One of the first efforts of the far-sighted monarch was to consolidate the army and to bring it under the energy of one mind, by breaking down the independence of the nobles, who had heretofore acted as petty sovereigns, leading their contingents of vassals. Peter was thus preparing to make the influence of Russia felt among the armies of Europe as it had never been felt before.
The Russian empire, sweeping across Siberian Asia, reached down indefinitely to about the latitude of fifty-two degrees, where it was met by the Chinese claims. Very naturally, a dispute arose respecting the boundaries, and with a degree of good sense which seems almost incredible in view of the developments of history, the two half-civilized nations decided to settle the question by conference rather than by war. A place of meeting, for the embassadors, was appointed on the frontiers of Siberia, about nine hundred miles from the great Chinese wall. Fortunately for both parties, there were some Christian missionaries who accompanied the Chinese as interpreters. Probably through the influence of these men of peace a treaty was soon formed. Both parties pledged themselves to the observance of the treaty in the following words, which were doubtless written by the missionaries:
“If any of us entertain the least thought of renewing the flames of war, we beseech the supreme Lord of all things, who knows the heart of man, to punish the traitor with sudden death.”
Two large pillars were erected upon the spot to mark the boundaries between the two empires, and the treaty was engraved upon each of them. Soon after, a treaty of commerce was formed, which commerce, with brief interruptions, has continued to flourish until the present day. Peter now prepared, with his small but highly disciplined army, to make vigorous warfare upon the Turks, and to obtain, if possible, the control of the Black Sea. Early in the summer of 1695 the Russian army commenced its march. Striking the head waters of the Don, they descended the valley of that river to attack the city of Azov, an important port of the Turks, situated on an island at the mouth of the Don.