The history of José de Ribas it is quite peculiar. Although he was born in Naples to Spanish parents, most of his life was spent in Russia, where he was treated as one of the aristocracy and the court of Catherine II. Although his greatest merit as a military man was the conquest of “the impregnable fortress of Ismail”, would go down in the annals of Russia for participating in the conspiracy that would end the life of the detested Tsar Paul I.
He was born on June 6, 1749 in Naples, which at that time was dynamically linked to Spain, in the bosom of a noble family. His education, therefore, was aristocratic and oriented towards military life, so that with only 16 years of age he was already part of the Neapolitan army. It seemed that his life was going to be destined to remain in Naples but at the age of 20 he met Count Alexei Orlov, brother of the lover of the Tsarina Catherine II.
Orlov chose Ribas as his assistant and interpreter. This recruitment was very useful to the count since the young Spanish-Napolitan stood out in the naval battle of Chesme, where the Russian fleet overcame the Ottoman with ease. In 1772, Ribas arrived in Russia and joined the cadet corps of the Russian army. After marrying the daughter of one of Catherine II's ministers, he entered the service of the new favorite general of the tsarina, Grigori Potemkin.
Under the orders of his new boss, he was transferred to Ukraine, a campaign in which he managed to obtain the rank of brigadier. Together with Potemkin, he conquered the Crimea and assisted in the construction of the new Black Sea fleet and its home port, Sevastopol.
The outbreak of the new war against Turkey He sent him back to the front, where he demonstrated his military quality in a brilliant new performance. These successes led to him obtaining command of the Black Sea Rowing Flotilla, an army with which he would take the island of Berezan and achieve promotion to Major General.
In 1790, he achieved his greatest triumph: the taking of the fortress of Ismail, a building reinforced and fortified by French and German engineers that was considered impregnable. Through the help of Suvorov, he managed to break the defenses and carry out one of the greatest massacres of the 18th century. Curiously, This fact led the tsarina to include him within her select circle of relatives.
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Ribas ended up winning the full favor of Catalina II when he signed in 1792 the Treaty of Jassy, by which the entire northern shore of the Black Sea was ceded to Russia. Immediately, he was promoted to Vice Admiral. The tsarina, by writing a personal decree, entrusted him with the construction of the future city of Odessa, a task that the Spanish-Napolitan carried out in just two years.
The death of Catherine II was a problem for Ribas, since her son, Paul i, accused him of embezzling funds in the foundation of Odessa and stripped him of his titles. Although for a time he gained the trust of the tsar and was even promoted to admiral, the truth is that the military ended up being completely removed from public life, as would happen to Suvorov.
The difference was that Ribas chose to contact the circles of aristocrats unhappy with the management of Paul I and conspired against him, together with the vice chancellor Nikita panin and the governor of St. Petersburg, Pyotr Alexeyevich Von Palen.
However, although the plan was quite solid, Ribas passed away before he could carry it out due to an illness that he contracted in the last military campaign. On December 2, 1800, his death occurred, for which some blame Von Palen who, in theory, got rid of the Spanish-Napolitan to avoid any possible revelation of plans.
Passionate about History, he has a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication. Since he was a child he loved history and ended up exploring the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries above all.