Russians Reach the Pacific Ocean Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The seventeenth century was a century of rapid Russian expansion eastward: In just six decades, Cossacks and fur traders moved across the whole of Siberia, exploring the valleys of Siberian great rivers. In 1639, they reached the coast of the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Subsequent Russian explorations rounded the Arctic coast of Asia and passed through the straits separating Asia and North America.

Summary of Event

Russian penetration of Siberia Siberia began during the Middle Ages, when the Novgorodians sent expeditions to barter with the indigenous peoples for furs in the Northern Trans-Ural region. After the conquest of the Kazan Khanate in 1552, Russia began to expand eastward. In 1582-1585, Yermak Timofeyevich, Timofeyevich, Yermak at the head of 850 Cossacks Cossacks , crossed the Urals and defeated Kuchum Kuchum , the khan of the Siberian Khanate, one of the remnants of the Golden Horde. In 1587, the fort of Tobolsk Tobolsk was founded on the Tobol River. Tobolsk remained the capital of Russian Siberia for a long time. [kw]Russians Reach the Pacific Ocean (Dec., 1639) [kw]Ocean, Russians Reach the Pacific (Dec., 1639) [kw]Pacific Ocean, Russians Reach the (Dec., 1639) Expansion and land acquisition;Dec., 1639: Russians Reach the Pacific Ocean[1320] Exploration and discovery;Dec., 1639: Russians Reach the Pacific Ocean[1320] Russia;Dec., 1639: Russians Reach the Pacific Ocean[1320] Siberia;Dec., 1639: Russians Reach the Pacific Ocean[1320] Exploration;Russia of the Pacific Ocean

Cossacks, runaway peasants, traders, trappers, and adventurers rushed to Siberia in search of furs and other riches. Furs, trade in These prospectors were also explorers, venturing into uncharted territories. Usually, these territories were donated to the czar soon after their discovery. At the end of the seventeenth century, the whole of Siberia was covered with the thick network of ostrogs (stockaded towns), where offices of voevodas (governors) were located. The indigenous peoples of Siberia were forced to pay a yasak (tribute in furs).

The geography of Siberia contributed to a relatively easy Russian advance eastward: The major Siberian rivers flow from the south to the north, and their tributaries flow from the west to the east. By moving “toward the sun” via the Ob, Yenisey, and Lena Rivers, the Russians, over the course of only a few decades, were able to traverse thousands of miles through enormous spaces of the taiga and tundra.

Around 1620, from Turukhansk Turukhansk , founded in 1607 on the banks of the Turukhan River, one of the Yenisey River’s branches, a freeman by the name of Pantelei Demidov Penda Penda, Pantelei Demidov led forty Russian adventurers in search of the great Lena River. This legendary journey continued for several years; its participants traversed more than 6,000 miles (9,650 kilometers). The band ascended the Lower Tunguska River, overcoming cliffs and rapids. After portaging the boats, they reached the Lena River and descended to the place where the ostrog of Yakutsk was later founded. Then they turned back, reached the Lena River’s source, and through the Buryat steppes emerged onto the Angara River. They were the first Russians to sail down that river. Having overcome its terrible rapids, Penda and his companions returned to Turukhansk by a familiar road along the Yenisey River.

At the end of the 1620’, the way was opened from the Angara River—via its tributary, the Ilim River, and the Lena River’s portage—to the Kuga River, a tributary of the Lena River. This route from the Angara River to the Kuga River soon became the main eastward one through Siberia. In 1632, the Yenisey Cossack sotnik (cavalry-captain) Peter Beketov Beketov, Peter established Yakutsk Yakutsk on the bank of the Lena River. Yakutsk was to become the base of Russian expansion in eastern Siberia.

The 1630’s and 1640’s were the most significant years in the history of Russian explorations, culminating in Siberian explorers’ arrival at the Pacific Ocean. In 1638, Russians heard from an Evenk shaman about a great river in the south with a silver mountain on its banks. Reports of this mountain caught their attention, since Cossacks had an official order to search for silver deposits in new lands. In the seventeenth century, Russia had no silver mines of its own and had to import silver from Europe to coin money. In the spring of 1639, Ivan Moskvitin, Moskvitin, Ivan at the head of thirty Cossacks, left Yakutsk in search of the silver mountain.

Having ascended various rivers and crossed the Dzhugdzhur Range, the Cossacks reached the Ulia River, which flowed into the Sea of Okhotsk, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, by the end of 1639. They built two 50-foot (15-meter) koches (Russian sailing vessels), and in the summer of 1640, sailing along the coasts of eastern Siberia, they reached the Amur delta. They gave up trying to enter the delta, since many native Siberian boats were gathered there, and turned back. Moskvitin and his Cossacks returned to Yakutsk in the spring of 1641. Moskvitin did not find silver, but through his expedition, Russia had gained an outlet to the Pacific: The port of Okhotsk, the main Russian port in the Pacific and a gateway to Kamchatka, Alaska, and Russian America, was founded in 1647.

The Russians succeeded in reaching the Amur River in 1644, when a military expedition, under Vasily Poyarkov, Poyarkov, Vasily numbering 143 men, left Yakutsk and, ascending the Aldan River, reached the Zeia River, a tributary of the Amur River. However, Poyarkov’s mistakes in organizing a winter camp combined with hostile indigenous peoples resulted in a tragedy: Between eighty and one hundred of his Cossacks starved to death. The next summer, the survivors descended the Amur River and emerged onto the Sea of Okhotsk. Retracing Moskvitin’s route, they returned to Yakutsk in 1646, bringing back news of the “great river Amur” and its riches. Two ostrogs were built to capitalize on this discovery. In 1658, Nerchinsk was established on the Shilka River, the Amur River’s tributary, and in 1665, Albazin was constructed on the Amur River itself. They became the headquarters of Russian annexation and economic development efforts in the Amur area.

The Russian explorers from Yakutsk also traveled north to the Arctic Ocean. Bands of Cossacks descended the Lena River and sailed along the Arctic coasts of Siberia, searching for furs and walrus tusks. The voyage of Semyon Ivanov Dezhnyov, Dezhnyov, Semyon Ivanov a Russian Cossack navigator, and Fedot Alekseyev, Alekseyev, Fedot a trader, around the Chukchi Peninsula to the Bering Sea in 1648 was the culmination of these expeditions and had significant historical impact: Dezhnyov and Alekseyev discovered and passed the straits separating Asia and America.

In June, 1648, ninety men on six koches descended from the Kolyma River into the Arctic Ocean and sailed east, rounding a cape, the northeasternmost point of the Asian continent, which Dezhnyov referred to in his report as a “large rock nose” (in 1898, it was named Cape Dezhnyov in honor of the navigator). Only thirteen men including Dezhnyov survived this voyage, however, after storms, shipwrecks, and bloody clashes with the warlike local tribes of the Chukchi Chukchis . Having wintered at the Anadyr estuary, the survivors ascended the river and founded the Anadyr ostrog, from which they collected tribute from the local people. The Anadyr ostrog became the center of Russian conquest of Chukotka and Kamchatka.





The Russian exploration and territorial expansion in the seventeenth century culminated with the conquest of Kamchatka Kamchatka . Vladimir Atlasov, Atlasov, Vladimir a Cossack captain and senior clerk of the Anadyr ostrog, with sixty Cossacks and sixty Yukaghir natives, left Anadyr in December, 1696, went out to Penzhina Bay, and, having crossed the Koryak Range, reached the Bering Sea. He collected tribute from local tribes of the Koryaks Koryaks throughout the journey. Part of Atlasov’s band entered Kamchatka, moving along the Pacific coast of the peninsula. Meanwhile, Atlasov returned to the west coast and continued south. Atlasov ravaged the entire peninsula with fire and sword, conquering the native Itelmens Itelmens and forcing them to pay tribute. In commemoration of Kamchatka’s annexation, on July 13, 1697, he set a cross on the banks of the Kamchatka River, where he built two forts. He visited Moscow in 1701 and had an audience with Peter the Great. His detailed geographical and ethnographical description of Kamchatka was highly valued and was used for further explorations.


There is no doubt that Russian explorations in Siberia and northeastern Asia in the seventeenth century were part of the great voyages of discovery, considerably broadening Europeans’ knowledge of the unknown world of “Tataria” lying to the north of the Chinese Empire. Specifically, the discoveries of Russian pioneers made it possible for Europeans to draw much more accurate maps of Asia. They paved the way for the First (1725-1730) and Second (1733-1743) Kamchatka Expeditions led by Captain Vitus Bering on the initiative of Peter the Great. Advancing farther to the Kuril and Aleutian Islands and to Alaska in the eighteenth century, the Russian Empire gained strategic control of the North Pacific.

For a long time, Siberia remained a colony of the Russian Empire, which, in contrast to the colonies of other European states, was not situated overseas but instead directly adjoined the mother country. Siberia supplied furs, Furs, trade in one of the most important sources of public revenue. As industrialization developed, moreover, the region’s mineral resources came to play a significant role. In the twenty-first century, Siberia remains Russia’s treasure house: Siberian metals, diamonds, and, above all, oil and gas, represent the economic foundation of that country. According to estimates, about 40 percent of world mineral resources are concentrated in Siberia.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bobrick, Benson. East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia. New York: Poseidon Press, 1992. The emotional narrative of Russia’s conquest of Siberia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Forsyth, James. A History of the Peoples of Siberia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. The first comprehensive ethnohistory of Siberia in English. Examines the impact of Russian explorations on the natives of Siberia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lincoln, Bruce W. The Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and the Russians. New York: Random House, 1994. A detailed description of Siberia’s history. Part 2 discusses the Russian explorations in Siberia.
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Categories: History