From St. Andrew the Apostle to Stanislav. Studying the orders of the Russian Empire

February 25

Historical works and reference books is the starting point of the study of the Russian Empire system of orders. Or — one can begin with the Catherine Hall in the Tsaritsyno Palace. The frieze — a decorative canvas in the upper part of its walls — is decorated with eight bas-reliefs shaped as order stars of the Russian Empire.

The stars of orders established by Catherine II, the founder of the Tsaritsyno Palace — of Orders of Saint Vladimir and of Saint George — surround the main exhibit of the Catherine Hall— sculpture by Alexei Opekushin made in 1896.

Mikhail Trenikhin, art history PhD, researcher at the Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve, said where the orders had come to Russia from, what preceded them and what order is missing on the walls of the Catherine Hall.


The tradition of the order in Europe has a very long history. For example, the noblest Order of the Garter in Great Britain was established by King Edward III back in 1348. As it is well-known, Peter I the Great did a lot in line with the European model — he introduced military orders to Russia along with other innovations. Before, brave warriors were awarded with gold coins that were pierced and sewn onto clothes. This tradition dates back to the XV century.

The first order appeared in Russia at the very end of the XVII century, when Peter Alekseevich was still the Tsar of all Russia but not the Emperor. He personally drew what the order of the Saint Andrew the Apostle would look like: an oblique cross with a figurine of the saint, the letters SAPR, which means Sanctus Andreus Patronus Russiae, translated from Latin as “Saint Andrew, patron saint of Russia”. The motto of the St. Andrew's Order is "For Faith and Loyalty". It was worn on a blue silk ribbon.

Photo by Maxim Denisov,

The first and highest orders were awarded only to monarchical persons, including foreign ones, as well as representatives of the highest ranks. Fyodor Golovin, a diplomat and one of the closest associates of Peter I the Great, became the first holder of the St. Andrew Order. By the way, Opekushin’s statue in the Tsaritsyn Palace’s Hall is indicative in this regard. Empress Catherine II is depicted with the St. Andrew's order chain.

In 1714, another highest award appeared in Russia, and exclusively for females — the Order of The Great Martyr Saint Catherine. It’s first holder was Catherine I, not yet a tsarina at that time, but the wife of Peter I. The legend says that Catherine saved the king and the Russian army, having achieved an armistice in the Russian-Turkish war of 1710-1713. Accompanying Peter on the Prut campaign of 1711, she allegedly donated all of her jewelry to bribe the Turkish commander Mehmet Pasha.

Jean-Marc Nattier. Portrait of Tsar Peter I the Great. 1717

Whether it was true or not, but the “History of the War of the Sweys”, published under the editorship of Peter I the Great, states that three years later he “himself imposed on her Majesty the newly established cavalry of the Order of St. Catherine, which order was established to commemorate her majesty being in the battle against the Turks near the Prut, where at such a dangerous time she was not like a wife, but like a masculine person was visible to everyone”.

By the way, the third Russian order — Order of Saint Alexander Nevsky -— was established by Ekaterina Alekseevna herself, who replaced her husband on the throne after his death. Peter I conceived it as a reward for military service, but Catherine I decided to reward civilians with it.

G. Grooth. Equestrian portrait of Catherine I. Mid-XVIII century

Smoke and fire

The Russian order system was replenished with two major awards in the Catherine II reign: Order of Saint Vladimir and Order of Saint George. They had four degrees, from the lowest to the highest. Order of St. George became the highest military award of the Russian Empire. One of the insignia of the order is the famous black and orange ribbon that nowadays is a symbol of Victory. The colors of the ribbon symbolize the battlefield smoke and fire soldiers have to pass through.


The mottoes of these two, perhaps the most significant awards of the Russian Empire, reflect their military and civilian focus: "For Service and Courage" — at the Order of St. George, "Benefit, Honor and Glory" — at the Order of St. Vladimir.


One of the holders of the First Degree Order of St. George was Admiral Vasily Chichagov. He is the only admiral to receive this order. He was awarded in 1790 for the victory in the Vyborg battle, that was decisive for the Russian-Swedish war.

A famous historical anecdote is associated with the his name. During an audience with Catherine II, the admiral, talking about the battle he had won, got so carried away that, forgetting about ethics and the rules of decency, he switched to the vile swearwords. Recovering himself, Chichagov was embarrassed and asked to forgive him, but Catherine tactfully pretended not to notice anything: "Never mind, Vasily Yakovlevich, go on, I don't understand your sea terms."

Catherine the Great herself also wore the Order of St. George of the first degree. But she was not a holder, but according to the common European tradition, she placed the medal badge on herself as its grandmaster, i.e. the creator. Therefore, portraits of Catherine II depict her wearing a black and orange ribbon.

M.  Shibanov. Portrait of Catherine II in a traveling dress. 1787

Foreign orders and bas-reliefs in Tsaritsyno Palace

Later, during the reign of Paul I foreign orders of St. Anne and St. John of Jerusalem (Maltese) entered the award system of Russia. The latter, however, was excluded from the number of Russian awards under Alexander I. The suppression of the Polish uprising in 1831 added two Polish orders to the imperial award system — St. Stanislaus and the White Eagle. The latter, the Order of the White Eagle, is the only one which star was not depicted as a bas-relief in the Catherine Hall. Why? A mystery and a historical flaw, says Mikhail Trenikhin.

Orders of foreign origin had Latin mottos. For example, the phrase Amantibus Justitiam, Pietatem, Fidem ("To those who love Truth, Piety, Faithfulness") accompanied the Order of St. Anne. The Order of St. Stanislaus stars bore the inscription Praemiando incitat (“By rewarding, encourages”). 



If you continue to use our website, you are agreeing to accept the use of cookies on your device. Cookie files ensure the website’s efficiency and help us provide you with the most interesting and relevant information. Read more about cookie files.
Accept ccokies