From Tsar to Emperor

Monday, 12 November 2012, 4:30pm - 6:00pm, IWM library
The reforms of Peter the Great are commonly associated with the advent of rationalism and secularism in Russia. This view however is contested by some contemporary scholars, and is becoming a subject of heated scholarly debates. The concept of natural law and contract theory, which are seen as crucial to secularization in the field of social and political thought, are present in the most important written sources of official Petrine ideology. It is revealing that whereas the duties of the ruler before Peter were overwhelmingly religious (to keep and defend Orthodoxy, extirpate heresy and lead his people to Salvation), during Peter the term common good became the central concept of the ideology and the justification of his policy. Peter’s duty was to promote the common good of his subjects.

The public image of the ruler also changed under Peter which is apparent in imagery. One of the sources crucial to the reflection of Peter’s self-image (and the reflection of ideology in imagery) is the frontispiece of his emblem book published in Amsterdam in 1705 which became the handbook of western symbolism in Russia. In his talk Endre Sashalmi will compare this image with Simon Ushakov’s icon The Planting of the Tree of the Muscovite State (1668) in order to show the significant changes in the public image of the ruler, while discussing their relevance to the issue of secularization.


Endre Sashalmi is Professor of History and Deputy-Chairman of the Department of Medieval and Early Modern History, University of Pécs, Hungary.

With the kind support of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)

Read a summury of this lecture by Clemena Antonova.