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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Map of independent Tartary (in yellow) and Chinese Tartary (in violet), in 1806.
Map of independent Tartary (in yellow) and Chinese Tartary (in violet), in 1806.

Tartary (Latin: Tartaria) or Great Tartary (Latin: Tartaria Magna) was a historical region in Asia located between the Caspian Sea-Ural Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Tartary was a blanket term used by Europeans for the areas of Central Asia, North Asia, and East Asia unknown to European geography spanning the vast region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, the Volga-Urals, the Caucasus, Siberia, Inner Asia, Mongolia and Manchuria.

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  • ✪ "Tartary" from Marco Polo to the Enlightenment : Exhibition Talk
  • ✪ "Tartary" from Marco Polo to the Enlightenment : Guided Tour
  • ✪ BA poem Tartary - Lec 1, BA Part 1 - BA English Book 1 Poem PU



Geography and history

Knowledge of Manchuria, Siberia and Central Asia in Europe prior to the 18th century was limited. The entire area was known simply as "Tartary" and its inhabitants "Tartars".[1] In the Early modern period, as understanding of the geography increased, Europeans began to subdivide Tartary into sections with prefixes denoting the name of the ruling power or the geographical location. Thus, Siberia was Great Tartary or Russian Tartary, the Crimean Khanate was Little Tartary, Manchuria was Chinese Tartary, and western Central Asia (prior to becoming Russian Central Asia) was known as Independent Tartary.[2][3][4]

European opinions of the area were often negative, and reflected the legacy of the Mongol invasions that originated from this region. The term originated in the wake of the widespread devastation spread by the Mongol Empire. The adding of an extra "r" to "Tatar" was suggestive of Tartarus, a Hell-like realm in Greek mythology.[5] In the 18th century, conceptions of Siberia or Tartary and its inhabitants as "barbarous" by Enlightenment-era writers tied into contemporary ideas of civilization, savagery and racism.[6]


The usage of "Tartary" declined as the region became more known to European geographers; however, the term was still used long into the 19th century.[7] Ethnographical data collected by Jesuit missionaries in China contributed to the replacement of "Chinese Tartary" with Manchuria in European geography by the early 18th century.[8] The voyages of Egor Meyendorff and Alexander von Humboldt into this region gave rise to the term Central Asia in the early 19th century as well as supplementary terms such as Inner Asia,[9] and Russian expansionism led to the term "Siberia" being coined for the Asian half of the Russian Empire.[10]

By the 20th century, Tartary as a term for Siberia and Central Asia was obsolete. However, it lent the title to Peter Fleming's book News from Tartary, which detailed his travels in Central Asia.

Tartary in art

In the novel Ada by Vladimir Nabokov, Tartary is the name of a large country on the fictional planet of Antiterra. Russia is Tartary's approximate geographic counterpart on Terra, Antiterra's twin world apparently identical to "our" Earth, but doubly fictional in the context of the novel.

"The Squire's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is set in the royal court of Tartary.

In Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, the eponymous hero refers to his travels in Tartary on two occasions, and suggests that the then modern geographers of Europe were "in a great error, by supposing nothing but sea between Japan and California; for it was ever my opinion, that there must be a balance of earth to counterpoise the great continent of Tartary".

L. Frank Baum's origin story of Santa Claus, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, features mythical antagonists from Tartary who oppose Santa's compassionate gift giving practices. They are described as the Three-Eyed Giants of Tartary.

In Walter de la Mare's poem "If I were lord of Tartary", Tartary is an land full of happiness.

See also



  1. ^ Elliott, "The Limits of Tartary", 625
  2. ^ Ibid., 626
  3. ^ Vermeulen, "Before Boas", 88
  4. ^ Sela, "L'invention", 542
  5. ^ Elliott, Op. Cit., 626
  6. ^ Wolff, "Global Perspective", 448
  7. ^ Seal, Op. Cit.
  8. ^ Elliott, Op. Cit., 626
  9. ^ Sela, Op. Cit, 543
  10. ^ Vermeulen, Op. Cit., 89


  • Elliott, Mark C. "The Limits of Tartary: Manchuria in Imperial and National Geographies." The Journal of Asian Studies 59, no. 3 (August 2000): 603–46. doi:10.2307/2658945.
  • Sela, Ron. "SVETLANA GORSHENINA. L’invention de l’Asie centrale: Histoire du concept de la Tartarie a` l’Eurasie. (Rayon histoire de la librairie Droz, no. 4.) Geneva: Droz, 2014. Pp. 702. $73.20." American Historical Review 2016 (April 2016): 542–43. doi:10.1353/imp.2015.0005.
  • Wolff, Larry. "The Global Perspective of Enlightened Travelers: Philosophic Geography from Siberia to the Pacific Ocean." European Review of History: Revue Europeenne Dhistoire 13, no. 3 (September 2006): 437–53. doi:10.1080/13507480600893148.
  • Vermeulen, Han F. Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment. Albany, NY: University of Nebraska, 2018.

External links

This page was last edited on 13 October 2019, at 01:27
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