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(in Russian, samoderzhavie), the monarchical form of government in Russia under which the ruler—the tsar or emperor—had supreme power in legislation (ratification of bills) and high-level administration, including the appointment and dismissal of high-ranking officials, the control of central and local institutions and bodies of government, supreme command of the army and navy, and the control of finances. The ruler also had supreme power over the highest courts, including the power to approve sentences or pardon offenders.
Two stages can be distinguished in the history of tsarism. In the 16th and 17th centuries the monarch ruled together with the Boyar Duma and the boyar aristocracy; from the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th he ruled as an absolute monarch. Although the system of government was evolving toward a bourgeois monarchy, it remained autocratic until the February Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution of 1917. The last emperor, Nicholas II, officially abdicated on Mar. 2(15), 1917.