The tsar's ship was cruising in the Baltic sea. He had won a famous naval victory, establishing his country as a new and formidable power in Europe. Historians were attaching the epithet 'Great' to his name.
He was taking a round on the deck. The boat was rolling and pitching violently; a soldier lost his balance and fell overboard. As many others rushed to the railing, a splash was heard as someone dived into the icy waters of the Baltic. It was the tsar!
He swum quickly to the flailing soldier and grabbed him by the collar. Meanwhile many others had dived in, and rescued both man and master. As he stood on deck drying himself, the king realised that he had caught a cold.
In a few days he was ill with pneumonia. As he awaited his end, his faithful soldiers came to ask him why he had so rashly and fatally risked his life to save that of an ordinary soldier. His country needed him more than anyone else.
"My men, empires come, empires go. This prosperous country of ours too will one day crumble and be overrun by enemies. An empire over land and sea may last a long time, but an empire over hearts will last forever. That shall be my empire!"
And that is why the Russians call him Peter the Great.