Friday, February 22, 2019

The Empire of the Steppes

Some years ago, friends gave me a copy of Rene Grousset's The Empire of the Steppes. Over the years, I looked at this or that bit of it, but didn't really read it. This month, I sat down with book and bookmark, and read through it.

The Empire of the Steppes is thoroughly informative on the peoples of the steppes: Scythians, Alans, Cumans, Huns,Turks, and Mongols, from pre-history through the 18th Century. Its weakness is maps. It does have maps, but for anyone not already acquainted with the geography of eastern Eurasia, it doesn't have enough at the right level of detail. There was hardly a chapter that did not refer to places that required checking a couple of the maps. By now I do know where the Black Irtysh, the Lob Nor, the Issyk Kul, the Koko Nor, and Kashgaria are; but learning all that took a good deal of flipping back and forth between maps. I suspect that that the maps in the book do not identify all of the sites of archaeological discoveries mentioned in the first chapter. And I noticed that the river is always called "Amu Darya", not "Oxus", but the region immediately to its east is always "Transoxiana".

If you are not sure how the Hungarians and Bulgars ended up where they are, or about the travels of the Torguts, the fortunes of the Jenghiz-Khanites or the Timurids, this book will tell you. But I recommend that you read it with a good, large-scale map of Asia at hand.


  1. I’m hooked. My ancestral roots — Hungarian — compel my reading. Now, if I can just find a copy! Thanks, George.

  2. Tim, you're welcome.

    As I say, get a good map. And I'll warn you that the Magyars get rather few pages. They settled into Europe quite soon after appearing in history. The Mongols get the most pages, having maintained a presence in Central Asia for something over 800 years.

  3. I do love maps, especially maps with monsters on the edge...

    But if you can retain all this, you have a great memory!

    1. I have always loved maps. As a geology student, my father had to practice surveying during summer field camps. He did not, that I know of, get extra points for monsters on the edge; I may have inherited the bent toward economy. But any old map, monsters or not, is worth a look.

      No, I can't retain it all, but I have better general notions of it to help understand further information about the same parts of the world.