Battle of Narva Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Battle of Narva marked the decisive victory of Sweden over Peter the Great and the Russian army.

Summary of Event

The Battle of Narva constituted one of the first major episodes in the Great Northern War Great Northern War (1700-1721) , which began earlier in 1700 as the result of military operations by Denmark, Poland, and Russia against King Charles XII Charles XII[Charles 12] of Sweden. Each of the allied powers had good reason to make war on Charles because of his continued expansion in northern Europe. Sweden had wrested extensive territories from Poland and Russia in the eastern Baltic during the seventeenth century, and in the west had seized the southern part of the Scandinavian peninsula from Denmark. Moreover, Sweden gained the valuable district of western Pomerania by the terms of the Peace of Westphalia Westphalia, Peace of (1648) at the end of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). By the mid-seventeenth century, Sweden Sweden was the strongest power in northern Europe; the Baltic Sea in effect became a Swedish lake. [kw]Battle of Narva (Nov. 30, 1700) [kw]Narva, Battle of (Nov. 30, 1700) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Nov. 30, 1700: Battle of Narva[3140] Expansion and land acquisition;Nov. 30, 1700: Battle of Narva[3140] Government and politics;Nov. 30, 1700: Battle of Narva[3140] Finland;Nov. 30, 1700: Battle of Narva[3140] Estonia;Nov. 30, 1700: Battle of Narva[3140] Sweden;Nov. 30, 1700: Battle of Narva[3140] Narva, Battle of (1700) Augustus II Charles XII Frederick IV Peter the Great

Sweden’s neighbors, however, were unwilling to accept their defeats as final, and competition for power and territory continued in the region surrounding the Baltic during the latter seventeenth century. When Charles XII became the king of Sweden in 1697, he was only fifteen years old; it seemed an opportune time for Denmark, Poland, and Russia to recover some if not all of their losses. Accordingly, in the fall of 1699, Frederick IV Frederick IV (king of Denmark)[Frederick 04 (king of Denmark)] , king of Denmark; Augustus II Augustus II (Frederick Augustus), elector of Saxony and king of Poland; and Peter the Great Peter the Great , czar of Russia, created a secret military alliance against Sweden. When the Great Northern War broke out in early 1700, Frederick, anxious to eliminate Swedish influence in Holstein-Gottorp, concentrated his forces against the German provinces of Sweden.

Simultaneously, Polish-Saxon forces attacked Swedish positions in Livonia in the eastern Baltic. Easy victories were anticipated on both fronts, but the unexpected landing of Charles XII in northern Denmark with eleven thousand men resulted in Frederick IV’s capitulation by August 8, 1700, in the Peace of Travendal Travendal, Peace of (1700) . Meanwhile, Russia finally entered the Great Northern War on August 9 because of protracted peace negotiations with the Turks arising out of the War of Azov. In effect, Russia took the place of defeated Denmark. Peter the Great and Augustus, impressed by the Danish defeat, offered to negotiate with Charles, but the confident boy king haughtily rejected their overtures. Hence, for the next three months the Russians had no choice but to assist their Polish-Saxon allies in attempting to conquer Swedish territories along the coastline of the Gulf of Finland.

Most of Russia’s efforts during the fall of 1700 were directed against the Swedish fortress of Narva, located in Estonia on the Gulf of Finland. For two months, beginning in September, approximately 35,000 Russian troops invested the fortress in an unsuccessful siege. Shortages of artillery ammunition and lack of a coherent plan of action, however, hindered Russian success. When Charles finally landed in the area in October with the original intention of lifting the Polish siege of Riga to the south, he found that the enemy there had withdrawn. As a result, he decided instead to deal with the potentially more serious Russian threat at Narva.

After making necessary preparations, Charles set out on November 13 with an army of 8,000 veteran soldiers to attack the raw Russian recruits encamped before Narva. Reaching the area on November 19, he launched his assault on November 20 in the middle of a snowstorm. The Swedes broke through the Russians’ center line, while their cavalry fled in panic. Several Russian units fought doggedly to hold their positions, but they could not stem the onslaught of Charles’s veterans. By the end of the battle, the Swedes had won a complete victory, capturing all the Russian artillery and ending the siege. Swedish losses are estimated at no more than 2,000 casualties, compared with approximately 8,000 killed and wounded on the Russian side. Thousands of Russian soldiers surrendered to Charles’s forces, although precise figures vary widely. Ten generals were among the Russian captives.

Peter the Great had left Narva on the eve of the battle, and interpretations disagree whether he was absent primarily because of fear in the face of imminent battle or because of a search for reinforcements and ammunition. In any case, the problems arising from his absence were compounded by other factors. The duke de Croy, appointed to command the Russian army after Peter’s departure, surrendered to the Swedes during the battle with some of his key officers. A combination of poor leadership, inadequately trained conscript troops, and a determined enemy proved fatal to the Russians, who suffered one of the most infamous defeats in their history. All this occurred at the hands of the eighteen-year-old Swedish monarch, whose reputation quickly increased as a result.


The Swedish victories over Denmark and over the Russians at Narva led to a far longer and bloodier war than was envisioned by those states that attacked Sweden in 1700. Charles curiously did not press his advantage against Russia in 1700, when he had the opportunity, but turned his attention toward other opponents to the west. In the aftermath of his Narva victory, for example, Charles succeeded in ousting Augustus as king of Poland before again turning his attention to Russia in 1707. Meanwhile, Peter the Great used this welcome respite to develop a modern army in size, weaponry, and training. In 1703, he also established his new capital city of Saint Petersburg on Swedish territory, which he had recently captured.

Several years later, in 1709, Russian forces under Peter decisively defeated Charles at the Battle of Poltava Poltava, Battle of (1709) to the south. Charles now was unable to stem the slow but steady Russian advance against his eastern Baltic strongholds. Peter’s conquests of these areas, including Livonia, Estonia, Ingria, and part of Karelia, were confirmed in the Treaty of Nystadt Nystadt, Treaty of (1721) of August 30, 1721. This agreement with Sweden brought the Great Northern War to an end. Charles’s death in battle in 1718 further weakened the Swedish cause, and Russia consequently emerged for the first time as both a Baltic and European power.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anderson, M. S. Peter the Great. New York: Longman, 1995. A broad interpretation of Peter’s significant impact on Russia.
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    xlink:type="simple">De Jong, Alex. Fire and Water: A Life of Peter the Great. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1980. A clear account of the Narva campaign in the context of Russo-Swedish competition.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Duffy, Christopher. Russia’s Military Way to the West: Origins and Nature of Russian Military Power, 1700-1800. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981. Duffy interprets the impact of Peter’s military reforms and wars.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Englund, Peter. The Battle That Shook Europe: Poltava and the Birth of the Russian Empire. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2003. Englund recounts the decisive battle in 1709 that changed the course of the Great Northern War. Compares Poltava to the earlier Battle at Narva.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Frost, Robert I. The Northern Wars: War, State, and Society in Northeastern Europe, 1558-1721. New York: Longman, 2000. Frost examines the Great Northern War’s impact on the social and political systems of Sweden, Russia, Denmark, and Poland-Lithuania. Discusses how and why Russia emerged victorious.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fuller, William C., Jr. Strategy and Power in Russia, 1600-1914. New York: Free Press, 1992. Fuller traces the growth of military and economic systems developed to support Russia’s foreign policy objectives.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grey, Ian. Peter the Great: Emperor of All Russia. New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1960. Solid coverage of the Great Northern War, including the Battle of Narva.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kirby, David. Northern Europe in the Early Modern Period: The Baltic World, 1492-1772. London: Longman, 1990. Kirby examines Sweden’s role as a major political power, and the country’s eventual decline. Also discusses the evolving political and social systems of the Baltic states.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Massie, Robert K. Peter the Great. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980. A detailed biography, including extensive coverage of the Narva campaign and Great Northern War.

Peace of Westphalia

First Northern War

Peter the Great Tours Western Europe

Treaty of Karlowitz

Related articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Alexis; Charles X Gustav; Christina; Frederick William, the Great Elector; Gustavus II Adolphus; John III Sobieski; Leopold I. Narva, Battle of (1700)

Categories: History