The Russian Empire was the largest state on earth, stretching from the Prussian border in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east, from the icy Arctic northern coast to the Chinese border. The empire was inhabited by more than 100 different ethnic groups. The Slav peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia made up more than two-thirds of the population, but huge variety of minority groups, ranging from Finns in the north-west to Kazakhs in Central Asia, meant that it was never an easy task to govern such a disparate collection of peoples. Language, religion and cultural traditions all varied dramatically across the Russian state. The Russian domains differed from other European-centred empires in one critical respect: Russian conquerors had never had to go overseas to acquire their Empire. The Russian Empire was amassed by expansion into territory which was contiguous to Russia’s existing possessions, resulting in continual challenges to integrate ethnically and economically diverse regions into the main body of the state.
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