Emily Frances Pagrabs, Peter the Great and His Changing Identity
The tsar was known throughout Europe for his ability to drink. A contemporary said, “He didn’t miss a single day without getting drunk.” This came as no surprise to contemporaries, as alcohol had long been “the joy of the Russes.” Peter’s father, Alexei, and his boyars used to take pleasure in out-drinking the foreign diplomats. While this drunkenness seems to be a national trait, Peter seems to have been one of the best. Said historian Robert Massie, “When he was young, though, these wild bacchanalia did not leave Peter exhausted and debauched, but actually seemed to refresh him for the next day’s work. He could drink all night with his comrades and then, while they snored in drunken slumber, rise at dawn and leave them to begin work as a carpenter or shipbuilder. Few could match his pace.”
Peter amassed a collection of friends and created, at the age of eighteen, the Drunken Synod. Mocking the hierarchy and order of the church, the friends were organized into a college of cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons. Peter took care in devising a system of rituals and ceremonies; for example, the first commandment was, “Bacchus be worshipped with strong and honorable drinking and receive his just dues.” Even as the tsar matured and became an emperor, he continued to participate in such games and behaviors, which were worse on holidays and at weddings. The foreigners who visited the tsar found the behavior “vulgar and scandalous,” unsuited to a man who proclaimed to be the emperor of Russia.
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