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Alexander III

Alexander III

Regarded by many as Russia's last real autocrat, Alexander III ruled between 1881 and 1894. Throughout his reign, Alexander III sought to reverse the liberalising reforms of his father. He achieved this by persecuting non-Orthodox religious groups, advancing Russian nationalism, and promoting autocracy. A fierce opponent of democratic government, Alexander III wanted Russia to be a nation with a singular nationality, religion, leader, and language. Despite his authoritarian domestic reforms, Alexander III's foreign policy was peaceable; there were no foreign conflicts during his reign. Let's examine Tsar Alexander III's reign, early life, ascendancy to the throne, and reforms.


A ruler who has absolute power.

Alexander III of Russia: Key Facts

Here is a table outlining the key facts of Alexander III's life.

Name:Alexander Alexandrovich Romanov
Date of Birth:10 March 1845
Reign:March 1881 – November 1894
Date of Death:1 November 1894
Title:Emperor / Tsar
Dynastic House:Romanov
Reign at a glance:— Reversed his father's liberalising reforms.— Promoted autocratic rule.— Promoted Orthodox Christianity at the expense of other religious groups.— No foreign wars during his reign.

Alexander III: Early Life

Born in St. Petersburg on 10 March 1845, Alexander III was the second son of the 'Tsar Liberator' Alexander II and grandson of Tsar Nicholas I.

Alexander III Alexander III StudySmarterFig. 1 Alexander III

Despite being born into the powerful Romanov Dynasty, Alexander III was not born heir to the Russian throne; the heir apparent to the Russian throne was Alexander II's firstborn son, Nicholas.

Being the second son of Tsar Alexander II, Alexander III was not provided with the necessary education for an emperor. Instead, as per Romanov tradition, Alexander was groomed for a career in the military.

Alexander III: Personality

From an early age, it was evident that Alexander III didn't possess the liberalising, tender heart of his father, Alexander II, nor the cultured, enlightened thinking of his great uncle, Emperor Alexander I.

Alexander III was less refined than his ancestors, known for being blunt, direct, and outright rude. Terrifying when angry, Alexander's temperament was amplified by his incredible strength and six-foot three-inch frame.

There are countless stories of Alexander III ripping decks of cards with his bare hands, crushing roubles, and bending iron fire pokers!

Alexander III: Becoming Heir

In 1865, Alexander III's older brother Nicholas suddenly died. On his deathbed, Nicholas requested that his fiancée, Princess Dagmar of Denmark, should marry Alexander III.

Alexander III and Princess Dagmar of Denmark married at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg the following year. The latter converted to Orthodox Christianity and took the name Maria Feodorovna.

Alexander III Alexander III and his wife StudySmarterFig. 2 Alexander III and his wife.

After becoming Tsarevich (heir) to the Russian throne, Alexander III began to study law and administration. His professor, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, played a crucial role in shaping Alexander III's views, instilling a hatred of representative democracy and the importance of Christian Orthodoxy.

Alexander III's nationalistic views were furthered in 1878 when the Congress of Berlin removed the concessions that Russia had obtained in the Treaty of San Stefano. Shortly after the Congress of Berlin, Germany allied with Austria; the Austro-German alliance stated that either side would retaliate if Russia attacked the other. Alexander III viewed the Treaty of San Stefano and the Austro-German alliance as threatening to Russia. For Alexander III, an assertive, nationalistic Russia under an autocratic leader was the only way to ensure survival.

The Treaty of San Stefano was signed between Russia and the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878). The Congress of Berlin removed the concessions that Russia received.

Alexander III: Reign

On 13 March 1881, Alexander II was assassinated by members of the Narodnaya Volya – an extremist political organisation that sought to overthrow government autocracy. With his father and older brother deceased, Alexander III ascended the Russian throne on 27 May 1883.

Alexander III Alexander II on his deathbed StudySmarterFig. 3 Alexander II on his deathbed.

Manifesto of Unshakable Autocracy

Alexander III initially promised to continue the liberalising reforms of his father. However, his policies centred around concepts of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationalism. Almost immediately after becoming Tsar of Russia, Alexander III issued a statement asserting his autocratic rule; this statement has come to be known as the 'Manifesto of Unshakable Autocracy'.

We proclaim this to all our faithful subjects – God in His unfathomable judgement has deemed it proper to culminate the glorious reign of our beloved father with a martyr’s death and to lay the holy duty of autocratic rule on us.1

After Alexander's statement, four government ministers, and more conservative-leaning candidates replaced them. A day after the resignations, Alexander flexed his autocratic powers, executing five members of the Narodnaya Volya, launching a nationwide police operation, and arresting 10,000 citizens who he deemed a threat.

Alexander III: Policies

Alexander III enacted domestic and foreign policies to affirm his autocratic rule and promote Christian Orthodoxy.

Alexander III: Reforms of Domestic Policies

Alexander III wanted to create a nation with one leader, religion, language, and nationality. Such a political ideal is demonstrated in his domestic policies:

Strengthening Autocracy

On the day he was assassinated, Alexander II signed a decree limiting the monarchy's power. The law sought to set up advisory boards to aid the monarch in decision-making. Upon Konstantin Pobedonostsev's advice, Alexander III immediately cancelled this policy before it was enacted, ensuring his power as monarch was not limited.

Alexander III Konstantin Pobedonostsev StudySmarterFig. 4 Konstantin Pobedonostsev.

Tackling Socialism

In the early stages of Alexander's reign, strike action grew exponentially. Worried by the threat of revolution, Alexander III introduced a series of legislations to curb such cries for socialism. Between 1882 and 1885, new laws improved the working conditions for women and children and introduced routine factory inspections.

Furthermore, in 1886, new regulations for factory owners were introduced, with procedures for hiring, firing, and wage distribution established. While the reforms did little to improve conditions, they quelled cries for revolution.

Weakening the Peasantry

Alexander III reduced the power of the zemstvos and placed peasant communes under the control of 'land captains' (zemskiye nachalniki). The monarchy appointed these land captains who instilled fear in the peasantry.


Established in 1861 by Alexander II, the zemstvos were elected local government bodies that oversaw local affairs.


Alexander III sought to diminish Jewish communities' economic, political, and social rights. The May Laws of 1882 encouraged anti-Semitism, banned Jews from specific areas, and stopped them from getting certain jobs.


Alexander III wanted a singular Russian identity. He advocated Christian Orthodoxy at the expense of other religions, prompted the teaching of the Russian language in Russian overseas schools, and eradicated German, Polish, and Swedish institutions in the outlying provinces.

Alexander III: Reforms of Foreign Policies

In Russian history, Alexander III has come to be known as 'The Peacemaker'. Several contemporary commentators suggest that Alexander's reluctance to be involved in foreign conflicts stems from his time serving in the military. Throughout his reign, Alexander III and his Foreign Minister, Nikolay Girs, ensured that Russia did not become entangled in any wars.

Franco-Russian Alliance (1891)

In 1891, Nikolay Girs established the Franco-Russian Alliance; this alliance later developed into the Triple Entente with the addition of Great Britain. The alliance meant Russia received financial aid from France, which was used to further economic modernisation.

Tensions with Great Britain (1885)

In 1885, tensions arose between Russia and Great Britain over potential Russian expansion into India. Nikolay Girs talked Alexander III out of war, ensuring a cordial agreement was reached.

League of Three Emperors (1881)

As one of his main foreign policy achievements, Alexander III revived the League of Three Emperors in 1881. This agreement between Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary sought to maintain peace in Europe.

Reinsurance Treaty (1887)

The Reinsurance Treaty between Germany and Russia agreed that both countries would remain neutral if the other went to war. In 1890, however, Kaiser Wilhelm II became emperor of Germany. Alexander III had an intense dislike of the Kaiser. In response to Wilhelm's appointment, Alexander terminated the Treaty and entered the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1891.

Alexander III League of Three Emperors StudySmarterFig. 5 League of Three Emperors.

Central Asia

Alexander III followed the long-standing tradition of gradually increasing Russia's influence in Central Asia. He managed to increase Russian power in the region without prompting conflict with Great Britain.

Economy and Finance

Now we've covered most of Alexander III's domestic and foreign policies, let's look at how he tackled the Russian economy and its finances.

British Financial Assistance

The Russian Famine (1891-1892) and subsequent cholera outbreak saw an estimated half a million Russians lose their lives. Understanding that the Russian government could not tackle this problem alone, Alexander III sought financial assistance from the zemstvos and Great Britain.

Alexander III Russian Famine StudySmarterFig. 6 Russian Famine.

Trans-Siberian Railway

In 1891, Alexander III ordered the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the longest in the world. Spanning nearly 6000 miles (ca. 9,656 km), the Trans Siberian Railway took over 25 years to complete! Estimates state that 20% of Russia's debt during this time was spent on constructing the Railway, which amounts to around $27 trillion in today's money.

Alexander III Trans-Siberian Railway StudySmarterFig. 7 Trans-Siberian Railway.

Customs Duties

The Russian-Turkish War (1877-1878) crippled Russia's economy. Alexander III imposed taxes on imported goods to combat the deficit and curbed state spending.

Death of Alexander III

In 1894, Alexander III contracted a terminal kidney disease. On 1 November that same year, the Tsar died in the arms of his wife and was buried at the Peter and Paul Fortress. His eldest son, Nicholas II, succeeded him.

Alexander III – Key takeaways

  • Alexander III was known for counter-reform, reversing the liberalising policies of his father Alexander II.
  • Alexander III was an autocratic ruler who wanted Russia to be a nation with one nationality, one religion, one leader, and one language.
  • Alexander III's policies were heavily influenced by his professor Konstantin Pobedonostsev.
  • Russia was involved in no foreign conflicts throughout his reign, earning Alexander III the nickname "Peacemaker".
  • Alexander III died on 1 November 1894.


  1. Alexander III, 'Manifesto of Unshakable Autocracy', (1881)

Frequently Asked Questions about Alexander III

A fierce opponent of democratic government, Alexander III persecuted non-Orthodox religious groups, developed Russian nationalism, and promoted autocratic rule.

Alexander III became Tsar on 13 March 1881 and ruled until November 1894.

Throughout his reign, Alexander III sought to reverse the liberalising reforms of his father, persecuting non-Orthodox religious groups, advancing Russian nationalism, and promoting autocracy.

In 1894, Alexander III contracted a terminal kidney disease. On 1 November that same year, the Tsar died in the arms of his wife.

Alexander III stood at 6'3" and was renowned for using his huge height and strength to terrify any opposition.

Final Alexander III Quiz


What is an autocrat?

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A ruler who has absolute power.

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When was Alexander III born?

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10 March 1845

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Name one of Alexander III's achievements

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Any of the following:

— Reversed his father's liberalising reforms
— Promoted autocratic rule
— Promoted Orthodox Christianity at the expense of other religious groups
— No foreign wars during his reign

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Who was Alexander II assassinated by?

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Alexander II was assassinated by members of the Narodnaya Volya

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Who were the Zemstvo?

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Established in 1861 by Alexander II, the zemstvo were elected local government bodies who oversaw local affairs.

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Which countries was the League of Three Emperors between?

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Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary

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What was Alexander III's nickname?

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The Peacemaker 

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Who influenced Alexander III's policies?

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Alexander III's policies were heavily influenced by his professor Konstantin Pobedonostsev.

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What year did Alexander III die?

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What were the May Laws (1882)?

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The May Laws of 1882 encouraged anti-Semitism, banned Jews from certain areas, and stopped them from getting certain jobs.

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