"the road through Poltava, which Charles XII chose"
The Battle of Poltava by Pierre-Denis Martin
Public DomainThe Battle of Poltava by Pierre-Denis Martin


During the Great Northern War Charles XII of Sweden, an accomplished military tactician, invaded Russia along the same route towards Moscow that Napoleon would later take (Vilna-Vitebk-Smolensk). He came up against Peter the Great, whom he had previously defeated in Livonia and Estonia. However, Peter the Great learned from his earlier mistakes, modernising the Russian army so that when Sweden invaded they were themselves defeated at the Battle of Poltava in 1709. This is widely thought to have marked the beginning of the decline of Sweden as a great power in Europe.