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    The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia
    • Online ISBN: 9781139054898
    • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049
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Book description

This volume introduces the geographical setting of Central Asia and follows its history from the palaeolithic era to the rise of the Mongol empire in the thirteenth century. From earliest times Central Asia linked and separated the great sedentary civilisations of Europe and Asia. In the pre-modern period 'Inner Asia' was definable more as a cultural than a geographical entity, its frontiers shifting according to the changing balances of power. Written by distinguished international scholars who have pioneered the exploration of Central Asia's poorly documented past, this volume discusses chronologically the varying historical achievements of the disparate population groups in the region.

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  • 1 - Introduction: the concept of Inner Asia
    pp 1-18
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.002
  • View abstract
    Summary
    If the continents of Europe and Asia are conceptual entities, Eurasia - the combined land mass of the two - is a physiogeographical one. Each of the sedentary civilizations - in loose terminology Europe, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia and East Asia - is a unique combination of cultural features. Some of these may appear in more than one area; yet an association of various components, moulded by a unique historical process and greatly influenced by national environment, made each of these regions different from the others. The frontier of Inner Asia is unstable; it has varied from age to age, shifting according to the balance of power between its own population and that of the surrounding, sedentary civilizations. The military efficiency of a nomad cavalry force was a function of its size, but the relationship between the number of horses and their military value was not a mathematical constant but a geometric progression.
  • 2 - The geographic setting
    pp 19-40
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.003
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The areal extent and diversity of the natural landscapes of Inner Asia impel a survey of the geographic background of this region to concentrate on the environmental characteristics which seem to contribute most to an understanding of the even greater complexities of the human use of these lands. This chapter focuses initially on five general geographic features of Inner Asia: its size; the effects of distance from maritime influences on movement and climate; the problems of its rivers; geographic diversity and uniformity; and, the limited capabilities for areally extensive crop agriculture. It discusses the major environmental components of the natural zones of Inner Asia. The mountain zone of Inner Asia consists of a large number of mountain chains of diverse geological structure and age. A massive zone of deserts occupies most of the southern portions of Inner Asia from the Caspian Sea to the eastern edges of the Gobi and Ordos deserts in Mongolia.
  • 3 - Inner Asia at the dawn of history
    pp 41-96
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.004
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries brought to light exceedingly important discoveries by archeologists on the continent of Asia. Within the boundaries of this orographic system Inner Asia appears against a background of the rest of the planet as an enclosed unit with its own characteristic terrains and peculiar flora and fauna. Special variants of these flint tools are chopping tools or choppers of flint with a cutting point in place of a transverse cutting edge. The Middle Paleolithic peoples of Inner Asia achieved their highest culture probably somewhat later, as is evidenced by a series of rich finds in the south of the Mongolian Peoples' Republic, in the Gobi, and in the west at the foot of the Mongol Altai. In Western Mongolia there has been discovered still another pre-ceramic culture characterized not only by light stone tools of the round scraper type, but also by tools formed by the characteristic serrate technique.
  • 4 - The Scythians and Sarmatians
    pp 97-117
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.005
  • View abstract
    Summary
    From the end of the 7th century BC to the 4th century BC the Central-Eurasian steppes were inhabited by two large groups of kin Iranian-speaking tribes - the Scythians and Sarmatians. While these two groups were ethnically close and their ways of life were very similar, each of them had their own historical destinies and characteristics, in economic and social development, as well as in culture. The study of the Scythians and Sarmatians in the Soviet era has made very considerable advances, particularly through the accumulation of new archeological sources in the post-war period. The early history of the Scythians is bound up with military expeditions into the countries of Western Asia. Archeologists have been unable to find the land of Gerrhi which, according to Herodotus, was the burial-place of the Scythian kings. The economy of this primitive state polity was based on the exploitation of free members of the community.
  • 5 - The Hsiung-nu
    pp 118-150
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.006
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The Chinese written tradition traces the beginnings of the Hsiung-nu back to times immemorial. It is reported that the Hsiung-nu had been known in remote antiquity under a number of different names such as Hun-chu, Hsienyun, Jung, Ti, etc. In other words, the Hsiung-nu made their earliest formal appearance on the stage of Inner Asian history when Chinese history was just about to turn a new page, at the end of the Warring States period. The eastern neighbors of the Hsiung-nu, the Tung-hu, hearing of Motun's succession, evidently tried to test the new ruler. Motun's power was rapidly expanding during the early years of the Han dynasty. Towards the end of the 3rd century BC the territories under Tung-hu control extended from the southern part of Inner Mongolia to southern Manchuria. The half-century that stretched from 115 to 60 BC was a period in which the Hsiung-nu and the Han struggled for mastery over the Western Regions.
  • 6 - Indo-Europeans in Inner Asia
    pp 151-176
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.007
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The earliest linguistic remains of the Indo-Europeans in this area date from about the third quarter of the first millenium AD. This consists of a literature, largely of Indie origin, Buddhistic in content, mostly translations or adaptations of religio-philosophical works, and a few commercial documents. The relationship between Tokharian and Hittite has been considered so close that they could have separated from the parent speech earlier than, and independent of, the rest of the Indo-European family. In the Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist tradition there are stories about Kaniska's conquest of Saketa and Magadha (Eastern India): the latter surrendered the sacred alms bowl of the Buddha, the famous scholar Asvaghosa and a miraculous cock to him. The political history of the Indo-Europeans of Inner Asia from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD is indeed a glorious period. The new eclecticism generated new trends of thought and they were reflected in religion, art and literature.
  • 7 - The Hun period
    pp 177-205
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.008
  • View abstract
    Summary
    There are several reasons why the Huns caught the Western imagination. Firstly, not since Scythian times had any Inner Asian people seriously challenged the equilibrium of the Western World. Secondly, they appeared on the European scene at a time when both the eastern and the western parts of the Roman Empire had to contend with serious internal disorders which weakened their military preparedness. Thirdly, the status quo of the period was disturbed not only by their direct action but even more by their being instrumental in setting into motion the great upheaval of peoples commonly known as the Volkerwanderung. Finally, the enduring reputation of the Huns is due in no small measure to some excellent descriptions given by contemporary writers, even poets whose imagination was caught by this, quite literally, extraordinary people. Huns constituted a military reserve to be counted upon by anyone willing and able to pay the price.
  • 8 - The Avars
    pp 206-228
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.009
  • View abstract
    Summary
    A survey of Avar history best begins with a conspectus of the main data culled from the available written sources. The Avars, partly by their weapons and partly by the force of their awe-inspiring reputation, made the Onoghurs, the Zali, the Sabirs, the Utighurs, and Kutrighurs submit one by one. Bayan then sent his envoys to the Emperor's capital already from the Lower Danube, to ask permission for his people to settle down inside the boundaries of the East Roman Empire. Justinian's diplomacy seems to have averted the surrender of any significant territories. For the period ending with the surrender of Sirmium, together with the Ecclesiastical History of John of Ephesus, the fragments of the work of Menander Protector constitute the principal sources of Avar history. Religion is not the only sphere of Avar culture in which the rich and ever increasing archeological material supplements the poor testimony of the written sources.
  • 9 - The peoples of the Russian forest belt
    pp 229-255
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.010
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The medieval history of the Russian forest belt is largely concerned with three important movements of peoples. The first is the steady expansion of the Eastern Slavic population from the western periphery of the Eurasian forests to the East. The second movement is that of Turkic peoples who went or were driven to the very border of the steppe, the forest-steppe zone. The third movement is that of the Ugric Hungarians into the steppe and their transformation into a steppe people. The Uralic peoples today are divided into two large groups: Finno-Ugric and Samoyed. The dissolution of the Ugric community was probably gradual. The southern elements of the community continued to be oriented towards the steppes. The steppe-dwellers were the principal catalysts for change in the medieval history of the forest zone. The economic structure of Oghur society and hence attendant modes of cultural expression appear to have been somewhat different from those of most of the Turkic nomads.
  • 10 - The peoples of the south Russian steppes
    pp 256-284
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.011
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The rich grasslands and abundant rivers of the Ponto-Caspian steppes, a continuation of the great Inner Asian plains, constituted a natural gravitation point for the nomad migrating or ejected from the Asian hinterland. Urban life and the practice of agriculture and other settled pursuits were more in evidence amongst the nomads here. A nomadic life-style, as known from the Khazar and Hungarian models, became more and more the perquisite of the aristocracy, a badge of social distinction. The origins of the Khazar kaghanate, one of the most important political formations of medieval Eurasia, the dominant power in the south-Russian steppe zone, cannot be delineated with precise detail. The people described here are the Pechenegs whose movements were both the result of other migrations in the Central Asian steppes and the cause of still other displacements in the steppes to their west.
  • 11 - The establishment and dissolution of the Türk empire
    pp 285-316
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.012
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The Chinese were just as prone to link any northern Barbarian with the Hsiung-nu as Byzantine historians were to see Scythians in their western counterparts. The sources contain a great number of Turk personal names. They appear in a variety of scripts and languages: Chinese, Greek, Sogdian, and Turk. Sometimes it is possible to recognize the same name in sources written in different languages. The Turks built their empire on the ruins of that of the Juan-juan. Following the traditions of Chinese diplomacy, always in search of an ally in the rear of the Inner Asian foe, the Wei attempted to look for one in the western regions. In the Western World, for centuries, their name was used as a common denomination of barbarians, irrespective of their language, whereas for the peoples of Inner Asia, the name Turk became, and has remained, the hallmark of the unity of peoples sharing a common language.
  • 12 - The Uighurs
    pp 317-342
    • By Colin Mackerras, School of Modern Asian Studies, Griffith University, Australia
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.013
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter provides a brief sketch of Uighur history and then moves to a more detailed consideration of which peoples lived within the confines of the Uighur empire. It discusses how far the boundaries extended; and which persons or groups held power and prestige among the Uighurs. The chapter also discusses Manichaeism, the religion that exercised a profound influence on Uighur history. The Uighur chapter of the New T'ang history (Hsin T'ang-shu) records that an embassy of 788 was led by an official of the Adiz tribe, indicating that the Adiz belonged to the confederation by that time. Despite the persistence of the old ways, it is clear from their approach to religion that the Uighurs of the empire period was undergoing change more rapidly than at any time in their earlier history. They were definitely advancing towards a more sophisticated stage of civilization in their modes of thought, social patterns and economy.
  • 13 - The Karakhanids and early Islam
    pp 343-370
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.014
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The Eastern Iranian lands around the Oxus (Jayhun, modern Amu Darya), lacking political unity and effective leadership, were the natural targets of Arab raiding columns fresh from the conquest of Sassanid Iran. Christianity, especially the adherents of the persecuted Nestorian heterodoxy, was also found in Iranian and Turkic Central Eurasia, coming to the latter through Iranian merchant intermediaries. The Islam brought to the Eastern Iranian frontier during the Umayyad period was still parochial and decidedly Arab in its outlook. The Volga-Ural region was inhabited by the Turkic Pechenegs who were being driven westward by their neighbors the Oghuz and would soon leave the area entirely. The Samanid achievement in Central Asia had been considerable. The islamicization of the area was due, in large measure, to their activities. The migrations also further fueled the turbulence touched off by the intra-Karakhanid and Ghaznavid-Karakhanid wars. In contrast to Saljuk progress and consolidation, albeit imperfect at times, the Karakhanids were experiencing increasing fragmentation.
  • 14 - Early and medieval Tibet
    pp 371-399
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.015
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The most important evidence of Tibetan prehistory are the megalithic monuments which extend in a broad belt from western Tibet across the plateau to the north of the trans-Himalayas, the region of the great salt lakes, and parts of the Byang-thang as far as Amdo in northeast Tibet. During the Han period the Ch'iang settled further to the east in those regions which they would later incorporate into their own kingdom from the Chinese: Kansu and Shensi. The Tibetan campaign against the A-zha and the neighboring regions of China would seem to have been somewhat unexpected, since the A-zha had never been a Tibetan vassal-state nor subject to Srong-brtsan gam-po. The Tibeto-Chinese peace treaty of 783 confirmed Tibetan dominion over East Turkestan, Kansu, and a large part of Szechwan. Khri-srong lde-brtsan's long series of political and military victories show that he was increasingly able to establish his authority in domestic affairs, especially in religious policies.
  • 15 - The forest peoples of Manchuria: Kitans and Jurchens
    pp 400-423
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.016
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The political fragmentation of China in the 10th century AD and most of her history under the Sung dynasty (960-1234) was coeval with the emergence of states on her borders which were founded by non-Chinese peoples but largely patterned on Chinese models. Of these peoples the Kitans and the Jurchen are of special importance because they both succeeded in extending their domination over large parts of Northern China. The original habitat of the Kitans was Manchuria where they are first recorded in what is now the north of Jehol province, near the upper course of the Liao River and its tributary Laoha Muren. The essential feature of the Kitan state remained, however, a dichotomy between a bureaucracy for governing the sedentary population (chiefly Chinese), and a more tribal administration for the Kitans themselves and other ethnic groups. The dwellings of the Jurchen were adapted to the climatic conditions of their homeland with its severe winter cold.

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.


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