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The Gates of Asia - The Eurasian Steppe and the Limits of Europe

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Popular encyclopaedias define the eastern limit of Europe being a 'line normally accepted [that] runs along Ural Mtns.' But the Urals are no Himalayas or even Alps: they are a low range of hills that has never acted as a barrier to 'Asia' or a limit to 'Europe', and throughout history communities on both sides have shared common identities and history. Without natural barriers, attempts have been made to impose artificial ones, most of which have been notable for their ultimate failure. The eastern grasslands of the great central Eurasian steppe stretch virtually unbroken from the Balkans through to Mongolia. Hence, the gates of Asia have been wide open to the movements of peoples since earliest antiquity - there is no boundary, along Europe's longest 'border' with Asia.

This book traces the common history on either side, in particular how different peoples from the steppe formed a part of European identity. In earliest history Scythians and Sarmatians shaped European destiny and created an art style that still resonates today. In late antiquity Huns erupted from the borders of China to put the last nail into the coffin of the dying Roman Empire, and from beyond the Urals came Avars, Finns, Magyars and Bulgars to create nations that remain an integral part of Europe. In the Middle Ages a steppe people, the Khazars, created the world's only Jewish Empire with ramifications still affecting Jewish identity, followed soon by another steppe people, the Mongols, conquering an empire from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. Mongol units fought alongside Alexander Nevsky in his Baltic war against the Teutonic Knights in the thirteenth century, while in the following century Russian mercenaries were used as guard units in Yuan China. Indeed, Europe's largest nation, Russia, was formed from the fusion of Eurasian nomadic and European sedentary elements: for centuries the ethnic, religious and cultural domination of Eastern Europe as a whole and Russia in particular hung in the balance between Moscow and the Tatars: Russia might have become either Tatar and Muslim or Slavic and Orthodox. There was no historical inevitability that it became the latter, merely historical circumstance.

From legends of Amazons and the sword of Excalibur to the emergence of Russia, modern Europe's super-power, the open steppe has continually shaped Europe's destiny. The gates are still as wide open as they ever were.

This is the fourth of four volumes by Warwick Ball examining the spread of cultures from the east into Europe, in a series entitled Asia in Europe and the Making of the West. Also available: Out of Arabia: Phoenicians, Arabs and the Discovery of Europe, Towards One World - Ancient Persia and the West and Sultans of Rome: The Turkish World Expansion.

WARWICK BALL

A Near Eastern archaeologist and author who has spent over twenty-five years carrying out excavations, architectural studies and monumental restoration throughout the Middle East and adjacent regions, having lived, worked and travelled in most countries between the Mediterranean and China. He is currently director of Eastern Approaches, a special-interest cultural tours company specialising in the East. Author of many books and articles on the history and archaeology of the region, his book, Rome in the East: the Transformation of an Empire, was winner of the James Henry Breasted History Prize and was Choice Outstanding Academic Book in 2000. He is also the author of the much acclaimed Syria: A Historical and Architectural Guide.

Born in Australia, Warwick Ball now lives in Scotland.

216 x 138mm; 240pp., maps, 48 pages of colour plates, paperback
ISBN 978 1 907318 12 2
July 2014
£15.95

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