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Development of Economy and Politics in Western Europe and Russia: 1450-1750

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# 12/13: Compare and contrast the political economic developments in Russia and Western Europe between 1450 and 1750

Between the years 1450-1750 CE Western Europe and Russia have gone through several political and economic changes, though they have existed in different districts of Europe. Both Western European and Russian cultural patterns have been influenced by their enlightenment periods, bringing an era of revolution and economic/ intellectual advancement. However, though they shared this in common, Western Europe went through the Renaissance, a time of new styles and inventions in secular arts and sciences that challenged popular religion, while Russian was becoming a major European power through Westernization forces brought on by tsars, like Peter the Great.

Many of Western Europe’s innovations in finance and government started developing during the 14th and 15th centuries in Italy, starting with its first major cultural movement, the Renaissance. The Renaissance was an era of artistic and scientific blossoming in Western civilizations, as a new emphasize was placed on secular subjects and humanism were promoted in these areas. Italy’s already urban, commercial environment developed with the cultural movement, as Renaissance merchants improved banking techniques and, unlike their previous medieval counterparts, directly searched for profits. As the focus of the Renaissance drifted from Italy Northward, toward countries like France, England, and Germany, Western Europe developed a fusion of secular interests and religious devotion which brought on a series of other great changes. The conflict between religion and commercialization became more defined in 1517 as German monk, Martin Luther, nailed a series of 95 theses on a Wittenberg church, protesting for the ban of indulgences and challenging the authority of the Pope. These radical ideas later on became more popularized and Protestant and Catholic reformations commenced. With this came political unrest, as common citizens developed religious intolerance between the different faiths, and began a series of religious wars through the 16-17th centuries, bringing the end of Christian unity in the West. While this was occurring, Western Europe was also experiencing a commercial revolution, which led to inflation and new colonial opportunities which led to greater trading companies, with connections to Spain, England, the Netherlands, and France. Although there were benefits, there were also detriments as well, as the commercialization created a new proletariat, or people without access to wealth producing property. The population and inflated prices of food, forced the lower classes to sell their small portions of land and fall into poverty. As the population remained in deficiency, many resented the new influences that affected their government and developed a hostile response, similar to Russia’s reaction with Westernization.

While remaining on another sector of Europe, Russia also experienced new pioneering changes in politics and economics through Westernization and interaction/expansion with foreign territories, such as Central Asia. One of the many similarities between Western Europe and Russia exist in its expansionist politics under their political leaders, Russia’s leaders being Tsars. Initially, Russia’s tsar, Ivan the Great, had seen Russia’s low literacy level and poor economic system dependent on peasant labor and began the revival of his mother country through expansion and reform. Unlike Western empires, Russia’s expansion had limited commercial expansion, though it did establish territorial and trading policies in central Asia. This expansion was caused by the movement of Russian peasants and landlords, adding new diversities to the country, making it a multicultural empire, like the Ottoman Empire. This expansion period reached a dramatic change with Russian Westernization led by one its chief reformist tsars, Peter the Great. Inspired by his travels, Peter the Great brought back many inventions of Western science and technology to shift Russia westward and created his capital, St. Petersburg. Russia’s enlightenment period consisted of changes of a more defined military hierarchy, building up metallurgical and mining industries, and reformation of its economy while continuing to use serf labor. One paradigm of Westernization was seen in Peter the Great’s order for all men of nobility to cut their beards off, symbolizing the shaving of “old Russia” and growing into a time of advanced education and new cultural styles, reflecting the Renaissance. Furthermore, Peter’s ministers created law codes extending throughout Russia and revising the tax system, imposing larger taxes on Russian peasants. These changes along with the general shift to a more westernized Russia impacted the political tone of its common citizens, a contrast of those in favor of new western influences and those in favor of an original imperial Russia. This trait of the time period reflected Western Europe’s religious conflict between the Protestant and Catholic reformations, causing hostility and violence in its society. Despite this period of protest, there was a clearly shown advancement in Russia, as the changes allowed Russia to support an expanding state and empire, a surge in population, social/political development, and Russia’s materialization as a great world power.

Through the mid 14th century to 1750 CE Western Europe and Russia have both experienced a series of social changes with religious reformation, international interaction, development of commerce and science, and social protest. These changes though occurring in different districts of Europe, illustrate a number of differences and similarities in their economies and politics. One of the similarities shown is in its transformation of culture as Western Europe’s Renaissance adopted modern ideas that progressed technology and arts equivalent to Russia’s Westernization. Amid this procession, came commercial revolutions as both areas level of trade rose as it developed new contacts with foreign countries and adapted new products into their product, only Russia’s business limited to central Asia. As this alternation in finance, there proved to be benefits as well as victims beginning protest in the middle and lower classes. The difference between Western Europe’s and Russia’s protests, being that in the West people rebelled against its poverty and difficulty in owning estates while many Russians resented Western influence as its original culture was ignored. However, these countries’ economic systems remained unique, for Western Europe’s economy expanded through commercialization and introduction of new exotic products through its colonies, while Russia’s economy remained dependent on serfs and trade within itself and Asia. In this time period with the rise of Western Europe and Russia with advances in its trade and political/social system through patterns of expansion, social unrest, trading contacts, and the launch of new intellectual values and styles.




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