Tartary or Great
Tartary (Latin: Tataria or
Tataria Magna) was a name used by Europeans from the Middle
Ages until the twentieth century to designate a great tract of
northern and central Asia stretching from the
Sea and the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean inhabited by Turkic
and Mongol peoples of the Mongol Empire who were generically referred to
as "Tartars", i.e. Tatars
incorporated the current areas of Siberia, Turkestan (including East
Turkestan), Greater Mongolia,
Manchuria, and sometimes Tibet.
Geography and history
Tartary was often divided into sections with prefixes denoting the
name of the ruling power or the geographical location. Thus, western Siberia
was Muscovite or Russian
Tartary, eastern Turkestan (later Chinese Xinjiang) and Mongolia were Chinese or
Cathay Tartary, western Turkestan
(later Russian Turkestan) was
known as Independent Tartary, and Manchuria was
Empire expanded eastward and more of Tartary became known
to Europeans, the term fell into disuse.
areas north of the Black
Sea inhabited by Turkic peoples were known as Little Tartary.
The "Komul Desert
of the Tartary" was
mentioned by Immanuel Kant
on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime,"
as a "great
Tartary in fiction
In the novel Ada
by Vladimir Nabokov
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.
According to the Metropolitan Opera's summary of Puccini's final
opera, Turandot, the son of the vanquished king of Tartary, Prince
Cala'f, is smitten with Turandot's beauty and determines to win her
In Phillip Pullman's His Dark
novels, the European main characters often express
fear of tartars, a term apparently referring to many Asian races,
as the story takes place far from Mongolia.
, by William Shakespeare
, the witches include
Tartars' lips in their potion
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
, Dr. Frankenstein pursues
the monster "amidst the wilds of Tartary and Russia, although he
still evaded me, I have ever followed in his track."
In Great Expectations
, Herbert Pocket
describes Estella Havisham
as a Tartar because she
was "hard and haughty and capricious to the last degree, and has
been brought up by Miss Havisham to wreak revenge on all the male
In The Pied Piper of
by Robert Browning
Pied Piper mentions Tartary as one of his credentials in pest
removal to the Mayor of Hamelin. "In Tartary I freed the Cham, Last
June, from his huge swarms of gnats;"
In his short work with E. Hoffmann Price, "Through the Gates of the
Silver Key," H. P. Lovecraft briefly mentions Tartary: "Upon their
cloaked heads there now seemed to rest tall, uncertainly coloured
mitres, strangely suggestive of those on certain nameless figures
chiselled by a forgotten sculptor along the living cliffs of a
high, forbidden mountain in Tartary..."
References and further reading
- Stephen Kotkin. "Defining Territories and Empires: from Mongol
Ulus to Russian Siberia 1200-1800". SRC Winter Symposium:
Socio-Cultural Dimensions of the Changes in the Slavic-Eurasian
World. January 30 - February 1, 1997. Available at:
Peter Fleming: One's Company (1936) and News From Tartary (1936)
later published together as Travels in Tartary.