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Prominent Russians: Sergey Solovyov

May 5, 1820 – October 4, 1879

Sergey Solovyov was one of the greatest Russian historians and the author of “The History of Russia from the Earliest Times.” His influence on future generations of Russian historians was paramount. His son, Vladimir Solovyov, was one of the most influential Russian philosophers.


Sergey was born into the family of archpriest who taught bible studies at the Moscow Commercial College. At the age of eight, Sergey was admitted to a church school, but studied reluctantly, sitting all the time over books that had nothing to do with the curriculum and, as a result, performing poorly on exams. His father transferred him to the 1st Moscow gymnasium, but here, again, the future historian barely made it to the third grade, due to his poor knowledge. However, from the fourth grade on, Solovyov was among the best students and graduated from high school with honors in 1838.

University years

Young Solovyov became a student of the History and Philology Faculty of the Moscow University. At that time famous professors such as Timofey Granovsky and Dmitry Kachenovsky were delivering lectures. Solovyov diligently took notes and read everything he could on history. He was deeply impressed by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's "Philosophy of History."

Although known for his diligence and erudition, Solovyov didn’t avoid the company of his peers and attended student activities. He got to know the famous Russian poets Afanasy Fet and Konstantin Kavelin and other influential figures of that time. Having chosen Russian history as his major, Solovyov was given a famous historian, Professor Mikhail Pogodin, as his mentor. The professor soon discovered his young student’s thirst for knowledge and allowed him to use his historical library and a collection of ancient manuscripts. He also introduced Solovyov to the university administration as the best student.

The progress of the young historian was carefully watched by Count Stroganov, the curator of the University. The count, having no formal right to send a researcher of Russian history abroad still understood the necessity of enriching the knowledge of the young historian. He recommended Sergey Solovyov just after his graduation in 1842 as a private tutor to his brother, whose family had left the country for a long trip to Europe.

Article by Sergey Solovyov Article by Sergey Solovyov

Studying history

In 1842-1844 Solovyov attended lectures by the most famous historians in Berlin, Paris and Heidelberg, as well as the French Academy. After returning to Moscow the young historian took his master's examinations.

In 1846 Solovyov completed his doctoral thesis, which dealt with the "The history of relations between the Russian princes of the Rurik dynasty.” It was published and successfully defended in 1847. In 1850 Solovyov received a post as a professor at the Moscow University.

In 1851 the first volume of his work entitled "The History of Russia from the Earliest Times” was published and made the historian famous in Russia and Europe. Sergey Solovyov wrote a total of 29 volumes, covering the history of Russia from ancient times to the reign of Catherine II (until 1774). The last (29th) volume was published after his death in 1879.

Solovyov’s works were characterized by an in-depth analysis of sources. For example, he was the first one to use diplomatic correspondence to study a certain historic period. They also had the conceptual clarity of presentation, based on Hegel's philosophy of historical patterns and stages, changing in a certain sequence in the life of every nation.

Solovyov became a full professor in 1850 and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1877. In 1864 he became a professor of the Department of History and Philology, and from 1872 he was an Academician of the Division of Russian Language and Literature (Russian history) of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.

The historian and the royal family

The historian was favored by the Russian royal family: he was a history tutor to the Crown Princes Nicholas and Alexander and lectured history to the Grand Prince Sergey Alexandrovich Romanov.

From 1855 to 1869 Solovyov was the Dean of the Faculty of History of the Moscow University. In this position Solovyov implemented a number of major scientific, organizational and cultural projects at the University.

Sergey Solovyov died at the age of 60 and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. His valuable book collection on Russian and world history was transferred to the library of the Moscow University after his death. Sergey Solovyov had twelve children (four died at an early age). The most famous was Vladimir – a Russian religious philosopher, poet, essayist and critic.

Written by Leonid Laparenok, RT

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