Moscow under Napoleon: The Social Experience of Cross-Cultural Dialogue

Vladimir Zemtsov

Abstract


The article is devoted to social aspects of cross-cultural contacts during the Napoleonic occupation of Moscow. A wide documentary base developed over two centuries allows us to define the forms and mechanisms of contact between the representatives of different cultural, ethnic, and social groups in a devastated urban environment. Serious differences between the actions taken by the various groups of Moscow’s population were already evident before Russian troops left the city. The upper classes tried to abandon the city, leaving only their servants to guard assets: meanwhile, many representatives of the middle strata, including foreigners, could not afford such a course of action. They remained in the city, primarily to defend their houses and belongings: however, their actions could also be dictated by family circumstances and a sense of professional/public duty. The lower classes of the Russian capital were even less capable of leaving the city. Their mood quickly changed from patriotic exaltation, coupled with drunkenness and looting, to open hostility towards the authorities and ‘masters’ who had ‘betrayed’ them. A special category was made up of the sick and wounded Russian soldiers, some of whom were left to the mercy of the invaders because there was no opportunity to move them. Many of these people had no choice other than to face the cruelty of their fate, although those who managed to travel often engaged in robbery and looting. The actions of the Moscow mayor were largely determined by the desire to erect an insurmountable barrier between the European soldiers who occupied the capital and those residents who remained. Indeed, a great fire, which began on the evening of 14 September, and widespread looting and violence destroyed the contacts between the occupiers and the local population. After returning to the Kremlin on 18 September, Napoleon gave orders to systematically plunder Moscow. This caused even greater alienation between the people of Moscow and the troops occupying it. However, Moscow residents also had to anticipate the reestablishment of Russian control, which principally entailed maintaining their lives and property intact. This determined the features of future intercultural contacts and cross-cultural dialogue. This is the first part of the article.


Keywords


Patriotic War of 1812; Moscow in 1812; Napoleon; foreign occupation; intercultural dialogue; Napoleon’s Russian Campaign

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2016.3.184

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