improved the army, started mining and manufactures, imported fine breeds of cattle, set up schools, and dug Russia’s great system of canals. The ministers, Menschikoff under Catherine I and Dolgoruki under Peter II, were the real rulers of those reigns. The power of the German party under Anne (1730–40) and Ivan (1740–41) was lost on the accession of Elizabeth (1741–62). Peter III, who by sending his army to the support of Frederick the Great against Austria saved Prussia from dismemberment, was dethroned by Catherine II (1762–96), whose wars and the first partition of Poland widened Russia’s domains in all directions. The excessive tyranny of Paul I (1796–1801) brought about his murder. In the reign of Alexander I (1801–25), the famous friend and enemy of Napoleon, took place the French invasion and the burning of Moscow. Under Nicholas I (1825–55), was fought the Crimean War. Alexander II (1855–81) freed the serfs and initiated many other reforms, which were brought to a sudden close by the insurrection of Poland (1863) and the rise of the Nihilists, who assassinated him on March 13, 1881. The reign of Alexander III (1881–94) was marked by the famine of 1890–91 and the crusade against the Jews, who were ordered to leave Moscow, Warsaw and other cities and go back to their native provinces, Nicholas II (q. v.), the present emperor, ascended the throne on the death of his father, Nov. 1, 1894. His reign was marked by the war with Japan, which began on Feb. 7, 1904, and closed on Aгg. 29 1905. (See Japan) The result was disastrous to Russia. She lost 375,000 men in battles on land and sea, her navy was destroyed, and in settlement she surrendered to Japan her rights in Manchuria and ceded half of Sakhalin. (See Russo-Japanese War, The) There followed a determined revolt throughout the empire against the government. This revolution has so far resulted in important popular concessions, including the establishment of the Duma as already mentioned. See Rambaud’s History of Russia and Edwards’ The Romanoffs.