Treaty of Paris (1856)

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Treaty of Paris
Edouard Dubufe Congres de Paris.jpg
Edouard Louis Dubufe, Congrès de Paris, 1856, Palace of Versailles.
TypeMultilateral Treaty
Signed30 March 1856 (1856-03-30)
Location Paris, France
RatifiersFrance, United Kingdom, Ottoman Empire, Sardinia, Prussia, Austria, Russian Empire

The Treaty of Paris of 1856 brought an end to the Crimean War between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain, the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia. [1] [2]


The treaty, signed on 30 March 1856 at the Congress of Paris, made the Black Sea neutral territory, closing it to all warships and prohibiting fortifications and the presence of armaments on its shores.

The treaty diminished Russian influence in the region. Conditions for the return of Sevastopol and other towns and cities in the south of Crimea to Russia were severe since no naval or military arsenal could be established by Russia on the coast of the Black Sea.


Epinal print of the sovereigns of Europe during the Congress of Paris, 1856 Congres de Paris, 1856.jpg
Épinal print of the sovereigns of Europe during the Congress of Paris, 1856

The Treaty of Paris was signed on 30 March 1856 at the Congress of Paris with Russia on one side of the negotiating table and France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia on the other side. The treaty came about to resolve the Crimean War, which had begun on 23 October 1853, when the Ottoman Empire formally declared war on Russia after it moved troops into the Danubian Principalities. [3]

The Treaty of Paris was seen as an achievement of the Tanzimat policy of reform. The Western European alliance powers pledged to maintain the integrity of the Ottoman Empire and restored the respective territories of the Russian and the Ottoman Empires to their pre-war boundaries. They also demilitarised the Black Sea to improve trade, which greatly weakened Russia's influence in the region. Moldavia and Wallachia were recognized as quasi-independent states under Ottoman suzerainty. They gained the left bank of the mouth of the Danube and part of Bessarabia from Russia as a result of the treaty. [4]


Participants of the Congress of Paris, 1856 Traite de Paris (1856).jpg
Participants of the Congress of Paris, 1856

As the Crimean War ended, all sides of the war wanted to come to a lasting resolution due to the casualties and attrition suffered. However, competing ideas of war resolution inhibited the drafting of lasting and definitive peace treaty. Even amongst the allies, disagreements between nations concerning the nature of the treaty created an uncertain peace, resulting in further diplomatic issues involving the Ottoman Empire, especially in terms of its relations with the Russian Empire and the Concert of Europe. Also, mistrust between the French and British allies during the war effort compounded problems in formulating a comprehensive peace. [5] Thus, the terms of the treaty made future relations between the major powers uncertain. [6] [7]

Peace aims

Russian aims

Despite losing the war, the Russians wanted to ensure that they attained the best possible outcome for the empire at the Congress of Paris. When Alexander II took the crown of Russia in 1855, he inherited a potential crisis that threatened the collapse of the empire. There were problems throughout the empire, stretching from parts of Finland to Poland and Crimea and many tribal conflicts, and the Russian economy was on the brink of collapse. Russia knew that within a few months, a total defeat in the war was imminent, which would mean the complete humiliation of Russia on an international scale, and further loss of territory. Peace talks were pursued by Alexander II with Britain and France in Paris in 1856 as a means of attempting to keep some imperial possession, but also of stopping the deaths of thousands of its army reserves as well as preventing an economic crisis. [5] Similarly, Russia wanted to maintain at least a pretence of military power, which had posed a formidable threat to the west European allies. It attempted "to turn defeat into victory... through... peacetime [internal] reforms and diplomatic initiatives." [8]

Britain and France

During the war Britain and France resumed their latent rivalry, largely derived from the Napoleonic Wars. The French blamed many of the defeats of the alliance on the fact that Britain had marched into war without a clear plan. Defeats including the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava were used to highlight the logistical and tactical failures of Britain, and there were resultant calls for increased army professionalism. [9] The British were increasingly wary throughout the war that the French might capitalise on a weakened Russia and focus their attention on seeking revenge on the British for French military defeats at Trafalgar and Waterloo. [10]

Although there was a call for the end of the war in Britain, including riots in London, there was support for its continuation, and expansion to punish Russia's imperial ambition, particularly from the incumbent prime minister Lord Palmerston. [9] [11]

Britain and France desired to ensure that the Ottoman Empire were made stronger by the Treaty of Paris, ensuring a stable balance of power in Europe. Britain and France hoped that peace and restricting Russian access to key areas, such as the Black Sea, would allow the Ottoman Empire to focus on internal issues including rising nationalism in many nations under the empire's authority. Without the Ottomans being in full control of their empire, the great powers feared that it could lose much of its territory in future wars with the Russian Empire and the German Confederation, eventually strengthening these nations that could pose a significant threat to the French and British. [12] Thus, the full removal of Russian presence in the Danubian provinces and the Black Sea served both to protect British dominance and to inhibit the Russian Empire from expanding its influence so readily.

Russian losses

The Ottoman, British and French governments desired a more crushing defeat for Russia, which was still crippled in many key areas. The Russian Empire had lost over 500,000 troops [13] and knew that pressing further militarily with their largely unprofessional army would have resulted in higher casualties and attrition.

Russia was forced to withdraw from the Danubian Principalities, where it had started a period of common tutelage for the Ottomans and the Congress of Great Powers. [14]

Russia had to return to Moldavia part of its territory it had annexed in 1812 (to the mouth of the Danube, in southern Bessarabia). The Romanian principalities and the Principality of Serbia, were given greater independence, resulting in the Russian Empire having a diminished influence over them.

Russia was forced to abandon its claim to protect Christians in the Ottoman Empire, which initially served as part of the pretext for the Crimean War.[ citation needed ]

Russian warships were banned from sailing the Black Sea, which greatly decreased Russian influence over the Black Sea trade.

The defeat accentuated the impediments of the Russian Empire, contributing to future reform including the emancipation of the serfs and the spread of revolutionary ideas.[ citation needed ]

Short-term consequences

From Auguste Blanchard's copper-plate engraving, based on Edouard Dubufe's picture Congress of Paris 1856.jpg
From Auguste Blanchard's copper-plate engraving, based on Édouard Dubufe's picture

The treaty reopened the Black Sea for international trade to be safe and effectual after both the naval warfare of the Crimean War and the presence of Russian warships had made trade difficult, including many trade disputes. [14]

The Treaty of Paris was influenced by the general public in France and Britain because the Crimean War, was one of the first wars in which the general public received relatively prompt media coverage of the events. The British prime minister, Lord Aberdeen, who was viewed as being incompetent to lead the war effort, lost a vote in Parliament and resigned in favour of Lord Palmerston, who was seen as having a clearer plan to victory. [5] Peace was accelerated in part because the general population of the western allies had greater access to and understanding of political intrigue and foreign policy, and therefore demanded an end to the war.

Long-term consequences

Treaty of Paris participants Treaty of Paris 1856 - 2.jpg
Treaty of Paris participants

Nationalism was bolstered in many ways by the Crimean War, and very little could be done at a systemic level to stem the tides of growing nationalist sentiment in many nations. The Ottoman Empire, for the next few decades until World War I, had to face a number of patriotic uprisings in many of its provinces. No longer capable of withstanding the internal forces tearing it apart, the empire was splintering, as many ethnic groups cried out for more rights, most notably self-rule. Britain and France may have allowed the situation in Europe to stabilise briefly, but the Peace of Paris did little to create lasting stability in the Concert of Europe. The Ottomans joined the Concert of Europe after the Peace was signed, but most European nations looked to the crumbling empire with either hungry or terrified eyes.

The war revealed to the world just how important solving the "Eastern Question" was to the stability of Europe; however, the Peace of Paris provided no clear answer or guidance. [7]

The importance of the Ottoman Empire to Britain and France in maintaining the balance of power in the Black and the Mediterranean Seas made many view the signing of the Treaty of Paris to be the entrance of the Ottoman Empire to the European international theatre. Greater penetration of European influence into Ottoman international law and a decline in emphasis of Islamic practices in their legal system illustrate more of an inclusion of the Ottoman Empire into European politics and disputes, leading to its major role in the First World War. [15]

Austria and Germany were affected by nationalism as a result of the signing of the Peace of Paris. Austria was normally an ally of Russia but was neutral during the war, mobilized troops against Russia and sent at least an ultimatum asking the withdrawal of Russian armies from the Balkans.

After the Russian defeat, relations between the two nations, the most conservative in Europe, remained very strained. Russia, the gendarme of conservatism and the saviour of Austria during the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, angrily resented the failure of Austria to help or assist its former ally, which contributed to Russia's non-intervention in the 1859 Franco-Austrian War, which meant the end of Austrian influence in Italy; in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, with the loss of its influence in most German-speaking land; and in the Ausgleich (compromise) with Hungary of 1867, which meant the sharing of the power in the Danubian Empire with the Magyars. The status of Austria as a great power, after the unifications of Germany, Italy and, to a lesser extent, of Romania, was now severely diminished. Austria slowly became a little more than a German satellite state.

A unified and strengthened Germany was not a pleasant thought for many in Britain and France [16] since it would pose a threat to both French borders and British political and economic interest in the East.

Essentially, the war that sought to stabilise power relations in Europe brought about by a temporary peace. The great powers only strengthened nationalist aspirations of ethnic groups, under the control of the victorious Ottomans and of the German states. By 1877, the Russians and the Ottomans would once again be at war. [7]


The treaty admitted the Ottoman Empire to the European concert, and the Powers promised to respect its independence and territorial integrity. Russia gave up some and relinquished its claim to a protectorate over the Christians in the Ottoman domains. The Black Sea was demilitarised, and an international commission was set up to guarantee freedom of commerce and navigation on the Danube River.

Moldavia and Wallachia would stay under nominal Ottoman rule but be granted independent constitutions and national assemblies, which were to be monitored by the victorious powers. A project of a referendum was to be set in place to monitor the will of the peoples on unification. Moldavia recovered part of Bessarabia (including part of Budjak), which it had held prior to 1812, creating a buffer between the Ottoman Empire and Russia in the west. The United Principalities of Romania, which would later be formed from the two territories, would remain an Ottoman vassal state until 1877.

New rules of wartime commerce were set out in the Declaration of Paris: (1) privateering was illegal; (2) a neutral flag covered enemy goods except contraband; (3) neutral goods, except contraband, were not liable to capture under an enemy flag; (4) a blockade, to be legal, had to be effective. [17]

The treaty also demilitarised the Åland Islands in the Baltic Sea, which belonged to the autonomous Russian Grand Duchy of Finland. The fortress Bomarsund had been destroyed by British and French forces in 1854, and the alliance wanted to prevent its future use as a Russian military base.

Signing parties

See also

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Sources and further reading