Having won the Great Northern War in 1721, Peter the Great promoted himself from Tsar to Emperor. At the same time, he seems to have changed the title used by his daughters from Tsarevna to Tsesarevna. (By symmetry, it seems that he would have changed the title used by any son of his from Tsarevich to Tsesarevich, although by this point he had already had his last surviving son, Alexei, tortured to death.) What was his rationale for doing this?

My own best guess is that the change in his daughters' titles reflected the change in his own title; Tsarevna meant something like royal princess, whereas Tsesarevna meant something like imperial princess, at least in Peter's mind. According to this theory, the Tsesar- corresponds to the English/Latin Caesar, i.e. Emperor, and the -evna suffix, of course, means daughter. However, I can see two problems with this point of view:

  1. The word Tsar is itself derived from the title of Caesar.
  2. The Russian transliteration of Caesar is Цезарь, whereas the Russian spelling of Tsesarevna is Цесаревна; note that the former uses the letter з where the latter uses the letter с.

Can anyone shed any light on this?

  • 4
    As a side comment to your bullet 2, spelling Цесарь was also common, see e.g. ru.wiktionary.org/wiki/цѣсарь or lexicography.online/explanatory/dal/ц/цесарь (Dal's dictionary). I would even suppose that spelling with "з" is relatively recent; Dal's dictionary seems to include only "цесарь". Also, "кесарь" was common and is still used in some phrases. – Petr Dec 17 '20 at 12:28
  • 2
    Also, Russian Wikipedia has some explanation: ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Цесаревич#При_Петре_I , with a quote from Solovyov's History of Russia. – Petr Dec 17 '20 at 12:37
  • 1
    I don't know the answer to your main question, but the fact that two words (царь and Цесар) come from the same root doesn't mean they don't have different significance in the receptor language. For example, Caesar, czar, tsar, and kaiser have different meanings (or at least strong connotations) in English, although they all ultimately come from the same root. – LarsH Dec 19 '20 at 20:28
  • You can ask this question in russian.se. It is more about language than history. – talex Dec 20 '20 at 19:36

When Peter 'upgraded' the Russian title of 'tsar' (царь) to 'emperor' (император), this meant that the corresponding titles would have to be given a similar jump upwards.

The specific issue arose because the Westernized 'emperor', though sharing its root with the Slavonized 'tsar' in the Latin 'caesar', was a more important title than that of tsar, the two not being synonymous. In the previously used 'tsarevich' the suffix '-vich' ('-евич') indicates 'son of'—hence, the meaning of the title is 'son of tsar'.

Therefore, 'tsarevich' (царе́вич) or 'son of tsar' was unsuitable for someone who was the son of an emperor. Hence, 'tsesarevich' (цесаре́вич) or 'son of emperor' was created to remedy that problem. The female variant 'tsarevna' (царевна) was similarly unsuitable for 'daughter of emperor' for which the more apt 'tsesarevna' (цесаре́вна) was created. Their meanings in translation, in this case, are less important than the words in Russian which express a filial relationship towards the ruler because the translations are a matter of convention.

A similar translation problem arises with 'velikiy knyaz' which can be rendered as 'Grand Prince' or 'Grand Duke'—both being correct—which could also be accorded to the scions of the imperial house.

  • 3
    Let me be clear - I upvoted and I would accept this answer if it were my question (Speaking as a Russian student for many years). What I'm looking for is something that goes beyond tertiary etymological sources - something like a primary source that documents the decision to change the titles/create new title based on the Emperor's elevation. (not sure I'm expressing that clearly.) You've answered the "Why", but not the "when" or the "who". - but a splendid answer – Mark C. Wallace Dec 17 '20 at 18:42
  • 2
    Plus knyaz being cognate to German König/King… So yeah. But why the trouble of upgrading the Russian title, given that he could just insist on an elevated rank translation, or heck, just use inRussian one of those new fangled westernised words altogether (given his other preferences, and the Russian ease with which they import foreign words)? – LаngLаngС Dec 17 '20 at 19:00

What was his rationale for doing this?

Seems like a simple Westernization of Russian official vocabulary, which was a mainstream policy of Peter I. This was a message to the European leaders about the emerging Russian power and its global ambitions, so it was phrased in terms well understood in the West. I doubt that "Tsesar" communicates any greater status than "Tsar", it simply speaks to Western ears.

  • 3
    Welcome to HSE. Is that just a conjecture? Or are you aware of some proof? – José Carlos Santos Dec 19 '20 at 7:53
  • Why is the entire answer formatted as a quote? If it is a quote, where is it taken from? – Richard Hardy Dec 19 '20 at 10:57
  • @F1Krazy: Thanks for fixing the format. – user48117 Dec 19 '20 at 17:39
  • @JoséCarlosSantos: Sorry, no references, just common sense. Which sentence in my answer you find arguable?: 1) westernization of vocabulary? 2) new title is a message to the neighbors? 3) "tsar" == "tsesar"? Thanks. – user48117 Dec 19 '20 at 17:46
  • 1
    @user48117 Being “a message to the European leaders about the emerging Russian power and its global ambitions”. – José Carlos Santos Dec 19 '20 at 17:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.