On November 26 (December 7) 1769 under the decree of Catherine II there was established the imperial military order of the Saint Grand Martyr and the Triumphant George of the Four Classes.
The Order of Saint George was the fourth Russian order and from the very beginning became especially significant as a military award given for a personal courage.
In the Order’s statute it was specified that “neither a high origin, nor the previous merits or wounds received in battles are taking into account while attributing the Order of Saint George for the feat of arms; honored with it are just those who not only accomplished their obligations according to the oath of allegiance, honor and duty, but in addition to this distinguished himself in the battle to the benefit and glory of the Russian arms”.
The Order had four classes and at first was awarded the lowest fourth class accompanied, as the third one, with a small cross. The first and the second classes were accompanied with a big cross and a decoration of the four-pointed gold star.
The Order of all the four classes had the form of a golden cross with rays covered with white enamel. In the central round medallion of the decoration on a rose (from the thirties of 19th century – on a red) background there was an image of the Saint George on a horse striking a serpent with a spear. The St. George ribbon had two black stripes and two yellow (orange ones).
The first holder of the Order of Saint George of the First Class was a prominent Russian commander P.A. Rumyantsev-Zadunaisky who received this award on July 27 (August 7), 1770 for the victory near Largue. During the entire history of Russia the First Class of the Order was awarded to only 25 persons; and there were just four holders of all the Four Classes of the Order: M.I. Kutuzov-Smolensky, M.B. Barklai de Tolly, I.F. Paskevich-Erivansky and I.I. Dibich-Zabalkansky.
From 1849 the names of the Order holders were engraved on special marble plates in Georg Hall of the Great Nikolai Palace in Moscow Kremlin. The holders of the Saint George Order were respected in the army and society and benefited from a series of privileges.
In 1917 the Order of Saint George was abolished along with other “attributes” of tsar Russia. On August 8, 2000 under the decree of the president it was re-established as the national highest military award.
Lit.: Дуров В. Ордена России. М., 1993; Орден Святого Георгия [Электронный ресурс] // Ордена и медали России. 2006-2014. URL: http://rusorden.ru/?nr=add&nt=2; Шепелев Л. Е. Титулы, мундиры, ордена в Российской империи. Л., 1991.
From the Presidential library materials: