Empires of the Steppes

Marc David Baer at The Guardian:

On the southern steppe of Ukraine in 512BCE, the envoy of Scythian King Idanthyrsus delivered a frog, a mouse, a bird and several arrows to Darius, mighty king of Persia. Then, without saying a word, he departed. Darius was confident the nomadic Scythians were pledging their allegiance. But his adviser understood the intended meaning. Unless the invading Persians turned into frogs and dived into the water, became mice and dug underground, or turned into birds and flew away, they would be riddled with deadly arrows as trespassers in the nomads’ land. Darius withdrew his soldiers.

For two millennia gigantic imperial armies were unable to defeat much smaller numbers of elusive horse archers who utilised tactics of surprise, feigned retreat and ambush rather than engaging in set-piece battles. In this book, which flows as fast as the nomads’ horses galloped, emeritus professor of ancient history Kenneth Harl chronicles the empires that roamed across the Eurasian steppe from ancient times to the death of Tamerlane at the beginning of the 15th century.

more here.