The Russian Orthodox Church has finally provided an explanation as to the purpose of the exhumations including that of Tsar Alexander III.  I am not completely convinced by this reasoning, but at least they are responding to the questions and criticism. Please read on.

Tsars Alexander II and Alexander III, grandfather and father of Nicholas II.
Left: Tsars Alexander II and Alexander III, grandfather and father of Nicholas II (right).

The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and Russian state authorities have confirmed that work on the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexander III is being conducted simultaneously. The challenge posed was to carry out entire complex of genetic, anthropological as well as historical studies. But what was the purpose of exhuming Alexander III?

As preparations for the exhumation of the remains of Tsar Alexander III at the Peter & Paul Cathedral began, observers may have viewed ROC’s position as something akin to grave robbing. But it all fell into place when Bishop Tikhon, who was present at the exhumation, spoke at the press conference:

“In many ways, this is no easy task – to invade the tomb of an Emperor, even for genetic tests. On the one hand we understand that this is necessary, but there was also another reason. For many years, there have been myths and written evidence that that the tombs at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, had been opened. Perhaps even numerous times”.

“The material taken during the exhumation of Nicholas II and Alexander III was sealed in special waterproof and sterile tubes. The job of the geneticists was to completely eliminate any contact with the environment which may contaminate the samples. The sealed samples cannot be opened without breaking the seal, which contains signatures of the members of the Inquiry Commission as well as those of the Patriarch’s Committee, who were present at these events, ” stated Vladimir Solovyov, the senior investigator.   “Sculpture restoration specialists from the Hermitage are engaged in this project and they will do everything to make sure there is no unnecessary damage of the tombstone,”  Solovyov emphasized.

One of the first things that the investigators noticed was that the plate on the tomb of Alexander III was slightly beveled. In a video recording of the process it was evident that the tombstone was previously disturbed and studied using some unknown devices. What was going on and who were the people who did it?

The area was surrounded by shields so that the tomb was dismantled and the cover removed before the plate. It is all done now.  “What did we see? Slots in the white wall. There should have been long metal straps that pull two marble tombstones covers together. They were not there“, said Bishop Tikhon.

According to the Bishop, nothing like this is supposed to happen during imperial burials. There was one another strange thing: the same plate which was to be removed was damaged. The corner was either broken off in order to pry off the bottom, or when the plate was removed it was broken and then placed back. In general this a strange thing, and for this too, we need an answer.

But why were the remains of Nicholas II and his wife Empress Alexandra Feodorovna exhumed once again? In one of the photographs it is clearly visible that this time the samples were taken from the skulls, not the bones. This is because in one of the versions of the story, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin kept the skull of Nicholas II on his desk in Moscow, which means that the Tsar’s skull was not supposed to be in the Ekateriburg grave. The question of whether the skull indeed belonged to Nicholas II was answered by this latest DNA examination, which clearly means that the skull on the desk story was only a myth.   “We can now categorically state that the skull and the rest of the skeleton are from one and the same person,”  said Vladimir Solovyov.

But, of course, in all this are many political overtones. What was the reason that the imperial graves were disturbed immediately after the revolution?   “What could have been their motives? From basic grave robbery – it was a hungry revolutionary time – to the hypothesis that Vladimir Ulyanov’s (Lenin) hatred of the tsarist government was extremely personal, because his brother, Alexander Ulyanov was hanged and his death penalty was approved by Tsar Alexander III, whose assassination the elder Ulyanov brother plotted,” said Bishop Tikhon.

“The new studies will also include aspects that have never been done before by any expert in the field of genetics or forensic science”,  said Vladimir Solovyov.  The investigator is referring to the assassination of Tsar Alexander II – the grandfather of Nicholas II, in particular the traces of his blood on the uniform he wore that terrible day in 1881, which had been preserved.

“The year  1881 is very long time ago, and we can now look forward to the outcome of another key expertise through the grandfather of Nicholas II, Tsar Alexander II”, explained Solovyov, “Especially since the current collaborative work between the state and the church includes elements that previously were not included in the scientific investigation”.

The future Tsar Nicholas II saw the bloody uniform with his own eyes, on the day that his grandfather had been blown up. Still alive, Alexander II was taken to the Winter Palace, where the teenaged Nicky witnessed the violent death of his grandfather. Nicholas II recalled this horrible event for the rest of his life.

According to one of the insiders, there are still many important examinations that need to take place on the Romanov family remains, but the most important thing is that this time they are being done with everyone’s consent and without haste.  As to the discovery of truth, Bishop Tikhon added: “There is nothing so secret as not to become known.”







  1. I agree with his last statement. Along the same lines, there is a statement in the movie “1776” where Sam Adams says something to the effect that there isn’t anything so awful that it can’t be drug out into the light of day and talked about. Hopefully this will settle everything for once and for all.


  2. As ever the quality of both the arumnegts put forward by both schools here was very high and your points are well argued and backed up. Both posts show a very clear sense of the importance and nature of this debate and argue their point of view strongly, traits which you would do well to apply later to your exams. Although this is in part an inevitable consequence of the manner of the debate, it is essential that you do not lose the evidence and informed opinions that back up your arumnegts in your attempts to win an audience over to your corner of the argument. Little Heath Winning post This post is very strong on the benefits of emancipation, however slight or substantial they may have been. The army and lateral reforms are all too often left out of the discussion. If you had the space and time that are a few areas you might consider further. You might look at why Count Tolstoy would have toasted Alexander II “Tsar liberator” and how far historians have been too quick to take on his judgement. You make clear that Nicholas I despised the practice, but to not say why he nothing about it. This could have led onto a discussion of why it is Alexander II did act and the context of Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War would work well here. Westwood’s quote on Alexander II may be making more of a point about the rest of Russia’s rulers than Alexander II himself and here comparisons with other reforming figures of your exam would also be interesting. Henry Floyd Winning PostVery strongly argued post that cuts through Count Tolstoy’s quote and distinguishes between the theory of the reforms and their actual social and economic impact. Again your assertion that Alexander was “forced” into a policy of reformation, leads back to this question of motivation and you may like to state more strongly whether you are using the criteria of motivation or impact as your deciding factor. Although you shouldn’t confuse anarchists with peasants revolts, your point about the continuity of peasant opposition before and after emancipation is important and well made. The main argument of the post would seem to indicate that the serfs were freed technically but in fact their social and economic condition worsened and here you could discuss the relative importance of “freedom” if it brings such results. Although you are correct to underline strongly t hazardous nature of these reforms, it might be a good idea to acknowledge some of emanicpation’s benefits even if you then refute their importance and discuss what you regard as the more decisive consequences. Little Heath’s rebuttal I think you are correct to state that there is a danger in selling the reforms short, though you should back up your example of serf sales with more description and even some statistics. The second point is better in its more detailed examples whilst your point aboit the role of the Mir elders in all this is an original one, which reminds us of the vast scale of these reforms and the role of countless individuals within them, all below Alexander II. Henry’s Floyd’s rebuttal A strongly argued rebuttal here that makes very clear your position on the insecurity brought about by emancipation and its relative importance compared to the “horrors of serfdom”. I like the point that these judicial reforms still held elements of autocracy within them (although you should state more clearly whether you think this was inevitable given the overarching structure and ideology of Tsarist rule). Your detail on the army reforms and point that the nobility was still able to escape conscription is also important and the depth of analysis here is clearly very in depth and one you should seek to replicate in your other work this year. Final verdict and thoughts This is an extremely difficult debate to judge. You have both made extremely well argued cases backed up by a great deal of evidence. You should also remember that one of the great strengths of your A Level History course is that you are engaging in debates amongst historians that are still undecided and that as your posts make clear, good arumnegts can be made for both sides. Whilst the differences between you are therefore slight, I have judged Little Heath to be the winner in this debate. You make good and nuanced arumnegts on the benefits of emancipation in your first post and in your rebuttal, although there is room for improvement, the points are for the most part very detailed and your point about the Mir elders is particularly is an interesting one. Henry Floyd’s winning post is also extremely well argued, detailed, takes a long view up to 1881 and finishes by suggesting a more appropriate title. Whilst your rebuttal is also well argued, it might be wise to be somewhat more cautious in your conclusion. Your point about financial insecurity is key but a discussion of where you stand on conditions before 1861 would have engaged you more closely with the arumnegts of the opposition. Equally to describe his reforms as methods of repression and control, under a disguise needs to be very well backed up indeed, if it is to be substantiated. Although I therefore declare Little Heath the winner of this round, the differences between you were slight and a rematch is almost certainly in order.On a final note there are a few areas which both sides might like to consider in more depth (although I of course recognise your word limits in the above debate) •You engage more closely with this idea of motivation, how far you think it matters to historians or the peasantry themselves compared to its economic and social impact and where you think it came from, be it Alexander’s personal liberalism (if any) or the context of the Crimean War•A stronger argument or indeed a stronger essay, not only deals with the points in favour of your argument but also admits the strength of the opposition’s argument and attempts to deal with it head on•The constraints and freedom of action Alexander II had in attempting reform is an interesting point to ponder and one which invites comparison with the other Russian reformers in your paper and their lack of success. This in turn may lead you to argue that whatever Alexander II’s personal motivation, his task was a very difficult one coming up against a number of vested interests and failing to satisfy anyone, as his later fate on the steps of the Winter Palace might suggest…•The question of your debate you should also recognise, does not confine itself to issues over the emancipation. You might draw conclusions about Alexander’s personal commitment to liberation, from his later drift to reaction after 1866, which in the context of an assassination attempt may be understandable


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.