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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 Caspian Seamarker and the Ural Mountainsmarker to the Pacific Oceanmarker inhabited by Turkic and Mongol peoples of the Mongol Empire who were generically referred to as "Tartars", i.e. Tatars. It incorporated the current areas of Siberiamarker, 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 Russianmarker Tartary, eastern Turkestan (later Chinesemarker Xinjiang) and Mongolia were Chinese or Cathay Tartary, western Turkestan (later Russian Turkestan) was known as Independent Tartary, and Manchuria was East Tartary.

As the Russian Empiremarker expanded eastward and more of Tartary became known to Europeans, the term fell into disuse.

European areas north of the Black Seamarker inhabited by Turkic peoples were known as Little Tartary.

The "Komul Desert of the Tartary" was mentioned by Immanuel Kant in his "Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime," as a "great far-reaching solitude".

Tartary in fiction

In the novel Ada by Vladimir Nabokov, Tartary is the name of a large country on the fictional planet of Antiterra. Russiamarker 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 love.

In Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials 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.

In Macbeth, 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, by Charles Dickens, 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 sex."

In The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, the 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..."

See also

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.

External links

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