Noblewoman having a spa day on the eve of revolution? It’s more likely than you think.

Georgian Spring (1905)
A  spring surrounded by noblewoman and an imperial officer. Borzhom, Georgia (1905)

My analysis of this photo has lead me to discover many interesting things that have occurred during this period of time and in this region of empire. For starters,  Georgia, at the time of this photo’s creation, had been a colony of the Russian Empire, a part of a greater Caucasus territory. There had been numerous attempts by the imperial government to Russianize those with the region , their culture, and institutions, without really giving much thought into what the people wanted. It was not until Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855) assigned Count M.S. Vorontsov with the task of elevating tension between the native people and the imperial government, by appointing him as the Vicegerent of the Caucasian Territory, that they saw an improvement in their situation. Two important things occurred as a result of Vorontsov’s appointment was that he divided the Caucasus Territory into provinces based on local, social, and political structures (including the creation of Georgia), and removed Russian nobles from government positions in the region, and appointed native people from their designated province to replace them. He gave the native people, in their designated region, a seat at the table and was generally interested to hear what they had to say. So it is fair to assume that those women in the photo, while it is possible they are Russian noblewomen on vacation in Georgia, as Georgia was a popular tourist destination for Russian nobles during this time, could also be the wives of Georgian noblemen or bureaucrats hired by Vorontsov.

But, what about the imperial officer accompanying the women? Why is he there? To be honest, I at first thought he might have been a relative of theirs, maybe a husband of sorts, but after reading through the textbook I found that by the end of the 19th century, as a result of the Great Reforms and the Emancipation, nobles enlisted in military schools dropped from 81%, in 1860, to 12%, the rest of which were filled by officers of non-noble heritage (Freeze, Russia: a History, pg 218). So it’s  unlikely that that officer is a nobleman or related to the women in any way. So why is he there? Well, my guess is that since this photo was taken in 1905 and by the foliage in the background seems to be either spring or summer, that this photo was taken after the events of Bloody Sunday, which resulted in the death of hundreds of protesters at the hands of imperial officers. And that the officer in the photo is there to ensure that these women do not interact  with the common people or anyone who might rile up trouble. This being the case as Tsar Nicohlas II and his regime, even before Bloody Sunday, were very weary of any elites interacting with the common people in social settings, especially without government supervision (Freeze, Russia: a History, pg. 235), believing that such an interaction may lead to revolutionary or anarchist behavior or a possible revolt or revolution against the government. Such a tragic event would, in theory, amp up the government’s need to maintain control over the general population and elite to ensure that it remains in power.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History Third Edition . Oxford University Press, 2009.

10 Replies to “Noblewoman having a spa day on the eve of revolution? It’s more likely than you think.”

    1. I do not believe the textbook mentioned any interaction between Russian and Georgian peasants. If anything the other source I found, Russia’s Imperial Policy – The Administration of the Caucasus in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, had the closest mention of any interaction between Georgians and Russian but, spoke more of the general dissatisfaction of the general populace, including Georgina peasants, with the Russian nobles and the imperial government. So I think to answer your question that the peasants, both Georgian and Russian, probably had limited interactions with one another.

      1. Yes? This is assuming that the ethnicity of the peasants in Georgia is predominantly Georgian and that there are relatively few ethnically Russian peasants there? I really like the approach you took with this — and that’s great detective speculation about how the date of this photograph would suggest that the events of the revolution played a part in bringing that officer into the frame.
        I also appreciate the insight your outside source adds — and based on your reading of that, I’m wondering how you assess Georgia’s attitudes toward the Imperial regime and the revolution of 1905 — do you think the Georgians were supportive of the autocracy or did they also hope for more say in a constitutional order?

        1. From what I could gather, ever since Georgia had gotten under Imperial control, they had not really, to put it mildly, like Russia all too much. They much preferred it when they had their own autonomy. I do not know much about their stance during the revolution of 1905, but I do know that after the revolution of 1917, that the Northern Caucasus region (which includes Georgia) attempted to become independent from the new government which caused in fighting within the region. So I think to answer your question that Georgians would have preferred a more constitutional order, had that occurred.

  1. Very interesting; Were the Georgian nobility more homogeneous among the commoner populace or were they culturally heterogeneous? We hear about how Russian nobles in Russia proper conversed in French and wrote in German since those were the go-to languages for communication, was this the same in Georgia?

  2. Your post was really good at explaining what was going on in the picture, because it would’ve been hard for me to find a deeper meaning to it. The women do look rich from their clothes, but I never would’ve guessed why there was an officer in the background and I never would’ve under stood the significance of the picture being taken in Georgia. It really is important to understand the context behind pictures and not take them at surface value.

    1. Thank you! However I must confess that I was merely speculating what was occurring in the picture with the historical knowledge that I was able to obtain through the various readings. I mean, it could be entirely possible that the imperial officer standing with these women is related to them and not merely ensuring they don’t start any trouble. We may never know

  3. I think this picture does a good job at showing how the revolution was seen by the upper class. As you greatly described in your post, these were most likely wives of officers or some other high class women. This picture shows me how unaffected these women were concerning the revolution. If this was around the same time that the protesters were killed, their life does not seem to have changed. They are still spending their days at the spas. Do you think that actions such as these made the people even more resentful towards them?

  4. Oh absolutely. If anything I believe this only fuels the fire of the lower classes to hate the nobility while showing the disconnect that the nobles have with the direction in which their country is going.

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