Sweden was a great power for almost a century, but after defeating it, Russia gained that status itself.
Exactly 300 years ago, on September 10, 1721, one of the most important treaties in Russian history was signed. The Treaty of Nystad proclaimed the end of the 21-year Great Northern War, in which Sweden and Russia had been the main rivals. And if for the former it meant that it lost its status as a great power, for the latter it was the opposite. It signaled the beginning of a new era and marked the moment when Russia joined the group of the most powerful states in the world.
The end of the peace treaty in Nystad on August 20, 1721.
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By the end of the 17th century, the Kingdom of Sweden had reached its peak. The Swedes had Finland and large territories in the Baltics and northern Germany and made the Baltic Sea their private “lake”. The Royal Swedish Army and Navy were considered to be among the strongest in Europe.
King Charles XII
Nevertheless, Sweden also had its weaknesses, namely its small population and limited resources. These did not allow it to be as effective in defending its extensive borders. Under the circumstances, the Swedes mostly relied on the speed of the redeployment and the high combat efficiency of their armies, the feeling of their commanders and the determination of the Swedish ruler. When the inexperienced 15-year-old Charles XII ascended the Swedish throne in 1697, a number of European states felt that their chance had come to jointly crush a powerful long-term rival.
King Charles XII of Sweden.
The Northern Alliance, formed in 1699, included Russia, Denmark, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, whose king, Augustus the Strong, was also Elector of Saxony, who also joined the alliance. After suffering in the hands of the Swedes in previous conflicts, they hoped to restore lost territories, as well as to attach new ones. For Russia, the main purpose was to gain access to the Baltic Sea, which it had lost through the Swedes’ efforts in the early 17th century.
King Augustus the Strong.
Louis de Silvestre
To the surprise of the Allies, Charles XII turned out to be far from the transition they had hoped for. On August 4, 1700, he appeared out of the blue outside Copenhagen with an army of 15,000 men, which forced Denmark to vote for peace. On November 30 of the same year, the Swedish king thoroughly defeated Tsar Peter I’s army at the Battle of Narva in present – day Estonia. About 8,000 Russian soldiers were killed and a significant amount of artillery was lost. Only a few regiments, which had been formed according to the Western model, kept the ground in battle, while the others turned and fled in panic. “Fighting against the Russians gives no pleasure,” said the king told Colonel Axel Sparre and expressed his disappointment at the enemy’s combat qualities.
The Battle of Narva.
Alexander von Kotzebue
When he came to the conclusion that Russia was finished, Charles XII went west to fight the Poles and the Saxons. However, Peter I did not intend to give up so easily and made sensible use of the breathing space that had presented itself. A new regular army was formed quickly; its organizational structure and principles for staff training and education were revised. As a result, Russian troops managed to take control of almost all of Swedish Ingermanland in the next few years and it was there that the future capital of the Russian state – St. Petersburg – was founded in 1703. The Tsar offered Charles XII to end the war if the region remained Russian. “The terms of the peace can be discussed in Moscow,” the king said replied defiantly, openly stating the goal of his new expedition.
Tsar Peter I.
After trampling on Polish territory and defeating Augustus the Strong, the Swedish army invaded the territory of the Russian state in 1708. Charles XII, however, did not decide to move on to the Russian heartlands through the countryside, to which Russian troops had laid waste. He set course for fertile Ukraine, where Hetman (military commander) Ivan Mazepa, who had gone over to the enemy, had promised him support. The expedition did not turn out to be the smooth ride that the king had hoped for – the opponent he now faced was no longer the one he had encountered in Narva.
Charles XII of Sweden and Ivan Mazepa after the Battle of Poltava.
Gustaf Olof Cederström
On October 9, 1708, in the village of Lesnaya in present-day Belarus, Peter I crushed a corps of troops under General Adam Lewenhaupt, who was on his way from Riga with a huge supply column for the king’s army. On July 8, 1709, at the Battle of Poltava, Charles XII himself was defeated and lost 9,000 soldiers killed or wounded on the battlefield (Russian losses were estimated at about 5,000). “In this famous battle” wrote 19th-century Russian military theorist Baron Nikolai Medem, “all the tsar’s orders are stamped with a military genius: the cavalry’s ingenious retreat, which drew the enemy against our batteries, the choice of the right moment to send Menshikov against Roos, and finally the idea of getting out of camp. to confront the enemy … The battle clearly showed that the Tsar, through his sensible efforts to develop the troops, had fully fulfilled his goal and that in terms of its internal integrity, the Russian army could now withstand the comparison with the best European troops. “
The Battle of Poltava.
The Battle of the Poltava History Museum
Immediately after the victory, Peter I invited captured Swedish officers to a dinner where he raised a bowl for their health and described them as his “teachers of military art”. While Charles XII was taking refuge in the Ottoman Empire, his defeated and demoralized army withdrew to the city of Perevolochna, where on July 13 all 13,000 men surrendered and were taken prisoner. From that moment on, Russia took the initiative for the war. “So ended our happy times”, privately Joachim Lyth, who participated in these events, was to write later.
Peter I receives the surrender of the Swedes.
After the Russian triumph in Poltava, Denmark and Saxony resumed the war against the Swedes. Russian troops seized the entire Baltics and invaded Finland, and in 1719 they even landed several times on the shores of Sweden themselves. Finally, in 1721, the new king Frederick I (Charles XII was killed in a siege of the Norwegian fortress Fredriksten three years earlier) decided to vote for peace with Russia and a peace treaty was signed in the Finnish city of Nystad on 10 September.
Funeral process of King Charles XII.
Gustaf Olof Cederström
The Kingdom of Sweden ceded Russia “for its complete, absolute and eternal possession” Ingermanland, Lifland (central and northern Latvia), Estonia (Estonia) and also the southeastern part of Finland. In compensation for the latter, the Russians promised to pay the Swedes two million Western European thalers over a period of several years. This corresponded to half of Russia’s annual budget or the whole of Sweden’s annual budget. The rest of the occupied Finnish lands were returned under Stockholm’s control. On November 2, 1721, in the Old Trinity Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Peter I adopted the title “Father of his country, Peter the Great, emperor of all Russia”. Russia was thus officially proclaimed an empire, even though in Europe it had begun to be described as such much earlier – from the time of the victory at Poltava.
Emperor Peter the Great.