Across Russia, squares, schools and military orders are named for him. Every Russian schoolchild knows his name, synonymous in Russian with courage, tenacity and bravery. Widely considered to be one of Russia’s greatest military strategists, he led Russian forces into over 60 battles, against Turkish, Polish, German and French troops, winning every one. And yet, despite being so well known and loved in his homeland, Alexander Suvorov rarely gets more than a scant mention in western histories of Russia, usually only for his daring crossing of the Alps in 1799. On May 18 (May 6, old style), Russia marks the bicentennial of Suvorov’s death—a fitting pretext for an in-depth look at the life and work of this extraordinary leader.
Alexander Vasiliyevich Suvorov was born November 13, 1730 in the Arbat region of Moscow. His father, Vasily Suvorov, was a senator, a four-star general, and aide-de-camp to Peter the Great. Catherine the Great wrote that Vasily Suvorov “was a man of incorruptible honesty, very well educated ... I nurtured immense trust for him and have never pronounced his name without veneration.”
Alexander took this heritage very seriously, and from an early age prepared himself for the hardship of military service, undertaking strenuous daily physical exercise and cold water baths. At the age of 12, he was enlisted in the Life Guards Reserve of the Semyonovsky Regiment, then granted a leave of duty to study at home. In the 18th century, it was common for the nobility to enroll their sons in the Guards as children: as the children grew up, they climbed the ranks, enabling them to begin their later, true service with an officer’s rank.
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