What is the context?

Why was the Caucasus so important to the Great Powers in the 19th Century?


By the beginning of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was already in decline. The other Great Powers (Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Prussia and Russia) saw potential benefits for themselves in  this decline but they also recognised  possible threats to their national interests.  A declining power could destabilise the delicate balance of power in Europe and the Near East.


At the same time the Russian Empire was seeking to expand its sphere of influence over Constantinople and  the European lands controlled by the Sultan.  As long ago as 1725 the Russian Tsar, Peter the Great,  had  expressed  an interest in competing with Britain for control over India. As the eastern frontiers of Russia extended further east through  the Caucasus the British Government became increasingly concerned that Russia still had  plans for India. 


Increasing tension between Russia and the Ottoman Empire dragged the other Great Powers into the Crimean War in 1853-56. The defeat of Russia forced her to reconsider her expansionist plans.  She now concentrated on gaining control of the whole of the Caucasus.


The Black Sea and its surrounding lands, including the Balkans and the Caucasus, remained strategically important for all of the Great Powers right up to the end of the First World War. 


Click here for more information about the strategic significance of the Caucasus