Background to the Russian Empire

In the late 1800s, Russia was the largest country in the world. It stretching from the Black Sea in Europe to the Bering Straits in the extreme east of Asia.

Vintage map
The Russian Empire, circa 1800

It had a population of approximately 100 million. Half of these were ethnic Russians. The remainder included large numbers of Germans, Poles, Slavs and Asians.

Almost every major religion was represented within this diverse population.

Compared to Western Europe, the Russian Empire was politically, economically and socially backwards. There was little industry and the vast majority of the population were peasant farmers.

They worked in an agricultural system that had changed little since the Middle Ages. Most of the population were illiterate. Many still existed as serfs (slaves under the control of wealthy landowners).