Catherine the Great

Lived:May 2, 1729—November 17, 1796 (aged 67)
Career:Empress of Russia, 1762-1796

Catherine II was the empress of Russia from December 25, 1761, until her death on November 17, 1796. Known as Catherine the Great, she was the longest-reining empress of Russia. Catherine’s greatest accomplishments include establishing educational reform, championing the arts, and extending Russia’s borders in the largest territorial gain since Ivan the Terrible.

Catherine was born on May 2, 1729, as Sophie Friederike Auguste. She grew up in Stettin, Poland, as a minor German princess. Upon request of the Russian Empress Elizabeth, Sophie traveled to Russia to meet the Grand Duke of Russia, Peter. The two were quickly engaged, and Sophie changed her name to Catherine. The Grand Duke Peter and Catherine were married on August 21, 1745, making her the grand duchess of Russia.

After their son Paul was born, Catherine’s husband passed away under suspicious circumstances. Catherine II assumed the throne on December 25, 1761. What followed was decades of expansion of Russian culture through the arts, expansion of territory through war, and the expansion of liberal philosophies—all done through military might and diplomatic prowess.

Catherine the Great is one of the most well documented empresses of all time, due to her extensive writing of countless memoirs.