Some Russian historians believe that the Streltsy uprising was a reactionary rebellion against progressive innovations of Peter the Great (Peter I), who was away on a scientific tour in western Europe at the time. Others suggest that it was a riot against the yoke of the serfdom oppression, military service hardships and harassment.
The Moscow Streltsy, which had participated in Peter the Great's Azov campaigns in 1695–1696, were left in Azov as a garrison. In 1697, however, the four regiments of Streltsy were unexpectedly sent to Velikiye Luki instead of Moscow. On their way there, they were starving and carrying their ordnance by themselves due to absence of horses. In March 1698, 175 Streltsy left their regiments and fled to Moscow to file a complaint. They secretly established contact with Sophia Alekseyevna, who had been incarcerated at the Novodevichy Monastery, and hoped for her mediation. The runaway Streltsy, despite their resistance, were sent back to their regiments, giving rise to discontent among the rest of them.
On 6 June, Streltsy removed their commanding officers, chose four electives from each regiment, and made their way to Moscow, getting ready to punish the boyars and foreign advisers and blaming them for all adversities. The rebels (approx. 4,000 men) intended to install Sophia or, in case of her refusal, her alleged lover Vasili Golitsyn, who had been in exile. Peter I ordered four regiments (2,300 men) and a cavalry unit under the command of Aleksey Shein and Patrick Gordon to attack the Streltsy. On 18 June, the Streltsy were defeated not far from the New Jerusalem Monastery (Voskresensky Monastery) 40 km west of Moscow.
Peter availed himself of savage tortures while investigating the incident. Many suspects were whipped to death with the knout, an extremely stout leather whip composed of numerous twisted strands. Many were stretched until their limbs broke; sophisticated iron thumbscrews were applied to the fingers and toes of some prisoners; while other had their backs slowly roasted or had their flanks and bare feet slowly torn apart with red-hot iron pincers. Peter thus induced suspect after suspect to name accomplices in a virtually unending cavalcade of forced, and likely often fake, confessions.
As a result of a major investigation, 57 Streltsy were executed and the rest sent into exile. Upon his hurried return from London on 25 August 1698, Peter I ordered another investigation. Between September 1698 and February 1699, 1,182 Streltsy were executed and 601 were whipped, branded with iron, or (mostly the young ones) sent into exile. The investigation and executions continued up until 1707. The Moscow regiments, which had not participated in the uprising, were later disbanded. Streltsy and their family members were removed from Moscow.
Alexander Moutchnik: Der "Strelitzen-Aufstand" von 1698, in: Volksaufstände in Russland. Von der Zeit der Wirren bis zur "Grünen Revolution" gegen die Sowjetherrschaft, hrsg. von Heinz-Dietrich Löwe. Forschungen zur osteuropäischen Geschichte, Bd. 65, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2006, S. 163–196. ISBN 3-447-05292-9 (The Streltsy Uprising of 1698)
- Michael C. Paul, "The Military Revolution in Russia 1550-1682," The Journal of Military History 68 No. 1 (January 2004): 9-45, particularly se21.