Russian Military Culture during the Reigns of Catherine II and Paul I, 1762-1801
University of Alberta, 2015
This study explores the shape and development of military culture during the reign of Catherine II. Next to the institutions of the autocracy and the Orthodox Church, the military occupied the most important position in imperial Russia, especially in the eighteenth century. Rather than analyzing the military as an institution or a fighting force, this dissertation uses the tools of cultural history to explore its attitudes, values, aspirations, tensions, and beliefs. Patronage and education served to introduce a generation of young nobles to the world of the military culture, and expose it to its values of respect, hierarchy, subordination, but also the importance of professional knowledge. Merit is a crucial component in any military, and Catherine’s military culture had to resolve the tensions between the idea of meritocracy and seniority.
All of the above ideas and dilemmas were expressed in a number of military texts that began to appear during Catherine’s reign. It was during that time that the military culture acquired the cultural, political, and intellectual space to develop – a space I label the “military public sphere”. This development was most clearly evident in the publication, by Russian authors, of a range of military literature for the first time in this era. The military culture was also reflected in the symbolic means used by the senior commanders to convey and reinforce its values in the army. The dissertation posits that it was precisely during the reign of Catherine II, “Minerva on the Throne”, rather than during the reigns of Peter the Great or Paul I, which are usually associated with wars, armies, and militarism, that a military culture began to become increasingly self-aware, self-reflective, and autonomous in Russia. Paul I’s attack on its values, traditions and autonomy did not so much undermine or destroy Catherine’s military culture as confirm its existence.