Aleksey Arakcheyev

Portrait of Arakcheyev from the Military Gallery of the Winter Palace, by George Dawe.

Count Alexey Andreyevich Arakcheyev or Arakcheev (Russian: граф Алексе́й Андре́евич Аракче́ев) (October 4 [O.S. September 23] 1769May 3 [O.S. April 21] 1834) was a Russian general and statesman under the reign of Alexander I.

He served under Paul I and Alexander I as army leader and artillery inspector respectively. He had a violent temper, but was otherwise a competent artillerist, and is known for his reforms of tzarist artillery known as the "System of 1805".[1] After the Tsar's death and Nicholas I's coronation, he lost all his powers and properties.

Early years

Count Arakcheyev was born on his father's estate in the Novgorod Governorate. His school formation consisted in studying arithmetic under a podyachiy (dyak), a knowledgeable and schooled man. Arakcheev's father moved with the family to Saint-Petersburg for his son to be educated in a military artillery school. Later Alexey had to continue his education at home since the military school was too expensive. Alexey's father brought Melissino as a teacher for Alexey. Later Melissino gave artillery and fortification lessons to Prince Nicholas Saltykov's sons and Alexey Arakcheyev earned some money assisting Melissino in teaching the sons arithmetic and geometry.

As he grew up, he was Peter Ivanovich Melissino's pupil and rapidly started teaching arithmetic and geometry. His military career started when he was sought after by Paul I as an artillery officer.

When Pavel Petrovich, heir to the throne of Russia, was in search for an artillery officer, Saltykov recommended Arakcheyev as a man that had learned military discipline. Arakcheyev was thereafter appointed officer to the commandant of Gatchina and later became the chief of the ground forces of the heir.

Paul I's reign

From 1790 and onward Arakcheyev was rapidly promoted in the army and in September 1792, Melissino recommended him as a senior adjutant to the inspector of artillery under Pavel Petrovich. By 1794, he was Gatchina's artillery inspector and two years later, was also the infantry inspector under the Empress Catherine II. All his ascensions in the army were attributed to his ruthless manners and his zealousness.[2]

After Paul I's coronation, on November 7, 1796, Arakcheyev was appointed as the commandant of Saint-Petersburg's garrison and received other army functions during the months of November and December. In April 1797, he was promoted to general-quartermaster and thus leader of the army, and at the same time he received the title of baron from the Tsar. A year later, after some troops mutinied and an officer committed suicide, he was demoted to lieutenant-general. In 1799 he was brought back to his former Inspector of the Artillery position, reinstated to his general-quartermaster's functions and given the title of count. He finally would serve as the War Minister, the Head of the War Department of the State Council of Imperial Russia, and the head of the Imperial Chancellery. He was disgraceful in leading the army by hiding misdeeds that were done by his army officers and thus, was stripped of his army functions, later to be reinstated by the next emperor. His name became synonymous with military voluntarism and despotism, known in Russian as Arakcheyevshchina.[2]

Alexander I's reign

In May 1803, his services were requested by the new Tsar Alexander I, restoring his position as Inspector of the Artillery. During the first years he reorganized the artillery units, improved the officer training, and issued new regulations.[2]

After the lessons learned at the Battle of Austerlitz, where Russian artillery had performed poorly, Arakcheyev devised the "System of 1805".[3] Under this arrangement, 6- and 12-pounder guns were employed throughout the army, as well as 2-, 10-, and 18-pounder licornes. Under the new system, a single Russian division had as much artillery as an entire French corps.[1] A foot artillery battalion was composed of two light and two heavy companies.[1] A light foot artillery company consisted of four 10-pounder licornes, four light and four medium 6-pounder guns; a heavy artillery company had four light and four heavy 12-pounder guns and four 18- and two 2-pounder licornes. Six light 6-pounder guns and six 10-pounder licornes made a company of horse artillery.[1][4] Licornes were usually deployed on the flanks of the batteries.[1] All these guns used a screw elevating mechanism instead of the old system of wedges and had an improved sighting apparatus.[3]

During the campaign of 1805 against France, Arakcheyev worked on supplying the army with enough artillery ammunition. Promoted in January 1808 to Defense Minister and inspector-general of the entire infantry and artillery, he once more reorganized the army and the grading of the army staff. In 1808 he created a publication called the "artillery periodical". By 1810, Arakcheev had resigned from his Defense Minister's post and was sitting on the board of the Council of State as chairman in military science.[5]

During the Patriotic War of 1812, he oversaw recruitment and management of army supplies. He introduced several useful military reforms, which proved themselves during the wars of 1812-1814. Throughout his service, Arakcheyev was known for his meticulous following of the will of the tsar.

I am the friend of the tsar and complaints about me can be made only to God.

Starting in 1816, he organized military-agricultural colonies, an idea initially conceived by Alexander I. At first Arakcheyev tried to oppose them, but when he agreed, he did so with unrelenting rigor. The hardships of military service combined with the hardships of peasant life created terrifying conditions in those settlements.

The ruthlessness he exhibited in the military extended to his home. The women peasants in Arakcheyev's own Gruzino estate near Novgorod were required to produce one child each year. Arakcheyev even ordered the hanging of all cats, on account of his fondness for nightingales.

From 1815 to the tsar's death, Arakcheyev continued to be present around the emperor as member of the state council and an influential voice in the leader's entourage. During Alexander I's journeys abroad, Arakcheev would follow, giving his accord to every law passed.[2]

Later years

After the death of Tsar Alexander I on December 1, 1825, and the coronation of Nicholas I, Arakcheyev lost all his positions in the government, such as member of the State Council and inspector of the army artillery and infantry. This led to his removal from the court and the exile to his estate of Gruzino near Novgorod. There he lived until his death in 1834, when he was interred in a local church. Furthermore, after Arakcheyev's death the tsar requisitioned his land and property due to the inability to find legal heirs.[2]

Temper and "Arakcheevshchina"

Arakcheyev is said to have executed two junior officers by having them buried up to their necks and leaving them to die of starvation and thirst. On another occasion he is said to have personally cut off another officer's head with his sword after a perceived infraction.[1] "Arakcheevshchina" (Russian: аракчеевщина), roughly translated as "the Arakcheev régime", became a derogatory term for a military state, denoting "the atmosphere of reactionary repression closing over Russian society".[6] Soviet authors routinely applied this label to characterize a régime of reactionary oppression. For instance, Joseph Stalin used the term "Arakcheevshchina" in 1950 to describe the situation fostered by Ivan Meshchaninov in the Soviet Institute of Language and Thought.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Kinard, Jeff (2007). Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact. Oxford: ABC-CLIO. pp. 159–160. ISBN 978-1-85109-556-8.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "ARAKCHEEV, ALEKSEY ANDREEVICH". Krugosvet. Archived from the original on 2006-06-24. Retrieved 2006-05-08.
  3. 1 2 Rothenberg, Gunther Erich (1980). The art of warfare in the age of Napoleon. Indiana University Press. pp. 201–202. ISBN 978-0-253-20260-4.
  4. Kiley, Kevin (2006). Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars. London: Greenhill Books. p. 157. ISBN 978-1-85367-583-6.
  5. И.Н. Христофоров. "Аракчеев и "Аракчеевщина"". журнала "Воин России". Archived from the original on 2005-02-14. Retrieved 2006-05-08. (Russian)
  6. Tosi, Alessandra. Waiting for Pushkin: Russian Fiction in the Reign of Alexander I (1801-1825). ISBN 90-420-1829-1. Page 28.


Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Arakcheev, Aleksyei Andreevich.
Preceded by
Sergey Vyazmitinov
Minister of Land Forces
1808 – 1810
Succeeded by
Michael Barclay de Tolly
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