Demographic History of European Russia 1796-1917

Note : the following text discusses the administrative history of the European part of the Russian Empire without Finland, Congress Poland and the Russian Caucasus, areas which are discussed elsewhere at WHKMLA.

Demographic History of the Russian Empire
M.E. Falkus (p.17) gives the population of the Russian Empire as 14 million in 1722, 19 million in 1762, 35.5 million in 1800, 74.1 million in 1860, 126.4 million in 1897 and 170.1 million in 1913. Jan Lahmeyer has compiled lists showing the (partially interpolated) population development for what is Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine today respectively, year by year, back into history, for Russia until 1897. It is important to keep in mind that the figure given for 1897 is that for the territory of the present Russian Federation in 1897, not that for the Russian Empire at that time.
While the data for the entire Russian Empire exceed the population of European Russia as defined on this page, those Jan Lahmeyer lists in his extrapolated line of data on one side includes the population of the Caucasus, Central Asia and Siberia regions, on the other hand excludes the populations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Eastern Karelia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova.

Demographic Data of European Russia
Jan Lahmeyer also gives population development by census for administrative divisions, in the case of Russia and Ukraine by gubernia, reaching as far back as 1810. Similar data (less dense) are given by B.R. Mitchell (IHS pp.57-58), providing data for Belarus, Reval, Livonia, Courland, Kovno Gubernia not given by Lahmeyer.
Both Lahmeyer and Mitchell (IHS pp.72-74) provide data for the population development of cities, the latter source being more selective than the former.

Demographic Development of European Russia by Gubernia

In the first half of the 19th century, population growth was markedly slower than in the second half. The map of the left shows that most regions saw a population growth of less than 50 %; Kaluga, Pskov, Smolensk and Yaroslav Gubernias even experienced negative population growth. Moscow and St. Petersburg Gubernias showed a higher population growth of more than 50 %, which is to be explained by urbanization. Extraordinary population growth took place in the frontier region - Bessarabia Oblast, the Don Cossack Host, Kherson, Taurida, Simbirsk, Saratov, Samara, Ufa, Orenburg Gubernia.
The map on the right shows that population growth accelerated across the board; all gubernias experienced population growth of at least 50 %; Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev Gubernias showed stronger population growth than in the previous period, again to be attributed to urbanization; the population growth in the frontier region remained high, in Ekaterinoslav Gubernia it accelerated. Vitebsk, Mogilev, Minsk and Volhynia saw extraordinarily high population growth.

Ethnic Composition of the Population of European Russia

The map features an attempt to show the distribution of ethnic groups within European Russia and beyond on the eve of World War I. The Russian ethnicity from the 16th century onward has expanded from core Russia (Grand Duchy of Muscovy) in southern, eastern and northern direction. The map simplifies the actual situation, as the colours reflect the majority population (many areas had mixed population), the colours displaying Finno-Ugric, Siberian respectively Caucasian and Central Asian peoples fail to differentiate between a number of peoples, and they fail to express the degree of assimilation into Russian culture, merely featuring the language spoken. The map also does not reflect population density.

The Impact of Wars

Napoleon's invasion of Russia 1812 - just after the first census had been taken - had a strong impact on Lithuania, Grodno, Minsk, Smolensk, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Kaluga, Moscow and Volhynia Gubernias; Kaluga and Smolensk Gubernia did not reach the population figure of 1810 by 1863.
The Polish Insurrection of 1830-1831 again affected the western gubernias, Lithuania, Grodno, Minsk, Mogilev, Vitebsk, Volhynia, Podolia, Kiev.
The Crimean War 1853-1856 affected mainly Taurida Gubernia.
The Polish Insurrection of 1863-1864 had a lesser impact than that of 1830-1831, affecting Kovno, Vilna, Grodno, Minsk, Volhynia Gubernias.
World War I affected Reval, Livland, Courland, Kovno, Vitebsk, Vilna, Grodno, Minsk, Volhynia, Podolia, Bessarabia, Kherson, Taurida Gubernias directly, the remainder of Russia indirectly.


In the first half of the 19th century, Russia continued to attract immigrants, mainly peasants, from Germany and the christian population on the Balkan peninsula, then under the rule of the Ottoman Empire (Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs etc.). The immigrants established communities in frontier country - Bessarabia Oblast, Kherson, Taurida, Ekaterinoslav, Saratov Gubernia (Volga Germans). These immigrants were granted privileges, treated as freemen (while the vast majority of Russian peasants still were serfs), maintained their original religion (f.ex. Lutheran or Mennonite Germans) and languages.
Russia was especially interested in attracting entrepreneurs as immigrants; while they were comparatively few in numbers, they contributed to the development of Russia's nascent industries. Many of them assimilated into the Russian culture.


Until the reign of Catherine the Great, the policy in the Russian Empire regarding ethnic minorities had been forced assimilation, mainly enforced by the Russian Orthodox Church. Catherine the Great decreed religious toleration in 1773, which allowed for the organization of the Islamic community among the Volga Tatars, Bashkirs etc., granted legal status to the Jewish community acquired in the First Polish Partition of 1772 and allowed for the immigration of non-Orthodox immigrants which were needed to settle vast stretches of frontier land.
This policy of religious toleration was officially maintained, but neither the Russian Orthodox Church nor many in the Russian administration embraced it. Pressure exerted on them caused a large part of the (Muslim) Crimean Tatar population (Taurida Gubernia) to emigrate in waves in 1853-1856, 1860-1863 and 1877-1878. The Bashkir lands (Ufa Gubernia), under Alexander II., were exposed to "wholesale plundering of Bashkir lands under Alexander II." (EB).
In 1881, Czar Alexander III. proclaimed the motto "One Czar, One Language, One Faith", which launched the policy of Russification; instruction in languages other than Russian was banned in the Russian Empire. This policy caused the exodus of part of the population the ancestors of whom had immigrated under the promise that they were allowed to maintain their religion and language (Volga Germans). This trend was enforced when mandatory mlitary service was introduced in 1887, causing not only the exodus of many of Russia's (ethnically German) Mennonites, but also of part of the (Russian) Doukhobor community.
The large Jewish population Russia had acquired in the process of the Polish Partitions had been subject to discrimination by state authorities from the beginning; by law they were restricted to residing within shtetls within the Pale of Settlement. Alexander III. blamed the assassination of his father on the Jews, had the Jewish residents of Moscow expelled, and condoned, if not orchestrated, occasional pogroms against the Jewish population of individual cities, a policy continued under his successor Nicholas II., triggering the exodus of part of the Russian Empire's Jewish population. Most emigrants did not want to emigrate, they were coerced to emigrate, by violation of the law committed or at least condoned by state authorities.


Population Growth of Major Cities in European Russia, 1800-1910 (after IHS pp.72-74)

City 1800 1850 1870 1890 1910
Ekaterinoslav 9,000 12,000 24,000 47,000 196,000
Kazan 54,000 45,000 79,000 134,000 188,000
Kharkov 10,000 25,000 60,000 188,000 236,000
Kiev 23,000 50,000 71,000 184,000 505,000
Minsk 11,000 24,000 36,000 71,000 101,000
Moscow 250,000 365,000 612,000 799,000 1,533,000
Nizhny Novgorod 14,000 31,000 41,000 73,000 109,000
Odessa 6,000 90,000 121,000 314,000 506,000
Rostov (Don) 4,000 13,000 39,000 67,000 121,000
Sankt Petersburg 336,000 485,000 667,000 1,003,000 1,962,000
Samara 4,000 24,000 34,000 95,000 96,000
Saratov 27,000 64,000 93,000 123,000 206,000

Articles Pale of Settlement, Bashkirs, Belarussians, Chuvash People, Estonians, Komi People, Latvian People, Lithuanian People, Mari People (Cheremis), Udmurt People (Votyaks), Ukrainians (in 19th century sources referred to as Little Russians), Volga Germans, Volgaic Finns (Mordovians e.a.), Volga Tatars, Doukhobor, Pogroms in the Russian Empire, from Wikipedia
DOCUMENTS Historical Population Statistics : Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, from Population Statistics, by Jan Lahmeyer
REFERENCE IHS : B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics : Europe 1750-1988, NY : Stockton Press 3rd ed. 1992 [G]
M.E. Falkus, The Industrialisation of Russia 1700-1914, London : MacMillan (1972) 1984 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on March 30th 2008, last revised on March 31st 2008

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