Please forgive my ignorance of the cultures extant in the Eurasian steppe at this time, but I was wondering how the military tactics of steppe-cultures changed in response to the massed musket tactics employed by Europeans during the 18th and 19th Centuries?

I'm aware that the cultures of the Eurasian steppe were in decline during this period, and subject to attack from Russian armies. But beyond that, I haven't found a great deal of detail for how (or if) they adapted to this new form of warfare.

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    They started losing - badly and regularly. Apr 25, 2018 at 16:05
  • Yep, got that far in my research. Couldn't find much that mentioned whether there was any adaptation of tactics. Whether that meant there weren't any, or just no-one really talks much about it from the nomad perspective I'm not sure. The reason I suspect the latter is most of the history I've read so far simply talks about 'suppressing uprisings of steppe-people' or 'annexing areas' rather than actual tactics. Apr 25, 2018 at 16:07
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    Related question: Why did Russians have guns but not the Mongols?
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 25, 2018 at 18:09
  • @T.E.D. Thanks, that was one of the questions I'd read before posting this. What I was wondering was 'after the defeat of the Tartars at Ugra, did steppe-people adopt/adapt to tactics involving firearms?' i suppose 'no, and they never recovered' is a valid answer, but there's a fair amount of history between I can't find much fine detail on. Apr 25, 2018 at 18:38
  • Manufacturing bows and arrows is a nomadic craft; manufacturing muskets and consistent gunpowder is not. Nomadic economies simply could not compete with industrial economies, either on the manufacturing economies of scale or in the ability to put professional armies into the field full-time. Hand-making sufficient gunpowder to hunt is at least two orders of magnitude less demanding than making sufficient powder for repeated battles over a summer's campaign season - never mind musket manufacture. Apr 25, 2018 at 18:49

1 Answer 1


I'll focus on Siberia rather than the Eurasian steppe in this answer as many of the pre-invasion peoples there were similarly nomadic. The Siberian nomads were largely subjugated between the sixteenth and late eighteenth centuries by Russian Cossack forces making heavy use of firearms.

The Korak and Chukchi peoples, among others, took massive casualties and faced exterminatory policies. However, they did win some military victories over the Russian settlers.

In the late 1720s the Chukchi achieved success by using guerrilla tactics against the Russian settlers. As James Forsyth explains in 'A History of the Peoples of Siberia' (from which this and the following quotes are taken) the Chukchi had been engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Russian's forts for some time,

abducting them and their children, frequently besieging the fort itself and harassing the foraging parties of Cossacks.

When a Cossack force with local auxiliaries was sent out in retaliation it was quickly outnumbered leading to a defeat and the killing of the expedition's commander, Major Afanasy Shestakov. His successor, Major Dmitry Pavlutsky, adopted an even more brutal stance against the Chukchi but was eventually ambushed and killed by a large nomad party in 1747.

Similar hit and run attacks aimed at the freeing of captured, hostage and enslaved tribesmen as when in 1641:

The Yukagirs under their leader Peleva attacked and killed the Cossacks at an outpost and freed their comrades who were being held there as hostages.

Less successfully, in 1752:

plans were laid for an attack on the Okhotsk garrison by Korak slaves employed there, to coincide with an uprising of those held in the fort. The gaol, which the prisoners had taken over, was bombarded by cannon and the Koraks chose to remain in it and perish by fire. Their comrades outside the fort had meanwhile been apprehended.

Beyond guerrilla tactics and the use of superior numbers, the main nomadic tactical responses to Russian incursions were to form alliances, even with formerly sworn enemies, and to flee. The Chukchi and Korak allied against the Russians in both the 1740s and the 1780s and many tribes moved to new territory to avoid de-nomadisation policies and slaughter.

Ultimately, and as indicated in the comments above, neither resistance or evasion was successful. Nomads could loot or trade for limited amounts of firearms but the technological gap, incentives to collaborate and greater resources of the Russian Empire were insurmountable obstacles and by the early nineteenth century few tribes were able to retain an independent, nomadic way of life.

  • Been reading a good book on the history of the lower Mississippi Valley Indians, and this is looking like a very familiar story.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 26, 2018 at 13:16

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