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Eurasian Steppe

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Russian steppe in the Orenburg Oblast

The Eurasian Steppe, also called the Great Steppe or the steppes, is the vast
steppe ecoregion of Eurasia in the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands
biome. It stretches from Romania and Moldova through Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan,
Xinjiang, and Mongolia to Manchuria, with one major exclave, the Pannonian steppe
or Puszta, located mostly in Hungary[1]

Since the Paleolithic age, the Steppe route has connected Eastern Europe, Central
Asia, China, South Asia, and the Middle East economically, politically, and
culturally through overland trade routes. The Steppe route is a predecessor not
only of the Silk Road which developed during antiquity and the Middle Ages, but
also of the Eurasian Land Bridge in the modern era. It has been home to nomadic
empires and many large tribal confederations and ancient states throughout history,
such as the Xiongnu, Scythia, Cimmeria, Sarmatia, Hunnic Empire, Chorasmia,
Transoxiana, Sogdiana, Xianbei, Mongols, and G�kt�rk Khaganate.

The Eurasian Steppe Belt (in )

Contents [hide]
1 Geography
1.1 Divisions
1.1.1 Western Steppe
1.1.2 Ural-Caspian Narrowing
1.1.3 Central Steppe
1.1.4 Dzungarian Narrowing
1.1.5 Eastern Steppe
1.2 Fauna
1.3 Ecoregions
2 Human activities
2.1 Trade habits
2.2 Agriculture
2.3 Language
2.4 Religion
3 History
3.1 Warfare
3.2 Relations with neighbors
4 Historical peoples and nations
5 Gallery
6 See also
7 References
8 Bibliography

A map of Eurasia with emphasis on deserts. Note the oval Tarim Basin at the center
of the map.
The Eurasian Steppe extends thousands of miles from near the mouth of the Danube
River almost to the Pacific Ocean. It is bounded on the north by the forests of
Russia and Siberia. There is no clear southern boundary although the land becomes
increasingly dry as one moves south. The steppe narrows at two points, dividing it
into three major parts.

Western Steppe[edit]
The Pontic�Caspian Steppe
The Western Steppe, or Pontic-Caspian steppe, begins near the mouth of the Danube
and extends northeast almost to Kazan and then southeast to the southern tip of the
Ural Mountains. Its northern edge was a broad band of forest-steppe which has now
been obliterated by the conversion of the whole area to agricultural land. In the
southeast the Black Sea-Caspian Steppe extends between the Black Sea and Caspian
Sea to the Caucasus Mountains. In the west, the Great Hungarian Plain is an island
of steppe separated from the main steppe by the mountains of Transylvania. On the
north shore of the Black Sea, the Crimean Peninsula has some interior steppe and
ports on the south coast which link the steppe to the civilizations of the
Mediterranean basin.
Ural-Caspian Narrowing[edit]
The Ural Mountains extend south to a point about 650 km (400 mi) northeast of the
Caspian Sea. This is not a major barrier to movement, but the area near the Caspian
is quite dry.
Central Steppe[edit]

The Kazakh Steppe in the north with the Tarim Basin (Takhlamakan) and Dzungaria
The Central Steppe or Kazakh Steppe extends from the Urals to Dzungaria. To the
south, it grades off into semi-desert and desert which is interrupted by two great
rivers, the Amu Darya (Oxus) and Syr Darya (Jaxartes), which flow northwest into
the Aral Sea and provide irrigation agriculture. In the southeast is the densely
populated Fergana Valley and west of it the great oasis cities of Tashkent,
Samarkand and Bukhara along the Zarafshan River. The southern area has a complex
history (see Central Asia and Greater Iran), while in the north, the Kazakh Steppe
proper was relatively isolated from the main currents of written history.
Dzungarian Narrowing[edit]
On the east side of the former Sino-Soviet border mountains extend north almost to
the forest zone with only limited grassland in Dzungaria.

Eastern Steppe[edit]
Xinjiang is the northwestern province of China. The east-west Tien Shan Mountains
divide it into Dzungaria in the north and the Tarim Basin to the south. Dzungaria
is bounded by the Tarbagatai Mountains on the west and the Mongolian Altai
Mountains on the east, neither of which is a significant barrier. Dzungaria has
good grassland around the edges and a central desert. It often behaved as a
westward extension of Mongolia and connected Mongolia to the Kazakh steppe. To the
north of Dzungaria are mountains and the Siberian forest. To the south and west of
Dzungaria, and separated from it by the Tianshan Mountains, is an area about twice
the size of Dzungaria, the oval Tarim Basin. The Tarim Basin is too dry to support
even a nomadic population, but around its edges rivers flow down from the mountains
giving rise to a ring of cities which lived by irrigation agriculture and east-west
trade. The Tarim Basin formed an island of near civilization in the center of the
steppe. The Northern Silk Road went along the north and south sides of the Tarim
Basin and then crossed the mountains west to the Ferghana Valley. At the west end
of the basin the Pamir Mountains connect the Tien Shan Mountains to the Himalaya
Mountains. To the south, the Kunlun Mountains separate the Tarim Basin from the
thinly peopled Tibetan Plateau.
The Mongol Steppe includes both Mongolia and the Chinese province of Inner
Mongolia. The two are separated by a relatively dry area marked by the Gobi Desert.
South of the Mongol Steppe is the high and thinly peopled Tibetan Plateau. The
northern edge of the plateau is the Gansu or Hexi Corridor, a belt of moderately
dense population that connects China proper with the Tarim Basin. The Hexi Corridor
was the main route of the Silk Road. In the southeast the Silk Road led over some
hills to the east-flowing Wei River valley which led to the North China Plain.

China and surrounding regions. Note the oval Tarim Basin, the dryer area separating
Inner and Outer Mongolia and the projection of steppe into Manchuria
Manchuria is a special case. Westerners tend to think of Manchuria as the northeast
projection of China that they see on maps. The Chinese now call this, or the
eastern two thirds of it, Northeast China. The dryer western third west of the
Greater Khingan Mountains has normally been part of Inner Mongolia. Before 1859,
Manchuria also included Outer Manchuria to the north and east, which is now part of
Russia. South of the Khingan Mountains and north of the Taihang Mountains, the
Mongolian-Manchurian steppe extends east into Manchuria as the Liao Xi steppe. In
Manchuria, the steppe grades off into forest and mountains without reaching the
Pacific. The central area of forest-steppe was inhabited by pastoral and
agricultural peoples, while to the north and east was a thin population of hunting
tribes of the Siberian type.
Big mammals of the Eurasian steppe were the Przewalski's horse, the saiga antelope,
the Mongolian gazelle, the goitered gazelle, the wild Bactrian camel and the
onager.[2][3][4][5][6][7] The gray wolf and the corsac fox and occasionally the
brown bear are predators roaming the steppe.[8][9][10] Smaller mammal species are
the Mongolian gerbil, the little souslik and the bobak marmot.[11][12][13]

Furthermore the Eurasian steppe is home to a great variety of bird species.

Threatened bird species living there are for example the imperial eagle, the lesser
kestrel, the great bustard, the pale-back pigeon and the white-throated bushchat.

Przewalski horse

Corsac fox

Saiga antelope


The primary domesticated animals raised were sheep and goats with fewer cattle than
one might expect. Camels were used in the drier areas for transport as far west as
Astrakhan. There were some yaks along the edge of Tibet. The horse was used for
transportation and warfare. The horse was first domesticated on the Pontic�Caspian
or Kazakh steppe sometime before 3000 BC, but it took a long time for mounted
archery to develop and the process is not fully understood. The stirrup does not
seem to have been completely developed until 300 AD. (See Stirrup, Saddle,
Composite bow, Domestication of the horse and related articles.)

The World Wide Fund for Nature divides the Euro-Asian Steppe's temperate
grasslands, savannas, and shrublands into a number of ecoregions, distinguished by
elevation, climate, rainfall, and other characteristics, and home to distinct
animal and plant communities and species, and distinct habitat ecosystems.

Alai-Western Tian Shan steppe (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan)

Altai steppe and semi-desert (Kazakhstan)
Daurian forest steppe (China, Mongolia, Russia)
Emin Valley steppe (China, Kazakhstan)
Kazakh forest steppe (Kazakhstan, Russia)
Kazakh steppe (Kazakhstan, Russia)
Kazakh upland (Kazakhstan)
Mongolian-Manchurian grassland (China, Mongolia, Russia)
Pontic steppe (Moldova, Romania, Russia, Ukraine)
Sayan Intermontane steppe (Russia)
Selenge-Orkhon forest steppe (Mongolia, Russia)
South Siberian forest steppe (Russia)
Tian Shan foothill arid steppe (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan)
Pannonian steppe[15] (Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, Austria,
Human activities[edit]
See also: Nomad studies
Trade habits[edit]
The major centers of population and high culture in Eurasia are Europe,the Middle
East, India and China. For some purposes it is useful to treat Greater Iran as a
separate region. All these regions are connected by the Eurasian Steppe route which
was an active predecessor of the Silk Road. The later started in the Guanzhong
region of China and ran west along the Hexi Corridor to the Tarim Basin. From there
it went southwest to Greater Iran and turned southeast to India or west to the
Middle East and Europe. A minor branch went northwest along the great rivers and
north of the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. When faced with a rich caravan the
steppe nomads could either rob it, or tax it, or hire themselves out as guards.
Economically these three forms of taxation or parasitism amounted to the same
thing. Trade was usually most vigorous when a strong empire controlled the steppe
and reduced the number of petty chieftains preying on trade. The silk road first
became significant and Chinese silk began reaching the Roman Empire about the time
that the Emperor of Han pushed Chinese power west to the Tarim Basin.

The nomads would occasionally tolerate colonies of peasants on the steppe in the
few areas where farming was possible. These were often captives who grew grain for
their nomadic masters. Along the fringes there were areas that could be used for
either plowland or grassland. These alternated between one and the other depending
on the relative strength of the nomadic and agrarian heartlands. Over the last few
hundred years, the Russian steppe and much of Inner Mongolia has been cultivated.
The fact that most of the Russian steppe is not irrigated implies that it was
maintained as grasslands as a result of the military strength of the nomads.

According to the most widely held hypothesis of the origin of the Indo-European
languages, the Kurgan hypothesis, their common ancestor is thought to have
originated on the Pontic-Caspian steppe. The Tocharians were an early Indo-European
branch in the Tarim Basin. At the beginning of written history the entire steppe
population west of Dzungaria spoke Iranian languages. From about 500 AD the Turkic
languages replaced the Iranian languages first on the steppe, and later in the
oases north of Iran (the reasons for this are poorly understood). Additionally,
Hungarian speakers, a branch of the Uralic language family, who previously lived in
the steppe in what is now Southern Russia, settled in the Carpathian basin in year
895. Mongolic languages are in Mongolia. In Manchuria one finds Tungusic languages
and some others.

If the Kurgan hypothesis of Indo-European origins is accepted, then the earliest
hypothesised steppe religion would have been the mythology of the Indo-Europeans.
Later, Tangriism was introduced by Turko-Mongol nomads. Nestorianism and
Manichaeism spread to the Tarim Basin and into China but they never became an
established majority religion. Buddhism spread from India north to the Tarim Basin
and found a new home in China. By about 1400 the entire steppe west of Dzungaria
had adopted Islam. By about 1600 Islam was established in the Tarim Basin while
Dzungaria and Mongolia had adopted Tibetan Buddhism.

This section possibly contains original research. Please improve it by verifying

the claims made and adding inline citations. Statements consisting only of original
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Further information: History of the eastern steppe, History of the central steppe,
and History of the western steppe
Raids between tribes were prevalent throughout the region's history. This is
connected to the ease with which a defeated enemy's flocks can be driven away,
making raiding profitable. In terms of warfare and raiding, in relation to
sedentary societies, the horse gave the nomads an advantage of mobility. Horsemen
could raid a village and retreat with their loot before a infantry-based army could
be mustered and deployed. When confronted with superior infantry, horsemen could
simply ride away and retreat and regroup. Outside of Europe and parts of the Middle
East, agrarian societies had difficulty raising a sufficient number of war horses,
and often had to enlist them from their nomadic enemies(as mercenaries). Nomads
could not easily be pursued onto the steppe since the steppe could not easily
support a land army. If the Chinese sent an army into Mongolia, the nomads would
flee and come back when the Chinese ran out of supplies. But the steppe nomads were
relatively few and their rulers had difficulty holding together enough clans and
tribes to field a large army. If they conquered an agricultural area they often
lacked the skills to administer it. If they tried to hold agrarian land they
gradually absorbed the civilization of their subjects, lost their nomadic skills
and were either absorbed by their subjects or driven out.

Relations with neighbors[edit]

Along the northern fringe the nomads would collect tribute from and blend with the
forest tribes (see Khanate of Sibir, Buryats).[citation needed] From about 1240 to
1480 Russia paid tribute to the Golden Horde.[citation needed] South of the Kazakh
steppe the nomads blended with the sedentary population, partly because the Middle
East has significant areas of steppe (taken by force in past invasions) and
pastoralism. There was a sharp cultural divide between Mongolia and China and
almost constant warfare from the dawn of history until 1757.[citation needed] The
nomads collected large amounts of tribute from the Chinese and several Chinese
dynasties were of steppe origin. Perhaps because of the mixture of agriculture and
pastoralism in Manchuria its inhabitants knew how to deal with both nomads and the
settled populations, and therefore were able to conquer much of northern China when
both Chinese and Mongols were weak.

Historical peoples and nations[edit]

Chorasmia 13th�3rd centuries BC
Cimmerians 12th�7th centuries BC
Magyars 11th century BC � 8th century AD
Scythians 8th�4th centuries BC
Sogdiana 8th�4th centuries BC
Issedones 7th�1st century BC
Massagatae 7th�1st century BC
Thyssagetae 7th�3rd century BC
Donghu 7th � 2nd century BC
Dahae 7th BC-5th century AD
Saka 6th�1st centuries BC
Sarmatians 5th century BC � 5th century AD
Bulgars 7th century BC�7th century AD[16]
Transoxiana 4th century BC � 14th century AD
Xiongnu 3rd century BC � 2nd century AD
Iazyges 3rd century BC � 5th century AD
Yuezhi 2nd century BC � 1st century AD
Wusun 1st century BC � 6th century AD
Xianbei 1st�3rd centuries
Goths 3rd�6th centuries
Huns 4th�8th centuries
Alans 5th�11th centuries
Avars 5th�9th centuries
Hepthalites 5th�7th centuries
Eurasian Avars 6th�8th centuries
G�kt�rks 6th�8th centuries
Sabirs 6th�8th centuries
Khazars 7th�11th centuries
Onogurs 8th century
Pechenegs 8th�11th centuries
Bashkirs 10th century-present day
Kipchaks and Cumans 11th�13th centuries
Crimean Goths
Mongol Empire 13th�14th centuries
Tsagadai Ulus 13th�15th centuries
Golden Horde 13th�15th centuries
Cossacks, Kalmyks, Crimean Khanate, Volga Tatars, Nogais and other Turkic states
and tribes 15th�18th centuries
Russian Empire 18th�20th centuries
Soviet Union 20th century
Gagauzia, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Ukraine 20th�21st centuries

Steppe south of Siberia, Altai Krai.

Steppe south of Siberia, Altai Krai.

Steppe in east Kazakhstan, in summer.

Flowering of spring in Rostov oblast, Russia. Tulipa suaveolens and Iris pumila are
among the most widespread species in Eurasian steppe.

Steppe adjacent to the Khopyor River, Volgograd Oblast, Russia.

Steppe on calcareous plate adjacent to the Khopyor River, Volgograd Oblast, Russia.

Eastern Steppe south of Siberia, Zabaykalsky Krai.

Kyrgyz Steppe.

See also[edit]
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eurasian Steppe.
Steppe Route
Izyumsky Trail
Great Alf�ld
Little Alf�ld
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John of Plano Carpini, "History of the Mongols," in Christopher Dawson, (ed.),
Mission to Asia, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005, pp. 3�76.
Barthold, W., Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion, T. Minorsky, (tr.), New Delhi:
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Christian, David, A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia, Volume 1: Inner
Eurasia from Prehistory to the Mongol Empire�, Malden MA, Oxford, UK, Carlton,
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Fletcher, Joseph F., Studies on Chinese and Islamic Inner Asia, Beatrice Forbes
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Grousset, Ren�, The Empire of the Steppes: a History of Central Asia, Naomi
Walford, (tr.), New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970.
Krader, Lawrence, "Ecology of Central Asian Pastoralism," Southwestern Journal of
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Categories: Eurasian SteppeGrasslands of AsiaGrasslands of EuropeTemperate

grasslands, savannas, and shrublandsEcoregions of AsiaEcoregions of EuropeCentral
AsiaEastern EuropeGeography of Central AsiaGeography of Eastern EuropeGrasslands of
RussiaNomads of the Eurasian steppeHistory of PakistanSocial history of India
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