Russian History Resources

Click on a portrait of a Tsar to go the Wikipedia page for that ruler (opens in new tab).


There are quite a few timelines around, some less accurate than others (BBC, for instance). The Wikipedia one is very detailed:

  • Wikipedia timeline This detailed timeline also offers links to other Wikipedia articles covering events by year
  • The animated History of Russia. Covers a lot of ground from earliest days on beyond 1800, but the first half is as good a quick introduction as anything (4minutes!)

Maps & Atlases

Maps are a bit of a problem for this period of Russian history, not least because many of them are, not unreasonably, in Russian. Use Google Translate (which may happen automatically, certainly in Microsoft Edge, or Google Chrome) to get them in English. There are many very useful maps scattered about the Wikipedia entries, too numerous to list here.

  • Routledge Atlas of Russian History, Martin Gilbert, 4th Ed. 2013. Only twenty or so maps on Russia prior to 1917, and all in black & white. Quite hard to use, I find, but I find this is true of all his atlases. Amazon
  • An Atlas of Russian History: Eleven Centuries of Changing Borders. Alan Frank Chew, 1967. 37 B&W maps with useful accompanying text. Very hard to find.
  • Russian Geographical Society GeoPortal A great collection of maps, and atlases. The linked page is for the Atlas of the USSR Part 1, but provides a useful springboard. Of course all the text is in Russian, but for many of the maps, this doesn’t matter, and the main site is translated OK by Google Translate et al.

At the heart of much of Russian expansionary policy and practice over five hundred years plus is the irreducible problem of its geography. This article makes a good fist of explaining the essential geo-political issues:

The critical nature of geography and political history is the subject of a famous essay by Halford Mackinder in 1904: The geographical pivot of history


This list will grow over time. Please let me know if there are books you have found that can be added to this list. Where a book is available from Cumbria Libraries, this is is shown, as well as a link to the appropriate Amazon page.

Tsars & Others
  • Alexis: Tsar of all the Russias, by Philip Longworth, 1984 shows how much Peter owed to his father. Amazon
  • Peter the Great by Robert Massie. A very readable account of the life, and covers quite a lot of the political and nation-building too. Quite long, at 945pp. Amazon, and Cumbria Libraries
  • Russia in the Age of Peter the Great, ed Lindsey Hughes, 1998, a broad range of topics and great scholarship.  Amazon and Cumbria Libraries
  • Catherine the Great, also by Robert Massie. Equally comprehensive, and nearly as long, and very well reviewed at the time of publication. Amazon, and Cumbria Libraries
  • Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great, by Isabel de Madariaga, 2002 Amazon  
  • Catherine the Great and Potemkin: The Imperial Love Affair, by Simon Sebag Montefiore Amazon.
  • Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin by Simon Sebag Montefiore, 2001 Hard to come by, but Cumbria Libraries have a copy Amazon
  • Pupils of Peter the Great by R N Bain, 1897: the full text of this book is available in many formats at the Internet Archive. It covers the lives of Catherine I, Peter II, and Anna. Material hard to find anywhere outside Wikipedia, although obviously the scholarship is outdated.
  • The Romanovs: Ruling Russia 1613-1917, by Lindsey Hughes, 2009. Amazon The first half of this is a wonderful overview of all aspects of the development of Russia and its rulers, both thematic and chronological. Simon Sebag Montefiore probably makes it all more entertaining, but this is solid historical scholarship.
  • The Romanovs 1613-1918, by Simon Sebag Montefiore, 2017, Amazon and Cumbria Libraries
General Histories
  • Russia Under the Old Regime Richard Pipes, 2nd Ed 1995 A very good, broadly chronological, but strongly analytic, look at the development of the Russian state. Quite densely written, but perhaps it is, as the front cover quotes “One of the finest books ever written on Russian Civilisation”. In paperback, Amazon, Abebooks
  • Russia: A Short History, Abraham Ascher, 2002. Oneworld Books. As it says, short. But a quick intro, and better written than the equivalent Wikipedia articles.
  • Russian History: A Very Short Introduction, Geoffrey Hosking 2012.  The chapters on the period are succinct and useful. Amazon and Cumbria Libraries
  • The Cambridge History of Russia: Volume 1, From Early Rus’ to 1689 2015 Maureen Perrie (Ed). Not a chronological survey, but excellent chapters on topics. Amazon
  • Russia: A 1,00 Year Chronicle of the Wild East Martin Sixsmith, 2011 The book of the BBC series, by a former Moscow correspondent. Over 600 pages, Sixsmith writes well, and intersperses his own experiences and interpretations.
  • The Story of Russia Orlando Figes, 2022, 368 pages. The most recent general history of Russia, flows very well, and quite strong on the early development. Incorporates quite a bit of historiography, particularly on Soviet-era revisionism.
Russian History to 1600
  • The Emergence of Rus 750-1200 Simon Franklin, Jonathan Shepard, 1996 A serious tome, but given much of this period is riverine, has some useful maps at the back.
  • Medieval Russia 980-1584 Janet Martin 2nd Ed 2007 No maps! 447 dense pages.
  • Armies of Ivan the Terrible: Russian Troops 1505-1700 2006, Shpakovsky & Nicholle, An Osprey Men-at-Arms volume, but has good chronology and provides lots of background
  • Ivan the Terrible Isabel de Madariaga, 2005 Probably as complete as it’s possible to be, given the paucity of documentary evidence. Difficult, but not impossible, to come by.
Russian History 1600-1800
  • Modernisation of Russia, 1676-1825 (New Approaches to European History)  2008, Simon Dixon Amazon   
  • Russia’s Age of Serfdom 1649-1861 (Blackwell History of Russia), by Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter  2008
  • Russia: People and Empire 1552–1917, Geoffrey Hosking 1998
  • The Making of Russian Absolutism 1613–1801, P Dukes, 1990 Amazon, but at a frightening price!
  • Empire of the Periphery, Russia and the World System, by Boris Kagarlitsky, 2008 The first half of this book is relevant. Strongly based in historiography and applies a world system approach to the context of Russian history.  Amazon  
  • Claiming Crimea: a history of Catherine the Great’s southern empire, Kelly O’Neill, 2017 a dense, archive-based, multi-dimensional study of the initial “quiet conquest” of the region. Topical, I guess. Amazon, horrendous price.
  • The Cambridge History of Russia: Volume 2, Imperial Russia 1689-1917 ed Dominic Lieven 2006. 
  • The New Cambridge Modern History : Vol.6, The Rise of Great Britain and Russia, 1688-1715 /25 by J S Bromley (ed). 1970. Cumbria Libraries and Amazon. Three good chapters on Russia in the period, and general chapters that contain good social, economic and military commentary. Uses maps from Martin Gilbert’s Routledge Atlas of Russian History.
  • A Course in Russian History: The Seventeenth Century  1994,  V.O. Kliuchevskii perhaps rather old now, but available to download via the Internet Archive.
  • A Cultural History of Russia, Orlando Figes 2002. Obviously covers a much wider period, but lots of nice background. Amazon and Cumbria Libraries
  • Spies and Scholars: Knowledge in the Quest for a Russian Far East, Gregory Afinogenov, 2021.  Probably a bit specialised, but absolutely fascinating: on my personal pile. Amazon
  • Information and Empire: Mechanisms of Communication in Russia, 1600-1854, Simon Franklin, 2012.  Again rather specialised, but it’s on my reading list. Amazon
  • The Gates of Europe, Serhii Plokhy 2015, Useful on the early issues in the south and west and the rise of Kiev, still relevant in Catherine’s time. Sometimes quite a slog! Cumbria Libraries.
  • Peter The Great’s Revenge, Boris Megorsky, 2018  The story of the Siege of Narva 1704, critical to Peter’s efforts to make St Petersburg work. But chock-full of wonderful detail on the military organisation and methods of the time. Like an Osprey book on steroids. There are one or two others covering the Great Northern War in the series. Not cheap on Amazon, but also available from Bibliophile.


Apart from the mostly very good pages on the individual Tsars of the period, linked to from the images at the top of the page, there are a series of other Wikipedia articles that can send you on a long chain of reading. One extra benefit of the better Wikipedia pages is the ‘Further Reading’, ‘See Also’ and ‘References’ sections at the bottom of each page.

There’s a series of pages offering a synoptic view of the period:

For the period before 1600, there are lots of pages, often with very helpful maps. A sample below, but there are links on all these pages to greater depth:

The series of wars that involved Sweden and Russia are well covered:

And other wars in all directions:

Other topics:

Other Websites

There are, not surprisingly, a lot of websites that cover this period in Russian history which are in Russian. Google Translate is your friend! If you go to the site via Google, it will usually (depending on your browser set-up), offer to translate them, and nowadays it usually does a pretty good job.

  • Home Romanov: a lovely site which uses a literal tree to provide biographical details of the whole Romanov clan.


There are lots of YouTube videos covering all periods of Russian history,. Many of them were produced before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but for the most part this doesn’t affect their usefulness, though the tone may grate!

In Our Time (BBC Sounds)

There are two episodes that cover the period:

  • Catherine the Great. First broadcast on  23 Feb 2006, with Janet Hartley, Professor of International History at the London School of Economics; Simon Dixon, Professor of Modern History at the University of Leeds; Tony Lentin, Professor of History at the Open University.
  • The Building of St Petersburg. First broadcast on 23rd April 2009, with Simon Dixon, Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London; Janet Hartley, Professor of International History at the London School of Economics; Anthony Cross, Emeritus Professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge

Other Media


Obviously there are hundreds of people who could be listed here, but a few who are critical to the story of Russia in this period, and some interesting British and Irish characters who served Catherine in various capacities, are:

  • Alexander Menshikov  This Wikipedia page is very sparing, but reading Robert Massie’s Peter the Great gives a much stronger impression of the extent to which Menshikov was a force of being alongside Peter.
  • Grigory Potemkin   A much fuller account of the role and character of Potemkin
  • George Browne An Irish soldier of fortune, he ended up as Governor of Livonia from 1783 
  • Charles Cameron: A Scottish architect. An online monograph on him and his buildings with lots of old pictures is here.   And a short piece in Scottish Field is nicely drawn.
  • Mikhail Lomonosov Russia’s first polymath.  He made important contributions to literature, education, and science.

Table of Ranks

Introduced by Peter the Great in 1722, the Table remained a crucial part of Russian life until 1917, and was tinkered with from time to time, especially by Catherine the Great.

Military History

General Books

  • The Military History of Tsarist Russia ed.Frederick Kagan, Robin Higham, 2002. The first half is relevant to the period. Largely schematic, and very broad coverage of campaigns. Amazon  link for reference only: eyewatering price! 
  • Russia at War [2 volumes]: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Beyond, Timothy C. Dowling  2015. An encyclopaedia of battles, themes and people.
  • The Military and Society in Russia 1450-1917 (History of Warfare), Eric Lohr, Marshall Poe, 2002. Quite a detailed account of various military activities across the period, and there are some very useful maps at the beginning.

Major Campaigns

  • Poltava: Poltava 1709 Russia comes of age, Angus Konstam, 1994. An Osprey battle series book, with good writing and context and lots of illustrations. Amazon

Articles on the Web

St Petersburg

A couple of years ago, I prepared a presentation on the origins of of St Petersburg as part of our topic at the time: 1700-1710. A PDF copy of this can be seen here: The Founding of St Petersburg .

Peter Lavington’s presentation:

Also available as a download here (clicking this will open the PDF in your browser at a size that makes it readable, and downloadable).

Rosie on Menshikov:

[pdf-embedder url=”” title=”What do we know Alexander Menshikov”]

Also available as a download here (clicking this will open the PDF in your browser at a size that makes it readable, and downloadable).

John Kaye on The Great Northern War:

[pdf-embedder url=”” title=”Great Northern War”]

Also available as a download here (clicking this will open the PDF in your browser at a size that makes it readable, and downloadable).

Rosie on Elizabeth, Empress of Russia:

[pdf-embedder url=”” title=”Elizabeth of Russia”]

Rosie on Elizabeth, Empress of Russia:

[pdf-embedder url=”” title=”Elizabeth of Russia”]

Also available as a download here (clicking this will open the PDF in your browser at a size that makes it readable, and downloadable).

Grete On Ivan VI:

[pdf-embedder url=”” title=”Ivan VI”]

Also available as a download here (clicking this will open the PDF in your browser at a size that makes it readable, and downloadable).

John Kaye on Potemkin:

Available as a PDF download here (clicking this will open the PDF in your browser at a size that makes it readable, and downloadable).

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