"With all the deportees out of the city and waiting for an order to move, a triple volley was suddenly fired from the guns on all the bastions, a booming sound rolling slowly around Dorpat and finally dying into the pallid, snow-lit winter night. It was like a bizarre farewell signal to all those who had to leave the solid centre of their microcosm, their familiar and beloved Dorpat, and whose lives were never to be the same."
The history of the small Estonian city of Dorpat (in modern days, Tartu, a charming university town), especially during the period of 1558–1708, when the whole country, coveted by three Great Powers – Russia, Poland and Sweden – was suffering in the throes of the Livonian War (1558–1583) and the Great Northern War (1700–1721), is full of dramatism. The city was besieged on nine occasions, and only twice did the enemy´s efforts fail. The city´s residents were deported to Russia five times between 1558 and 1708. A true Apocalypse, however, came when in 1708 the departing Russian troops after a devastating siege turned the city into a field of smouldering ruins.
Set against the broader background of the tumultuous events taking place in early eighteenth-century Europe, the book tells about the final episode in the series of Dorpat´s sieges, which ended with the conquering of the city and its annihilation. Drawing on rich archival sources, the author paints an often moving picture of burghers and the city officials caught between the harsh demands of wartime and their efforts to lead a normal life despite the lethal siege.
The Epilogue focuses on the two chief actors in this grand historical drama – Sweden´s Charles XII and Russia´s Peter the Great, deliberating about the various reasons why historians have treated the two rulers in a dramatically different manner: while Peter has largely evaded criticism, Charles has faced condemnation even in his own country.