Peter the Great
Name at birth: Petr Alekseevich
Peter the Great was the Russian czar who transformed Russia from an isolated agricultural society into an Empire on a par with European powers. Peter was the son of Czar Alexis (Fedor III Alakseevich) and his second wife. After the death of Alexis, Peter and his half-brother Ivan were co-czars who served under the regency of Ivan's sister, Sophia. Ivan died and Peter outmaneuvered Sophia to rule alone as czar from 1689. Peter toured Europe (sometimes in disguise to avoid being recognized) and educated himself in western culture and science, then returned to Russia and introduced military, civil and social reforms to make Russia more like Europe (especially Germany). He spent much of his time fighting wars, first against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, then (from 1700) against the Swedes in the Great Northern War. He succeeded in conquering land on the Baltic Sea, where he founded St. Petersburg. A gateway to Europe, St. Petersburg became the new capital of Russia. Peter was reportedly more than six and a half feet tall and was often in the battlefield, occasionally returning home to address domestic issues and put down revolts. In 1725 he dove in the water to help rescue some drowning sailors; he ended up with a bad cold and died a short time later.
St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd in 1914, then renamed Leningrad after the death of V. I. Lenin (1924). In 1991 it was changed back to St. Petersburg…Peter often criticized his son, Alexei, for being incompetent and lazy, but apparently thought he was energetic enough to mount a coup attempt: Peter had Alexei arrested and sentenced to death, but Alexei died before he could be executed.