The Russian Empire (Pre-reform Russian orthography: Россійская Имперія, Modern Russian: Российская Империя, translit: Rossiyskaya Imperiya) was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the short-lived Russian Republic, which was in turn succeeded by the Soviet Union. One of the largest empires in world history, the Russian Empire was surpassed in landmass only by the British and Mongol empires. At one point in 1866 it stretched from eastern Europe across Asia and into North America.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Russian Empire extended from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea on the south, from the Baltic Sea on the west to the Pacific Ocean and into North America on the east. With 125.6 million subjects registered by the 1897 census, it had the third largest population in the world at the time, after Qing China and the British Empire. Like all empires, it represented a large disparity in terms of economics, ethnicity and religion. Its government, ruled by an Emperor, was an absolute monarchy until the Revolution of 1905. Afterwards it became a constitutional monarchy, though its Emperor continued to wield considerable power during the new political regime until the final demise of the empire during the February Revolution of 1917, the result of strains brought about by participation in World War I.
Though the Empire was only officially proclaimed by Tsar Peter I, following the Treaty of Nystad (1721), some historians would argue that it was truly born either when Ivan III conquered Novgorod or when Ivan IV conquered Kazan. According to another point of view, the term Tsardom (Царство), which was used after the coronation of Ivan IV in 1547, was already a contemporary Russian word for empire, while Peter the Great just replaced it with a Latinized synonym. Perhaps the latter was done to make Europe recognize Russia as more of a European country.
Much of Russia's expansion occurred in the 17th century, culminating in the first Russian settlement of the Pacific in the mid-17th century, the incorporation of Left-bank Ukraine and the pacification of the Siberian tribes.
Peter I the Great (1672–1725) introduced autocracy in Russia and played a major role in introducing his country to the European state system. However, this vast land had a population of only 14 million. Grain yields trailed behind those of agriculture in the West, compelling nearly the entire population to farm. Only a small percentage lived in towns. The class of kholops, close to the one of slavery, remained a major institution in Russia until 1723, when Peter I converted household kholops into house serfs, thus including them in poll taxation. Russian agricultural kholops were formally converted into serfs earlier in 1679.