Transmontaigne Empires
November 28, 2015 6:55 PM   Subscribe

What countries/empires -- current or historical -- cross entire mountain ranges and successfully control the territory on either side of them? Such as the United States and Canada and the Roman Empire. Countries with borders in the mountains, like Italy in the Alps, do not count, nor do countries IN a mountain range, like Switzerland. Also interested in WHY some countries manage it and others don't.

We're watching "The Man in the High Castle," looking at the Neutral Zone in the Rocky Mountains, and talking about how mountains are a total pain in the ass to adequately bring under government control and not that many governments have managed it. Which got us started trying to think of which ones. The US and Canada; Mexico (although it's mountainy most of the way across so maybe is a Switzerland); arguably Russia, but arguably Russia has very little effective government control east of the Urals. The UK, although the mountains are kinda bitty and it took a LONG DAMN TIME to subdue Wales and merge with Scotland. Several island nations with mountains -- Australia, New Zealand, Greenland. Historically, the Roman Empire, at least some of the Caliphates ...

Anyway, glorious nerds, have at it, and I look forward to your bickering over what constitutes effective government control, as well as your theories as to why some governments successfully cross mountains and others don't.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Law & Government (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Russia may not count, but the Soviet Union surely does.

Both France and Germany have, at different points in time, controlled both sides of the Vosges Mountains.
posted by asterix at 7:08 PM on November 28, 2015


Also, looking at Wikipedia's list of mountain ranges, it seems that this isn't actually as rare as one might think.
posted by asterix at 7:14 PM on November 28, 2015


Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru all span the Andes.
posted by nicwolff at 7:25 PM on November 28, 2015


nicwolff: "Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru all span the Andes."

Yeah, I forgot that, I guess I thought Brazil went all the way to the mountains. How effective are their various governments on the east side of the mountains?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:05 PM on November 28, 2015


Think about how much trouble the Holy Roman Empire had controlling Italy in the 10th and 11th centuries too. I'd say for one thing, you have to look at both similar culture on both sides as well political willingness. Not sure how it works in the shore mind you.
posted by Carillon at 8:12 PM on November 28, 2015


The Mongols controlled both sides of the Urals.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:21 PM on November 28, 2015


The Zagros mountains in the Middle East are an interesting case. They form a loose border between Mesopotamia, Persia, and Turkey. You had whoever was in charge in Sumer/Akkad/Babylonia on one side, and the Elamites in the mountains/on the other side, with Media and Persia later on, and further on the other side.

In ancient history, at some point everybody conquered everybody else, and everybody was constantly rebelling against the latest overlord. Somebody may have momentarily won nominal control earlier, but it looks like the Assyrians were the first to really establish stable control on both sides of the mountains for awhile when they smashed the Elamites. The Persians locked things down when they took over, and things stayed mostly-governable for centuries.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:23 PM on November 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


At one point the Ottomans controlled a huge area with lots of mountain ranges.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:28 PM on November 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not only do you have to think about what mountains to cross, you need to think about when and why. Ranges that were historical barriers aren't so much anymore -- even the Appalachians were a barrier to colonial expansion, for a while.

As to why, well, The Man in the High Castle imagines an occupation coming from two different directions. It's easy to "own" both sides of a mountain range if there's no one on the other side in the first place. The Atlas Mountains in North Africa have only the mostly empty Sahara on one side.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:35 PM on November 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Romania has the Carpathians running right through it. Romania was established by unifying the kingdoms of Moldavia and Wallachia, which appear to have been on either side of the mountains (I can't really tell for sure). Subsequently the borders have moved quite a bit.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:39 PM on November 28, 2015


China effectively controls all sides of a couple of mountains, though one could argue that it's more a matter of no one wanting to fight over such useless land than anything else. Sort of the same deal for the Russian and Ottoman empires - incredibly crappy terrain is a better security system than any army.

For a while didn't the Macedonians control both sides of their northern mountain chain? I seem to remember their territory extending almost to the Mediterranean.
posted by SMPA at 8:52 PM on November 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a mountain range that runs down the middle of Central America, so any nation there which runs sea-to-sea controls both sides of it: Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatamala.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:53 PM on November 28, 2015


Oh, hey, don't forget Japan. Or the Kingdom of Hawaii. The islands complicate matters, but the biggest ones are definitely mountains and are/were fully under the control of a single political entity.

One could also argue that North Korea is effectively part of a Chinese Empire, in which case China gets another mountain range.
posted by SMPA at 8:58 PM on November 28, 2015


Also, I think I am obliged by Tennessee law to point out that while the USA governs both sides of the Appalachians, the states of Virginia and North Carolina couldn't.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:01 PM on November 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows McGee: "Anyway, glorious nerds, have at it, and I look forward to your bickering over what constitutes effective government control, as well as your theories as to why some governments successfully cross mountains and others don't."

For the broader question, I am going to suggest Peter Turchin's War and Peace and War.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:11 PM on November 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


How effective are their various governments on the east side of the mountains?

do you mean current day governments or the Inca empire
posted by poffin boffin at 9:44 PM on November 28, 2015


China has to be mentioned - rural southern/southwestern China, especially away from the coasts, has only in the last few generations been under effective social and political control from the powers running the state based in the North China Plain.

Also: China and Pakistan have developed the port of Gwadar, on the doorstep of the Persian Gulf, with road, rail, and pipeline links planned for crossing the Karakoram Ranges and linking Xinjiang on one side of the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean on the others. Does China control Pakistan? Not really. But who's paying for all this? China. Who might decide to park a few soldiers and ships there. Perhaps.
posted by mdonley at 2:24 AM on November 29, 2015


one way of understanding peru is to look at this map and ask why chile (which controls the western side of the andes) doesn't extend further north. and one reason is that in the war of the pacific, when chile did expand into bolivian and peruvian lands (before that time chile didn't reach as far north and bolivia continued to the sea), one of the logistical problems chile faced was supplying its armies, because that area is largely desert (the atacama, known as the driest in the world). they had to use the sea, which meant they had to fight for naval control before they could control the land.

in short, then, the height of the andes are not the only obstacle. the atacama desert provides another natural border, and peru, in a sense, curves round, from north east, over the lower mountains to the north, and then extends down the fertile coast, stopping where it reaches the desert.

[apologies to peruvian, bolivian and chilean readers for grossly simplifying things - just wanted to show the effect of natural obstacles, not give an accurate picture of the politics]
posted by andrewcooke at 5:49 AM on November 29, 2015


If we're counting the UK, we should probably include the Appenines in Italy. They're another example of other geographical constraints overriding the mountains.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:12 AM on November 29, 2015


> The Mongols controlled both sides of the Urals.

The Urals are barely a "mountain range" and do not impede control in the way, say, the Caucasus Range does.

arguably Russia has very little effective government control east of the Urals.

Huh? This is not even a little bit true. Also, see above re: Urals.
posted by languagehat at 7:37 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Also, it's Transmontane, not "Transmontaigne.")
posted by languagehat at 7:38 AM on November 29, 2015


Wikipedia says 40 million people live in Siberia. Biggest city is Novosibirsk, population about 1.5 million, which is the third-biggest city in Russia. The Soviets didn't miss out on places to industrialize.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:14 AM on November 29, 2015


languagehat: "Huh? This is not even a little bit true. Also, see above re: Urals."

Common debate in Russian political science circles. There are large parts of Siberia that are now functionally ungoverned; the question is whether Russia COULD re-exert control of those areas from the cities it's still actively controlling, or whether the ungoverned rot of the rural areas will eventually take the cities with it (or China will take them, period). Without forced Soviet resettlement, population in many parts of the Russian Far East has been plummeting precipitously as people who didn't want to be there in the first place get the hell out.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:33 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Tibetan Empire counts and the Dzungar Khanate would have covered both sides of the Almaty Mountains, I think; both are now mostly absorbed into China.
posted by XMLicious at 2:11 PM on November 29, 2015


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