Catherine The Great: 3 Ways She Changed Russian Society

Born2nd of May, 1729
Died17th of November, 1796
Famous Quote“It is better to inspire a reform than to enforce it.”
Known ForGrowing size of Russia, funding the arts, and reforming government, making Russia one of the leading European nations.
Region Of WorldEurope/Asia
Further ReadingThe Absolute 9 Most Influential Women In History

Few women in history have had the impact that Catherine II or Catherine the Great has had. Over a small reign of just 30 years, she managed to propel Russia into modernity. By the time of her death Cathrine II had set up Russia to experience on of the largest cultural and economic revolutions it has ever seen.

In order to do this Catherine had to change several things. The 3 largest ways Catherine the Great changed Russian society are the following.

  • Drastically expanding the size of Russia
  • Funding the arts and reforming the government
  • Increasing diplomatic power

These 3 changes that Catherine instituted upon becoming the Empress of Russia changed Russia forever. To this day she is a symbol of national pride for Russia and her effects live on today.

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Without further ado, here are the 3 ways Catherine The Great Changed Russian Society.

Drastically Expanding The Size of Russia

Russia in the 18th century was a time of many great people. Not only was Catherine a shrewd politician and leader but she was fortunate to have several amazing generals and admirals at her disposal.

This was because Peter the Great 50 years before Cathrine had adopted European military traditions. These military traditions helped combine the Russian militaristic culture of the medieval era with the more regimented and scalable militaries of modern Europe. Out of this arose several prominent commanders under Catherine such as Alexander Suvorov and Pyotr Rumyantsev.

Due to this military expertise and training, Catherine was able to significantly increase the size of the Russian Empire. Because of this in 1772 Russia defeated the Ottoman Empire to claim the Crimean Peninsula. Further, she continued the trend of pushing east across Siberia to eventually colonize Alaska in North America.

One of the main reasons Russia is such a large nation today is because of Catherine the Great stretching the limits of the Empire across north Asia. Because of this rapid expansion, Catherine has forever changed Russian society. To this day when you travel across Russia, you will encounter images and statues that detail Catherine’s impact upon the land.

Funding The Arts And Reforming The Government

Domestically Catherine would focus on funding two major goals. First, was creating an easy to manage empire. Second, Catherine The Great would fund and rapidly expand the Russian arts.

These two reforming goals were undertaken to help modernize the Russian people while attempting to preserve their culture. Several major Russian academies would stem from this movement such as as the Smolny Institute for Noble Women which sought to educate women in science and art.

Reforming the Government

With a rapidly growing empire, Catherine would have to institute streamlined bureaucracy to administer it. This was vital as previous Russian leaders failed to build a system that could scale with Russian expansion. Cathrine was dedicated to find a way to fix this issue.

Over the later period of her reign, Catherine would reform how each province across Russia was administered. She streamlined the tax collection process along with instituting local governorates. Further, she ordered the creation of several new cities such as Dnipro, Mykolaiv, Odessa, and Sevastopol.

The major change that Cathrine instituted was building out a form for which serfs could file a complaint against their lord. In turn, the lord was obligated to keep the serfs happy while also taxing them to provide for the state’s income. This created a system of taxation that was very modular and based on an individual lord’s land. This allowed the tax system to scale with Catherine’s expansion of the Russian Empire.

This new structure of government along with new cities would streamline the government process and modernize it to something more European.

Funding The Arts

One of the easiest ways to form a Russian identity was to forge one using art.

During the reign of Catherine The Great, Russia as a nation created a new identity through the arts. The world’s largest museum by gallery space was started by Catherine The Great housing her personal collection.

Catherine was known for employing the greatest artistic minds across Europe to inspire this new Russian art. One of her closest correspondents was the highly influential Voltaire who inspired Catherine to house art from all over Europe.

Besides Voltaire, Catherine employed the services of Diderot, d’Alembert, Arthur Young, and Jacques Necker. All of which were the leading scholars and artists in their field.

Further, Catherine was an avid reader. She only read three types of books; romance and comedy, educational, and philosophical. Due to this Catherine received inspiration from all over Europe regarding the ideas of courtship, science, and leadership.

Because of this Russia took the most popular and prominent artistic elements of Europe and combined them together with Russian tradition. Out of this stemmed a new Russian identity and culture that to this day impacts the society of Russia.

Increasing Diplomatic Power

Catherine strove to prove that Russia was equal to the other European nations of the time. However, she would not risk prolonged military conflict in the west while she was expanding her empire in the east.

As a result she heavily invested time into becoming a diplomatic magnet that could weigh in on disputes. She refused to take port cities and station armies in western countries for fear of military conflict.

However, she did weigh into several international military conflicts in an effort to both assert Russian influence and gain favor with other monarchs.

Her first attempt at increasing Russian diplomatic influence was weighing in on the 1778 War of Bavarian Succession where she acted as a mediator between Prussia and Austria.

Catherine’s second diplomatic mission was to create the League of Armed Neutrality which aimed at preventing Britain from checking and seizing shipments in the Atlantic and North Sea during the Revolutionary War.

Because of Catherine The Great’s efforts to push Russian influence across Europe she set up Russia to become a world power over the coming centuries.

Today much of Russian nationalism comes from Catherine’s diplomatic missions. Due to this, she is widely considered one of the most influential women in Russian history and her actions have changed Russian society forever.


There you have it. An entire article that goes over the 3 major ways Catherine The Great changed Russian society.

Today people know Catherine for her popular portrayals on television. However, the real Catherine The Great was a great leader that managed to modernize her country while also expanding it.

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