This chapter looks at autocracy as the concept most widely used to describe the political culture of the Russian state before 1917. It explains how autocracy, understood as the unlimited rule of the monarch over his subjects, is often taken as the signature characteristic of Russian political culture in general. It also identifies historians that see the political structure of Russia as essentially oligarchical, with power shared in a mutually beneficial way among various layers of the nobility and the government. The chapter presents autocracy in the relatively stable political culture from 1450 to 1650 and discusses the changes wrought in that culture by massive influences from Western Europe under Peter the Great and his immediate predecessors. It considers the accounts of Western European visitors to Russia from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, which was responsible for the trope of total power of the Russian ruler over its subjects.
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