Military History Battle of Poltava
Alexander Mikaberidze
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 February 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0019


The battle of Poltava was the defining engagement of the Great Northern War (1700–1721), the prolonged conflict between Russia and Sweden over supremacy in the northern regions of central and eastern Europe. The war erupted in 1700 when a coalition of Russia (led by Tsar Peter I), Denmark-Norway (under King Frederick IV), and Saxony-Poland-Lithuania (ruled by King Augustus II the Strong of Poland) challenged the hegemony that Sweden had exercised on the Baltic littoral since the mid-17th century. However, Charles (Karl) XII, the young and maverick Swedish ruler, quickly demonstrated his military expertise as he forced Denmark to leave the alliance, defeated Tsar Peter’s numerically superior army at Narva in 1700, and dethroned King Augustus, thus extending Swedish influence to much of Poland-Lithuania. Tsar Peter’s success in Ingria prompted Charles XII to invade Russia nine years later. The Swedish and Russian armies clashed on 27 June 1709 along the River Vorskla, not far from the Ukrainian city of Poltava. The battle ended in a shattering defeat for the Swedes, whose army was almost entirely destroyed. Charles XII was forced to flee to the Ottoman Empire. The myth of his invincibility having been destroyed, his enemies closed in, and Charles was shot dead in a battle while defending his western borders in 1718. Although the war continued until 1721, the defeat suffered at Poltava marked the end of Sweden as a great power and the birth of the Russian Empire.

Reference Works

Many useful reference works on the history of Sweden and Russia are available, but only a few focus on the Great Northern War. Millar 2004 is the most recent encyclopedia of Russian history and provides more than 1,500 entries encompassing more than 1,000 years of Russian history. Scobbie 2006 is a concise dictionary (more than 240 entries) that covers Swedish history from the Viking Age to the present day. Of greater utility is the Svenskt biografiskt lexicon, which contains numerous excellent biographical entries of Swedish military and political leaders. Similarly, Lewenhaupt 1920–1921 is a superb reference on the Swedish officers who took part in the war.

  • Lewenhaupt, Adam. Karl XII:s officerare: Biografiska anteckningar. Stockholm: P.A. Norstedt & Söner, 1920–1921.

    A massive two-volume reference work featuring biographical details on thousands of Swedish officers who served in the army and navy.

  • Millar, James R. Encyclopedia of Russian History. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.

    The most recent general reference work on the history of Russia, good for quick contextual reference.

  • Scobbie, Irene. Historical Dictionary of Sweden. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006.

    A concise but useful dictionary that covers the entire history of Sweden.

  • Svenskt biografiskt lexicon. Stockholm: Bonnier, 1918–.

    The Dictionary of Swedish National Biography is one of the oldest biographical dictionaries still in progress. The first volume was published in 1918, and as of 2011, more than thirty volumes have been published, containing some 14,000 entries. It features many excellent biographical sketches of Swedish personalities involved in the war.

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