Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 21.djvu/83

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Part I.—General Survey of the Russian Empire.

THE Russian empire is a very extensive territory in I eastern Europe and northern Asia, with an area exceeding 8,500,000 square miles, or one sixth of the land surface of the globe (one twenty-third of its whole super- ficies). It is, however, but thinly peopled on the average, including only one-fourteenth of the inhabitants of the earth. It is almost entirely confined to the cold and tem- perate zones. In Nova Zembla (Novaya Zemlya) and the Taimyr peninsula, it projects within the Arctic Circle as far as 77 2' and 77 40' N. lat. ; while its southern ex- tremities reach 38 50' in Armenia, about 35 on the Afghan frontier, and 42 30' on the coasts of the Pacific. To the west it advances as far as 20 40' E. long, in Lapland, 18 32' in Poland, and 29 42' on the Black Sea ; and its eastern limit East Cape in the Behring Strait extends to 191 E. longitude. The Arctic Ocean comprising the White, Barents, and Kara Seas and the northern Pacific, that is, the Seas of Behring, Okhotsk, and Japan, bound it in the north and east. The Baltic, with its two deep indentations, the Gulfs of Bothnia and Finland, limits it on the north-west ; and two sinuous lines of frontier separate it respectively from Sweden and Norway on the north-west and from Prussia, Austria, and Roumania on the west. The southern frontier is still unsettled, and has never remained unaltered for so many as twenty consecutive years. Quite recently it has been pushed southwards, on both the western and the eastern shores of the Black Sea, parts of Roumania and Asia Minor having been annexed in 1878. In Asia, beyond the Caspian, the southern boundary of the empire remains vague ; the advance into the Turcoman Steppes and Afghan Turkestan and on the Pamir plateau is still in progress. Bokhara and Khiva, though represented as vassal khanates, are in reality mere dependencies of Russia. An approximately settled frontier-line begins only farther east, where the Russian and the Chinese empires meet on the borders of Eastern Turkestan, Mongolia, and Manchuria. But even there, the province of Kuldja has recently been occupied by Russia, and again restored to China ; while in eastern Mongolia, the great overland route from Kiakhta to Peking, via Urga, is in fact in the hands of Russia, and it is difficult to predict how far Russian influence may extend should circumstances lead it to seek a footing on the thinly -peopled plateaus of Central Asia. Russia has no oceanic possessions, and has abandoned those she owned in last century; her islands are mere appendages of the mainland to which they belong. Such are the Aland archipelago, Hochland, Tiitters, Dago, and Osel in the Baltic Sea ; Nova Zembla, with Kolgueff and Vaigatch, in the Barents Sea ; the Sofovetsky Islands in the White Sea ; the New Siberian archipelago, and the small group of the Medvyezhii Islands off the Siberian coast; the Commander Islands off Kamchatka ; the Shantar Islands and Saghalin in the Sea of Okhotsk. The Aleutian archi- pelago was sold to the United States in 1867, together with Alaska, and in 1874 the Kurile Islands were ceded to Japan. A vast variety of physical features is obviously to be expected in a territory like this, which comprises on the one side the cotton and silk regions of Turkestan and Transcaucasia, and on the other the moss and lichen-clothed Arctic tundras and the Verkhoyansk Siberian pole of cold the dry Transcaspian deserts and the regions watered by the monsoons on the coasts of the Sea of Japan. Still, if the border regions, that is, two narrow belts in the north and south, be left out of account, a striking uniformity of physical feature prevails. High plateaus, like those of Pamir (the "Roof of the World") or of Armenia, and high mountain chains like the snow-clad summits of the Caucasus, the Alay, the Thian-Shan, the Sayan, are met with only on the outskirts of the empire. Viewed broadly by the physical geographer, it appears Plateau as occupying the territories to the north-west of that great bel .t of plateau-belt of the old continent the backbone of Asia Asia> which spreads with decreasing height and width from the high tableland of Tibet and Pamir to the lower plateaus of Mongolia, and thence north-eastwards through the Vitim region to the furthest extremity of Asia. It may be said to consist of the immense plains and flat lands which extend between the plateau-belt and the Arctic Ocean, including also the series of parallel chains and hilly spurs which skirt the plateau-belt on the north-west. It extends over the plateau itself, and crosses it, beyond Lake Baikal only. This belt the oldest geological continent of Asia being unfit for agriculture and for the most part unsuited for permanent settlement, while the oceanic slopes of it have from the dawn of history been occupied by a dense population, has long prevented Slavonian colonization from reaching the Pacific. Russians happened to cross it in the 17th century, only in its narrowest and most northerly part, thus reaching the Pacific on the foggy and frozen coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk ; and two centuries elapsed ere, after colonizing the depressions of the plateau around Lake Baikal, the Russians crossed the plateau in a more genial zone and descended to the Pacific by the Amur, rapidly spreading farther south, up the nearly uninhabited Usuri, to what is now the Gulf of Peter the Great. In the south-western higher portions of the plateau-belt the empire has only recently planted its foot on the Pamir ; as we write, it is endeavouring to get command of the lower passages which give an easy access to the Afghan portion of the plateau ; while already, within the present century, it has established itself firmly on the plateaus of Armenia. A broad belt of hilly tracts in every respect alpine in The character, and displaying the same variety of climate and alpine organic life as alpine tracts usually do skirts the plateau- belt throughout its length on the north and north-west, forming an intermediate region between the plateaus and the plains. The Caucasus, th*e Elburz, the Kopet-dagh, and Paropamisus, the intricate and imperfectly known net- work of mountains west of the Pamir, the Thian-Shan and Ala-tau mountain regions, and farther north-east the Altai, the still unnamed complex of Minusinsk mountains, the intricate mountain-chains of Sayan, with those of the Olekma, Vitim, and Atdan, all of which are ranged en echelon the former from north- west to south-east, and the others from south-west to north-east all of these belong to one immense alpine belt bordering that of the plateaus. These have long been known to Russian colonists, who, seeking to escape religious prosecutions and exactions by the state, early penetrated into and rapidly pushed their small settlements up the better valleys of these tracts, and continued to spread everywhere as long as they found no obstacles in the shape of a former population or in unfavour- able climatic conditions. As for the flat-lands which extend from the Alpine hill- The foots to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, and assume the flat-lands, character either of dry deserts in the Aral-Caspian de- pression, or of low table-lands in central Russia and eastern Siberia, of lake-regions in north-west Russia and Finland, or of marshy prairies in western Siberia, and of