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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: June 2014

4 - Imperial frontier encounters


The rise and expansion of the multicultural conquest states changed one important feature of the Eurasian frontiers and inaugurated an era of struggle over the Eurasian borderlands. The frontier became less a zone of encounter between nomadic and sedentary societies and more a zone of encounters between organized state systems based on agricultural communities and urban centers, ruled (mainly) by hereditary monarchs or emperors wielding great, if not always absolute, power legitimized by various political theologies; they were governed with the assistance of civil and military elites drawn up in hierarchical orders and occupying the central institutions of the state. These frontier encounters also involved the indigenous populations that inhabited the contested territories. New types of frontier communities sprang up, some organized by the central state, others resisting that authority. Different sections of the Eurasian frontiers began to take on distinctive geocultural profiles. Henceforth in this narrative these sections will be called complex frontiers; complexity in this case signifying the number of state systems and social groups engaged in violent and peaceful intercourse within a broadly conceived geographical space that set restraints and opened possibilities for human action. On this basis, seven complex frontiers will serve as the matrix for this chapter: the Baltic littoral, the western Balkans (Triplex Confinium), Danubian frontier, Pontic steppe, Caucasian isthmus, Trans Caspia, and Inner Asia. As frontiers they cannot be sharply delimited; they are blurred and porous at the margins. Encounters in one section often spilled over into others. As the conquest states carved out territories within these frontiers, annexed and incorporated them, these borderlands did not cease to become sites of external and internal conflicts.

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