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May 2, 1729
November 17, 1796 (aged 67)
Empress (1762-1796), Russian Empire
Catherine II, most commonly known as Catherine the Great, was born in Prussia in 1729. Her birth name was Sophie Friederike Auguste and she started out as a minor German princess. She was the daughter of an obscure German prince, Christian August von Anhalt-Zerbst. Sophie's childhood was very uneventful.
In 1744, a teenage Catherine traveled with her mother to Russia, assumed the title of Grand Duchess Catherine Alekseyevna, and married Russia's Grand Duke Peter on August 21, 1745. Catherine converted to the Russian Orthodox faith and received a new name—Yekaterina, or Catherine.
On December 25, 1761, Catherine II became empress consort of Russia when her husband, Peter III, ascended to the throne following the death of his aunt, Elizabeth of Russia. After Peter III assassination, Catherine II became empress of Russia on July 9, 1762, and reigned over Russia for 34 years under the title of Catherine II. Since her coup d’etat, Catherine did make some efforts toward social and political reforms. She reformed the administration of Russian guberniyas, and many new cities and towns were founded.
During Catherine's reign, Russia expanded its borders. She continued to preserve friendly relations with Prussia, France and Austria. In 1764 she resolved the problem of Poland, that triggered a military conflict with Turkey. With a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1774, Russia colonised the territories of Novorossiya along the coasts of the Black and Azov Seas. Russians colonised the Alaska, establishing Russian America. The Manifesto on Freedom of the Nobility, confirmed by Catherine, freed Russian nobles from compulsory military or state service.
Catherine expanded educational opportunities and the arts. She established a boarding school for girls in St. Petersburg, and free schools in towns across Russia, sponsored many cultural projects, built a theater in St.Petersburg for opera and ballet performances.
In mid-November 1796, Catherine suffered a stroke. After more than three decades as Russia's absolute ruler, she died on November 17, 1796.
The period of Catherine the Great's rule is considered a Golden Age of Russia. Russians continue to admire Catherine and regard her as a source of national pride. Under the period of Catherine the Great's reign, Russia was recognised as one of the great powers of Europe.
"Nothing is more difficult, in my opinion, than to avoid something that fundamentally attracts you."
"I praise loudly. I blame softly."
"The more a man knows, the more he forgives."