End Of Empire: 47 Photos Of The Last Days Of The Romanov Family

Published June 15, 2015
Updated November 11, 2019

War and inequality brought a violent end to the Romanov dynasty of Russia, making these images of the Romanov family's final years all the eerier.

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End Of Empire: 47 Photos Of The Last Days Of The Romanov Family
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On March 15, 1917, Tsar Nicholas II bowed to the chaos sweeping through Russia and abdicated the royal throne. This signaled an end to the centuries-old rule of the Romanov family, but it also marked the beginning of what Edmund Walsh would later describe in The Atlantic as the "weaving of the complicated net of death."

Upon abdicating the throne, the Romanov family -- symbols to many of the feckless imperial glut that stood at the root of much of Russia's hardships -- were exiled and shuffled about Russian residences until their violent July 1918 executions in Ekaterinburg. We track their final years, from 1914 to 1918, in this photo gallery.

The Romanov Family's Demise: A Lack Of "Peace, Bread And Land"

The 300-year Romanov dynasty came to a grinding halt in 1917. In an incredibly quick fashion, two revolutions ousted the House of Romanov and stamped out the Provisional Government taking the Romanovs' place, ultimately replacing it with a Communist government later that year.

Such an astonishing sequence of events was not entirely unforeseen. Tsar Nicholas II, whom many considered to be a credulous man and a weak political leader, presided over a time of great change.

By the early 20th century, Russia had entered a period of rapid industrialization that mainly benefited foreign investors and landowners, and people began to pour into towns and factories at incredibly high rates.

Factory In Tsarist Russia

Flax factory in 1905. Source: Lib Com

Russia had not prepared for such shifts. Millions of industrial workers now lived within Russia and started to form a new social class, the industrial proletariat, which demanded better wages and conditions than the rural peasants with which Russia was previously familiar.

By 1914 -- seven months before World War I broke out -- over 4,000 worker strikes occurred, largely in protest of extreme economic inequality and against an autocratic regime that seemed ill-disposed to do anything that would improve the livelihoods of this ever-growing industrial class.

World War I exacerbated impoverishment and class-based animosities as an already-fractured Russia suffered terrible losses both on the field and within its factories.

Russia's industrial output plummeted, its army lacked the equipment necessary to stand a chance against the Germans, and casualty and soldier desertion numbers soared. Many Russians looked to Tsar Nicholas II -- who, lacking the military chops to do the job right, foolishly made himself commander of the armed forces -- as the primary source of their starvation.

As Nicholas II expanded his epic losing streak to Prussia and left his wife Alexandra -- a German under the influence of an unpopular "monk" named Rasputin -- in charge of Russian cities, civil discontent swelled and others attempted to capture the loyalty of the hungry and disillusioned Russian populace to advance their own cause.

One such person was Vladimir Lenin, who while in exile in Switzerland campaigned against the war and called upon Russians to turn the "imperialist war into civil war."

Vladimir Lenin In 1917

Vladimir Lenin, 1917. Source: Britannica

And it soon happened. Extreme hunger, bitter cold, and runaway inflation drove citizens to the streets in what became known as the February Revolution in Petrograd. Nicholas called on police to control the situation, but they instead joined the strikers.

The soldiers, now wise to the fact the Nicholas' strategies were seldom winners, followed police and refused to fulfill the Tsar's request that they tamp down the strikers. This, coupled with the massive losses incurred during World War One, led the Tsar -- lacking any real authority at this point -- to step down, leaving the Duma tasked with forming some semblance of government as all hell broke loose.

Romanovs Last Days During The Russian Revolution

The start of the Russian Revolution on International Working Women's Day, 1917. Source: Marxists.org

What provisional governments they did manage to form dissolved within a year: War continued, living standards made no progress, and Lenin returned to Russia to help form the Petrograd Soviet, a labor-led council meant to oppose and bring down the Duma-crafted provisional government.

Gulag Memorial

A gulag memorial along a Russian highway. Not long after the Romanovs were executed, Lenin demanded "mass terror" against his opponents and that "unreliable elements" must be locked up in concentration camps outside major towns. Over 14 million people were in forced labor camps from 1929 to 1953.

The Bolsheviks -- who ultimately killed the Romanov family in Ekaterinburg after convincing them that they were being led beneath the earth not for execution but protection -- stormed the Winter Palace, assumed control over the state and signed a preliminary armistice with Germany in December to bring the war to an end.

But after all the pains that millions of Russians made to remove themselves from the yoke of a decadent, oppressive dynasty, they fell for Lenin's promises of "peace, land and bread" and would soon find themselves under another oppressive regime that was arguably worse than the one that preceded it. Credulity struck Russia twice.

Enjoyed this look into the final days of the Romanov family? Check out our other posts on Imperial Russia in color and staggering photos of life inside North Korea.

Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
Gabe Paoletti
Gabe Paoletti is a New York City-based writer and a former Editorial Intern at All That's Interesting. He holds a Bachelor's in English from Fordham University.
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Cox, Savannah. "End Of Empire: 47 Photos Of The Last Days Of The Romanov Family." AllThatsInteresting.com, June 15, 2015, https://allthatsinteresting.com/romanovs-last-days. Accessed June 13, 2024.