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
Manchuria, with one major exclave, the
Pannonian steppe or Puszta,
located mostly in Hungary.
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
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
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
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
2 Human activities
2.1 Trade habits
3.2 Relations with neighbors
4 Historical peoples and nations
6 See also
A map of
Eurasia with emphasis on deserts. Note the oval Tarim Basin
at the center of the map.
Steppe extends thousands of miles from near the mouth of
Danube almost to the Pacific Ocean. It is bounded on the north by
the forests of European Russia,
Siberia and Asian Russia. 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.
The Pontic–Caspian Steppe
The Western Steppe, or Pontic–Caspian steppe, begins near the mouth
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,
Crimean Peninsula has some interior steppe and ports on the south
coast which link the steppe to the civilizations of the Mediterranean
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.
Steppe in the north with the
Tarim Basin (Takhlamakan) and
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,
Bukhara along the Zeravshan 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.
On the east side of the former Sino-Soviet border mountains extend
north almost to the forest zone with only limited grassland in
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
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 Tian Shan
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 Fergana Valley. At the west end of the basin
Pamir Mountains connect the Tien Shan Mountains to the Himalayas.
To the south, the
Kunlun Mountains separate the
Tarim Basin from the
thinly peopled Tibetan Plateau.
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 and surrounding regions. Note the oval Tarim Basin, the dryer
area separating Inner and Outer
Mongolia and the projection of steppe
Manchuria is a special case. Westerners tend to think of
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
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. The gray wolf and the
corsac fox and occasionally the brown bear are predators roaming the
steppe. Smaller mammal species are the Mongolian gerbil, the
little souslik and the bobak marmot.
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.
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
Domestication of the horse and
World Wide Fund for Nature
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.
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)
Steppe (Kazakhstan, Russia)
Kazakh Uplands (Kazakhstan)
Mongolian-Manchurian grassland (China, Mongolia, Russia)
Pontic–Caspian 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 (Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia,
See also: Nomad studies
The major centers of population and high culture in
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 latter started in the Guanzhong
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.
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
Manichaeism spread to the Tarim
Basin and into
China but they never became an established majority
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
Tarim Basin while
Mongolia had adopted Tibetan
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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 an 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
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. 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
China and almost constant warfare from the dawn of history until
1757. 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
China when both Chinese and
Mongols were weak.
Historical peoples and nations
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
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
Göktürks 6th–8th centuries
Sabirs 6th–8th centuries
Khazars 7th–11th centuries
Onogurs 8th century
Pechenegs 8th–11th centuries
Bashkirs 10th century-present day
Cumans 11th–13th centuries
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,
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
Steppe south of Siberia, Zabaykalsky Krai.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eurasian Steppe.
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^ "Equus ferus ssp. przewalskii (Asian Wild Horse, Mongolian Wild
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^ "Saiga tatarica (Mongolian Saiga, Saiga, Saiga Antelope)".
^ "Procapra gutturosa (Dzeren, Mongolian Gazelle)".
^ "Gazella subgutturosa (Goitered Gazelle)".
^ "Camelus ferus (Bactrian Camel, Two-humped Camel, Wild Bactrian
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^ "Canis lupus (Arctic Wolf, Common Wolf, Gray Wolf, Grey Wolf,
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