A name impossible to ignore when reflecting on Russia’s imperial past; House Romanov was a powerful dynasty which ruled the Russian state for over three centuries, with 18 successive Romanovs ascending to the throne. From Peter the Great to Nicholas II, Catherine the Great to Alexander I, the Romanov line produced some of Russia’s most commanding and influential tsars, each contributing much to the shaping of this proud, enigmatic nation.
The Romanov story begins in the 16th century, a time when the family had risen to become high-ranking aristocrats, with considerable influence in the courts. In the wake of the decline of the Rurik Dynasty, which saw deep divisions emerge throughout Russia, Mikhail Romanov rose to become the first Romanov tsar, taking the official title of Michael I.
Michael I’s reign passed relatively quietly, but when his grandson, Peter I, came to the throne, things started to move at pace, and the political might of Romanov Russia was quickly realised. Becoming known as Peter the Great, the second Romanov tsar transformed Russia into one of the world’s most powerful empires, waging wars on the Ottomans to expand Russia’s territory into the lucrative Baltic and Black Sea regions.
In 1721, Peter the Great declared himself emperor of the Russian Empire, and commissioned the creation of a new city in his own image: St Petersburg. His reign came to a close in 1725.
Catherine the Great is remembered as one of Russia’s most influential leaders, expanding the reach and influence of the empire beyond even that of her father. Her reign, which spanned from 1762 to 1796, is today considered the golden age of imperial Russia.