Voltaire depicted Muscovies-Russians of his time: born the slaves of masters as barbarous as themselves


Voltaire (1694-1778) was a French Enlightenment writer, philosopher, satirist, and historian. One of Voltaire’s best-known histories is History of Charles XII (1731). The quotes below are taken from the 1851 translation of the work into English published in New York by Leavitt Company. It is available at Archive.org. One of the values of the History is that Voltaire was a contemporary of the great events he described in his work. Please note that Voltaire mostly uses the name Muscovy when depicting the realm.

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“The storm thickened at the same time on the side of Muscovy. The monarch who governed that kingdom merits the attention of posterity. Peter Aiexiowitz, czar of Russia, had already made himself formidable by the battle he had gained over the Turks in 1697, and by the reduction of Asoph [Fortress of Azov], which opened to him the dominion of the Black Sea… Muscovy, or Russia, comprehends the northern parts of Asia and of Europe, and from the frontiers of China extends, for the space of fifteen hundred leagues, to the borders of Poland and Sweden. This immense country, however, was hardly known to Europe, before the time of the czar Peter. The Muscovites were less civilized than the Mexicans, when discovered by Corte: born the slaves of masters as barbarous as themselves, they were sunk into a state of the most profound ignorance, into a total want of all the arts and sciences, and into such an insensibility of that want, as effectually suppressed every exertion of industry. An ancient law, which they held to be sacred, forbade them, under pain of death, to leave their native country without permission of their patriarch. This law, made with a view to preclude them from all opportunities of becoming sensible of their slavery, was very acceptable to a people, who, in the depth of their misery and ignorance, disdained all commerce with foreign nations.

The czar, in his vast dominions, had many other subjects who were not Christians. The Tartars, inhabiting the western coasts of the Caspian Sea and the Palus Masotis, were Mahometans; the Siberians, the Ostiacks, and the Samoides, who lie towards the Frozen Sea, were savages, some of whom were idolaters, and others had not the least knowledge of a God; and yet the Swedes who were sent prisoners among them, were better pleased with their manners than with those of the ancient Muscovites.”

Voltaire also described Ukraine in that book stating in 1731 (!) that “Ukraine Alwayes Aspired to Liberty“. It means that the many wars between Muscovy and Ukraine over the past centuries in reality have been the Single War between Slavery and Freedom, Darkness and Light.

More observations of the Muscovites-Russians by other foreign writers >

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