The History of Central Asia, Volume One: The Age of the Steppe Warriors by Christoph Baumer (translated by Miranda Bennett) - review by John Man

John Man

Rafts on a Sea of Grass

The History of Central Asia, Volume One: The Age of the Steppe Warriors

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I B Tauris 372pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

In an age of specialists, Christoph Baumer is a rare creature: a generalist. Explorer, archaeologist, adventurer, enthusiast, historian, photographer – no one could be better qualified to tackle a subject so vast in time and space. He must also be a book lover, for this, the first of four volumes on the subject, is a gorgeous creation, with creamy paper, crisp design and perfect colour pictures.

He starts with drifting continents closing off Eurasia’s arid, grassy and often icy heartland, and takes the story through to humans coping with the challenges they faced. On coasts and rivers, we had it easy. That’s where big and successful cultures first arose. But the interior had very few rivers. What it had was grass, often scanty, but enough for cattle and horses, once people discovered how to ride, herd and breed them.

The grass is an inland sea flowing from north China to the Black Sea (and a little bit beyond, into Hungary). You get the idea driving about Mongolia today: huge landscapes, the occasional tent, no fences. It took great expertise to live as pastoral nomads, let alone build cities, but it was made to work many times over. Baumer describes over one hundred

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