The titles like pious savior, titan, and Antichrist, aptly summarize the Russian peoples mystic characterization of Peter the Great. He was a man whose ambitions were as grand as his stature, yet in retrospect; did he deserve such a remarkable portrayal? Driven by his impulsive nature, he sacrificed the lives of thousands, wasted resources, and had little real effect on the Russian people or reforms of the government. Although hailed as “Great”, Peter’s praise seems to be a product of the mystic aura that concealed his real impact on Russian institutions, people, and culture.
Peter spent the majority of his youth in a small village on the outskirts of Moscow. He lived among the company of workingmen, an influence that eventually lead him to develop a sense of fellow man and work ethic. These qualities had never been seen in any preceding tsars, and defined his unique approach to leadership. Common laborers of the time recall that it was not an unusual sight to see Peter awaking in the early hours of the morning to join in on the physical labor. His grit made him an especially formidable militaristic leader. After an embarrassing loss at the Turkish port of Azov, he swore that he would create a strong naval fleet in order to capture the strategic fort. He remained devoted and six months later, just as he had promised, Azov was his. This ambitious attitude, and willingness to attempt the improbable to achieve his goals, led to some of Peter’s greatest accomplishments. However, at the same time, he acted often too impulsively and lacked a formal education. Together, they proved to thwart his larger objectives due to careless planning. St. Petersburg still remains the greatest example of how Peter’s personality hindered his aspirations.
St. Petersburg failed as a result of Peter’s two most troublesome qualities: his lack of foresight and his blind impulsivity. Only Peter, and his hubris, would decide to build a city upon the Neva – a boggy marshland and system of rivers. Despite the logistical issues, Peter proclaimed “here shall be a town” and construction began immediately. As recounted by Pushkin’s folk piece The Bronze Horsemen, the city was victim to frequent flooding “And soon the islands flooded lay. Madder the weather grew, and ever higher upwelled the roaring river”. The construction was dangerous and within just four months after Peter and Paul’ s fortress had been built, 10,000 workers had already died. The city’s construction upon such volatile land, though remarkably fast, took a large toll on the resources at hand.
Peter’s lack of foresight set up his gateway to the west to fail; he didn’t consider the infrastructural or social changes that needed to be implemented for it to be successful. He was preoccupied with opulence rather than practicality. Instead of using a thousand laborers for 18 months to move 36 immense granite columns for a cathedral, the work would have been better spent creating roads – a means by which...