In 1716, a Turkoman traveller arrived at the court of Peter the Great, with a sack of ‘golden sand’ allegedly from the khanate of Khiva. Prince Bekovich-Cherkassky was promptly dispatched with an army to conquer the khanate, and acquire the gold for Russia. They never returned. According to rumour, the khan, under the guise of hospitality, persuaded the Russians to divide their forces between his realm’s five towns, then massacred them, one by one. Thereafter, the Russians adopted a more cautious approach in Central Asia. First, they established a defensive line of 46 forts and 96 redoubts ranging from the Caspian Sea through Orenburg and Omsk to Semipalatinsk in the east (several fell to Kazakhs joining Pugachev’s revolt (1773–74)). In 1730 the Little Horde Tatars recognized Russian suzerainty. Imperialist rivals contested Russia’s dominance: the Chinese Qing advanced westward, and Nadir Shah of Persia briefly conquered Bukhara and infamous Khiva (1740).
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