Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Fabulous Eurasian (or Asianeuro) Steppe

So much of history as experienced in the US is American and Western European-focused, with the occasional nod toward Egyptian pyramids and a vague sense that China and Japan exist way over there, on the far rim of the continent. Africa is often mistaken for a country, the Middle East is some kind of camel-filled no-man's land in the middle, and fuck if we can find India--isn't that a continent or something? And Latin America, whatevs, man.

But hey, I had two whole years of Texas history in school; surely that makes up for it!

Anyway, it turns out that there actually are people who live in the middle of Eurasia, not just its fringes (who knew!) Millions of people, whose cultures and empires spanned thousands of years and thousands of miles, creating an amazing (to me, anyway) intersections and cultural encounters.

For example, see Ortu Kan's article, "The Qagan of Rus and Viking Muslims in Volga Bulgaria". The title alone should be enough, but here's a quick excerpt, "The Khazars’ power could hardly have failed to make an impression on those from the Nordic world who joined with indigenous populations of the eastern lands in a common quest for silver, and in fact the head of their first recorded polity to the east of the Baltic sported the same title as that of the Khazar ruler, chaganus or kagan." (It is from "Rus" that we get "Russia"; kagan means "great khan," as in Genghis (Chengis) Khagan.) Of course there is the possibility of someone here simply using the term simply to aid in translation, not because it was actually in use among the Vikings at the time. But still, it's an intriguing possibility, and at any rate, it indicates that the Mongol term was better known or prefered in Eastern Europe at the time than the local European, Norwegian, or Arabic terms. Which gives some impression of the power and vastness of the Mongol Empire.

A snapshop of 7th-century Kashgar

I know nothing about Kashgar or the Tocharians potentially discussed in the post, but clearly I ought to.

Indian subcontinental gene flow into aboriginal Australia c. 4200 years ago? "We also detect a signal indicative of substantial gene flow between the Indian populations and Australia well before European contact, contrary to the prevailing view that there was no contact between Australia and the rest of the world."

People move around. A lot!

Slave-raids in Republican China. " Throughout the Thirties and Forties the Yi moved at will over southern Sichuan, terrorizing the Han Chinese populace and even raiding the outskirts of large Chinese towns in order to rob and take slaves. Observers report that at the first sound of gunfire, terrified Chinese peasants would huddle in their houses, not daring to help their neighbors and hoping only that they would not be attacked next. In some places Yi raids were a nightly occurrence."

And back to the Russian/Mongolian border: Russo-Buryat warfare, 17th century and Going Native on the Buriatic Steppe. "The original inhabitants of this Russian-Mongolian borderland were a Mongol people, the Buryat. ...they were the first formidable nationality, after the Tatars, the Russians encountered on their march across Siberia."

I'm still not sure how Russia got to be so big, but I guess that's a research topic for another day. In the meanwhile, I still want to write a book set among all of this movement.

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