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Empires of the Steppes


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An epic and enthralling history of how Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan and the so-called 'barbarians of the steppes' shaped the modern world

About the Author

Kenneth W. Harl is one of the world’s foremost experts on Steppes civilisations, Roman history and numismatics, and has written extensively on Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Viking culture. Until his retirement in 2022, he was Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University. Empires of the Steppes is his first trade book.


Harl’s plan is to present the steppe people from their own perspective, show how their empires came together and how, in the process, they changed their world and shaped ours. The narrative covers some 4,500 years, ending with the death of Timur, or Tamerlane, in the early 1400s . . . There is no doubting the range and depth of Harl’s knowledge of steppe history, nor his eye for telling detail . . . The book also looks beyond the trilogy of Attila, Genghis Khan and Timur to describe the range of other steppe powers that rose and fell over the centuries

A sweeping account of forty-five centuries of nomadic tribes . . . Ranges from well-known names, such as Genghis Khan and the Mongols, to the less familiar Scythians, Parthians, Khazars and Tocharians . . . Worth reading . . . Now, more than ever, we need a better understanding of this area and its history
*Financial Times*

A vibrant account of how roaming warloads shaped technology, religion and culture . . . Harl flips the script to present the booted, felt-capped, leather-trousered and kaftan-wearing nomads as the bearers of civilisation. Empires of the Steppes narrates history from the viewpoint of famous leaders including Genghis Khan, as well as many that no one remembers today . . . Much of this book is energetically written traditional history, describing battles between kings . . . There are many memorable episodes . . . Harl’s exhaustively researched book will ensure they rejoin the narrative of world history

From Attila to Genghis Khan via Prester John, and from the terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang to the walls that Alexander built to hold back the hosts of Gog and Magog, this is a history of epic scope. Bringing together the empires of the steppe land with the caravan cities of the Silk Road and imperial China, Kenneth W. Harl’s encyclopedic account spans two thousand years of Eurasian history. It is a reminder that what happens in Central Asia seldom stays there but can have consequences that turn the tide of human affairs
*Martyn Rady, author of 'The Habsburgs'*

The author covers an impressive amount of ground … Harl observes that the nomads had a lasting effect on the world. The Mongols, for one, brought gunpowder and the arts of papermaking and printing to Europe, and Tamerlane inadvertently shifted the seat of power to the north and west of his homeland from Kiev to Moscow … An ambitious, impressively researched study that will interest advanced students of world history
*Kirkus Reviews*

Harl examines in this comprehensive and accessible chronicle the substantial impact of nomadic peoples from the Eurasian Steppes on the development of modern civilization in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia from 3000 BCE to 1400 CE. Harl demonstrates how nomad invasions shaped history: the Hun invasions of the mid-400s drove Germanic tribes to seek new homes within the Roman Empire, leading to the toppling of Rome; Avar incursions into Byzantium in the 500s and 600s dramatically influenced the subsequent growth and spread of Islamic influence in the Middle East; and Genghis Khan and his descendants created a Mongol Empire that spread from Russia to Japan, drawing new borders in the Middle East and Asia that are still recognized today. While the steppe nomads could carve out an empire, it was not possible to rule from horseback, resulting in a pattern of conquest and collapse that defined Eurasian civilization for millennia; even the Age of European Discovery, Harl contends, can be attributed to the power and riches of the steppe empires that enticed travelers from the West. Marked by its meticulous detail and broad sweep, this is a major contribution to the understanding of how the modern world came to be
*Publishers Weekly*

In a sweeping account of the so-called “barbarians of the steppes” that stretches across 2,000 years, academic historian Harl explores the turbulent history and enduring legacy of the nomadic societies of Central Asia … Harl also illuminates under-appreciated aspects of the story … The history is brought to life through evocative descriptions and memorable statistics … These vignettes help to paint a more nuanced picture of the enigmatic steppe cultures that, Harl argues, helped to shape the modern world

A rollercoaster of historical narration, covering 45 centuries of relentless conflict emanating from the grassland steppes in Central Asia
*History Today*

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