When Peter I, also known as Peter the Great, became the ruler of Russia he knew that neither his armed forces nor his country as a whole compared favorably with other European powers. He had assumed the throne of a country that had missed the Renaissance and the Reformation, placing Russia a century behind the rest of most of Europe in cultural and scientific developments. Peter wanted to know how and why Russia lagged behind its neighbors.
In 1697 and 1698 Peter traveled throughout Europe under a false name as a common person. He studied things such as shipbuilding in Holland and gunnery practices in Prussia. He visited military and civilian schools, factories, museums and military arsenals. When he returned to Russia he brought with him western educators, businessmen and military personnel to serve as his advisers.
Peter the Great instituted many changes throughout Russia, which have been called the modernization or Europeanization of Russia. Some of the changes he made were:
- demanding that education, trade and industry incorporate western ideas and methods
- simplifying the Russian alphabet
- introducing Arabic numerals
- providing for the publication of the first newspaper in Russia
- demanding that men shave their beards
- demanding that the court wear western clothing
- encouraging western habits of smoking tobacco and drinking coffee