Long before the Huns, or the Mongols, or the Aryans, a different people ruled the steppe. Meet the inventors of thunderbolt-hurling sky gods.
Imagine a time long before Asia’s vast interior was crossed by railroads or telephone lines. Thousands of years before anyone dreamed of the Silk Route; before there were friendly roads and caravansaries to welcome travelers from across the desert. Long before anyone had heard the names of China, or India, or Rome.
It is 1900 BCE, or thereabouts. Far to the west, the Sumerians are experiencing their Renaissance, Egypt has entered its Middle Kingdom era, and Babylon is about to rise to power for the first time.
But here in Central Asia, there is only wilderness.
Picture yourself in a camp of animal-hide tents, surrounded on every side by a sea of open grassland and rolling hills, broken at distant intervals by small groves of trees swaying in the wind. Your only companions are the tight-knit group of people you’ve known all your life, and the herds of sheep, goats and cattle that accompany you in your migrations across the plains.
One morning, you hear a strange rumbling.
Putting your ear to the grass, you hear a thunder in the earth; an approaching storm unlike any you’ve ever heard.
Then you raise your eyes and see them pouring over the northern hills: men in horse-drawn chariots, clad in armor of fur and boiled leather, notching arrows to to the strings of great bows, whooping and shouting as they descend on your camp.
Now look back on this moment with modern eyes, and ask — who are these invaders?