Bronze Age New World: Empire of the Steppe

Bronze Age New World: Empire of the Steppe (Part 1)
[Russia and Siberia, 1492-1691]
==
The year Christopher Columbus comes ashore to find ruined Arawak
cities on Hispaniola, the Russians are barely a decade out from under
the Tatar yoke. The tremors from that world-shaking event will take
many years to reach all the way to the lands of the Grand Duke of
Muscovy. But though the wings of the butterfly flap slowly, they
flap; the consequences to Europe and the Mediterranean of the Bronze
Age New World will in time transform Russian society…as will what they
will find waiting for them across the Pacific Ocean.

The first glimmer of change occurs in 1558, when the armed forces of
Ivan Grozny, Czar of All the Russias, conquer the Tatar khanates of
Astrakhan and Kazan…with nothing more than words of protest from the
envoys of the Ottoman Empire. This is the harbinger of things to
come, as an Ottoman Empire weaker on its northern frontier is hard-
pressed to marshal military resources against Russian expansion; and,
when it does, rarely enjoys much success.[1]

The consequences of the discovery of the New World upon western
European international relations are complex, but generally less
beneficial to Russia. But the changes that are sweeping through
Europe do nothing to deter the deeper, underlying strategic impulses
that take the Russians beyond the Urals. To compete in the bloody
arena of European power politics—and thereby avoid indignities like
that suffered in, when Polish forces occupy the Czar’s capital at
Moscow--the Russians must have strong armies, and to put a well-
equipped, large army into the field requires specie. Being a country
poor in precious metals, Russia must have a resource that it can
exchange at market for specie—and that resource is furs, with which
Siberia teems.

Four kinds of Russian penetrate Siberia: the _promyshlennik_, the
independent fur-trapper; the merchants who buy the furs and sell food
and equipment to the trappers; the Cossacks who build the fortresses,
keep the native at bay with sword and musket, and make them pay their
yasak, their annual fur tribute to the Czar; and the government
officials who administer it all. The Russian conquest of Siberia is a
muddle—driven sometimes more by government agents and the whim of the
Czar, sometimes by bold _promyshlenniki_, sometimes by calculating
merchants. The details vare interesting perhaps to future local
historians, but the end result is easily summarized: by the mid-17th
century, the banner of the Double Eagle is planted at the shores of
the Sea of Okhotsk.

But the changes to Russia’s European fortunes will in time change
Siberia—and, indeed, make it central to Russia’s national history than
it was in our world, as Russia under the Shuisky czars[2] turns to its
vast territory beyond the Urals to supply more and more of its
national needs. In many ways the story of 17th-century Russia is the
story of Russia turning away from western Europe and becoming a grand
empire of the Eurasian steppe—the first and only to begin in the west
and conquer the east. There is no one decision made to turn away from
the west; it is simply a logical consequence of the subtly shifting
strategic situation.[3]

The Russian Empire requires four things for its preservation: large
quantities of fur; outlets to markets where they can sell fur for
specie; farmlands, so that they can feed the men who bring in the fur;
and military strength, to ensure their control over the three other
necessary resources. Siberia provides fur enough and more. For most
of the 16th century, Arkangelsk was their outlet to the fur-hungry
peoples of Europe (and their inlet to European finished goods and
machinery); but as the 17th century dawns and the Russian merchants in
Siberia begin to open up contact for their fur in East Asia, and so
Kiakhta, the Russian trade town on the Mongolian border, becomes the
Empire’s principal point of entry for gold and silver.

In Europe, the Russians find themselves often bested in warfare; it is
more and more common for them to lose wars to Sweden, Poland, and
Lithuania, and they lose their outlets on the Baltic. Only one
maritime port in the west remains: Arkangelsk, and the English are so
dominant there that they practically run it like a foreign concession--
Englishmen living in the town are not subject to Russian law, for
example. Starved of the useful machines and tools of western Europe,
the Russians, forced to greater levels of self-reliance, begin to
focus on extracting resources besides fur from the Siberian vastness:
timber from the taiga, coal from the Kuznets basin, iron from the
great Lodestone Mountain, Magnitnaia, in the Bashkir country; gold on
the upper Lena.[4]

But the transportation difficulties associated with bringing these
resources back west over the Urals, and the general backwardness of
Russian industry, means that the Russian Empire cannot effectively
translate their material abundance into military strength; and so as
the century progresses Russia loses not only its outlets on the Baltic
but valuable farmland on the Polish frontier. Fortunately, there is a
solution: pacify the wild lands of the Don Cossacks and the Crimean
Tatars and settle it with Slavic farmers. And so the Ukraine and
Crimea become a formal part of the Russian Empire in the mid-17th
century.[5] Odessa becomes Russia’s second port, but as the Ottomans
still control the Dardanelles, it's of somewhat limited value.

But these new farmlands are not quite enough to make up for the lands
lost to Poland, and even if they were, they are a long way from
Magnitnaia, let alone the fur frontier, which by 1650 has already
reached the Pacific. And the Cossacks, convicts, and free laborers
who work the mines and saw the lumber are becoming harder and harder
to keep feed. This, along with a desire to gain more direct access to
the markets of fur-hungry China, drives Russia to attempt to conquer
the Amur Valley, but the vigorous new rulers of China, the Manchus,[6]
quickly repulse the far-flung armies of the Czar. The Treaty of
Nerchinsk, signed in 1676[7], denies the fertile Amur lands to the
Russians. An effort to plant an agricultural colony in the relatively
fertile lands between the Ob and Irtysh Rivers in western Siberia is
not a failure, per se--the farms do produce a transportable surplus--
but it is still not quite enough. Matters have not quite reached a
crisis point by 1690; nobody in Siberia is actually starving to death
(at least, nobody Russian). But the viability of some of the mining,
timber, and fur-trading enterprises is starting to become suspect if
the logistical problems cannot be solved fairly soon. And without its
extraction enterprises, Russia cannot supply its armies; and without
its armies, Moscow itself will be in danger from the Swedes and the
Poles, the latter of whom are on the Dnieper.

The event that happens in the spring of 1691, then, is of the highest
consequence. Two _promyshlenniki_ trapping for sable on the lower
Kolyma River encounter a Chukchi village chief of their acquaintance,
who is sporting a curious round ornament around his neck. Although
quite exquisitely detailed with oddly-proportioned bird designs
unfamiliar to the Russians[8], the medallion no longer has much
luster, having turned rather dull and greenish with age--as bronze is
wont to do. Here in the howling wilderness of frozen Asia, the
eastern extremity of Europe has encountered the farthest-flung
fragments of the Bronze Age New World.

The provenance of the ornament is unknown to either Slav or Chukotsk,
but it happens to be a medallion from the celebrated Games of the
Puget Sound Salish. Originally a Tlon trade trinket in the form of a
bracelet, it was brought to the Salish by Chumash traders, then melted
down, hammered into shape, and etched by a Salish artisan on Puget
Sound in about 1642. The proud young man who wins it is, a decade
later, passing into early middle age and beginning to make his
reputation as a chief of great wealth and prestige--so he gives it
away in potlatch to a cousin from northern Vancouver Island. Four
years later, the medallion, along with a young woman, is given in a
marriage ceremony to a Nuxalk chief, in part of an elaborate (but
ultimately unsuccessful) plan by the Vancouver Salish to form a
dynastic alliance with the Bella Coola folk. In 1663 it is pulled
from the corpse of the Nuxalk chief by a Haida raider[9], who is
himself killed less than two years later during one of the many
battles of the long and bitter Tlingit-Haida war for control of Prince
of Wales Island. The Tlingit warrior gives it to his Sitkan clan-
chief, who gives it via potlatch to Katlian, the mighty and renowned
chief of the Inside-the-Glacier People in Yakutat, as a demonstration
of his fealty, the following spring. Katlian having no real need of
it, it ends up in a storage shed in the High King’s grand longhouse
compound, neglected. Fifteen years later, the Tlingit having
developed a flourishing artisanal bronze-ornamentation industry in the
interim, the current Lord of Raven’s Sky is more than happy to have
someone polish up the old and unstylish thing and fob it off on the
gullible chief of the barbaric Ahtna Athabaskans, as part of a
potlatch-like ceremony that in fact establishes Tlingit suzerainty
over the Ahtna. That distinguished gentleman bequeaths it to his
favorite son, who is killed in a skirmish over hunting-ground usage
with a band of Koyukon Athabaskans in 1684. Unfortunately, the winter
of 1685 is a very harsh one, and the Koyukon warrior who claimed it is
forced to give it up as part of a disadvantageous trade for seal meat
with the Norton Sound folk during the annual Koyukon trade journey to
Unalakleet, on Norton Sound. Three years later, also at the
Unalakleet trade fair, a Norton Sound Inupiat hunter informally trades
it to his affable third cousin, a Siberian Yup’ik from the Chukotka
Peninsula with a taste for novelty, in exchange for a pouch of the
strange, intoxicating thing that the Siberians have been bringing
across the Straits over the last decade or so: tobacco[10]. And
indeed, the Siberian Yup’ik hunter soon thereafter trades the
medallion, its novelty having worn off rather quickly, for a fresh
supply of tobacco—he knows a guy from the Kolyma valley, an irascible
Chukchi[11], who supposedly gets it, in exchange for a pelt or two,
from the kass’aq,[12] the hairy men from the west.

This is not the only New World bronze artifact in Siberia in 1691, but
there aren’t many; it is thousands of miles from the Kolyma Valley to
the nearest bronze crucibles in Yakutat Bay. But coincidence by
coincidence, raid by raid, exchange by exchange, the products of the
New World percolate up from Salish country and beyond, through a
continent and onto another. Over the next few years, New World
artifacts—occasionally bronze and, much more commonly, copper
artifacts of nearly-identical design[12]—are seen more and more in the
northeastern-most parts of Siberia. The implications are quickly
realized by the Czarist administrators in the Siberian outposts, and
word is sent back to Moscow.

Although the Russian courtiers at the Kremlin are not very connected
to the intellectual life of Western Europe, it has been almost two
centuries since the initial Spanish encounters, and the existence of
high civilization in the New World is common knowledge. So the
conclusion that Russian officials make is obvious: there must be a
land connection between the New and the Old World in northeastern
Siberia—and, the bronze artifacts bearing no resemblance to any of the
known New World civilizations, there must be a new civilization in the
northern parts of America. And if there is a civilization, there must
be fertile land, to feed and sustain that civilization. It is also
well-known that the New World civilizations, while not
inconsequential, are far less puissant than (for example) the Empire
of the Great Qing. If the Russians can find and overrun this
civilization, then the problems of feeding their empire of the steppe
will be solved. The wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly in this empire
of the steppe, but they turn, and plans are made to carry the Orthodox
cross and the Double Eagle onto a third continent.
==
[1] As detailed in “Brave New Old World: Suleyman the Fierce” by Mr.
Mike Ralls, which details the consequences of a Bronze Age New World
to the Ottoman Empire. The Empire isn’t exactly weaker per se—it has
advantages and disadvantages both that are different from OTL—but its
presence in Europe is definitely not as robust. OTL, the Russian
conquest of these Muslim Khanates provoked a small, unsuccessful
military response on the part of the Ottomans, the first of many, many
Russo-Turkish wars over the next three centuries. ATL the Russians
have much more of a free hand in far southern Europe.
[2] The Time of Troubles, essentially representing the collapse of the
Rurik dynasty in the early 17th century, had a different resolution
ATL. Basil Shuisky briefly held the throne OTL but was deposed by a
coterie of nobles led by Michael Romanov; ATL the Shuisky family holds
on for good due to butterflies.
[3] Indeed, in OTL the decision to Westernize was largely, but not
completely, the result of one bold decision by Peter the Great. In
his absence, Russia goes down what might be a more “natural” path,”
focusing on its vast Eurasian continental domains.
[4] The iron deposits of Magnitnaia, which in OTL became the great
Soviet industrial center of Magnitogorsk, were known to Russians in
the 17th century but not developed until the early 18th ATL. OTL
Magnitogorsk was a point of both extraction and processing; here and
elsewhere in Siberia, Russia is mostly just doing extraction, the
goods mostly being taken west and sold in western Europe. There is a
wrought-iron industry in Magnitnaia, though. The goldfields on the
Lena are also historical; their discovery was more or less by chance—a
Siberian noticed some locals wearing gold jewelry—so with greater
Russian population densities in Siberia it happens sooner ATL.
[5] This didn’t happen until the reign of Catherine the Great OTL;
stronger strategic imperative to do so, plus less ability by the
Ottoman Empire to stand in the way, makes it happen considerably
sooner here.
[6] The consequences of a Bronze Age New World have already
significantly changed Chinese history; but the have not changed them
so much that they could prevent the fall of the decadent Ming and the
victory of the sons of Nurhachi
[7] 1689 OTL
[8] But instantly recognizable to anyone who’s seen a totem pole, or a
picture of one
[9] The Haida have learned better than to venture into Puget Sound by
this point, but they still occasionally raid their more immediate
neighbors.
[10] This is as OTL. Tobacco (as a finished good, not as a crop) made
its way from Mesoamerica to western Europe to Russia to Siberia and
across the Bering Straits. The Russians OTL found Eskimos chewing a
mixture of tobacco and mildly-hallucinogenic mushroom, called ikmik.
If any of this seems fanciful, consider that in OTL, the Russians
first made landfall on Kayak Island, in Prince William Sound—something
like fifteen hundred sea-miles from Asia--in 1741. In the empty Eyak
hut they entered, they found an iron pot and a Chinese pipe, among
other things. The trans-Bering Straits trade was robust OTL, and will
be even more so ATL because of greater population densities on both
ends.
[11] The Chukchi are not Eskimoan; in habit and culture they are
roughly analogous to Alaskan Athabaskans, although the groups are not
linguistically related.
[12] _Kass’aq_ (that’s the standard orthography; there are about a
zillion other spellings) is a moderately derogatory Eskimo word for
white person. It almost certainly is derived from “Cossack,” one of
the many Russian loanwords in Eskimo languages. It’s probably the
only Eskimo word that is ultimately of *Turkish* origin, though.
[13] Bronze is quite rare in Alaska; its manufacture is kept as a
state secret by the Tlingit High Kings, and the wearing of bronze
jewelry and labrets is reserved only for Tlingit nobles. Tlingit,
Eyak, and Ahtna *commoners,* though, are allowed to wear copper
jewelry, and in a practice very common historically in all sorts of
cultures, they do so in ways that imitate the nobility as much as
possible.
 
Last edited:
Hrm. So you think Peter was really a great man?

In the sense that he was personally responsible for significant changes to the course of Russian history, yes. The system of Czarist autocracy--autocracy in general, really--is set up so that one individual personality can make a great deal of difference. The decision of Russia to modernize and Westernize was by no means inevitable, and probably not even the most likely decision.
 
I like! good stuff... however.. Russia can not only look havostok but has to keep eye on European interests.. and one would also think of keeping up with the jones' on a modern military basis or watch them creep closer to moscow. I suppose you plan to have the russian's as far south as Baja California as they did in OTL .. but with a real significant presence?

You could also have them stumble upon gold in the klondike as well! find the fertile fields of alberta and manitoba too that would feed many mouths..
 
I like! good stuff... however.. Russia can not only look havostok but has to keep eye on European interests.. and one would also think of keeping up with the jones' on a modern military basis or watch them creep closer to moscow.

Russia's definitely not totally isolated from the West...in fact, other than in naval technology, they're not super-far behind where they were OTL. The men who rule Russia ATL don't think of it in these terms, but what Russia is really doing is giving up a strategic buffer in the west in exchange for massive, massive strategic depth in the East. In other words, the Poles and Swedes are closer to the Russian capital than they were ATL; but the Russians can evacuate (as they did during both Charles XII and Napoleon's invasion) and fall back; ATL, they have significantly more resources to fall back onto.

I suppose you plan to have the russian's as far south as Baja California as they did in OTL .. but with a real significant presence?
Unlikely; you may have picked up hints from the last installment (Bronze Age New World: Lord of Raven's Sky) that European influence is already being felt as far south as the Queen Charlotte Islands. The Spanish have long settled California, and the British are showing up too, just as in OTL. Not sure how it's all going to work itself out.

You could also have them stumble upon gold in the klondike as well! find the fertile fields of alberta and manitoba too that would feed many mouths..

Maybe...the Klondike is way, way, way the fuck inland. Alberta and Manitoba are definite thoughts...but they're even farther from Siberia than the Ukraine. They could help Russian America feed *itself*, though.
 
Do you also have plans for Russia to expand southwards in the Pacific? I might be of help to you if you need it.

Do you mean down Kamchatka and into the Aleutians? Yes; eventually they'll discover sea otters and that will lead them into the Aleutians, although with their weaker navigational technology they might not be able to make some of the longer crossings. Or did you mean down towards the Primorsky Krai? In any case I'd like to hear your thoughts in more detail.
 
Actually, a combination of both. I've done a Russian TL about an alternate Russian Empire which managed to gain control of the Philippines, but I'm planning to make a rewrite on it.
 
Actually, a combination of both. I've done a Russian TL about an alternate Russian Empire which managed to gain control of the Philippines, but I'm planning to make a rewrite on it.

Phillippines ain't happening. One thing I don't think people are picking up on--the Russian Empire is *weaker* than they were OTL, and Russian America was a marginal enterprise in our world. The one thing they have going for them: Their supply lines for most stuff is marginally shorter, due to higher population densities in Siberia. The biggest drawback is their naval technology--no Peter the Great, no Baltic ports. This is going to preclude bold adventures like colonizing Hawaii (which the Russians actually tried OTL) or wresting the Philippines from the Spanish.

BTW, I surmise by your nickname that you know a thing or two about Siberia? Would love to hear your thoughts on the plausibility of the alt-conquest of Siberia, although I did leave the details rather deliberately vague.
 
Actually, the only thing I know about Siberian conquests were as follows: the Stroganov support for Yermak Timofeyevich's conquests of Siberia, the Russo-Manchu border conflicts which did occur over the need to expand into the Pacific, and lastly, Myeongseong the Korean Empress's efforts to establish an alliance with Tsarist Russia in face of Japanese aggression.
 

Hnau

Banned
Sounds cool! You're really getting the ball rolling here, Chugach. :)

Now, I always thought that the westernized Imperial government and later the Soviets actually encouraged settlement and investment into Siberia beyond what was actually cost-effective. I read an essay some where which spoke in depth how since the collapse of the Soviet Union many Russians have left Siberia because infrastructure and business was only possible there because it was subsidized by the state. Without the state it became too costly to really provide motivations to colonize the territory. What that says to me is that the "natural" course of Russia would be to ignore Siberia. That was just one essay, however. I do see why a Russian state, deprived of profitable territories in the west because of its failures to modernize, might turn east more than they had in OTL. The fur trade was very profitable, and gold and silver will always be no matter where its found. I am somewhat skeptical that the discovery of bronze ornaments in the Far East would spur state expeditions to find some rich American civilization that the Russian could conquer. It seems like any such expedition would be so risky that only the craziest of entrepreneurs and financiers would be willing to fund it, at least until such a civilization was confirmed. But that's just my gut feeling.

Please continue! :)
 
Sounds cool! You're really getting the ball rolling here, Chugach. :)

Now, I always thought that the westernized Imperial government and later the Soviets actually encouraged settlement and investment into Siberia beyond what was actually cost-effective. I read an essay some where which spoke in depth how since the collapse of the Soviet Union many Russians have left Siberia because infrastructure and business was only possible there because it was subsidized by the state. Without the state it became too costly to really provide motivations to colonize the territory. What that says to me is that the "natural" course of Russia would be to ignore Siberia. That was just one essay, however. I do see why a Russian state, deprived of profitable territories in the west because of its failures to modernize, might turn east more than they had in OTL. The fur trade was very profitable, and gold and silver will always be no matter where its found.

It's actually not unlike the relationship that Alaska bears to the modern US. Alaska's got a lot of a resource that's super-valuable to the modern world: oil. But in order to make the extraction of oil possible--to make it so that people are willing and able to live and work in Alaska--everything else has to be heavily subsidized. In ATL Siberia, furs are their oil (and now, precious metals); but for the fur enterprise to work the state has to subsidize everything else, especially food production.

I am somewhat skeptical that the discovery of bronze ornaments in the Far East would spur state expeditions to find some rich American civilization that the Russian could conquer. It seems like any such expedition would be so risky that only the craziest of entrepreneurs and financiers would be willing to fund it, at least until such a civilization was confirmed. But that's just my gut feeling.

Ah, you picked up on something a lot of people missed--Russian conquest of the New World is not actually a good idea! But this does not mean it will not happen. Stay tuned for the details.

Please continue! :)[/QUOTE]
 
Bronze Age New World: Empire of the Steppe (Part 2)

[Russia and Alaska, 1701-1711]

Moscow, 1701

The Kremlin bells toll, in mourning for the old Czar and in honor of the new. The last czar was in late middle age when he took the throne and old when he died, and his reign was marked with timidity and perhaps a bit of decay. His great-nephew and heir Peter, the first of that name to become Czar of all the Russias[1], is in contrast a bold and ambitious man, with bold and ambitious plans for the rodina. Peter is no iconoclast—he is content to wear his beard long, oversee Byzantine[2] court ceremonies, and generally rule as a Christian Orthodox khan, as have his forefathers—but he wants to make Russia mighty among the nations. And the information coming slowly back from farthest Siberia—that there is a New World civilization awaiting somewhere just beyond the Kolyma—is giving him a golden opportunity to expand the Orthodox Gospel, to implant the rule of the Third Rome in America, and incidentally to solve the logistics problems all around his wide dominions.

The expeditionary force that Peter gathers is not especially large—despite his dreams, he is well aware that the Western border cannot be substantively weakened. Its written instructions are to explore Siberia beyond the Kolyma, make contact with and reconnaissance of the civilizations found there, establish a forward base in the new land, and report back to the Czar on the necessary measures for bringing the new civilization and its resources under the Russian ambit. Most of the force is made up of Cossack cavalry units already in Siberia, and given orders to assemble in Anadyrsk. In addition, three companies of elite musketeers—one from the Western frontier and two from Moscow—are sent over the Urals under the command of Adam Laxmann[3], a Finn in Russian service who recently won a rare success for Russia in a brief war with Lithuania. Movement is slow, this being Siberia: it takes almost two years for the western forces, accompanied by a priestly delegation, an Austrian doctor, and two diplomats, to reach Anadyrsk and begin to march on to the conquest of a third continent.

Although a handful of individual promyshlennik have been all the way to the end of the Chukotka Peninsula, and gazed upon the Bering Strait, not many have—the region is rather poor in furbearing mammals. So once those few pioneers scouted the peninsula and found it wanting, nobody followed; the detail that they reached the edge of the continent has largely forgotten. And, with communication in Siberia being what it is, nobody in the Siberian capital of Irkutsk, let alone Moscow, knows this much[4]. As far as any Czarist official is concerned, if the Russians continue to head northeast beyond the Anadyr, they will eventually find themselves in the New World.

Commander Laxmann is therefore rather nonplussed, upon his arrival in Anadyrsk, to learn from Cossack scouting parties that Siberia ends about two hundred miles to the northeast. But only slightly nonplussed: on clear days, when he looks out through his field glass from the end of the cape soon to be named in his honor and across the strait also soon to be named in his honor, he can not only see Diomede Island but a distant shore beyond it, too vast to be another island. Interrogating the natives makes the truth clear: the Old and New World are not connected by land, but it is an easy enough voyage across. The natives, it seems, make the crossing every year to trade with their cousins on the far side. Further interrogation reveals that these New World cousins have lately been pulling tin chunks out of streams in their country and giving them to some mysterious figure far away down the “Kvee-pa River,”[5] whom the Siberian Yup’ik think might be called King Raven or something like that. The implications are again clear: a New World civilization is close at hand, and the name of Laxmann, who will conquer it, will enter the Russian history books along with the great Ermak the Cossack, who opened Siberia.

Although optimism runs high, the Laxmann Strait does pose a significant barrier. The Russian military doesn’t know much about naval operations, but they do know that they require logistical bases. And so the Russian expedition spends the spring and summer of 1705 building a fort, shipyard, and fishing camp in a sheltered embayment south of the Cape, and establishing overland and water supply routes connecting the frontier camp to Anadyrsk. In anticipation of the role it will play in the imminent conquest of the New World, the extension of the power of the Third Rome to a third continent, the collection of tents, log huts, and Eskimo sod houses is given a name far more grandiose than its rude and windswept reality: Vladizapad, Lord of the West.[6]

In summer and early fall, a few parties of scouts are sent across the strait in Cossack baidars, accompanied by enslaved Siberian Yupik guides who have made the crossing many times. The first Russian to actually set foot in the New World does so in August of 1705, landing at the tip of Cape Prince of Wales and finding some old campfires, but making no contact with any locals. A few other parties sent later the same year do make contact, capturing three Inupiat women and a boy and bringing them back to Vladizapad along with reports confirming that the shortest distance from Old World to New is scarcely fifty miles of open water.

The winter of 1705-1706 is, at the outset, not altogether unpleasant for the Russian expedition. The Cossacks and musketeers are rough men used to a rough life, and there is vodka aplenty, and Native women too. There is meat enough, as well. The Russians do what they do best—putting their native subjects to work doing what they do best, in this case hunting marine mammals.[7] The Russians don’t like seal and whale meat, but there is plenty of it and it is filling; washed down with kvass and vodka, it is not so bad at all.[8] Hunkered down in their sod-insulated log huts, the Russians eat, drink, gamble and fornicate the long winter hours away. Until a half-Eskimo half-Chukotsk trapper, coming by dogsled to trade some silver fox furs in early February, enters the camp carrying with him an unwanted visitor in his lungs: pneumatic Rocky Mounted Spotted Fever.

The impact on the settlement is not devastating, exactly, although its death rates are slightly higher than the typical 5 percent due to the close confinement. Fortunately for the Russians, providence spares both the Austrian doctor and the three Orthodox priests (although one is blinded), who are thereby able to administer palliative and spiritual care. Nevertheless, it is an alarming enough development, and it weakens the expedition’s numbers enough that the Commander requests reinforcements from Moscow. Although Czar Peter is irritated and beginning to question the whole enterprise, he grants the request. However, it is three years between the dispatch of the request and the arrival of a fresh company of musketeers (accompanied by an English shipwright from Arkhangelsk named Darwin)[9]; and another two before the Russians have built the ships and gathered the supplies they think sufficient to establish a presence in the New World. By this time, Russians have scouted up and down the Seward Peninsula coast, found Kotzebue and Norton Sounds, made landfall on Diomede and St. Lawrence Islands, and are vaguely familiar with Eskimo settlement patterns on the far side.

In the spring of 1711, the primitive harbor at Vladizapad is alive with the sounds of horses, men, munitions and provender being loaded up for their voyage across the Laxmann Strait. Due to great material shortages and even greater shortages of skilled labor, most of the boats are flat-bottomed and primitive, in the style of the riverboats familiar to Cossacks: bound together with leather thongs, with caribou-hide sails. Only the Commander’s ship—named St. Peter in honor of the Czar whose expedition this is--bears even the vaguest resemblance to the tall ships of the Western Europeans which currently ply the world’s oceans. On April 7th, 1711, ten baidars and one caravel[10] set out of Providence Bay, escorted by Siberian guides in umiat, bound for Norton Sound.

The portion of the New World they will soon reach has scarcely been impacted by the existence of bronze-making advanced civilizations far, far to the South. The peoples of the High Arctic—the Eskimo of the coast and the Athabaskans of the interior—are just too distant from the centers of civilization, and their resources too scarce, to have ben significantly changed by the rise of high civilization to the South, even a thousand years and more after the first Mesoamerican smith mixed tin with copper. There are a few exceptions:

1) In 1524, the virus that causes pneumonic Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever celebrated a milestone: it reached the Arctic Ocean, in the vicinity of Amundsen Gulf, having travelled up the major lakes of western Canada through Athabaskan country. The Central Inuit are well-acquainted with illnesses related to starvation and cold weather; infectious disease is new. There’s not much they can do about RMSF, other than die and slightly adjust their beliefs about the nature of the spirit world. From Amundsen Gulf it spread east and west via trade and seasonal gatherings of the Inuit nation, slowed but not stopped by the much lower population densities, working its away along Arctic shores over the next several generations. It is not a particularly lethal disease, but in the harsh Malthusian environment of the High Arctic, where bands are two steps ahead of starvation at the best of times (and therefore likely to be immunocompromised), it induced mortality rates somewhat higher than down south. On the other hand, the smaller populations that survived were slightly less pressed for resources. A generation after it reached the Taremiut of the Colville River drainage in Alaska, the survivors of the mayhem were able to live comfortably, by Eskimoan standards, down on the coast; no bands were obligated to venture into the northern foothills of the Brooks Range[11]. This is a minor detail of consequence mostly to future anthropologists; far more important to the course of world history is the fact that pRMSF rounded the corner of Alaska, started moving south down the west coast, and reached the People of Kauwerak, the Inupiat Eskimo of the Seward Peninsula, in the mid-17th century. It crossed the Strait into Asia sometime just before the turn of the century, as we have seen. In 1711 it is endemic to the Seward Peninsula, and is just beginning to spread inland, along the burgeoning trade route of the Yukon River. It has not yet reached the Tlingit Kingdom.

2) Those same People of Kauwerak have recently added a new seasonal activity to their age-old habit of hunting marine mammals in spring and summer, going inland to hunt in the fall, and hunkering down and doing as little as possible during the long, long winters. For reasons not at all clear to them, over the last few decades the Koyukon Athabaskan traders who come to the Unalakleet mouth every spring have been willing to pay surprising quantities of fur and caribou meat for the tin pebbles that are often seen gleaming in shallow streambeds all through the Seward Peninsula. The Inupiat don’t really understand what the big deal is—the Inupiat themselves are an Iron Age people, sort of[12]—but the price is right. Now, when the men go out for their fall hunt, women and children are put to work digging through streambeds to find tin nuggets. This leads to very slightly more sedentary villages, but is not a dramatic change to the Inupiat way of life.

3) Since tin is both relatively rare and intrinsically valuable to some people, they are in the infant stages of becoming a medium of exchange in some parts of Alaska (the Norton Sound/Seward Peninsula area and large stretches of the Yukon River drainage basin). Furthermore, the steady Tlingit demand for tin is starting to regularize and increase the importance of the trade networks connecting Southeast to Northwest Alaska. There is no such thing as a “merchant” just yet--in most cases, the Athabaskans who do most of the actual travelling do so in their traditional bands, and go to Unalakleet in spring mostly because their subsistence-hunting activities bring them down the Yukon anyway. But some individuals—mostly young, unmarried males--are starting to try their hand at venturing on their own: down the Yukon and crossing the Kaltag portage to the spring trading camp at Unalakleet to trade hides for tin and seal meat; then going back up the Yukon, crossing the Mentasta passes in high summer to enter the Copper River Valley, where they trade tin and fur with the Ahtnas for dried salmon and trinkets; then back to their band’s winter grounds in the interior to live off their yearly proceeds.

The Russians have a specific destination in mind: the mouth of the Unalakleet River. Unalakleet is the point of trade between the two major Eskimo nations of Alaska: the Inupiat of the High Arctic and the Yup’ik of the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta to the south. It is also the point of trade between Eskimo peoples and the Athabaskans of the interior; and also between Alaskan Eskimos and their Siberian cousins.[13] Every year in spring, the people of four cultures and two continents come to trade; and it is to this great trade fair that the Russians arrive.

The Yup’ik and Athabaskan folk who come to Unalakleet to trade have heard of the kass’aq, the hairy men in metal clothes with giant dogs, only through second-hand tales they half-discounted as fantastical; their arrival on the coast in spring is therefore more than a little frightening. The People of Kauwerak, the Malemiut Inupiat native to Norton Sound, have seen these great umiat with trees in the middle, and the hairy men who pilot them, before. Indeed, one of their more eccentric shamans, old Manilaaq, has been insisting that they are harbingers of the coming Fourth Disaster[14]. Nobody pays him much heed—he's past his prime, and in any case the Inupiat have known the kass'aq are mere mortals after finding the body of one in a streambed a few years back. Nevertheless, it makes the Norton Sound folk a little uneasy to see the hairy men in numbers far greater than they have ever seen before. But certainly no one in Unalakleet is prepared for what happens next.

==

[1] But not that Peter. This guy is a Shuisky, among other important differences
[2] Literally: Ivan the Terrible married the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, and adopted the court customs and regalia of Constantinople
[3] OTL’s Adam Laxmann was a mid-18th century figure, a Finnish subject of Russia who was the first Russian (and Finn) to visit Japan. His father was a naturalist who cataloged Siberian flora and fauna. This guy is of the same family, but is not an OTL figure at all.
[4] In OTL a Cossack named Semyon Dezhnev accomplished the remarkable feat of sailing from the Kolyma nouth, through the Bering Strait, to the Anadyr mouth, thereby demonstrating the non-connection of Siberia and Alaska, in 1648. His report reached Irkutsk but ended up buried under a pile of paperwork and never reached Moscow. ATL, Dezhnev was butterflied away and nobody actually has successfully made the voyage. Thus, even though there is a heavier Russian presence in Siberia ATL, their geographic knowledge of the region is slightly reduced.
[5] This is how the Russians hear Siberian Yupiks pronouncing a loanword from Central Yup’ik meaning “Great River.” The Gwichin’ Athabaskan word for the same thing, and same river, is “Yukon.”
[6] OTL the Soviets established a naval base on this site, Provideniya Bay, in the 1930s.
[7] The Russians held Native families hostage and thereby forced the men—far more skilled at hunting, especially highly-specialized marine-mammal hunting, than the Russians would ever be—to bring in a lucrative harvest. The Russians turned this method into an art form in the Aleutians OTL.
[8] And it gives them enough Vitamin C to ward off scurvy. Keeping their horses in fodder is their biggest winter, not to mention summer, problem.
[9] Same family as OTL’s Erasmus and Charles, but not an OTL person
[10] Or whatever you call the large sailing ships of the early 18th century; iDK.
[11] In OTL one group of Taremiut did, in fact, move into the Brooks Range, eventually coming into conflict with the indignes, the Gwich’in Athabaskans, for control of the highly valuable passes through the Range (through which an extremely reliable and rich source of protein, in the form of large caribou herds, passes twice yearly). The Eskimo won this struggle rather decisively, apparently within a generation or less of contact with Europeans. These “Nunamiut” or “Inland Eskimo” are the only Alaskan Eskimo group who do not live next to salt water.
[12] In OTL the Greenland Eskimo had access to the world’s largest source of meteoric iron—the Cape York meteorite—and made extensive use of it. That’s a long, long way from the Seward Peninsula, but iron tools do get around via the Inuit trade-and-travel networks. They’re not common in western Alaska, but they’re not unknown, either. In OTL, the Eskimo, understanding the value of iron, were also very willing to trade for iron tools from across the Strait. European goods were in Alaska long before Europeans were, as I mentioned in Part One
[13] This has basically nothing to do with BANW, but Unalakleet is such an interesting place I can’t pass up the opportunity to talk about it. All the stuff about its status as a trade entrepot is per OTL. The Russians came rather late to it in our universe, heading up north in search of terrestrial furbearers after totally depleting sea otter populations in the Aleutians and Alaska Peninsula. Things got even more interesting when the Americans took over. In the early 20th century a group of American missionaries came up with a scheme to introduce reindeer-herding to the Eskimo (don’t ask). They imported a herd of reindeer from Scandinavia, and also imported reindeer-herders from Scandinavia to teach the natives. These Sami herders settled in the same Unalakleet. It is said that it was possible to hear six languages spoken in Unalakleet in the 1920s: Yup’ik, Inupiat, Koyukon Athabaskan, English, Russian, and Lapp.
[14] Inupiat lore tells of three cataclysmic disasters in the distant (or possibly not-so-distant) past of their people, one of which may have to do with whatever event it was that took Eskimoan peoples into the New World. Manilaaq was a real Inupiat figure (in the sense that stories were really told about him; he may or may not have been an actual historical figure) who supposedly foretold of white men coming in boats to bring a disease-related Fourth Disaster. The Manilaaq legend is all mixed up with Christian overtones—Manilaaq preaches the abandonment of the old ways and the worship of one God, and is martyred for his pains—so it’s hard to tell what, if anything, he actually said and what was added to the legend post-contact by Eskimo converts to Christianity. In any case, it would not have taken a prodigious feat of prescience on the part of someone in frequent contact with Siberian Natives to figure out that the Cossacks were coming and would bring trouble.
 
to have ben significantly P: been

Will the Russians consider just trying to slot into the existing trade system, it'll get them furs more easily than kidnapping families and impressing workers.
 
Last edited:
Top