The Russian Empire 1450-1801
Nancy Shields Kollmann
Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017, ISBN: 9780199280513; 512pp.; Price: £75.00
Tel Aviv University
Date accessed: 10 June, 2023
2017 is a wonderful year to study the history of Russia. This year saw the publication of new stimulating volumes of sweeping scope and new interpretive analyses including Kivelson and Suny’s Russia’s Empires and Westad’s The Cold War: A World History, as well as more specialised works starting with Elizabeth McGuire’s Red at Heart (which looks at the way Chinese revolutionaries understood the Russian Revolution) and culminating with Vera Kaplan’s Historians and Historical Societies in the Public Life of Imperial Russia (which takes yet another much more refined look at the institute of voluntary associations and its meaning in Late Imperial Russia), alongside biographies such as Sebestyen’s Lenin the Dictator or Smith’s new take on Rasputin. The volume under review belongs to the first cataegory, and it is perhaps the most successful of them all in providing a new, authoritative survey of and reference work on the history of early modern Russia.
Nancy Shields Kollmann is one among a very small list of pundits with the necessary calibre and erudition to produce such a book. A student of Edward L. Keenan and Omeljan Pritsak, and a teacher of students who have become accoladed experts on their own right, Kollmann represents a historiographical approach to Russian history known as the ‘Harvard School’, which opposes the ‘statist’ approach of Chicherin, Klichevskii, and others, opting instead of an understanding of the Russian state more nuanced than any presumption that resorts to the all-encompassing label of ‘despotism’.(1) In her Kinship and Politics, she convincingly argued that the apex of the Russian state was composed of the representatives of select boyar clans who shared the decision-making process with the Grand Prince. This process, then, can be understood by examining their personal relationships and interrelationships.(2) Kollmann’s second book, By Honor Bound, continued adopting terms and approaches from anthropology to examine the role played by two social institutions – dishonour (bezchestie) and precedence (mestnichestvo) – in early modern Russian state and society. She potently concluded that honour permeated all strata of society and was used to resolve tensions, defend one’s social standing, and foster cohesion.(3) Finally in 2012 Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Russia was published, which offered an exhaustive and highly incisive interpretation of the subject. It served as an important bridge between Russian history and early modern history in general, investigated not only lawmaking but also implementation of the law, the judicial culture of the young state, and even the symbolic use of state-sanctioned violence.(4) This summary, which for lack of space forgoes any mention of her other works on topics ranging from the principles of succession in Kievan Rus’ (5) to the ‘seclusion of Élite Muscovite Women’ (6), illustrates the credentials of this distinguished scholar.
While it is still common to identify the reign of Peter the Great as constituting a watershed, recent scholarship has emphasised continuity over change. While Paul Dukes identified a continuity between the 17th century and the late 18th century in 1982 (7), it was only in the late 1990s that a major change in periodisation occurred. As Donald Ostrowski noted correctly, the phenomena we loosely group under ‘modernisation’, starting with the ‘evolution of Russian culture’ and culminating in the ‘expansion into a Euroasian empire’, ‘most definitely did not begin with Peter I’.(8) Kollmann does not reject, however, Peter’s enormous role in the transformation of court culture, the army, the economy, and political thinking (p. 11). Her choice, or the series editor’s choice, to include the short reign of Paul within the 18th century is justified in my opinion, but some historians may confine their understanding of that century to the period between Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.
In her first chapter, ‘Land, people, and global context’, Kollmann lays the geographical foundations necessary to understand the period. Vivid descriptions of physical conditions are aptly linked to their outcomes, such as the influence of the climate on agricultural output and expansion. A myriad of comparisons to Western Europe, China, the Ottoman Empire, and other regions of the world helps a lot in contextualising Russia. Its discussion of Russia’s global connections exceeds the usual scope of such descriptions, reaching even the Mughal dynasty – itself a post-Mongol state – an important supplier of cotton. This chapter is crucial for understanding the place of Russia and the significance of its development between the rise of Muscovy and the dawn of the 19th century, and, in my opinion, will become a standard on syllabi dealing not only with the narrow field of early modern Russia, but also with the early modern world in general.
From there, Kollmann moves to account for the ‘stunning rise’ of Muscovy. She attributes this rise to ‘a confluence of geographical location, natural resource availability, and chronological serendipity’ (p. 41). She shows how Russia grew from the Varangians to 1550, gaining a foothold in the spheres of the Baltic, Volga, and the Black Sea. While Muscovy on its own and even Kievan Rus’ for some extent included non-Slavs and non-Orthodox peoples, she locates the beginning of ‘empire’ as being on the eve of the conquests of the post-Horde khanates of Kazan’ and Siberia. This ‘De Facto Empire’ she described in chapter two was characterised in its first centuries by its lack of ‘self-reflective ideology describing the imperial conquests’ (p. 55). Her discussion of the frontier is remarkable, weaving descriptions of Cossacks along with natives using the overarching model of the ‘middle ground’, with careful attention to the dynamics of colonisation and a sober analysis of the roles assumed, exchanged, and negotiated by different parties – the natives, the imperialists, and the Cossacks. Kollmann does not leave any frontier untouched, commenting not only on the bigger picture regarding the integration in the empire but also on its mechanics. I have found her account of the way Siberia became a melting pot of not only the original, native diverse peoples but also of various criminals, and later Russians who intermarried or otherwise adopted elements of native culture, to be particularly enlightening.
One line of thought emphasised in the first five chapters of the book is ‘rule by difference’, granting local autonomies wherever possible as a means of sustaining the empire. Discussing Sloboda Ukraine, for example, she posits that ‘Moscow asserted loose control over this restless borderland … Land was free for anyone to settle’, unlike the centre’s serfdom and land tenure systems (p. 68). Wherever needed, Russia did tighten control, for instance in Bashkiria in the 17th century following revolts. Indeed, the ‘empire of difference’ was managed by ‘separate deals’. Unlike in Spain or Britain, Moscow’s empire did not seek to exploit the peoples residing in the territories to which it expanded. In what Etkind, following Hechter, called ‘internal colonisation’ (9), we see that Russia exploited its own people above all and harsher than all. The principle of ‘rule by difference’ is also a running thread in Kivelson and Suny’s new Russia’s Empires.
Rule by difference does indeed characterise Russia’s imperial project from Muscovy to the Soviet Union, with examples such as the constitution in Finland, or the relatively uninterrupted religious life in Soviet Armenia compared, say, to Russia and Judaism. In the Muscovite period, however, I see this as a testimony to Russia’s de jure empire. As Khodarovsky shows, what the Muscovites construed as an oath of allegiance represented, even if using the same word, a mere peace treaty for the natives; translators often had to ‘mend’ petitions to the Tsar that treated him as an equal of the native lord.(10) As Romaniello shows in the case of Kazan’, the messy combination of ecclesiastical and secular authorities in Muscovy and their representatives on the periphery, who often held diverging if not conflicting interests, checked if not thwarted the Tsar’s ability to rule over the provinces of his own ‘empire’. It was not until the late 17th century that Moscow was able to transform, in Romaniello’s case, the Volga into an extension of Moscow, with a relatively uniform administrative apparatus.(11)
Discussing the 18th century, we learn how Russians began to fill the territories they conquered, hence tightening, even if not too much, their administrative hold of them. Peasants migrated to Siberia, where they were not enserfed nor enlisted; as more Russians settled in the Middle Volga, so was the local autonomy curtailed featuring an episode of Christianisation; in Bashkiria, the attempts of homogenisation and displacement of local elites were far less successful, at least until Catherinian times. The Cossacks, while usually not entirely subdued, were also subject to more regulation: some groups were destroyed altogether, others turned into regular army units, and yet others – most notably the Don Cossacks – retained significant autonomy from, and advantageous relations with, St. Petersburg. The territories to the West usually managed to stay a lot more autonomous. Not even Catherine’s reforms, which aimed to create ‘a rational, homogenised, administrative structure’, could destroy these ‘islands of difference in the empire’ (p. 125), and Paul I would even amplify some of these differences, especially in the Western territories.
The seven chapters that follow unfold the convoluted process of empire building during the course of the 17th century. In chapter six, Kollmann delineates the integration of various elements drawn from the Muscovite heritage, the Christian tradition, or contemporary peers to ‘broadcast’ the legitimacy of the monarch and his institutions. Tracing their translatio imperii, the Muscovites were seen as heirs of Augustus Caesar or the Chinggisid Khan. They reinforced their control over vast territories by integrating their local saints and by appropriating their local history in their cult and historiography. Furthermore, the autocrat elicited support by a careful integration of his boyars and even wider social groups when appropriate. Indeed, the political language of Muscovy was one of reciprocity, one that allowed agency.(12) Muscovite literary and court conventions offered rigid regulations that formalised the obligations of both the Tsar and the people (13), and formal methods of justice such as the juridical system to solve disputes of matters both tangible as lands as well as abstract such as honour. Despite these formalities, Kollmann is correct to note that Russia’s ‘ideal image of politics … and practical practice did not envision politics as institutions, but as practices and relationships between ruler and people and ruler and elite’ (p. 154). This allowed, in turn, for greater flexibility in an empire based on difference of circumstances and managed by differentiation.
Moving to the ground, the following chapter focuses on the way the ‘state wields its power’ (p. 160). The various methods of rule exercised by the authorities were meant to overcome the inherent difficulties in reigning over such an expansive realm. They included ‘forcible resettlement of peoples’ (p. 162), a method borrowed from the Mongols that lasted into the 20th century (one can easily recall Stalin’s deportations, such as the one that led to Ukraine winning the Eurovision in 2016), though not so much as a punishment but rather as a way of ‘Russifiying’ territories. People, especially peasants, also moved on their own accord, sometimes to escape taxation and other times to enjoy the benefits and the opportunities presented by the newly-conquered territories, which both contributed to the homogenisation and integration of these territories and to the necessity of institutionalising serfdom. In addition, the state, as almost if by direct application of Weber’s theory (14), reserved itself the right to exercise legitimate violence, even when the legal system tended towards devolution, especially when it came to serfs. In order to enhance its rule, Muscovy opted, perhaps paradoxically, to empower local institutions, which continued to be influential even as a layer of bureaucrats assumed an increasingly prominent role. Indeed, the combination of local institutions and centrally-appointed governors made ruling the empire possible. This bureaucracy allowed surveying the current resources – a prerequisite to the mobilisation described above.
In the chapter that follows, Kollmann focuses on economic integration. She describes the trade routes Russia held in great detail, but the zenith of her discussion comes with the shift to trade policy. The Russians held no formal theory such as mercantilism, but had to navigate and circumvent conflicting interests. That decreed flexibility: Moscow offered and withdrew monopolies, attracted foreign traders with lax taxes, and yet could base its economy on domestic taxes and had room for applying somewhat protectionist policies by the end of the 17th century. Foreign experts were brought to the country to assist in developing local industries, which proved less successful than trade. Thus, by the end of the 17th century, Russia exported more raw materials than it manufactured, but they did not turn into a colonial economy on the whole.
After looking at the political model, three shorter chapters discuss the strata that composed the Muscovite society. Unlike Western European models, Muscovy had no wide-reaching sociopolical model that charted the various relations between groups in society. The Tsar, obviously, was at the top of a pyramid, and below him stood the masses – all of them obliged to serve in return for legal protections. In practice, the masses can be differentiated, in a decreasing order of importance (or proximity to the autocrat), from an inner-circle of kinsmen and other close advisors, followed by the senior officers of the army, followed by various semi-privileged groups such as bureaucrats and musketeers. Despite the various privileges given to various groups of the realm, unlike the European nobility no elite group had any ‘formalised, estate-based institutions for exercising political power or defending their rights’ (p. 220). Indeed, at least formally, they were confined by the requirement to serve, and their land (pomest’e) officially (even if not always practically) depended on their service. They had an elusive and very poor collective conscience, which they could draw on when needed, but the enduring elite of the empire was maintained by social and political practices, and not by ‘legally defined charters of rights’ (p. 220).
The ‘rural taxpayers’ had, of course, less propitious arrangements. While the peasantry (and the urban dwellers) were mobile up to the rise of Muscovy, by 1649 Ulozhenie slaves, peasants, and urban dwellers had roughly coalesced into an immobile mass, which helped appease the traditional elite and yielded stability in local administration. The central institution of their social life was the commune, which fostered collective management of both rural peasants and townsmen. Kollmann’s discussion of the commune life is superb, especially since it forgoes any romantic façade of Slavophilia. Her enlightening synthesis on their agency and resistance connects the narrow world of the commune with the wide fields of the Cossacks and the major rebellions of the era, showing how the muted populations found ways to rebel in their everyday life as well as in more extraordinary occasions. When it comes to towns, Kollmann forcefully argues that they were ‘patchwork quilts of divided jurisdictions’ (p. 243). She is right to point out, however, that the gap between the urban life and the world of the peasant is not as big as one readily imagines. In fact, ‘townsmen had no esprit de corps as “citizens” since they were virtually enserfed as peasants’ (p. 243).
While at this point any superlative might seem superfluous, Kollman’s chapter on orthodoxy is a particular delight. It provides a very comprehensive history of religion, starting with the ‘constant tension’ of Orthodoxy between ‘inner spirituality’ and the ‘dogmatic, hierarchical, and sacerdotal structure of the Church as institution’ (p. 247). She takes great care in guiding us through the changes and foreign influence that characterised both the spiritual and the institutional realms, which led to ‘tremendous spiritual and institutional ferment’ in the 17th century (p. 254). I expected a longer and more detailed analysis of the meaning of the reforms, such as Boris Uspenskii and Roy Robson’s emphasis on the metaphysical and practical meaning of rituals and semiotics. Her incisive and insightful discussion of ‘folk belief and syncretism’ and ‘“christianisation without conversion”’ absolutely make up for that.
In the final section, and the longest section, of the book, Kollmann shows how the Russian Empire successfully overcame the challenges summoned by the 18th century. She starts with the centre. In the late 17th and 18th centuries, the Russians began to write down its ideological foundations. The ideologues, usually clerics educated in Kiev, wove classical thought through their mediaeval (that is, Orthodox/Byzantine) heritage, seen through the lens of Jesuit models. With Peter I, European models were added. Together, this ideology of ruler and state coalesced sacralisation and secularisation. The result was, as Marc Raeff showed us in the Polizeistaat, in which the ruler was ‘first servant of the state’, a cameralist, mercantilist autocrat who ran the state, overseeing the different strata and corpora of society and aiming to improve all realms of both society and state. While this was radical, it also complemented existing Orthodox traditions. This new ideological line was reflected in the architectural, artistic, and cultural projects of Peter and his successors, who worked hard to reconcile Enlightenment ideals with the Muscovite heritage, but also to accommodate the diversity of the peoples who were to join the empire (though not always successfully, as the case of Simferopol shows). In this context, Kollmann discusses the still rather obscure period of (almost exclusive) feminine rule between ‘the two Greats’, showing their dissonance as they are required by Petrine standards to reinvent their realms and yet at the same time almost depended on their continuity with Peter for legitimacy.
The next three chapters concentrate on imperial administration. Kollmann shows how German and French Enlightenment ideals spurred reforms both in the army and the civil service, with the main goal of creating a civil bureaucracy equal to the officer corps. While the civil bureaucracy was never as prestigious (or profitable) as the military, such endeavours in wartime and peace required money. Until Catherine II, a cornucopia of colleges and other agencies covered various functions of financial nature, but no empire-wide agency oversaw the collection, planning, and spending of money, nor was any budgetary process evident. While such an apparatus was indeed initiated in her rule, one more challenge that had to be overcome in the 18th century was the modernisation of money making. While Muscovite traditions of using tax money persist, trade as a source of governmental income increased 15-fold; trade was spurred by increased production; indirect taxes complemented direct taxes. Overall, difference is a running theme even in administration and finance, as different categories of people paid different taxes, with natives still paying iasak and Cossacks exempt from personal direct taxes. Overall, this resulted in a crisis: mounting debt, sharp inflation, ever-increasing food prices. In chapter 16, we learn how the state controlled and encouraged mobility, whether by forcible population movements or by improving transportation and communication routes throughout its territories. The author repeatedly sheds light on dark corners, such as in her detailed treatment of officialdom between Peter and Catherine.
Then we turn to the social structure of the empire. Chapter 17 aptly says in its title that Russian society was ‘on the move’. Indeed, the growth of the empire brought to the empire societies with native social categories, while St. Petersburg aspired to codify estates. While social mobility is inherently opposed to the rigid soslovie ideal, Kollmann argues, ‘it certainly mattered in day-to-day life’, while still ‘penetrable’ and potentially fluid (p. 372). As Freeze demonstrated by 1986, the soslovie was an enterprise in the making from day one to the last day, plagued with multiple layers, as was any other Russian attempt of centralisation.(15) A recent work by Alison K. Smith offers a rather convincing analysis of the procedure and motives for changing one’s estate, reflecting a changing understanding within the regime itself from seeing the estate as a mere bureaucratic term meant to aid in tax collection to a means of ensuring social security and providing services.(16) The following chapter delineates the imperial project to create urban autonomies similar to those Peter I had seen in the West. While the result was far from Western European models, in the 18th century seeds were planted: urban institutions were created and urban autonomy became the goal. Chapter 19 reveals yet another aspect of the diversity that characterised the imperial society by discussing confessionalisation. While the presentation, which dedicates a section to each major religious group in the empire, makes it difficult to assemble the differences into a big picture, the summary at the end of the chapter does that for us and leaves the reader satisfied and saturated with insights. My only reservation is a minor one, referring to the statement that ‘Old Believers became a cohesive community’ (p. 407), with which I rather disagree.(17)
In the chapter that follows, Kollmann puts Orthodoxy at the centre. Going beyond such trite conceptions as ‘The Handmaid of the Church’, she sees the church as an institution in the midst of change, not as a muted organ of the state. Challenged by dissenting movements, ecclesiastical authorities faced authorities who kept an eye on the church’s lands and the revival of female spirituality and informal religious communities. They responded to these challenges by institutional reforms, which were only partly successful. Her comparison of Old Belief and Early Protestantism is magnificent, and the discussion of the phenomenon of Old Belief itself is excellent (even if it does not lend much support to the statement I disagreed with above). Essentially, due to dissent movements such as the Old Belief and the Uniate Church, Orthodoxy proved less amenable to state policing, forcing the autocrats to ‘shift the empire’s rhetoric towards a more pragmatic service state from one grounded in piety’ (p. 425).
The final chapter focuses on three largely related topics: nobility, culture, and intellectual life. Nobility, Kollmann argues, was created in the 18th century, and nobles made up the lion’s share of the country’s cultural, educated elite. This elite was largely self conscious, and actively sought ways to fashion themselves. They held myriad opinions, from the liberal Masonic lodges to the more mainstream blending of Enlightenment thought with the Orthodox tradition, still aware of the widening gap between themselves and the peasantry. Institutions both brick-and-mortar such as clubs or theatres and less tangible such as journals and literature served as a stage for exchanging ideas and forging a cohesive class of men and women of letters.
I am ambivalent as to the value of the book as a textbook in a survey class, as this would depend on the syllabus. Its thematic divisions make it hard for a novices to orient themselves using the traditional compass of history – chronology. Kollmann does address this limitation by offering a prologue, covering ‘the chronological arc’, but it is likely to impede teachers from using it in the survey level. I find it the perfect companion, nevertheless, for an upper-division class or even as a quick reference guide in a graduate seminar. Its reliance on traditional as well as innovative scholarship and neatly-integrated suggestions for further readings at the end of each chapter are invaluable for students in this appropriate stage of their studies.
Having said that, I cannot stress enough the importance of this volume to students seeking to see Muscovy and Russia as a part of a larger system. Much like Marc Raeff’s eye-opening and meticulously-crafted comparisons to Prussia (18), Kollmann shows her proficiency and fluency in histories European as much as global, offering apt glances into the history of the Ottoman Empire (which she seems to master beyond any other sources of comparison), and the various dynasties of China, England, and others. This serves to mitigate claims of a Russian Sonderweg on the one hand, and yet to truly highlight the unique by showing Russian dialogue with other lands and their reaction to what they saw, or never saw.
The visual aids are fantastic. Maps and other figures demonstrate how the Russians conceptualised themselves and how they were seen by others. Factual errors are few and insignificant. The origin of the word Cossack is indeed Turkic, but there are no evidence that term ‘is derived from Arabic’ and only ‘used’ by ‘Turkic speakers’ (p. 58). In general, the editing job is of high quality and must be acknowledged. I do think that a larger annotated bibliography could complement this volume as an authoritative reference and textbook.
In conclusion, this masterpiece will accompany us for years to come. It is a gift given to the entire spectrum of people engaging with Russian history – from the public to the specialists – by a scholar most intimately with the sources as well as the scholarship. It is a good starting place for the general public, who wish to gain a ‘great-picture’ understanding of Russia between 1450 and 1801, and an even better starting point for advanced undergraduates, beginning graduate students, and historians of other periods and places. Hugh Seton-Watson’s The Russian Empire, 1801–1917 (19) is a worthy ‘sequel’, even if slightly dated. I only wish we had such a uniquely valuable book for the Soviet period.
- See Marshall T. Poe, ‘The truth about Muscovy’, Kritika, 3, 3 (2002), 473–86; Valerie A. Kivelson, ‘On words, sources, and historical method: which truth about Muscovy?’, Kritika, 3, 3 (2002), 487–99; Charles J. Halperin, ‘Muscovy as a hypertrophic state: a critique’, Kritika 3, 3 (2002), 501–7. One of the ‘founding documents’ of this school of thought is the deeply provocative article by Edward L. Keenan, ‘Muscovite political folkways’, The Russian Review, 45, 2 (1986), 115–81.Back to (1)
- Nancy Shields Kollmann, Kinship and Politics: The Making of the Muscovite Political System: 1345–1547 (Stanford, CA, 1987).Back to (2)
- Nancy Shields Kollmann, By Honor Bound, State and Society in Early Modern Russia (Ithaca, NY, 1999).Back to (3)
- Nancy Shields Kollmann, Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Russia (Cambridge, 2012).Back to (4)
- Nancy Shields Kollmann, ‘Collateral succession in Kievan Rus’’, Harvard Ukrainian Studies, 14, 3–4 (1990), 377–87.Back to (5)
- Nancy Shields Kollmann, ‘The seclusion of elite Muscovite women’, Russian History, 10, 1 (1983), 170–87.Back to (6)
- Paul Dukes, The Making of Russian Absolutism, 1613–1801 (London and New York, NY, 1982).Back to (7)
- Donald Ostrowski, ‘The end of Muscovy: the case for circa 1800’, Slavic Review, 69, 2 (2010), 426–38.Back to (8)
- Michael Hechter, Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development, 1535–1966 (Berkeley, CA, 1975). Aleksander Etkind, Internal Colonization: Russia’s Imperial Experience (Cambridge, 2011).Back to (9)
- Michael Khodarkovsky, Russia’s Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire, 1500–1800 (Bloomington, IN, 2002), pp. 51–5, 72.Back to (10)
- See Matthew P. Romaniello, The Elusive Empire: Kazan and the Creation of Russia, 1552–1671 (Madison, WI, 2012).Back to (11)
- See Valerie Kivelson’s inspiring, ‘Muscovite “citizenship”: rights without freedom’, The Journal of Modern History, 74, 3 (2002), 456–89.Back to (12)
- See Marshall Poe, ‘What did Russians mean when they called themselves “Slaves of the Tsar”?’, Slavic Review, 57, 3 (1998), 585–608.Back to (13)
- See Marx Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (1921), especially chapter one.Back to (14)
- Gregory L. Freeze, ‘The Soslovie (estate) paradigm and Russian social history’, The American Historical Review, 91, 1 (1986), 11–36.Back to (15)
- Alison K. Smith, For the Common Good and Their Well-Being: Social Estates in Imperial Russia (Oxford, 2014).Back to (16)
- See Georg B. Michels, At War With the Church: Religious Dissent in Seventeenth Century Muscovy (Palo Alto, CA, 1999).Back to (17)
- See Marc Raeff, The Well-Ordered Police State: Social and Institutional Change Through Law in the Germanies and Russia, 1600–1800 (New Haven, CT, 1983).Back to (18)
- Hugh Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 1801–1917 (Oxford, 1988).Back to (19)
I am honored by Orel Beilinson’s appreciative review of my book. I am particularly gratified that he identifies virtually all of the key themes that I had tried to convey in the work, particularly the ‘empire of difference’ model. Tolerating diversity as a strategy of imperial governance was crucial to the success of the Russian Empire, and endured well into the 19th century; one might even say it was resurrected in the Stalinist nationalities policy. I would like, however, to underscore a theme that runs through the book as a complement to the ‘empire of difference’ model; it is perhaps the flip side of that model, in fact. That is my argument that crucial to the success of the state was its identification of a very limited range of activities that it reserved for its central control.
In Russia’s case, these imperatives were only three: monopolization of the means of violence (military forces), mobilization of resources (human and material) and the criminal justice including judicial violence. Below those key areas, ‘difference’ was tolerated (local elites, religions, petty criminal law, etc.). Thus, as Professor Beilinson notes, I included in the book two matching chapters on the arenas in which the state ‘wielded its power’ in pursuit of these goals, in the period before 1700 and in the eighteenth century. Russia’s early modern rulers accomplished these goals by single-mindedly and doggedly pursuing centralization. They created an empire-wide bureaucracy with a single bureaucratic language, paperwork and criminal law; they never sold venalities, never let resources escape central control. The sphere of centralization was narrow, but crucially important to providing the resources and control that the state needed to survive in such adverse geographical conditions. These two strategies – obsessive control of a narrow range of state prerogatives and toleration of a panoply of multi-ethnic, multi-religious difference – constituted the skeleton on which the empire was constructed. I am most grateful to Orel Beilinson for such a comprehensive analysis of my work; an author could not ask for more.