Scenarios of Power Richard S. Wortman
Published by Princeton University Press
Wortman, S.. Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy from Peter the Great to the Abdication of NicholasII.Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. Project MUSE.,
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Signs of Empire
Tales of Origin and the Russian Coronation
The process of “the gathering of the Russian lands” culminated during thereign of Ivan III, 1462–1505. Ivan subjugated Novgorod in 1478, renouncedhis subordination to the Mongol khan in 1480, and began to rule Russia asa unified monarchy. He introduced his own coinage, a law code, and createda military force of conditional landowners that provided him with a reliablesource of manpower. But Ivan’s newly unified monarchy lacked the symbolsand titles of a sovereign ruler. Guided by the hierarchs of the church, hebegan to lay claim to the symbolic heritage of the Byzantine empire, whichhad fallen to the Ottoman Turks in 1452.
Ivan assumed the emperor’s titles of tsar and autocrat. The word “tsar”had been used by Russian princes principally as a title for address of theTatar khan and the Byzantine emperor. It came to connote a Christianemperor as distinguished from the pagan emperors of antiquity, such asAugustus, who was described as kesar’. The designation of a prince asemperor expressed the sense, fundamental to later Russian political atti-tudes, that imperial sovereignty was the only true sovereignty. Ivan firstused the term “autocrat,” samoderzhets, a calque of the Greek (autocrator),to express the supremacy of the Muscovite tsar and his freedom from over-lords.
Ivan III also appropriated signs of sovereignty from Western sovereigns.He adopted the Byzantine imperial seal—a crowned double-headed eagle,with wings lowered. He did so to show parity with the Holy Roman Em-peror, whose seal, also a double-headed eagle, symbolized the unity ofWestern and Eastern empires. To demonstrate this parity, he married theByzantine princess Sofia Paleologus, who had been residing in Rome, andthen set about constructing cathedrals and palaces that would lend his cap-ital a monumental grandeur. He brought architects from Italy, who gave theMoscow Kremlin an aspect of Renaissance magnificence. Pietro Solaridesigned new Kremlin walls and towers in the manner of an Italian walledtown. Rodolfo Fioravanti’s Assumption Cathedral added greater dimen-sions and splendor to the domed-cruciform pattern of the Vladimir Assump-tion Cathedral. Venetian architects decorated the exterior of the ArchangelCathedral with a shell motif. The Palace of Facets, the first stone residenceof a Russian ruler, was an imitation of a Renaissance palace.
Like the Hapsburg emperors, the first Russian tsars adopted mythologicalgenealogies that linked them to ancient Rome. The Tale of the Vladimir

Princes inserted a brother of Augustus, Prus, into the historical record,said to be a direct ancestor of Riurik and the ruler of the Prussian lands. Itthen traced the lineage of the Moscow princes back to Riurik. Ivan IV(1533–1584), Ivan the Terrible, frequently announced his kinship withAugustus in justifying his sovereignty. He asserted that he was no “Russe”and boasted of his “German” descent from Riurik. This reconstruction ofthe past was the basis of the first Muscovite “historical” work, the Book ofDegrees (Stepennaia Kniga) and the Book of Saints’ Lives (Chet’ia-Minei),both of them composed under the Metropolitan Macarius’s direction in themiddle of the sixteenth century.
But while Western monarchs used such tales of imperial origin to freethemselves from the domination of the Roman Catholic Church, Russianchurch hierarchs themselves created the tales in order to enhance the stand-ing of the ruler of Rus’. The tales elevated both tsar and clergy as heirs to theByzantine imperial mission of defending the faith. The symbiotic relation-ship between tsar and church reflected the late Byzantine concept of the“symphony” between secular and ecclesiastical spheres as expressed in theKormchaia Kniga. The clerics who wrote the Tale of the Vladimir Princecreated an imagined genealogy that drew a direct connection between theMoscow prince and his presumed Byzantine forebears. The second part,The Legend of Monomakh, contrived a long tradition and “ancient” regaliafor the Russian imperial coronation. Vladimir Monomakh (the grand princeof Kiev, 1113–1125), it related, received imperial regalia from the EmperorConstantine Monomakh, the prince’s grandfather. The prince of Moscowclaimed descent from Monomakh, and therefore this episode, of which thereis no historical record, provided the historical basis for the new regalia.
Metropolitan Macarius composed and staged the first Russian coronationrite for the crowning of the seventeen-year-old Ivan IV in 1547. The Rus-sian coronation was a ceremony of absolutism, with none of the medievalholdovers of the French and English coronation, such as the peers of therealm, rites of chivalry, and a coronation oath promising to uphold the lawsof the realm. Macarius adapted his ceremony from late Byzantine rites ofthe fourteenth century. The regalia of Monomakh—the crown “Mono-makh’s cap,” a scepter, the barmy or shoulder pieces, and the life-givingcross—gave concrete evidence of a link to Byzantium. The investiture withthe regalia constituted the principal moment of Ivan’s coronation as tsar.
The coronation opened with Ivan’s asking the metropolitan to consecratehis hereditary claims to the title of Russian tsar. Ivan stated that sinceVladimir Monomakh all his ancestors had been crowned. He also men-tioned his father’s command that he be crowned, “according to our ancientrite” (po drevnemu nashemu tsarskomu chinu). The metropolitan replied byconfirming the tsar’s ancestral rights to the imperial crown. He lowered thelife-giving cross around the tsar’s neck, then placed his hands on the tsar’shead and pronounced the benediction, as in a clerical ordination. The ges-ture, the metropolitan declared, achieved the act of consecration.
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After conferring the “holy barmy,” the metropolitan crowned Ivan, thenhanded him the orb and scepter. He concluded the first part of the ceremonyby delivering the precept (pouchenie). Written by Macarius and drawn fromthe homily of the Deacon Agapetus to the Emperor Justinian, the preceptwas an extended admonition on the obligations of the tsar to the church andhis subjects. It ended on an eschatological note; the metropolitan envisionedthe tsar’s ascent into the heavens and, in recompense for his “imperialexploits (tsarskie podvigi) and labors,” ruling in the heavenly kingdom withChrist and all the saints.
The Legend of Monomakh was the guiding myth of the early Russiancoronation, and the regalia of Monomakh became the sacred insignia ofpower of the Muscovite tsardom. Ceremony turned the fiction of imperialsuccession into sacred truth. The Legend played the same role as the Legendof the Holy Ampulla in the French coronation. The holy ampulla was thevial that contained the oil of Clovis, which had been borne from heaven inthe beak of a dove; a few drops of the oil anointed the Capetian kings ateach coronation. Both legends evoked sources of the charisma transmittedto the bearer of power by sacred articles, the regalia in Russia, the oil inFrance. Both invoked descent to establish the historical connection of thepresent ruler to the recipients of the initial charismatic gift. But their motifssuggest the different character of the charisma they bestowed. The holy oilwas sent from heaven, attesting to the providential origins of the Frenchmonarchy. God bestowed his sanction directly on the clergy and kings,without imperial mediation. The oil bestowed the power to cure scrofula onthe French kings.
Russian princes and tsars were never credited with magical powers. TheMonomakh legend was a secular myth showing the Kievan prince’s valor inhis invasion or threatened invasion of Constantinople. It accentuated thederivative character of Russian sovereignty: sanction came not from Goddirectly, but through the acquiescence of the Byzantine emperor. The Patriarchof Constantinople, confirming the title of tsar in a charter of 1561, likenedIvan IV to a Byzantine emperor, “tsar and sovereign of Orthodox Christiansof the whole universe from the East to the West and as far as the ocean.”
The Muscovite coronation, in this way, gave the image of conqueror reli-gious sanction. Ivan IV’s coronation in 1547 consisted of an investiture anda mass. The anointment was added as an afterthought in a coronation order(chin) composed in the 1550s, and this established the tradition for all latercoronations. In the Russian coronation, anointment took place after theinvestiture, unlike the French, English, and late Byzantine coronations, andplayed no role in the consecration of the tsar’s secular power. It ratherendowed the tsar with a special charisma that set him apart as the mostholy of laymen and made him the equal of Western monarchs who wereanointed.
The tales of imperial descent were accompanied by imperial designs torule over extensive realms and other peoples. Ivan IV’s conquest of the
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khanates of Kazan in 1552 and Astrakhan in 1556 brought the first non-Russian territories under the suzerainty of Moscow. The victory over Kazanwas marked by a triumphal progress through Russian towns, culminating ina ceremonial entry to Moscow. These processions celebrated the victory ofthe conqueror, but unlike Roman triumphs, attributed Ivan’s successes toGod and the church. Before Ivan entered Moscow, he removed his armorand dressed himself in the Monmakh cap, the barmy, and held the life-giving cross. Ivan’s ambitions to expand into the Baltic region were defeatedby Swedish and Polish armies in the 1570s and 1580s. But the pretensionsremained. He began to use the word “Rossiia,” greater Russia ruled by theRussian tsar, instead of “Rus’,” which referred to the core territories of theMuscovite principality. The establishment of a Russian Patriarchate in 1589bestowed the supreme ecclesiastical title in Eastern Orthodoxy on the headof the Russian church and enhanced the tsar’s image as the defender ofOrthodoxy.
The Seventeenth Century: Cultural Crisis
The seventeenth century began with the cataclysmic social and politicalbreakdown of the “Time of Troubles” following the death of Tsar FedorIvanovich in 1598, bringing the Riurikovich dynasty to an end. The countryfell into civil war between the various social groups and reunited only afterinvasion by Swedish and Polish armies. A movement of national unity, sum-moned by the hierarchs of the church, was led by Kuz’ma Minin, a mer-chant, and Prince Dmitrii Pozharskii, a military servitor. The movementculminated with the convening of an assembly of all the estates of the realm,which, after considerable intrigue, in 1613 elected Michael Romanov tsar.
The end of the Troubles and the election of Michael, the historian V. O.Kliuchevskii wrote, brought a new national consciousness to Russian polit-ical life. Russians no longer regarded their country as the possession of theMuscovite tsar, but as a state ruled by a tsar and including the people. TsarMichael (1613–1645) and Tsar Alexei (1645–1676) succeeded in consoli-dating state authority. A centralized administrative system of chancelleries(prikazy) grew during this period, exerting more effective bureaucratic con-trol from Moscow. At the same time, the Orthodox Church came underincreasing state control. The government curbed the persisting social con-flicts and consolidated the monarchy’s authority during the first decade ofAlexei’s reign. An assembly summoned by Alexei approved a law code, theUlozhenie of 1649, which addressed the grievances of the military servitorsand the townspeople, defining the service obligations that strengthened andextended the power of the central state. The code established the basis for astate-sponsored system of bondage, which cemented the alliance betweenthe military servitors and the throne.
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Peasant discontent would erupt in bloody revolts over the next century, butthese accomplished little but to strengthen the landlords’ authority. The land-lords and governmental officials joined the tsar as partners in rule, dominatingthe subjugated population on the land. They also joined in the presentations ofhis power that elevated them above the melee of social interests and made clearthe universal character of their power as servants of the Russian tsar.
Rather than seek rapport with the people, the Romanovs strove toreclaim the imperial dignity of their predecessors. The principle of electioncompromised the concept of the tsar’s absolute power, and official state-ments sought to explain away Michael’s election as an act of divine inter-vention and to place him in the genealogy of the old dynasty. The GreatState Book, an illustrated collection of brief biographies of the princes andtsars, connected the Romanovs directly to the “Great Riurik” and St.Vladimir, with no indication that the succession had been broken. Compiledin 1671 and 1672, the years of Alexei’s second marriage to NataliaNaryshkina and the birth of their son, Peter, The Great State Book beganwith portraits of Augustus and Riurik and repeated the genealogy of theTale of the Vladimir Princes. This theme is also presented on the walls of thePalace of Facets in the Kremlin. The pictorial genealogy shows Augustuswith his three sons, seated on thrones, and Riurik.
Official rhetoric, with themes and imagery borrowed from the West,began to glorify the tsar as a secular ruler capable of achieving prodigies, a“god on earth.” Semeon Polotskii, a Kievan monk educated in Italy andPoland, composed baroque panegyrics that presented the ruler’s personalfeatures as political virtues. His Scepter of Rule (1667) broke with Russiantradition and preceded the word “tsar” with individual qualities, “mostserene” and “most pious.” These qualities did not belong to the official titlebut were used during church services and in the court. During the reigns ofTsars Michael and Alexei, portraits executed by or under the influence ofWestern artists, parsuny, began to show the tsar’s personal likeness, as didportraits in governmental books compiled at the time.
In the early 1670s, after his marriage and Peter’s birth, Alexei remodeledhis suburban estate, Preobrazhensk, and made it a center of amusement, fol-lowing the example of the Baroque courts of Europe. There he watched apresentation in honor of Bacchus and the first dramatic production, ThePlay of Esther, known in Russia as The Play of Ataxerxes (Ahasuerus),which had been adapted from the Western original by a German Lutheranpastor, Johan Gottfried Gregory. Alexei had received assurances from hisconfessor that Christian rulers, including the Byzantine emperors, had per-mitted such presentations. The play likened the Russian tsar to the Persianking. A courtier addresses Ataxerxes, “Oh universal tsar, you are an earthlygod!” The king’s speaker Mamurza announced to the tsar that King Atax-erxes was rising from the grave. The king then bowed before Alexei, inrecognition of the glory and power of the emperor of Russia.
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The annexation of the eastern parts of Little Russia, including Kiev, andof White Russia, including Smolensk, under Alexei in the 1650s and 1660s,gave new territorial grounds for the imperial claims. The Russian tsar nowcould claim to be “tsar of all the Russias.” The word “Rossiia,” greaterRussia, increasingly replaced “Rus’” in official documents and ceremonies.The seal was expanded to reflect a new imperial grandeur. The “state seal”that Alexei Mikhailovich introduced in 1667 was composed under thesupervision of the Austrian heraldry master Lavrentii Khurulevich. Khu-rulevich’s seal had the eagle’s wings raised, as on the seal of the Holy RomanEmpire, rather than lower in imitation of the Byzantine seal, as had been thecase under Ivan III. Three crowns above the eagle symbolized the possessionof Kazan, Astrakhan, and Siberia, while three sets of columns on the bor-ders represented three “cities,”—Great, Little, and White Russia. The eagleheld the orb and scepter in its talons, which signified, according to a decreeof 1667, “the most gracious Sovereign, His Imperial Majesty (TsarskoeVelichestvo), Autocrat, and Possessor.”
To complement and reinforce his imperial aspirations, Alexei sought toplace the Russian church at the center of a universal rather than parochialversion of Orthodoxy. The church reform of the mid-seventeenth century setthe monarchy on an international plane, replacing the liturgy and the booksthat had been declared canonical by the church councils of the sixteenthcentury with those found in the Ukraine and Greece. Ukrainian monks,many of them educated in the West, came to Moscow to help draft thereforms. Ukrainian clerics introduced new patterns of thought, conduct,and dress that elevated the church hierarchy far above the parish clergy.
The author of these reforms, Patriarch Nikon, was appointed in 1652 byTsar Alexei, who had ascended the throne in 1645 at age sixteen. Nikonsimplified the liturgy, revised church books, and banned icons that showedfigures making the two-fingered, rather than the newly instituted three-fingered cross. The reforms alienated large numbers of parish priests and theirparishioners. The “old-believers” defended what they regarded as ancientand sacred traditions, and their faith, which spread rapidly, became a formof resistance to the many changes affecting Russia in the seventeenth century—increasing centralization and bureaucratization of the state, the introductionof serfdom, and the growing Western influence in Russian institutions andculture. Although Alexei turned against Nikon in 1658, he preserved hisreforms. In 1667, a Council of Bishops declared the reforms canonical andopposition a rebellion against both church and state. Old Believers nowbecame liable to both civil and ecclesiastical punishment. But enforcementin Alexei’s reign was both hesitant and haphazard.
Nikon, who envisioned himself as co-sovereign like Tsar Michael’sfather, the patriarch Filaret, initiated Alexei into a severe liturgical routinethat he believed exemplified the Christian emperor. During these ceremoniesAlexei wore opulent golden barmy resembling those of Byzantine emper-ors, and carried an orb and scepter made in Istanbul. During religious ser-
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vices, he was addressed by the word, “sacred,” sviatoi, included in the titleof the Byzantine emperor. This term presented the tsar as a figure with thequalities of a demigod, bestowing divine features onto the state. It brokewith Russian religious tradition, which presented the tsar as most piousworshiper, and brought forth angry condemnations from Old Believers,most notably the archpriest Avvakum.
Performing elaborate religious ritual at his court, Alexei assumed an auraof spiritual supremacy. He appeared as the absolute monarch who embod-ied the attributes of both ecclesiastical and secular preeminence. His almostmonastic regimen of worship is the first clear example of an imperial sce-nario, a concerted and organized demonstration of an individual tsar’sembodiment of a foreign image, in this case the image of what was believedto have been typical of Byzantine emperors. The service elite displayed theiradherence to the tsar’s sovereign power by joining him in the performanceof the role of “pious” tsar. They appeared in his devotional regimen, as ifthey too were monks. They took part in all the services, processions, andreceptions under threat of punishment, as “the tsar’s slaves.”
The servitors’ positions in the ceremony revealed their status in the court,their closeness to the tsar, and the power and influence they could wield.Ceremonial orders (chiny) were issued for many functions, ambassadors’receptions, weddings, and banquets. In keeping with the monastic regime,women, with rare exceptions, were barred. The tsarevna watched ceremonies,including the coronation, through a concealed window. The tsar’s daughtersand sisters were forbidden to marry “princes and boyars of the sovereign,”who were considered his “slaves.” They also could not marry “the sons andkings of other states since they are not of the same faith.”1
Most imperial ceremony remained within the precincts of palace andcathedral, where only those high in the service could behold the tsar’s“bright eyes.” The notion of a warm emotional bond between tsar andpeople in the seventeenth century was a nineteenth-century Slavophile myth.On major religious holidays, however, the tsar displayed the grandeur of hiscourt in processions that left the palace and vested spiritual ascendance inattributes of secular magnificence. The processions displayed Alexei in hisnewly fashioned Monomakh regalia, the Great Array (Bol’shoi nariad)(fig. 1). He wore new ornately wrought gold crowns, copies of the Mono-makh hat with countless gems crafted by foreign workmen in his service orimported from abroad. His gold-embroidered robes had emerald buttons,and his gold bracelets were strung with pearls. His servitors were alsodressed in rich clothing with gems.
The processions presented a hieratic image of a Christian emperor sur-rounded by his servitors and the clergy. The most sumptuous of these wasthe Blessing of the Waters, which took place each year at the celebration ofthe Feast of Epiphany on January 6. The tsar and patriarch proceeded to theMoscow River where the patriarch blessed the waters through a hole in theice, and blessed the tsar with the water. This ceremony had little resemblance
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to its Byzantine counterpart. The Blessing of the Waters in Constantinoplehad taken place in the emperor’s palace, and the emperor himself played thecentral role. In the Russian “Blessing” of the sixteenth century, the metro-politan dominated the proceedings, seated on the throne while the tsarstood. In the early seventeenth century, these positions were reversed.
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1. Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. Portrait from Portrety, Gerby i Pechati Bol’shoiGosudarstvennoi Knigi 1672 g. (St. Petersburg, 1903).

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the “Blessing” in the seventeenth cen-tury was the massive presence of armed forces, particularly the musketeers(strel’tsy), the regular barracked troops who served as a palace guard andinternal police force. Two hundred of them, dressed in bright uniformsand carrying gilded muskets, golden spears, and harquebuses plated withmother-of pearl, led in the procession, while 150 accompanied the tsar.Another regiment, with drums and standards guarded the route. At the endof the seventeenth century, a detachment of brightly dressed cannoneersstood guard at their guns during the ceremony.
Late seventeenth-century coronation ceremonies introduced additionalanalogies between the Russian tsar and the Byzantine emperor. At his coro-nation in 1676, the fourteen-year-old tsar Fedor Alekseevich (1676–1682)appeared in the entry procession wearing the opashen’, a golden caftan thathis father, Aleksei, had worn in emulation of the Byzantine emperor. Theceremony incorporated two innovations: the recitation of the creed duringthe investiture, and the taking of communion in the sanctuary, which Alexeihad introduced during his reign. The innovations brought the Russian ritescloser to both the late Byzantine original and the coronation ceremonies ofEuropean monarchs such as the French kings.
The eloquent opening consecration of the tsar’s hereditary claims to thelegacy of Kiev and Byzantium included a statement of the extent of the tsar’srule. Standing before his throne on the dais, Fedor proclaimed that all“Great Sovereigns” of “all Great Russia,” going back to Riurik, had beencrowned. He used the term “Great Russia” (Velikaia Rossiia), the wordRossiia having replaced the word Rus’ to describe the extent of the tsar’simperial authority in seventeenth-century chiny. Fedor’s chin went a step fur-ther and referred to the Great Russian Tsardom, Velikorossiiskoe Tsarstvie,a term denoting an imperial, absolutist state, subordinating Russian as wellas non-Russian territories.
The coronation processions to and from the cathedral were resplendentdisplays of the elite of empire, the tsar, the clergy, the servitors, all guardedby large numbers of musketeers. The opening processions accompanied theregalia and then the tsar himself from the Palace of Facets to the cathedral.The recessional from the cathedral was longer and even more imposing.Fedor emerged in full regalia from the south doors of the AssumptionCathedral. As he left the cathedral, a boyar threw gold coins before him, acustom probably borrowed from wedding ceremonies, where it betokenedprosperity for the newlyweds. Accompanied by his family, entourage, andclergy, he moved slowly across the square, stopping at the Cathedral ofArchangel Michael, where he paid his respects to his ancestors, and then atthe Annunciation Cathedral, the imperial family’s private church, beforereturning to the palace. The order describes the equivalent of a popularacclamation. It mentions “an innumerable multitude of orthodox Chris-tians,” now specifying “both men and women” who stood “in fear and trem-bling.” There is also “cordial joy (serdechnaia radost’) and thanksgiving.”
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The coronation ceremonies concluded with the banquet, which followedthe recessional. The banquet was a sedate occasion that gave anotherdemonstration of the solidarity between church and secular authorities. Thecoronation in the cathedral had begun with the patriarch welcoming the tsarat the portal into his domain’s ecclesiastical space. The banquet in the Mus-covite coronation was an occasion for the tsar to receive the presiding clericin secular space, the Palace of Facets. Thus, Fedor Alekseevich began theceremony by sending a special invitation to the patriarch and the leadinghierarchs, the “Sacred Council,” who then proceeded to the palace.

In the last decades of the seventeenth century, the ecclesiastical persona ofthe tsar, the tsar sharing in the rituals of the clergy, increasingly clashed withthe secular demands of his rule. To further the conquest of new territories,Michael and Alexei recruited specialists from abroad to introduce new mil-itary technology and tactics. Since the musketeer and the middle service cav-alry, made up of lesser landholders, could not adapt to these innovations,the government organized a separate army, structured on Western modelsand led by senior officers from the West. Russians served as foot soldiersand, by the 1660s, junior officers as well. Military reform aimed at an armyof these new formation regiments, but the transformation would be com-pleted only under Peter. Until then the musketeers and the middle serviceclass continued to serve in their own detachments, and two incompatiblearmies made up the military forces of Muscovite Russia. Like the new offi-cer corps, the officials in the expanding governmental system of chancel-leries understood the state as a secular institution whose interests had littleto do with the liturgical imagery of rule.
The cultural and political tensions raised by the symbolic contradictionsin the presentation of the tsar reemerged during the succession crisis thatbegan with the demise of Alexei’s oldest son, Tsar Fedor, on April 27, 1682.Fedor died childless. On the day of his death, the patriarch Ioakim assem-bled church and secular elites in the vicinity of the Kremlin to choose hissuccessor. Alexei’s surviving sons were Ivan, by his first wife, Maria Milo-slavskaia, who was sixteen years old, but feebleminded, and Peter, by hissecond wife, Natalia Naryshkina. Peter was able and healthy but only tenyears old. If Ivan ascended the throne, it was clear that he would be domi-nated by his sister, Sofia.
The convocation, at Ioakim’s instance, chose Peter and his mother asregent. Ioakim regarded Peter’s election as an opportunity to counteract the“Latinizing” tendencies associated with Semeon Polotskii, who had excer-cised considerable influence over Sofia and Fedor. Ioakim, a religious con-servative, also had difficulty accepting a female ruler. The boyars saw Peteras a way of opposing the power of the Miloslavskii clan.
Then regiments of musketeers, dissatisfied by the abridgment of theirservice privileges in Fedor’s reign, took advantage of the dynastic crisis to
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seek redress of their grievances. Encouraged by the Miloslavskiis, they rosein rebellion demanding that Ivan be placed on the throne. The uprising ledto the murder of several leading members of the Naryshkin clan and spilledinto the streets of Moscow. After three days of bloodshed, the elites negoti-ated an agreement that forced the patriarch to perform an unheard-of dualcoronation, which took place on May 26. Sofia became informal regent forboth Ivan V and Peter I and thereby de facto ruler of Russia.
Many saw the uprising as an opportunity to restore old Russia and spreadresistance to the church reforms. A debate on these reforms took place inJuly 1682. Sofia heard arguments from the exponents of the Old Belief thatwould have branded her father, Alexei, and brother, Fedor, as heretics. Shereacted with ruthless persecution of all Old Believers throughout the Mus-covite state.2
Having quelled the rebellion, Sofia assumed the same religious personaand pursued the same absolutist policies as Alexei and Fedor. The patriarch,however, remained hostile. He was disturbed by her pretensions to rule, hertolerance of the Jesuits, who had come to establish themselves in Moscow,and her reliance on foreigners in important military posts. He was mostconcerned by the decline of the authority of the church hierarchy and theinfluence on Sofia of Semeon Polotskii’s chief disciple, the abbot SylvesterMedvedev, who shared his mentor’s absolutist conceptions of rule. Theclashing notions of the role of tsar and church and the goals of monarchyemerged in a theological dispute on the interpretation of the Eucharist thattook place in 1685.
At the dispute, symbol and ceremonies were used to advance opposedconceptions of tsarist rule. Theological tracts written by Sylvester had iden-tified Sofia with divine wisdom. He had described her as an emanation ofChrist, regent of God’s grace, who did not require clerical consecration topreside over the spiritual enlightenment of her realm. An engraving exe-cuted at his instance depicted Sofia with crown, orb, scepter; the legendstated that she had been blessed with holy wisdom. At the dispute, spokes-men for the church insisted on the mediation of the church hierarchy inbestowing God’s grace on the tsar and the state. They further argued that aRussian sovereign had to receive communion at the altar like members ofthe clergy, and that a woman was not entitled to clerical prerogatives.
The Naryshkin party avoided confrontation with the patriarch. Ratherthey waged their symbolic struggle distant from the Kremlin precincts in thesuburban estate at Novyi (New) Preobrazhensk. New Preobrazhensk estab-lished continuity with the original Preobrazhensk where Alexei had watchedBaroque theater and staged his own absolutist theater of power. As ErnestZitser has shown, the new Preobrazhensk became the setting of a miniatureimaginary state, a simulacrum of power, enacted as play, for play was notconstrained by competing authorities or institutions. Preobrazhensk was thescene of spectacles of firepower—salvos, fireworks, and war games—with theyoung Peter as commander of his “play regiments.” These “play regiments,”
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the future Preobrazhenskii and Semenovskii guards, became the agents ofhis overthrow of Sofia in 1689. At Preobrazhensk, he also built a play city thatrepresented “an alternative capital and locus of a new transfiguration.”
In 1689, after two defeats of Russian armies led by Sofia’s favorite, VasiliiGolitsyn, against the Crimean Tartars, Sofia attempted a coup and tried torule on her own account. Peter, claiming to defend the dyarchy, took theopportunity to mobilize his regiments at Preobrazhensk and assume powerhimself. He sent Sofia to Novodevichii Monastery, where she lived until herdeath in 1704. In 1696, Ivan died, leaving Peter as sole ruler. It was onlythen that he began to take personal charge.
Peter continued to engage in play activities after the defeat of Sophia. Hispresumably playful antics established grounds of authority that would freehim not only from the domination of the patriarch but from the Naryshkinclan as well. The play regiments were accompanied by a mock army, headedby Prince F. Iu Romanodovskii, who also headed the Preobrazhenskii Chan-cellery, “the chancellery of Transfiguration,” the kernel of Peter’s secretpolice. Peter played the role of officer in the ranks, Captain Peter Alekseev.But it was he who was credited with the most heroic and decisive deed in themock campaign, making clear that his supremacy came from somethinghigher than formal rank, a special gift, his charisma.
At Yuletide 1691, Peter staged the first procession of his Most Comicaland All Drunken Council, a parody of church ceremonies, with a mockpope, a mock clergy, and raucous drunken rites dedicated to the service ofBacchus. In 1692, he appeared in a drunken parody of the Palm Sundayprocession. The council’s ribaldry reversed the meanings of signs, designat-ing what was holy absurd, and what was profane sacred. But the blasphemythat Peter performed in Preobrazhensk, and later on the streets of Moscow,had a higher purpose. Their parody of “sober drunkenness” was designed toproduce a “transfigured kingdom,” with Peter exerting the charisma ofJesus Christ at the moment of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Themysteries of Transfiguration, evoked in ribald disregard of the presentorder, invested Peter with an otherworldly source of divine power not dis-closed by the rank he held.
Peter’s world of play thus became a theater to display the transformativepossibilities of supreme personal power. When he began to rule in the late1690s, he already represented an irresistible and unquestionable force, whichsuggested that he could imagine the unimaginable and could impose it atwill, for he, not the patriarch, bore the mark of divinity. Peter had investedhis secular authority with sacral meaning and, so empowered, could embarkon the transfiguration of Russia.
20 • C H A P T E R O N E •


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