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The Founding of Russia's Navy:
Peter the Great and the Azov Fleet, 1688-1714,

by Edward J. Phillips,

review - John Sloan

The author focuses on Peter the Great's efforts to create a Russian navy as the earliest example of a program he personally desired, which required the allocation of significant resources and major changes "reforms" in administrative, fiscal, and social institutions. In this way it demonstrates the process by which the tsar's desires translated into progressively expanding demands for a relatively narrowly focused military (naval) program in turn necessitated fundamental changes throughout society. He confirms Michael Florinski's contention that Peter's reforms were essentially the unplanned and uncoordinated outgrowth of the constantly increasing demands of war.
Phillips defines four aspects that he then uses to organize his analysis of naval developments - "impetus", the demand side; "technology" and "resources", which constitute the the supply side; and "setting", the environment in which these operated and which shaped the outcome.
He provides a short introductory background on shipbuilding in Kievan and Muscovite Russia over the centuries before Peter's reign. The general picture is of ship building only in response to demands from
The author gives the most comprehensive description I have read of Peter's actual education in naval practices during his tour in Holland and England. As a result, the reader also learns quite a bit about the specifics of Dutch and English ship building practices and the considerable differences between them.
Even having studied the Azov campaigns at some length from a military point of view and knowing the importance Peter's small fleet played in the ultimate successful outcome, I was surprised to learn of the massive size of the total resources Peter devoted to the project. This is because, heretofore, I had only counted the vessels that actually made it to Azov, not realizing the number that were built, but did not reach the sea. Phillips provides dramatic evidence of the scope of the ship construction program in the several appendices in which he enumerates the ships by name, cost, and organizations or individuals ordered to construct them.
The author chose well in limiting his time period for analysis. He brings the story down to 1714 and the initial phase of the new naval construction program on the Baltic, giving just enough of its origins to establish its relationship to the first program on the Don.
One disconcerting habit to this reviewer is Philips' use of the term "state" when describing the motivating power behind decisions to allocate resources to ship building in general or to specific decisions ordering construction of particular vessels. We read that even from Kievan times the "state" had interests, exercised leadership or initiative, sought this or that, had obligations, played a role, resorted to compulsion, and the like. Yet within a few sentences we invariable find out that it was actually the personal decision of one tsar or the other which generated the program in question. For instance, Philips correctly writes, of Alexei Mikhailovich, "The driving force from the outset was the personal authority of the tsar marshaling the resources of the state bureaucracy." But these clerks were the instruments of the tsar's personal bureaucracy.
It is my view that "state" is a concept, a relatively modern theory, which was developed in western Europe as a means to provide legitimacy for the new claims of "absolute" monarchs in opposition to those of their aristocratic and urban opponents. It was not yet in vogue in Muscovy even by the reign of Peter I, and certainly not those of his father and grandfather. Contemporaries already viewed themselves as loyal slaves of the tsar and not as citizens of some "state" that had yet to come into existance. Thus the author's categorization of ship construction and the resources allocated for it as "state" versus private actually means directly from the personal resources of the tsar or indirectly from the resources held by ecclesiastical or secular organizations and individuals at the whim of the tsar. But the ability of the tsar to assign such responsibilities arbitrairly to whomever he chose itself gives dramatic proof that in the final analysis in practice all resources in Muscovy belonged to the tsar. Sources Appendices

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