Page 651. " the wide-spreading steppes "
The Russian Steppe
Creative Commons AttributionThe Russian Steppe - Credit: Victoria Vasilieva

 The word 'steppe' refers to the wide areas of grassland in southern Russia and northern Central Asia. The so-called Great Steppe stretches across southern Russia and its neighbours from Hungary to China. The image of the sparsely-populated, enormously expansive steppes is a central part of the idea of Russia; the first Russian people, the Scythians, came from this area.

Page 651. " such as the Scythia into which Alexander the Great had marched "

Scythian warrior
Creative Commons AttributionScythian warrior - Credit: Janmad
 As mentioned above, the Scythians were the original inhabitants of the Russian steppes. They were a nomadic people, known as excellent horsemen, and are thought to be among the first tribes to tame horses. Their lightning-strike style of battle was extremely difficult for more conventional armies (such as those of Alexander the Great and Darius of Persia) to repel. Herodotus describes their clashes with the Persians in detail.

In 1918 the Russian Symbolist poet Alexander Blok published The Scythians, drawing on Russia's historical roots in a poem about the Bolshevik Revolution:

You are but millions. Our unnumbered nations

Are as the sands upon the sounding shore.

We are the Scythians! We are the slit-eyed Asians!

Try to wage war with us—you'll try no more!

Page 656. " a rescript to Field-Marshal Prince Saltykov "
Prince Saltykov by Johann Tischbein
Public DomainPrince Saltykov by Johann Tischbein
 A rescript is a document written in response to a request or provocation from someone else. Field-Marshal Prince Nikolai Ivanovich Saltykov (1736-1816) was related to the Tolstoy family through his mother, Anastasia Petrovna Tolstoy. He fought in the Seven Years' War against Prussia, and the Russo-Turkish War under Catherine the Great. During the Napoleonic Wars Saltykov acted as head of state on Alexander I's behalf when the latter was leading the Russian army in Europe.
Page 659. " Murat, now called 'le roi de Naples' "
Joachim Murat
Public DomainJoachim Murat by François Gérard

 Joachim Murat (1767-1815) was married to Napoleon's sister Caroline Bonaparte. He was known for his splashy taste in clothes. Born in France to a farmer and innkeeper, Murat became a Republican, fighting in the French Revolution against the aristocracy. He rose to a position of power under Napoleon, commanding the French cavalry in the Egyptian Campaign before being made a Marshall of France. He was crowned King of Naples in 1808.

After Napoleon's fall Murat was disgraced. He spent some time in Corsica before attempting to regain power in Italy, but was arrested by King Ferdinand IV of Naples before he could seize power. Murat was admired for his bravery at his execution, as he faced the firing squad without a blindfold, telling the soldiers to do their duty, but to avoid hitting him in the face.

Page 663. " his mameluke, Rustan "
Mameluke Rustam by Jacques de Montabert
Public DomainMameluke Rustam by Jacques de Montabert

 Roustam Raza (as modern spelling has it) was Napoleon's personal bodyguard. Born in Tbilisi in Georgia to Armenian parents, Roustam was sold as a slave at the age of thirteen. He became a mamluk (mameluke), meaning a soldier-slave, a powerful military and political force in the Muslim world, particularly in Egypt. After the defeat of the Ottomans in Egypt, the sheikh offered Roustam to Napoleon as a bodyguard. He served Napoleon until his fall in 1814, by which time he had married a Frenchwoman, Mademoiselle Douville and settled in Dourdan, where he died in 1845. He wrote a memoir of his time with Napoleon, but it does not seem to have been translated into English. You can read it online in Russian here.

Page 671. " the road through Poltava, which Charles XII chose "
The Battle of Poltava by Pierre-Denis Martin
Public DomainThe Battle of Poltava by Pierre-Denis Martin

 

During the Great Northern War Charles XII of Sweden, an accomplished military tactician, invaded Russia along the same route towards Moscow that Napoleon would later take (Vilna-Vitebk-Smolensk). He came up against Peter the Great, whom he had previously defeated in Livonia and Estonia. However, Peter the Great learned from his earlier mistakes, modernising the Russian army so that when Sweden invaded they were themselves defeated at the Battle of Poltava in 1709. This is widely thought to have marked the beginning of the decline of Sweden as a great power in Europe.