Early life and career
Shafirov was born into a Polish Jewish family. His father Pavel Shafirov was a translator in the Russian Foreign Office, whose parents converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity after Smolensk was ceded to Russia by Poland in 1654.
Peter Shafirov first made himself useful by his extraordinary knowledge of foreign languages. He was the chief translator in the Russian Foreign Office for many years, subsequently accompanying tsar Peter on his travels. Made a baron and raised to the rank of vice-chancellor, he displayed diplomatic talents of the highest order.
Shafirov concluded the Peace of the Pruth during the campaign of 1711. Peter left him in the hands of the Turks as a hostage, and on the rupture of the peace he was imprisoned in the Seven Towers. Finally, however, with the aid of the British and Dutch ambassadors, he defeated the diplomacy of Charles XII of Sweden and his agents, and confirmed the good relations between Russia and Turkey by the treaty of Adrianople (June 1713).
On the institution of the colleges or departments of state in 1718, Shafirov was appointed vice-president of the department of Foreign Affairs, and a senator. In 1723, however, he was deprived of all his offices and sentenced to death. The capital sentence was commuted on the scaffold to banishment, first to Siberia and then to Novgorod. Embezzlement and disorderly conduct in the senate were the offences charged against Shafirov, and with some justice. On the death of Peter, Shafirov was released from prison and commissioned to write the life of his late master.
In 1717, he authored a treatise entitled A discourse concerning the just causes of the war between Sweden and Russia, a historical tract on the war with Charles XII, in which Peter himself collaborated, epitomized, in a high panegyric style, some of the greatest exploits of the tsar-regenerator. The successful rivalry of his supplanter, Andrei Osterman, prevented Shafirov from holding any high office during the last fourteen years of his life.