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Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great is remembered as one of Russia's most powerful tsars.

Several weak emperors ruled Russia after the death of Peter the Great. One was Peter III who married a lively German princess named Catherine who was anything but weak. In fact, it’s commonly believed she approved Peter’s murder in 1762. Although Catherine’s son was next in line for the throne, she pushed him aside and ruled Russia as empress. In some respects, Catherine continued the Westernization program begun by Peter the Great. She imported farming and manufacturing techniques from the West along with European art. Enlightenment philosophers were her friends.

But trouble was brewing in the empire. Hardship caused by war with the Ottomans joined with plague to make life especially hard for Russian peasants. They rose up in the greatest revolt yet seen in Russia. After putting down the rebellion, Catherine abandoned her Enlightenment philosophies and ruled with an iron fist. She took rights away from the serfs and increased the power of their noble landlords. By the time she had finished, serfs were little more than slaves, and hardly a free peasant remained in Russia.

Ottoman Empire = a Turkish empire that was centered on modern-day Turkey.

But Catherine created one of the world’s finest art museums at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and she expanded the Russian Empire west into Poland. After her armies defeated the weakening Ottoman Empire, Russia took control of the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea, which gave Russia direct access to the Mediterranean and a warm water port that could stay open year-round. Under Catherine’s forceful rule, Russia grew strong and was capable of challenging other great powers. For these reasons she earned the title “Catherine the Great.”

Poland = a country of central Europe bordering on the Baltic Sea. Its capital city is Warsaw.

Crimea (Crimean Peninsula) = a peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea; the location of many famous battles throughout history.

Black Sea = a sea between Europe and Asia; the sea directly north of Turkey.

Catherine the Great = the Russian empress who reigned from 1762 to 1796. She expanded the Russian Empire, improved administration, and energetically pursued the policy of Westernization (the process of changing to western ideas and traditions). Under her rule Russia grew strong and rivaled the great powers of Europe and Asia.