Through an Ocean of Sand: Pastoralism and the Equestrian Culture of the Eurasian Steppe

Arash Khazeni

in Water on Sand

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199768677
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979608 | DOI:
Through an Ocean of Sand: Pastoralism and the Equestrian Culture of the Eurasian Steppe

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Through a reading of nineteenth-century Persian natural histories and travel narratives about the Eurasian steppe from eastern Iran to western China, this chapter diverges from prevailing empire-centered analyses of conquest to examine frontier exchanges and interconnections between the pastoral and the imperial. In the late sixteenth century, the Oxus River changed course, leading to the expansion of the sandy steppes of the Qara Qum or “Black Sands” Desert—the arid desert between the Caspian Sea and the Oxus River. As the river changed course, no longer reaching the Caspian, Turkmen pastoralists found new possibilities in the expanding arid steppes of the Qara Qum, forging a powerful and wide-reaching equestrian network in the Eurasian steppe. In the desert, Turkmen pastoralists domesticated wild horses and the swift Akhal Tekke breed, and gained control of the oases. Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Turkmen thus carved out a loose trading and raiding confederation built on the power and speed of horses capable of making seemingly impossible journeys through the steppes. This pastoral power and equestrianism of the Turkmen frontier determined the boundaries of early modern Eurasian empires.

Keywords: horses; Eurasian Steppe; Iran; Turkmen; early modern muslim empires; Oxus River; pastoral economy; travel narratives; trade; raiding

Chapter.  11201 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Asian History

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