Yuri Semyonov's The Conquest of Siberia says the main motivation for the Russian empire's eastwards expansion was the acquisition of furs (in the form of yasak, the fur tax assessed on native male subjects). Geopolitics was a relatively minor concern; no other power was rapidly expanding towards Russian territory, and the imperial military was in any case often occupied with wars in Europe.

Of course, the empire also had a state religion: the Orthodox church, which midway through the era of expansion, suffered a schism. Did it provide doctrinal justification for the conquest? Could it afford to missionize the new territory? Did the creation of Siberian dioceses such as the bishopric of Irkutsk change church politics?

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    Are you asking if the state religion of an autocratic state supported the state?
    – MCW
    Jul 6, 2017 at 17:06
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    @MarkC.Wallace good question. I rewrote above to focus on the kinds of effects the church and expansion might have had on each other. Jul 6, 2017 at 18:24

2 Answers 2


Disclaimer: it is rather a long comment than an answer.

You have to keep in mind that a significant (if not predominant) part of Siberia colonists were Dissidents (раскольники, Schismatics). The crowd which settled in Siberia before 1666 stuck to the Old Ritual, and after the Schism the Dissidents moved there lets say more eagerly than Nikonians.

For a while the Crown looked away, because it was a win-win situation; of course Dissidents didn't want to draw too much attention by proselytizing locals.

In due time the State have had to assert the principality of the official canon. This remained the main theme of the Church policies in Siberia. Nobody paid too much attention to locals; they stayed Buddhist, Shamanists and to lesser extent Muslims until (and through) Soviet times.

  • This is a very interesting angle. I will accept the answer if you add a reliable source for the claim that Siberia in general stuck with the Old Ritual during a certain period. Jul 20, 2017 at 5:21
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    @AaronBrick I am afraid I cannot give a definite source. Everything relevant is behind the paywall, and I don't think that Soviet high school History textbook of 1973 would satisfy you. An anecdotal evidence is that the overwhelming support of Pugachev in Western Siberia was due to his promise to "жаловать крестом и бородою".
    – user58697
    Jul 20, 2017 at 6:13

The Tsar that started the expansion into Siberia was Ivan IV (the Terrible). While he was a fairly pious man, these conquests were at first simply wars against the fragments of the Mongol hordes that plagued Russia for centuries. The land seized from these hordes was given to private citizens for development, and it was them that hired the cossacks to subdue native tribes.

  • Good summary of the beginnings of expansion, which seems pretty secular. Later, clergymen went along on the Bering expeditions, and I don't know who paid for or justified their presence. Jul 6, 2017 at 4:33

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