The Austian myth about Russia

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At the same time, as it appears from the documents, during that period in the Renaissance Russia was viewed in Europe as a state worthy of political interest, as a country whose own interests should be respected and whose help should be accepted despite any significant cultural and religious differences.

In the context of establishing first contacts between Austria and Russia it is important to mention the half-legendary version of Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky’s (Andrey the Pious) involvement in the Crusades and the correlation of his policies (in the Grand Duchy of Vladimir-Suzdal) with the ideas of the Renaissance in Europe. This version is supported, for example, by historian V.N. Tatischchev, who lived during the reign of Elizabeth I of Russia, in his work Russian History.[1] Even though the fact of Andrey Bogolyubsky’s involvement in the Crusades has not been provided with cast-iron proof, there is evidence confirming that his successors had ties with European monarchs. It is known that his son Daniel was married to the Princess of the Morea, while the principality of the Morea was one of the latest states found in the East as a result of the Fourth Crusade.

In the 16th–18th centuries new knowledge about Russia came from numerous trading missions, embassies and travellers’ tales. The overall tone of these remarks fit into the image of Russia as a despotic state with a cruel and barbarous regime.

Changes were brought about by the Grand Embassy of Peter I which became another crucial point in establishing international relations between the empires. Peter I met Leopold I in Vienna, which had already gained the reputation of being magnificent political and cultural capital of in 1698, the Russian emperor left a strange, but agreeable impression on many European aristocrats. Nevertheless, the Austrian myth about Russia continued to develop along the lines of a big country that was still lagging behind. However, the eccentric tsar seemed to amuse sophisticated European society and became the subject of anecdotes told in saloons and debate between big politicians.

The Russian Emperor arriving incognito in the guise of a craftsman strengthened the image of Russia as a wonderland of sorts, “a strange land inhabited by strange people”.[2] Let us quote an interesting observation made by Sophia Charlotte of Brandenburg who had a long conversation with the Russian monarch: Peter “seemed flustered and covered his face with his hand <…> but we managed to put him at ease <…> We talked about everything. They say such conversations are uncustomary in his country <…> In the end, while saying how he enjoyed labour, he showed his hands and urged to touch the blisters <…> This tsar is very kind and very unkind all at once. He has exactly the character of his country! With a better education it would be the best person for he has many virtues and a lot of native wit”.[3]

[1] Tatischchev V.N. Istoriya Rossiiskaya v 3 t. [Russian History in three volumes]. Moscow, AST: Ermak Publ., 2005. Vol. 1, 568 p.

[2] Lotman Yu.M., Uspenskii B.A. Echoes of the concept “Moscow is the Third Rome” in Peter the Great’s ideology. (The problem of medieval tradition in baroque culture). Lotman Yu.M. Izbrannye stat’i: v 3-kh tomakh [Selected works in three volumes]. Tallinn, 1993, vol. 3. P. 202 (in Russian)

[3] Lotman Yu.M. Pokorenie rasstoyanii. Velikoe posol’stvo. Video-lektsiya: 36-42 min [Overcoming Distances. The Grand Embassy. Video lecture: 36-42 min]. Available at: (in Russian)

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