Thursday, September 3, 2009

Evocative Images Of The Eurasian Steppes

I liked these passages about the Eurasian steppes from David Anthony's The Horse The Wheel and Language:

Walking on the steppes...

It is possible, if one is inclined, to walk, 5,000 km from the Danube delta across the center of the Eurasian continent to Mongolia without ever leaving the steppes. But a person on foot in the Eurasian steppes feels very small. Every footfall raises the scent of crushed sage, and a puff of tiny white grasshoppers skips ahead of your boot. Although the flowers that grow among the fescue and feathergrass (Festuca and Stipa) make a wonderful boiled tea, the grass is inedible, and outside the forested river valleys there is not much else to eat.

On the impact of the wagon....

The sight of wagons creaking and swaying across the grasslands amid herds of woolly sheep changed from a weirdly fascinating vision to a normal part of steppe life between 3300 and 3100 BCE. At about the same time the climate in the steppes became significantly drier and generally cooler than it had been during the Eneolithic..... As the steppes dried and expanded, people tried to keep their animals fed by moving them more frequently. They discovered that with a wagon you could keep moving indefinitely.

On the difference in warfare between pre-Iron Age pastoral societies and Iron Age States:

But organizing an army of mounted archers was not a simple matter. The technical advances in bows, arrows, and castings were meaningless without a change in mentality, in the identity of the fighter, from a heroic single warrior to a nameless solider. An ideological model of fighting appropriate for a state had to be grafted onto the mentality of tribal horseback riders. Pre-Iron Age warfare in the Eurasian steppes, from what we can glean from sources like the Iliad and the Rig-Veda, probably emphasized personal glory and heroism.

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