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The Elusive Empire
Kazan and the Creation of Russia, 1552–1671
Matthew P. Romaniello

The Elusive Empire is the story of the colonial project and expansion down the multiethnic Volga, which made Russia a permanent great power. With attention to all parties involved, and based on massive, fresh archival research, Matthew Romaniello provides a surprising and exciting tableau and account.”
—David M. Goldfrank, Georgetown University

In 1552, Muscovite Russia conquered the city of Kazan on the Volga River. It was the first Orthodox Christian victory against Islam since the fall of Constantinople, a turning point that, over the next four years, would complete Moscow’s control over the river. This conquest provided a direct trade route with the Middle East and would transform Muscovy into a global power. As Matthew Romaniello shows, however, learning to manage the conquered lands and peoples would take decades.

Russia did not succeed in empire-building because of its strength, leadership, or even the weakness of its neighbors, Romaniello contends; it succeeded by managing its failures. Faced with the difficulty of assimilating culturally and religiously alien peoples across thousands of miles, the Russian state was forced to compromise in ways that, for a time, permitted local elites of diverse backgrounds to share in governance and to preserve a measure of autonomy. Conscious manipulation of political and religious language proved more vital than sheer military might. For early modern Russia, empire was still elusive—an aspiration to political, economic, and military control challenged by continuing resistance, mismanagement, and tenuous influence over vast expanses of territory.

Matthew P. Romaniello is assistant professor of history at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, editor with Charles Lipp of Contested Spaces of Nobility in Early Modern Europe, and editor with Tricia Starks of Tobacco in Russian History and Culture.


“Matthew Romaniello's interesting book . . . is coherent, well grounded in the sources, and persuasive. His Elusive Empire is a real achievement casting a new light on the periphery of the expanding early modern Russian state.”
Cahiers du Monde Russe

The Elusive Empire is a thorough and painstaking discussion of the period in which the Russian empire—and its Eurasian nature—was established.”
—Peter Gordon, Asian Review of Books

“The author's insightful analysis will be of interest not only to historians of Russia, but also to those interested in the development of empires in any period. Based on extensive archival research, the book is enhanced by maps and illustrations and a truly delightful interior design.”

“The text is enlivened by numerous vivid vignettes and significantly enhanced by the illustrations, tables, and especially maps. . . . This is an outstanding book.”
The Slavic Review

The Elusive Empire is an engaging read that will inspire much thought and reflection among both specialists of Muscovite Russia and scholars of empire more generally. I recommend it highly.”
—Gary Guadagnolo, H-Net

“[A] wonderful study. . . . Romaniello’s book immediately takes its place among other recent excellent works that are required reading for those trying to understand the early modern Russian empire. . . . This is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the creation of the Russian empire, and deserves as wide an audience as possible.”
—Kees Boterbloem, Itinerario

Elusive Empire is a thoroughly researched, sophisticated analysis of the way in which the Russian Empire took shape in Kazan.”
Russian Review

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January 2012
LC: 2011011573 DK
296 pp.   6 x 9
6 b/w illus., 5 maps, 9 tables

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ISBN 978-0-299-28514-2
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