From Civilization V Wiki
Special Ability: Siberian Riches
Lived: 1729 - 1796 AD
Titles: Tsarina of Russia
Catherine the Great ruled Russia during the latter half of the 18th century. She oversaw a great expansion of the Russian empire, adding tens of thousands of square miles of territory through conquest and shrewd diplomacy. A beautiful and intelligent woman, she beguiled and seduced the best minds of Europe, making her court one of the centers of Enlightenment thinking on the Continent. Although born in Germany, Catherine is one of the greatest rulers in Russian history.
Sophie Friederike Auguste Von Anhalt-Zerbst was born in Szczecin in 1729, a princess of Pomerania, a small kingdom in Prussia. At 16 she was married to Carl Peter Ulrich, the heir to the Russian throne, becoming Grand Duchess Catherine Alekseyevna. Catherine quickly learned Russian and joined the Russian Orthodox Church. Largely self-educated, Catherine immersed herself in the literature of the time. Endowed with both beauty and intelligence, she became strong friends (if not more) with the great thinkers of the day, including the brilliant French philosophers Rousseau and Diderot.
Rise to Power
Catherine's marriage was extremely unhappy. Her husband, the Tsar Peter III, was by all accounts a shabby and neurotic person. He was described as mean, cruel, hideous (from smallpox scars) and a drunkard. He was said to detest Russians and loved Prussians, which didn't endear him to the Russian court. Although born a foreigner, Catherine was far more popular with the nobility and, most importantly, with the Russian military. At the age of 33, with the support of the Imperial guard, she overthrew her husband, who was soon killed "in a hunting accident," leaving Catherine the sole ruler of Russia.
As Empress, Catherine pursued an expansionist policy backed by military muscle. The "First Russo-Turkish War" (1768-1774) − declared by Sultan Mustafa III after a border incident in which a Cossack entered Ottoman territory and allegedly slaughtered the residents of Balta − was a resounding Russian success, gaining for Catherine the Southern Ukraine, Northern Caucasus and the Crimea, expanding Russian access to the Black Sea. The Ottomans tried to take their territory back in the Second Russo-Turkish war, but they failed miserably.
In the years following the French Revolution, Catherine became afraid that Enlightenment movements throughout Europe would threaten the monarchies of Europe. Toward the end of the century Poland, a Russian puppet, began to show disturbing signs of edging toward democracy. In 1792 Russian forces defeated Polish loyalists in the Polish "War in Defense of the Constitution," following which Poland was partitioned between Russia, Austria and Prussia. Throughout her reign Catherine maintained cordial relations with the great powers of Europe, Prussia, France and Austria, who in return did not stand in the way of Russian expansion.
During her reign Catherine undertook a wide range of political reforms, attempting to shape up the notoriously corrupt and incompetent Russian bureaucracy. She tried to model her government and court on Versailles, France. She paid for her reforms by seizing property from the clergy, who owned almost one-third of the land and serfs in Russia. She curried favor with the aristocracy, expanding their already-great power over the Russian peasants. In 1773 a plague broke out in Russia, which was already suffering from ill-effects of the long war with Turkey. Taking advantage of growing public disaffection, Pugachov, a Cossack officer, pretended to be Catherine's dead husband, Tsar Peter III, and attempted to raise a peasant army to overthrow the Empress while the Russian military was locked in battle with the Turks. Fortunately for Catherine, the First Russo-Turkish War ended at just the right time, and a Russian army was able to return from the Front and crush the rebellion before it could reach Moscow. This made Catherine suspicious of the Russian peasants and she implemented even more repressive laws against them.
A patron of the arts, Catherine commissioned many statues and paintings. Under her rule St. Petersburg was transformed from a primitive and forbidding city into one of the most beautiful and impressive European capitals. Her private art collection formed the basis of the famous Hermitage Museum, one of the world's great art museums.
Despite her many public successes, Catherine is best known for her private excesses. Her affairs are legendary; it has been suggested that she slept with a fairly large fraction of the Russian officers corps, not to mention her many well-publicized dalliances with a horde of well-known European politicians and artists. It is said that once she tired of a lover Catherine would "pension him off," giving him a large gift of cash, peasants, and land somewhere far away from Moscow.
Judgment of History
Catherine's reign was notable for imperial expansion. Most important were the securing of the northern shore of the Black Sea, the annexation of the Crimea, and the expansion into the steppes beyond the Urals. This permitted the protection of Russian agricultural settlements in the south and the establishment of trade routes through the Black Sea. Catherine's partitioning of Poland also helped bring Russia closer to the rest of Europe, at least geographically. Catherine implemented many public work projects throughout Russia and its possessions. She also increased internal and foreign trade. On the other hand, she did little to improve the lot of the Russian peasant; in fact, their lives grew distinctly harder during her reign. Catherine died at the age of 67, having lived longer than any other Romanov monarch. Like Queen Elizabeth I of England, she proved that a woman could be smart enough and tough enough to lead a great country.