1884 Bolshev Map of the Russian Empire, Siberia, and the Russian Far East

Карта Азіятской Россіи с прилегающими к ней владѣниями / [Map of Asian Russia, with Adjacent Possessions]. - Main View

1884 Bolshev Map of the Russian Empire, Siberia, and the Russian Far East


One of the most important maps of Siberia made in Tsarist times.


Карта Азіятской Россіи с прилегающими к ней владѣниями / [Map of Asian Russia, with Adjacent Possessions].
  1884 (dated)     64 x 83.5 in (162.56 x 212.09 cm)     1 : 4200000


This is an rare and important 1884 Russian-language map of the Russian Empire, focusing on Siberia and the Russian Far East, produced by the Military Topographic Department of the Imperial Army's General Staff. It represents a major advance in detailed geographical and cartographic knowledge of Siberia at a time, when the Tsarist government was increasingly interested in settling colonists and exploiting the resources of the vast region.
A Closer Look
The map covers much of the Russian Empire, from St. Petersburg (С. Петербургъ, just below the title box at top-left) to the Bering Strait and Kamchatka Peninsula, in a conic projection. From north to south, it stretches from islands within the Arctic Circle (some of which, such as Franz Josef Land, were only recently discovered and not yet claimed by Russia) to Baluchistan and cities along the Yangzi River in China. Longitude lines are counted from Pulkovo, the Imperial Observatory outside St. Petersburg, the Russian equivalent of Greenwich.

Reflecting the richness of the map, the legend includes symbols for settlements of various sizes, military headquarters (ставка), fortifications, roads, railways, canals, border posts, guard posts, Christian monasteries, chapels, missionary stations, mosques, graveyards, shrines, Buddhist temples, mines, wells, sandy terrain, tundra, and more.

Green lines denote the extent of the Russian Empire in Asia. Bukhara (бухара) sticks out as an interruption in the continuous border of the empire, since it was maintained as a nominally independent protectorate after losing a war to Russia in 1868, though much of its territory had been annexed.
Historical Context
The Russian Empire initially expanded into Siberia in the late 16th century, led by fur traders, Cossacks, and mercenaries. Later, convicts were famously sent to Siberia to increase the Russian population, and Russian peasants increasingly migrated voluntarily in the 19th century, particularly after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Still, infrastructure in Siberia was sorely lacking, making travel slow, difficult, and in many places nearly impossible. Only one proper road (the Siberian Route) connected the region to the Russian heartland in the western part of the empire.

Various schemes for railways connecting the scattered forts and cities of Siberia were floated from the mid-19th century, including by Perry Collins, an American entrepreneur who also tried (and failed) to lay a telegraph line across the Bering Strait. But these plans had little support from the central government until the 1880s, when the poor infrastructure came to be seen as a strategic liability. These fears were driven by Russia's loss in the Crimean War, the difficulty of some campaigns of conquest and fears about British capabilities in Central Asia, and worries about Japan or China someday overrunning the Russian Far East.

This map was published right in the middle of preparations for the Trans-Siberian Railway, which began construction in 1891. Given the immensity of the project, several unconventional decisions were made to save time and improve operation, such as bypassing cities near the proposed route (such as Tomsk) to create the most direct link between Moscow / St. Petersburg and the Far East.
Russia's Conquest of Central Asia
Russian contacts with Central Asia predated this map by many centuries and Russian national identity is largely rooted in the relationship with the steppe and interaction (trade, warfare, etc.) with steppe-dwelling peoples. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Russian Empire established a series of border forts that roughly followed the edge of the forested land before reaching the steppe, also concurrent with the present-day border between the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan. Occasional forays into the steppes were attempted but conquering those territories in any meaningful sense remained elusive.

Using the latest military, communication, and transportation technology, the Russian Empire focused intently in the mid-19th century on subjugating Central Asia. Although the region had lost some of its wealth and luster from the height of the Silk Road, it was still home to powerful states that held their own in tussles with neighboring empires in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Russians encountered difficulties in trying to control the region, starting with a disastrous attack on Khiva in 1839 (it was eventually conquered in 1873). Rather than military strategy or technology, the main obstacle for the Russians was supplying troops so far from the Russian heartland in a region with minimal infrastructure. Getting supplies to the main staging area at Orenburg was difficult enough, but then they needed to be moved across vast distances through desert and steppe. What could not be moved up rivers had to be carried over land, usually by caravans of horses, oxen, and camels, which required their own food and water.

Thus, Russian progress into Central Asia was consistent but slow, and was ultimately aided by tensions between the independent states. It was only in the final stage of the Russian conquest of Central Asia that railways reached the region, greatly facilitating the control of the region and the arrival of colonists. Russian Turkestan was established in 1867 with five oblasts (Ferghana, Samarkand, Semirechye, Syr-Darya, and Transcaspia). In addition to Bukhara, a rump Khanate of Khiva was maintained as a protectorate.

The impact of Russian conquest on these areas was tremendous. Previously, the region was tied together by trade and religious networks (particularly Sufi orders) stretching from the Ottoman Empire to Qing China. The Russians brought with them notions of modern ethnic and national identity and imposed them on complex cultural identities which defied easy categorization (there was a great deal of uncertainty on the part of the Russians over the exact differences between 'Tatars,' 'Turks,' 'Kazakhs,' 'Kirghiz,' and other groups). This project carried over into the Soviet era, when the contrived, externally-imposed ethnic identities were emphasized, and the Central Asian Soviet Socialist Republics were arranged in a way to prevent pan-Islamic and pan-Turkic movements from gaining ground.
'The Great Game'
This map was made in the context of the height of the 'Great Game,' a diplomatic confrontation between the British and Russian Empires over territories in Central and Southern Asia. The conflict revolved around Afghanistan, which, while lacking significant resources of its own, was strategically situated. Russia feared Britain was making commercial and military inroads into Central Asia, an area long within the sphere of influence of St. Petersburg. Britain, conversely, feared Russia making gains in India, 'the jewel in the crown' of British Asia. The escalating tensions led to several wars and proxy wars in India and Afghanistan, were connected with the Russian annexations of Khiva, Bukhara, and Kokand, and tied to wider geopolitical tensions between Russia and Britain, evident in the Crimean War and elsewhere.
Cartography and Territorial Expansion
Russia's reinvigorated interest in Siberia came at a time when the Qing Empire was severely weakened by defeats at the hands of the British, overpopulation, rampant opium addiction, a fiscal and monetary crisis, and massive uprisings. The Qing had even been expelled from their portion of Central Asia (including Dzungaria, here spelled as Чжунгария) following several uprisings in the northwestern part of the empire, a development the Russians took advantage of by occupying the city of Kuldja in Ili. This act was primarily an effort to gain an edge over the British as the Great Game threatened to expand to the western portions of the Qing domain in Chinese Turkestan and Tibet. The Qing managed to reconquer the region in the 1870s, establishing the province of Xinjiang the same year this map was produced, but the Russian presence and the borders between the two large empires remained unresolved and threatened to start a war. The issues were hashed out in the Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1881, also known as the Ili Treaty), which set borders that remain as the borders between Kazakhstan and Xinjiang today.

Russia had also taken advantage of China's weakened position to exact concessions from Beijing in the Treaty of Aigun and the Convention of Beijing (1858 and 1860, respectively). Perhaps most importantly, these agreements ceded substantial territory to Russia north of the Amur River and east of the Ussuri River, allowing for the development of Vladivostok as Russia's main Pacific port. At the end of the 19th century, the Russians sought to counter Japan's growing influence in East Asia and won a range of concessions from China relating to Manchuria, most notably the China Eastern Railway and the concession of Port Arthur at the end of the Liaodong Peninsula, which would soon afterwards become the focal point of the Russo-Japanese War.
Publication History and Census
This map was published in 1884 by the Topographic Department of the Imperial Army's General Staff, under the direction of Andrey Alexandrovich Bolshev. Bolshev's younger brother, Colonel Loggin Alexandrovich Bolshev, also a prolific cartographer, is listed as the editor. Therefore, this map is variously attributed to the older or younger Bolshev, and in either case would not be mistaken. This is an especially rare edition of an already rare map, printed as a folding map as opposed to the more common six separate sheets, each with its own border. Earlier maps exist with the same or very similar titles but are in fact distinct. The present map by the brothers Bolshev is very large, extremely detailed, and far surpassed earlier efforts, becoming the 'gold standard' for years afterwards. It is held by Yale University, the University of Chicago, and the National Library of Russia, and has no known history on the market.


Andrey Alexandrovich Bolshev, (Андрей Александрович Большев; 1828 – 1904) was a Russian surveyor, geographer, and cartographer holding the rank of Major General, who was head of the Topographic Department of the Imperial Army's General Staff. Born in Novgorod province, he studied at the Russian Empire's Military Topographic School (Военно-топографическое училище) and joined the Military Topographic Depot (Военно-топографическом депо). He is best known for overseeing the production of a massive 1884 map of 'Russian Asia' (Карта Азиатской России) that he and his team spent twenty years researching. He was deeply involved in the Imperial Russian Geographical Society (Русское географическое общество) and was considered one of the foremost experts in Russia on the geography of Siberia and the Russian Far East. His younger brother, Colonel Loggin Alexandrovich Bolshev (Логгин Александрович Большев; 1834 - 1880), was also a military cartographer who made significant contributions to geographical knowledge of 'Russian Asia,' most notably leading an 1874 expedition to map most of the coast of the Sea of Japan and the Tatar Strait from Plastun Bay to Chikhachev Bay. More by this mapmaker...

Loggin Alexandrovich Bolshev (Логгин Александрович Большев; September 10, 1834 – August 3, 1880) was a Russian topographer, cartographer, surveyor and explorer. Born in Novgorod Province, he followed in the footsteps of his older brother Andrey Alexandrovich Bolshev (Андрей Александрович Большев; 1828 – 1904) and studied at the Russian Empire's Military Topographic School (Военно-топографическое училище). After undertaking surveying work near St. Petersburg and in the Baltics, he studied astronomy at the Imperial Observatory at Pulkowo and then spent several years engaged in astronomical and geodetic work in Finland. In 1872, he was appointed assistant chief of the Military Topographic Department of the East Siberian Military District in Irkutsk and became active in the East Siberian Department of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society. In 1874, he led an expedition to survey the east coast of the Russian Far East, resulting in a wealth of cartographic, astronomical, and ethnographic knowledge. Although holding a lower rank than his brother Andrey, Loggin was and has remained the better known of the two due to his cartographic and geographic output. His son Nikolai (1871 – 1925) also served as an officer in the Imperial Army before defecting to the Red Army in the Russian Civil War, while his grandson (Loggin Nikolaevich, 1922 - 1978) was a decorated fighter pilot in World War II and a Professor of Mathematics as Moscow State University. Learn More...

Russian Military Topographic Depot (Военно-топографическом депо; January 27, 1812 - present) was an arm of the Russian Imperial Army charged with the organization, production, and publication of cartographic data compiled by the Russian military. It built on the foundation of the Map Depot (Депо карт), founded in 1796 to create state-of-the-art maps of the empire for military use. The Depot was abolished in 1863, when its functions were transferred to the Military Topographic Section of the Directorate of the General Staff (управления Генерального штаба). In 1866, it became the basis for the Corps of Military Topographers (Корпус военных топографов), which underwent several reorganizations and name changes throughout the 20th century. During the Cold War period, it was known as the Military Topographic Directorate of the General Staff (Военно-топографическое управление Генерального штаба, often abbreviated as VTU). Even today, as part of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, it retains a similar name and function as in imperial times. Learn More...


Good. Some wear and dampstaining along edges.


OCLC 51772681.