Will the Caucasus ever be tamed? 

How to get your head around that searingly beautiful but complicated land that lies between the Caspian and Black Seas? The early Arab historian Al Masudi called the Caucasus jabal al-alsun, the mountain of tongues, and through the centuries the place has certainly seen its fair share of peoples, many of them troublesome, many of them troubled. Indeed, for somewhere you might think would be a transcontinental backwater, its outcrops, secluded valleys and expansive plains usefully separating its formidable neighbours – Russia to the north, Turkey and Iran to the south – it’s proved remarkably busy over the centuries; also persistently relevant. The turbulence of the region is rarely far

How the barbarians of the steppes shaped civilisation

It’s boom time for nomad history. It started some eight years ago, when Bloomsbury published a study of central Asia from an Oxford academic. This might have been a fringe book, but the author’s breadth of knowledge and analysis was exceptional, the narrative was gripping, the cover was beautiful and the publisher had high hopes, in spite of my quibbling review. Their punt paid off. Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads has sold more than two million copies and counting. It has also helped renew interest in central Asia, which had mostly been the preserve of travel writers and niche historians, including the great René Grousset. At the siege of Zhongdu,