Montesquieu

The rela­tions tell us that the north of Asia, that vast conti­nent that extends from about the for­tieth degree to the pole and from the bor­ders of Muscovy to the Oriental Sea, is in a very cold cli­mate ; that this immense ter­rain is divi­ded from west to east by a chain of moun­tains that lea­ves Siberia on the north and Greater Tartary on the south ; that the cli­mate of Siberia is so cold that except for some pla­ces it can­not be far­med ; and that although Russians have set­tle­ments the whole length of the Irtysh, they raise nothing there ; that nothing grows in this coun­try but a few small firs and shrubs ; that the nati­ves of the coun­try are divi­ded into wret­ched tri­bes, which are like the ones in Canada ; that the rea­son for this cold is, on the one hand, the lati­tude of the ter­rain, and on the other from the fact that as you go from south to north the moun­tains flat­ten out so that the nor­therly wind blows eve­ryw­here without encoun­te­ring any obs­ta­cles ; that this wind that makes Novaya Zemlya unin­ha­bi­ta­ble, blo­wing into Siberia, makes it bar­ren ; that in Europe on the contrary the moun­tains of Norway and Lapland are won­drous bou­le­vards that cover the nor­thern coun­tries with this wind ; that as a result, in Stockholm, which is at about fifty-nine degrees lati­tude, the ter­rain pro­du­ces fruits, grains, and plants, and that in the vici­nity of Oby, which is at sixty-one degrees, as well as around sixty-three and sixty-four degrees, there are sil­ver mines, and the ter­rain is rea­so­na­bly fer­tile.1

We see fur­ther in the rela­tions that Greater Tartary, which is south of Siberia, is also very cold ; that the coun­try is not far­med ; that there is nothing but gra­zing lands for herds ; that no trees grow there, but some scrub, as in Iceland ; that there are some regions in the vici­nity of China and the Mogul empire where a kind of millet grows, but nei­ther wheat nor rice can mature there ; that there is scar­cely any place in Chinese Tartary around the 43rd, 44th, and 45th paral­lels which does not freeze seven or eight months of the year, so it is as cold as Iceland, although it ought to be war­mer than sou­thern France ; that there are no cities, except for four or five near the Oriental Sea, and a few which the Chinese for poli­ti­cal rea­sons have built close to near China ; that in the rest of Greater Tartary there are only a few cities, set in the Boucharies, in Turkistan, and in Charizme ; that the rea­son for this extreme cold is the nitrous nature of the ter­rain, sandy and full of salt­pe­ter, and in addi­tion the lati­tude of the ter­rain. Father Verbiest had found that a cer­tain spot eighty lea­gues to the north of the Great Wall, near the source of the Kavanhuram, excee­ded the alti­tude of the sea­shore near Peking by 3000 geo­me­tric feet ; that this alti­tude2 is the rea­son why, although this coun­try is the source of almost all the great rivers of Asia, there is never­the­less a shor­tage of water, such that it can be inha­bi­ted only beside rivers and lakes.

These facts noted, I rea­son thus : Asia has no real tem­pe­rate zone, and pla­ces situa­ted in a very cold cli­mate are directly adja­cent to pla­ces that are in a very warm cli­mate, which is to say Turkey, Persia, the Mogul empire, China, Korea, and Japan.

In Europe, contra­ri­wise, the tem­pe­rate zone is very broad, although it is situa­ted in cli­ma­tes that vary greatly among them­sel­ves, there being no simi­la­rity bet­ween the cli­ma­tes of Spain and Italy and those of Norway and Sweden. But as the cli­mate beco­mes gra­dually col­der going from south to north, approxi­ma­tely in pro­por­tion to the lati­tude of each coun­try, it hap­pens that each coun­try is more or less like the one next to it, that there is not a nota­ble dif­fe­rence, and that, as I have just said, the tem­pe­rate zone is very exten­sive.

Hence it fol­lows that in Asia nations are oppo­sed to nations as strong to weak : war­like peo­ples, brave and active, are imme­dia­tely along­side effe­mi­nate, indo­lent, timid peo­ples ; the one must the­re­fore be conque­red, and the other be the conque­ror. In Europe, on the contrary, nations are oppo­sed as strong to strong ; neigh­bo­ring ones have more or less the same cou­rage. That is the major rea­son for the weak­ness of Asia and the strength of Europe, the free­dom of Europe and the ser­vi­tude of Asia : a cause that I do not know to have been pre­viously noted. That is why in Asia it never hap­pens that free­dom increa­ses, whe­reas in Europe it increa­ses or dimi­ni­shes accor­ding to the cir­cum­stan­ces.

Though the Muscovite nobi­lity has been redu­ced to ser­vi­tude by one of its prin­ces, we will always see in them signs of impa­tience which the sou­thern cli­ma­tes do not impart. Did we not see aris­to­cra­tic govern­ment esta­bli­shed there for a few days ? If ano­ther nor­thern king­dom has lost its laws, we can rely on the cli­mate : it has not lost them irre­vo­ca­bly.

See Voyages du Nord, vol. VIII, the History of the Tatars, and the fourth volume of Father du Halde’s China.

Tartary is therefore like a sort of flat mountain.