Despite its grand size, nineteenth century Imperial Russia was a constantly expanding enterprise, always seeking to further its influence in the world. One theatre of expansion was the Balkans, where Russia sought control over the Slavic, Orthodox population, as well as access to the sea. This brought them into conflict with the Ottoman Empire, which was losing control over its possessions in Greece and the surrounding area. Russia fought the Ottoman Empire from 1828 to 1829 and forced them to surrender. This made other European powers nervous, as they did not want Russia to gain naval access to the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits. Tensions mounted until October 1853, when the Ottomans declared war on Russia. After a series of misunderstandings, Britain and France joined on the Ottoman side, leading to the Crimean War, which lasted until 1856.
Tolstoy fought in the Crimean War, and was present at the Siege of Sevastopol. It was also during this time that Florence Nightingale pioneered new nursing techniques. The Crimean War is the setting for Matthew Plampin's first novel, The Street Philosopher.