Empire of Liberty: War and Peace

Excerpt from Harris Chandler’s “A History of Napoleonic France, Vol. I”, Random House Publishing, 2018.

The Battle of Gerede marked the end of Napoleon’s legendary Bosporus Campaign. By the end of August, the Consul once more arrived in Constantinople and assisted Selim in establishing his rule. While not an outright puppet, the departure of the British and the lingering threat of a Russian army crossing the Black Sea kept Selim reasonably compliant to Napoleon’s requests. Through the remainder of 1804, Selim organized his empire and began cleaning up lingering bad actors such as Ali Pasha. Rumors of a massive fifth Russian army rumbling down the Volga trickled into Constantinople around late August. When rumor was confirmed, Napoleon opted to stay in the city a while longer.

For several weeks the Topkapi Palace rivaled Paris as the central cortex of the burgeoning French Empire. And indeed to anyone paying attention the “French Republic” had essentially become a misnomer. As the liberal and anti-Napoleonic philosopher Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis would note in early 1805:

“The republic had its flaws whether it be the excesses of the Committee on Public Safety or the corruption of the Directory but even those of us most aware of the problems hoped the republic would enjoy many years of fruitful vigor before its inevitable collapse as happens to all states. Who among us could have predicted that France’s Caesar walked with Publicola and all the aeons of Rome would play out in a lifetime for France?[1]”

Indeed, Napoleon like Caesar in Spain at the beginning of his dictatorship, had become a de facto autocrat reforming the empire while still in the field. From Constantinople, Napoleon orchestrated the creation of the short-lived Cretan and Algerian Republics. A flurry of orders sailed for Cairo, Toulon, Venice, Athens, Algiers and Chania [2]. These included everything from military orders to Desaix and Macdonald who were still working on securing Egypt, Syria and Algeria to establishing a Greek language school on Crete. In Constantinople, Napoleon immediately began asserting his personality into Ottoman affairs. His discussions with Selim, sometimes lasting late until the night in the palace, would have a profound impact on Selim and his coming reforms.

Expecting an attack fleet, it was surprising to everyone when a lone Russian ship approached Constantinople under a flag of truce. Count Pyotr Aleksandrovich Tolstoy, acting as the Tsar’s personal representative, came ashore with an offer of peace [3]. The terms were fair given the reality that Russia had still thoroughly crushed Austria and made serious gains in its war. Alexander’s army would not depart Rostov and consent to peace in exchange for French recognition of Russian gains against the Austrians. The Tsar also demanded the confirmation of Prince Konstantin as the new Prince of Moldavia (he would relinquish the title of Duke of Belgrade) and the elimination of Ottoman-controlled appointment of the former Moldavian princes (instead the title would transfer to the Romanov family). Lastly, all parties would recognize the Karadere Cayi River as the new boundary between Turkish and Russian Anatolia. Napoleon and a grumbling Selim agreed to the terms.

Truth be told, Napoleon, Alexander, and Selim all had their own internal problems that desperately needed sorting out and no one desired to see Benningsen’s army cross the Black Sea to uncertain success. The costly war ultimately netted the Tsar territorial acquisitions in Poland, Ukraine and the Caucasus but at the cost of four armies and untold diplomatic and cultural prestige (especially amongst the Slavs in the Balkans who now saw Russia as a suspicious enemy instead of a protector). Selim could not afford, literally and figuratively, to keep fighting superior European armies when his position was tenuous at best. With rebellious provinces in Albania and Mesopotamia still needing to be dealt with Selim needed to start ruling and stop fighting for his throne. Lastly, Napoleon’s troops were more than ready to return to France. It took the army seven months to march from France to Anatolia and while the route home should be quicker, the soldiers desperately wanted to be back in France by Christmas. The Greeks and Serbs were ready to return and begin rebuilding their newfound republics. No one desired to remain camped outside the walls while on indefinite watch for a mysterious Russian army to appear over the horizon. False rumors of an imminent march to Moldavia or Armenia, or an amphibious invasion of Crimea, only exacerbated the situation. Personally, the Consul needed to return to Paris to shore up his still youthful Consulate. His wound on the battlefield had detractors gossiping. An urgent letter from Joseph Bonaparte informed him of rumors that conspirators sought to overthrow Napoleon and replace him with Moreau.

Geopolitically the situation in Europe was also changing rapidly. The Holy Roman Empire seemed as unstable as ever after the reluctant election of Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria as Emperor Ferdinand IV, the next Holy Roman Emperor [4]. Napoleon was also well aware of the diplomatic schism that formed between France and Britain over his treaty with Turkey (numerous letters demonstrate his very real concerns of another war while stuck in the Balkans). Time was of the essence to get his forces back to France and prepare for the next war, which could break out at any moment. That October while on the road back to France, Napoleon wrote a prophetic letter to his police chief, Joseph Fouché, accurately predicting that the Portlandite government had but six months to live. Napoleon was right to expect war with Britain but to many observers’s surprise the War of the Fourth Coalition remained some time away.

The September 12 armistice between Russia, France and the Ottomans marked the end of fighting in the War of the Third Coalition. Envoys and diplomatic niceties formally confirmed the peace on November 19 with the signing of the Treaty of Copenhagen. Britain concluded its own separate peace with Russia at Berlin on November 27. Talleyrand noted the growing axis of friendship in a December letter to Napoleon:

“Envoys scurry from London to St. Petersburg and always find a way to stop in Berlin. I am certain the beer is wonderful, but Frederick’s armies are the entrée. It is no secret that the Tsar believes he can best us in conjunction with Britain and we must note that for all of our fortune, Villeneuve has never bested the English at sea. It would seem that our enemies, and perhaps the coming conflict, all lie on an axis that runs across northern Europe. Consul, you have won the war in the south but it would be prudent for France to prepare for war in the north.”

With momentary peace well underway, Napoleon began the massive logistical operation of bringing his army back to France. This was no easy task in itself as the French forces operating in the region numbered nearly 60,000. Garrisons could be left in Constantinople, Egypt, Crete, Greece and Belgrade but that still left Napoleon with an impressive 50,000 soldiers to move. All in all, the French Navy would conduct troop movements and maneuver convoys around the Mediterranean into December. The Greeks (and 3,000 French volunteers under the command of Ney) crossed back into Macedonia in late September where they immediately joined in the ongoing battles against Ali Pasha, a rogue janissary holed up in his personal fiefdom that spread across Albania and Epirus. The Serbians would return to Belgrade in mid-October to a hero’s welcome. On October 28, 1804, after nearly ten months of campaigning, Napoleon returned to France. Writing to Lucien from Lyon on November 10:

“I shall blow into Paris unexpectedly. I want no triumphal arches or any such fripperies. I have too good an opinion of myself to care about such nonsense. The only real triumph is the satisfaction of the people.”

On November 13, the Consul arrived at the Tuileries at 1 a.m. Two weeks later the republic organized massive parades on the Champs de Mars featuring captured standards, the Consular guard parading in tattered uniforms (having arrived the morning of the parade), and a spectacle of distant oddities including a small battalion of camels from Egypt. Les Invalides, the Place de la Concorde and the Place Vendȏme all featured ceremonies and rumor has it that Napoleon nixed the idea of a chariot race.


Excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, The Russian Messanger, 1869. 

“No, I have not; but this is what I have been thinking and wanted to tell you. There is a war now against Napoleon. If it were a war for freedom I could understand it and should be the first to enter the army; but to help our longtime enemies against the greatest man in the world is not right.”

Prince Andrei only shrugged his shoulders at Pierre’s childish words. He put on the air of one who finds it impossible to reply to such nonsense, but it would in fact have been difficult to give any other answer than the one Prince Andrei gave to this naïve question.

“If no one fought except on his own conviction, there would be no wars,” he said.

“And that would be splendid,” said Pierre [5].


Excerpt from Sergei Malkin’s “A History of Modern Russia: 1682-1956”, University of St. Petersburg Press, 2018. 

The War of the Third Coalition was a mixed bag for Russia. On one hand, Russia gained hundreds of square-kilometers of Austrian Poland and Galicia, the Principality of Moldavia, and the Ottoman Pontic Coast. Indeed, in just two years Alexander virtually matched the incredible gains of Catherine the Great, firmly establishing Russia as the master of the Black Sea (despite the failure to hold Constantinople), the Caucasus, and the former Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth. On the other hand, the ambitions of the “boy-tsar” Alexander I just cost Russia four armies, immeasurable diplomatic prestige and ultimately resulted in French hegemony over the Bosporus and the Balkans. Amazingly, for centuries Austria and Russia had not once gone to war with each other. While never outright allies, Alexander had managed to destroy a valuable unwritten policy of nonaggression between the two powers. The cost of maintaining the largest army in Europe had always been a problem for Russian finances and now the tsar would have to find a way to finance the defense of an even larger frontier. Thus, despite the pure territorial gain, Alexander found his rule diminished. The countless noble officers chaffed as they slowly returned home from defeats at Vidin, Constantinople and Gerede. The luster of the prestige won at Craiova long since tarnished.


Excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, The Russian Messenger, 1869.

“On the Philopation, where he had fallen with the flagstaff in his hand, lay Prince Andrei Bolkónski bleeding profusely and unconsciously uttering a gentle, piteous, and childlike moan.

Toward evening he ceased moaning and became quite still. He did not know how long his unconsciousness lasted. Suddenly he again felt that he was alive and suffering from a burning, lacerating pain in his head.

“Where is it, that lofty sky that I did not know till now, but saw today?” was his first thought. “And I did not know this suffering either,” he thought. “Yes, I did not know anything, anything at all till now. But where am I?”

He listened and heard the sound of approaching horses, and voices speaking French. He opened his eyes. Above him again was the same lofty sky with clouds that had risen and were floating still higher, and between them gleamed blue infinity. He did not turn his head and did not see those who, judging by the sound of hoofs and voices, had ridden up and stopped near him.

It was Napoleon accompanied by two aides-de-camp. Bonaparte riding over the battlefield had given final orders to strengthen the batteries firing at the Golden Gate and was looking at the killed and wounded left on the field.

“Fine men!” remarked Napoleon, looking at a dead Russian grenadier, who, with his face buried in the ground and a blackened nape, lay on his stomach with an already stiffened arm flung wide.

“The ammunition for the guns in position is exhausted, Your Majesty,” said an adjutant who had come from the batteries that were firing at the gate.

“Have some brought from the reserve,” said Napoleon, and having gone on a few steps he stopped before Prince Andrei, who lay on his back with the flagstaff that had been dropped beside him. (The flag had already been taken by the French as a trophy.)

“That’s a fine death!” said Napoleon as he gazed at Bolkónski.

Prince Andrei understood that this was said of him and that it was Napoleon who said it. He heard the speaker addressed as Sire. But he heard the words as he might have heard the buzzing of a fly. Not only did they not interest him, but he took no notice of them and at once forgot them. His head was burning, he felt himself bleeding to death, and he saw above him the remote, lofty, and everlasting sky. He knew it was Napoleon—his hero—but at that moment Napoleon seemed to him such a small, insignificant creature compared with what was passing now between himself and that lofty infinite sky with the clouds flying over it. At that moment it meant nothing to him who might be standing over him, or what was said of him; he was only glad that people were standing near him and only wished that they would help him and bring him back to life, which seemed to him so beautiful now that he had today learned to understand it so differently. He collected all his strength, to stir and utter a sound. He feebly moved his leg and uttered a weak, sickly groan which aroused his own pity.

“Ah! He is alive,” said Napoleon. “Lift this young man up and carry him to the dressing station.”

Having said this, Napoleon rode on to meet General Bernadotte, who, hat in hand, rode up smiling to the Emperor to congratulate him on the victory.

Prince Andrei remembered nothing more: he lost consciousness from the terrible pain of being lifted onto the stretcher, the jolting while being moved, and the probing of his wound at the dressing station.”


Excerpt from Sergei Malkin’s “A History of Modern Russia: 1682-1956”, University of St. Petersburg Press, 2018.

As a young monarch following up on another tsar who was murdered by his nobles, Alexander lacked the sheer autocratic leeway his 18th century predecessors enjoyed. For example, when Alexander truly considered sending Benningsen’s army across the Black Sea for a final showdown with Napoleon and Selim for Constantinople, the tsar’s advisers strongly encouraged Alexander that the time was right to make peace. With the benefit of historical hindsight, had Alexander disregarded their advice and sent Benningsen it is likely that the Russians would have retaken Constantinople. Napoleon and Selim’s armies were exhausted, the French navy had a limited operational range thanks to the damage taken at the Battle of Marmara and Constantinople’s defenses had already been battered by a week of siege. If 80,000 fresh Russian troops arrived, unhindered, on the European side of the strait it would have taken a Napoleonic miracle to turn them back. Instead, the Russian nobility grew tired of sending their sons and serfs to fight on distant battlefields while also watching Russian trade evaporate thanks the British blockade along the Baltic Sea and the Franco-British blockade in the Aegean. To them it was clearly time to make peace, extend overtures to Britain and begin preparing for the post-war world and any new conflicts that might be coming.


Excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, The Russian Messenger, 1869.

“Next day, the twentieth of February, soon after one o’clock, two hundred and fifty members of the English Club and fifty guests were awaiting the guest of honor and hero of the Constantinople campaign, Admiral Ushakov, to dinner.

On the first arrival of the news of the battle of Constantinople, Moscow had been devastated. At that time, the Russians were so used to victories that on receiving news of the defeat a Vidin some week before, some would simply not believe it, while others sought some extraordinary explanation of so strange an event. Upon its acceptance there became an understanding that Napoleon had been lucky but would break upon the defenses of Constantinople. The defeat, and the loss of all the blood and sweat, caused great anguish. In the English Club, where all who were distinguished, important, and well informed foregathered when the news began to arrive in September, nothing was said about the war and the last battle, as though all were in a conspiracy of silence. The men who set the tone in conversation—Count Rostopchín, Prince Yúri Dolgorúkov, Valúev, Count Markóv, and Prince Vyázemski—did not show themselves at the club, but met in private houses in intimate circles, and the Moscovites who took their opinions from others—Ilyá Rostóv among them—remained for a while without any definite opinion on the subject of the war and without leaders. The Moscovites felt that something was wrong and that to discuss the bad news was difficult, and so it was best to be silent. But after a while, just as a jury comes out of its room, the bigwigs who guided the club’s opinion reappeared, and everybody began speaking clearly and definitely. Reasons were found for the incredible, unheard-of, and impossible event of a Russian defeat, everything became clear, and in all corners of Moscow the same things began to be said. These reasons were the treachery of the Turks, a defective commissariat, the Zubovs’ incapacity, and (it was whispered) the youth and inexperience of the sovereign, who had trusted worthless and insignificant people. A privileged few in the English Club even knew (though they would not speak of it) of rumors that the tsar’s hand was forcibly stayed from a second expedition against the city. But the military, the Russian army and navy, everyone declared, was extraordinary and had achieved miracles of valor. The soldiers, officers, sailors, admirals were heroes. But the hero of heroes was Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, distinguished by his astonishing defense at Marmara. What also conduced to Ushakov’s being selected as Moscow’s hero was the fact that he had no connections in the city and was a stranger there. In his person, honor was shown to a simple fighting Russian soldier without connections and intrigues, and to one who was associated by memories of the greatness of Empress Catherine. Moreover, paying such honor to Ushakov was the best way of expressing disapproval and dislike of the armies generals and (perhaps as some whispered) the sovereign himself.


Excerpt from Sergei Malkin’s “A History of Modern Russia: 1682-1956”, University of St. Petersburg Press, 2018.

Alexander also had considerable work to do on the periphery of the empire. His new territories in Poland, Galicia, Moldavia and the Pontus needed consolidation. Peripheral enemies had taken advantage of Russia’s distraction and this needed addressing. The Tsar actually ended up deploying Benningsen’s army, they just happened to march towards the Caucasus where tensions between Russia, Georgia and Persia were coming to ahead.

Chapter X – The Conquest of Transcaucasia 

As shown in chapter one, the history of Russia in the Caucasus is almost as old as the Rus state itself. Volga traders and Rus raiders plied the shores of the Caspian Sea from the early 10th century. The slow grind of Russian expansion entered the region in the 16th century with the formal settlement of the cossacks along the Don River and the Russian conquest of Astrakhan in 1556 (which finally gave Russia a formal Caspian port). For the next century, slow Russian settlement pushed towards the Black Sea and the growing state came into extensive contact with mountain tribes and nomadic peoples like the Circassians, Nogai, Karbardians, and Persian vassals like the Azeri and Georgians. While the main adversaries Russia engaged in the region would be Persia and the Ottomans, Russia would spend the next 300 years in a low-level conflict with these peoples as settlement encroached, regional power struggles ebbed and flowed, and political intrigues compounded on themselves. In 1651 the first of the Russo-Persian Wars began when Persians fought cossacks on the Sunzha River, the principal body of water flowing northeast from the Caucasus Mountains into the Caspian. In the Second Russo-Persian War, Peter the Great conquered much of the Caspian shoreline south to Baku but returned the gains roughly a decade later in the Treaties of Resht and Ganja.

The mid-18th century saw a brief surge in Persia’s prospects thanks to the reign of Nader Shah (whose victories resulted in the Resht and Ganja treaties). However, Shah’s reign destabilized Persia after his death. The Afsharid Dynasty that he founded (deposing 250 years of Safavid rule in the process) floundered after his death resulting in a divided Persia with the Afsharid’s ruling a rump region in eastern Persia and the Zand Dynasty ruling must of the west (until the Qajar Dynasty reunited Persia at the end of the 18th century). His unending wars also bankrupted Persia’s finances and left its military in tatters. Russian encroachment began almost immediately after his death as evidenced by the return of a Russian army to the area in 1768 thanks to the Sixth Russo-Turkish War. For the next three years General Gottlieb Heinrich Totleben (a Saxon-born general in Russia’s military) spent arguably more time engaging in political intrigues with the Caucasian states than he did fighting Ottoman troops along the Pontus. While the Sixth Russo-Persian War is more noted for the gains Russia made against Ottoman Crimea, we should mention that among the treaty articles is the formal relinquishment of Karbardia as an Ottoman vassal state in favor of Russia. Karbardia became the first non-coastal territory seized by Russia against either Persia or the Ottomans that it would not relinquish in several years. The Karbardians ceased to be a regional threat in the early 19th century when reports surface of a plague devastating the region reducing their numbers from 300,000 around 1800 to 30,000 by 1830.

To shore up its Black Sea gains recently won from the Ottomans, Russia began constructing a series of fortresses along the Kuban River. The increased settlement and military presence ratcheted up the simmering conflict with the locals, especially the Circassians. Circassian raiders played an important role in disrupting Russian military operations against the Ottoman Black Sea fortresses during the Seventh Russo-Turkish War. This was the first war between the Russians and the Circassians where the raiding skirmishes of the 17th century evolved into something much bloodier. Russian troops routinely burned Circassian towns and the Chechen Sheikh Mansur rallied the regions peoples, especially the Circassians, into a jihad against the Russians. Only in 1791 when the key Ottoman port of Anapa fell (Mansur was captured in the fighting) did the conflict deescalate briefly until cossacks began settling across the Kuban River.

Shortly after the war with the Ottomans, Russia attacked the Dagestan town of Derbent in 1775 after the death of Samuel Gottlieb Gmelin, a famed German explorer-scientist who was captured and killed in 1774 by Usmey Khan of Khaïtakes. The punitive Derbent expedition marks the resurgence of Russian conquest and intervention on the eastern (Persian) side of the Caucasus. This expedition foreshadowed a seminal event in Russia’s expansion with the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Georgievsk. In that treaty, Catherine the Great removed the Kingdom of Georgia from the Persian sphere and incorporated it as a protectorate of Russia. The Russians repulsed a Persian invasion in 1795 and, after some setbacks for both sides thanks to the death of Catherine and the assassination of Persian Shah Mohammed Agra Khan, the status quo returned in 1799 when Russian soldiers reoccupied Tbilisi. In 1801, Paul I decreed the full incorporation of Georgia into the empire only to be assassinated two months after. Persia protested Paul’s decree but had no desire to engage in a war against Russia so shortly after its last defeat. The shaky start to Alexander’s reign and the subsequent Russian distraction in the War of the Third Coalition slowly began changing Persian minds.

The War of the Third Coalition (sometimes referred to as the Eighth Russo-Turkish War when referencing the battles and territorial gains Russia made at the expense of the Ottomans) marked the next great Russian expansion in the region, this time at the expense of the flailing Ottomans. Allying with Mustafa IV and the janissaries against the reformist Selim III, Alexander dispatched General Pytor Bagration to occupy the Ottoman’s Asiatic frontier. Lacking consistent supply lines and weakened by internal disputes over which Sultan to follow (for example, Anapa, returned by the Russians in 1793 supported Selim but Sujuk-Kal supported Mustafa) Bagration captured the Ottoman Black Sea coast with relative ease. This allowed his army the opportunity to push into the Pontic Coast, further than any Russian army had pressed south since Peter the Great’s improbable capture of Baku nearly a century before. Shaky supply lines, a focus on other fronts, and a rebellious Greek population (that sided with Selim over the oppressive Mustafa) prevented Bagration from seizing eastern Anatolia. Still, the final treaty gave Russia the Childir, Kars and half of the Erzurum Eyalets, terminating centuries of Ottoman rule in the Caucasus and the eastern Black Sea.

In addition, General Bagration’s army operating in the nearby Pontus dissuaded Persia from taking direct action and the new Shah, Fath-Ali Shah Qajar was loathe to take a side in the ongoing Ottoman Civil War. The Russian defeat at Vidin and the penetration of Bagration’s army deeper into Anatolia reversed this earlier caution. Compounding the issue was a rogue Russian commander in Georgia, Prince Paul Tsitsishvili who, despite his Georgian origins, was a fervent Russian imperialists who believed in the civilizing mission of the Christian Russians against the Islamic mountain tribes in the region. From Paul’s decree in 1801 to 1804, Tsitsishvili was an instrumental part of Russian expansion in the region, imposing control over the nominally independent mountain khanates that, like Georgia once was, were technically vassals of Persia [7]. A massacre at the town of Ganja in 1804 led to 3,000 deaths and thousands more refugees fleeing into Persia. This also provided Fath-Ali Shah the casus belli he needed to declare war in Russia. On September 19, 1804 the Persian army invaded Georgia a second time. The problem for the Shah was that by this point the outcome of the War of the Third Coalition was already decided. Lag times in communication meant that the invasion began after both the fall of Constantinople, the Battle of Gerede, and the end of the Janissarial threat to Selim’s rule. Ironically, had Fath-Ali Shah been as aggressive as his predecessor and invaded in 1803 or early 1804 he could have maneuvered Persia into an alliance with Britain and France and played a key role in opening another front against the Russians. Instead, his overtures of an alliance with the other powers fell flat as neither France nor Britain desired to continue the war to help a distant foreign power and Persia now had to face an angry, focused, Russia. Furthermore, Alexander needed to shore up his political capital and beating up on an overwhelmed foreign invader seemed the perfect opportunity.

This is not to say the Fourth Russo-Persian War was a one-sided affair [6]. While Persia’s timing is generally seen as bad, the reality still stands that Bagration’s army had been defeated at Gerede and there was a lack of Russian forces in the Caucuses region. For the above-mentioned regions, the Tsar was forced to siphons millions of rubles and thousands of troops to guard the vast new frontiers across Eastern Europe. Exhaustion from the populace (especially the nobility) and preparations for an anticipated War of the Fourth Coalition prevented an aggressive Russian assault against Persia. Thus when Benningsen’s army did arrive in Astrakhan in the spring of 1805 its number was reduced from the 80,000 man tidal wave initially aimed at Constantinople to a more modest 25,000 man operation intended to secure Georgia, maintain the newly acquired Pontic territories and perhaps invade Dagestan (if Benningsen saw the right opportunity). This is why the losses were not as bad as one would think. Technologically outmatched, the Russians defeated the Persians in every battle from 1805 through 1807 but, always vigilant for the next major European war, never pressed their gains towards prizes like Baku or Tabriz. Fearing the loss of Azerbaijan and Armenia, and with powerful Shia clergy growing restless, Fath-Ali Shah decided to pursue peace with Russia and focus his military efforts elsewhere. The Treaty of Derbent, signed in the fall of 1807 concluded the war with Fath-Ali Shah acknowledging Russian possession of Georgia, agreeing on a boundary between the Russian Pontus and Persian Armenia, and conceding the Dagestan Khanate (won by Benningsen after his daring 1806 mountain campaign and the decisive Russian victory at the Battle of Sergokala) [8]. The peace between Russia and Persia would endure for the next two decades and, apart from internal rebelliousness, marked peace in the region for just as long. In fact Russian troops in the region would spend most of their time working on the Georgian Military Highway, constructing bridges and surfacing the ancient route mentioned by Strabo and Pilny. The Russians completed the project in 1821 though work would continue into the 1870’s. Perhaps no Russian achievement had opened the Caucasus to Russian influence in a similar manner since the capture of Astrakhan centuries before.

Ironically, had Persia waited two years they might have been in a position to expel the Russians and make significant territorial gains. Yet, the peace ended up proving beneficial to both parties. Persia could make gains at the expense of its declining and internally chaotic neighbors: the rebuilding Ottoman Empire and the declining Durrani Empire.  As for Russia, Alexander could now leave the Caucasian border seriously undermanned in preparation for the coming resumption of European hostilities [9].

———- Author’s Notes ————–

[1]: Publicola being Publius Valerius Publicola, one of the founders of the Roman Republic.

[2]: Chania is the second largest city on Crete and became Crete’s most important port in the Ottoman era as the largest city, Heraklion, saw its harbor silt up over the decades. Because the Ottomans retained control over Crete in our timeline until 1898, they maintained the administrative center at Heraklion, which is why this city remains the modern capital of Crete. In this timeline, Napoleon ensures that Chania and its better harbor become the capital of his Cretan Republic.

[3]: The Tolstoy family is more than just Leo. They were a powerful noble family with lots of power players in Russian society from the medieval Muscovy era through the Revolution. There are even a few Tolstoy’s floating around Russian politics today.

[4]: Some naming conventions. The young Ferdinand is Ferdinand I, Emperor of Austria as he is the first Austrian Emperor with that regnal name. At the same time, he is elected Ferdinand IV, Holy Roman Emperor as there were three 16th and 17th century Holy Roman Emperors also named Ferdinand. The title “Austrian Emperor” did not exist back then even though all four of these ruling Ferdinands are Hapsburgs.

[5]: This is an in-timeline version of the same Tolstoy novel. This passage is largely directly quotes except I edited “helping England and Austria against him” to “helping our longtime enemies against him” in reference to the different lineup of enemies in the War of the Third Coalition. You’ll also note that Book One in this version of War and Peace takes place in 1803 whereas our-timeline’s version takes place in 1805.

[6]: The first three Russo-Persian Wars occurring in 1651, 1722, and 1796.

[7]: Nader Shah’s rule in the early 18th century arguably marks the last highwater mark of Pesian influence on world history. When Shah died in 1747 the mountainous parts of his empire broke away and created several dozen nominally independent khanates that were still Persian vassals. Some of these khanates were basically city-states while others were larger stretches of territory. While not a khanate, Georgia was in a similar boat which is why Russia and Persia fought over it so much between the 18th and 19th centuries. Persia considered Georgia a nominally independent vassal well-within its historic sphere of influence while Georgian nobility routinely sided with Russia and the Russians directly sought to break Georgia away from Persia’s sphere and include it within the empire.

[8]: Dagestan is the territory directly north of Azerbaijan along the Caspian coast and today is part of Russia. Part of the ancient Parthian and Sassanid Empires, the region has a long Persian history. It was islamicized from the 600’s to the 1400’s following Persia’s conquest by the Muslim Arabs. Safavid Persia regained hegemony over the territory in the 1500’s until the 1700’s when the territory began to swap back and forth between Persia and Russia. A short-lived khanate (the Derbent Khanate) formed in 1747 after the death of the powerful Persian ruler Nader Shah. The timing is a coincidence but in our-timeline, Russia occupies Dagestan in 1806 as well which Persia officially recognizes in 1813. Ever since Dagestan has been a part of Russia and then the Soviet Union despite a two-century old rebellious streak and often being at the epicenter of anti-Russian and anti-Soviet Islamist revolts.

[9]: Contrast how this timeline’s version of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus differs from our own. In our timeline, Russia largely knocked out the Persians first, securing Georgia by 1805, Dagestan by 1810, and Azerbaijan and Armenia by 1820. Only by 1830 did Russia focus on the Ottoman Caucasus. In this timeline, the events are largely flipped with Russia taking on the Ottomans first while the Persians are able to hold on to their territories longer while Russia is distracted elsewhere. Also note another parallel, the War of the Third Coalition is basically a proto-version of our timeline’s Crimean War, albeit not as devastating, occurring during the Napoleonic Wars and considerably different than our timeline.

Source Material

Dowling, Timothy. “Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Beyond”. ABC-CLIO, 2014. 2 vols.

Jaimoukha, A. “The Circassians: A Handbook”. Routledge and Palgrave, 2001.

Richmond, Walter. “The Circassian Genocide”. Rutgers University Press, 2013.

Roberts, Andrew. “Napoleon: A Life.” Penguins Books, 2014.

Therme, Clement. “Relations between Tehran and Moscow, 1979-2014”. Academia.edu, 2012. https://www.academia.edu/9137125/Relations_between_Tehran_and_Moscow_1979-2014

Tolstoy, Leo. “War and Peace.” The Russian Messanger, 1869. Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude, 2018.

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