AskDefine | Define Siberia

Dictionary Definition

Siberia n : a vast Asian region of Russia; famous for long cold winters

User Contributed Dictionary



Proper noun

  1. The region of Russia in Asia, stretching from the Urals to the Pacific Ocean.




Proper noun

  1. Siberia


Derived terms

Extensive Definition

Siberia (, Sibir); is the name given to the vast region constituting almost all of Northern Asia and for the most part currently serving as the massive central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, having served in the same capacity previously for the U.S.S.R. from its beginning, and the Russian Empire beginning in the 16th century. Geographically, it includes a large part of the Eurasian Steppe and extends eastward from the Ural Mountains to the watershed between Pacific and Arctic drainage basins, and southward from the Arctic Ocean to the hills of north-central Kazakhstan and the national borders of both Mongolia and China. It makes up about 77% of Russia's territory (13.1 million square kilometres), but only 30% of Russia's population (42.2 million people).

Origin of the name

Some sources say that it originates from the Turkic for "sleeping land." Another version is that this name was the tribal name of the Sibirs, Turkic nomads later assimilated to Siberian Tatars. Dr. Pamela Kyle Crossley, a professor of history at Dartmouth College, asserts that the Russians named Siberia after the Sibe/Xibe. Shaman Akkanat, from the Sibirga indigenous people, one of the last shamans in Western Siberia and a leading figure in the indigenous society in Western Siberia, said that Siberia got its name from his Nation, the Sibirga people. The modern usage of the name appeared in the Russian language after the conquest of the Siberia Khanate.

Borders and administrative division

The term Siberia has a very long history. Its meaning has gradually changed during ages. Historically, Siberia was defined as the whole part of Russia to the east of Ural Mountains, including Russian Far East. According to this definition, Siberia extended eastward from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific coast, and southward from the Arctic Ocean to the border of Russian Central Asia and the national borders of both Mongolia (which included Tuva) and China.
Soviet-era sources (GSE and others)
and modern Russian ones
usually define Siberia as a region extending eastward from the Ural Mountains to the watershed between Pacific and Arctic drainage basins, and southward from the Arctic Ocean to the hills of north-central Kazakhstan and the national borders of both Mongolia and China. Correspondingly, Siberia includes the federal subjects of the Siberian Federal District, some of the Urals Federal District, and Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, which is a part of the Far Eastern Federal District. This definition also includes geographically (not administratively) parts of several other subjects of Urals and Far Eastern federal districts.
Other sources may use either somewhat wider definition that states the Pacific coast, not the watershed, is the eastern boundary (that includes the whole Russian Far East)
or somewhat narrower one that confines Siberia to the Siberian Federal District (that excludes all subjects of other districts). However, in Russian the word Siberia is never used to substitute the name of the federal district.
See also a map of the most populated area of Siberia with links to Wikipedia.


Siberia was occupied by differing groups of nomads such as the Yenets, the Nenets, the Huns, and the Uyghurs. The Khan of Sibir in the vicinity of modern Tobolsk was known as a prominent figure who endorsed Kubrat as Khagan in Avaria in 630. The area was conquered by the Mongols in the 13th century and eventually became the autonomous Siberia Khanate.
The growing power of Russia to the west began to undermine the Khanate in the 16th century. First, groups of traders and Cossacks began to enter the area, and then the Russian army began to set up forts further and further east. Towns like Mangazeya, Tara, Yeniseysk, and Tobolsk sprang up, the latter being declared the capital of Siberia. By the mid-17th century, the Russian-controlled areas had been extended to the Pacific.
Siberia remained a mostly unexplored and uninhabited area. During the following few centuries, only a few exploratory missions and traders inhabited Siberia. The other group that was sent to Siberia consisted of prisoners exiled from western Russia or Russian-held territories like Poland (see katorga).
The first great change to Siberia was the Trans-Siberian railway, constructed in 1891–1916. It linked Siberia more closely to the rapidly-industrializing Russia of Nicholas II. Siberia is filled with natural resources and during the 20th century large scale exploitation of these was developed, and industrial towns cropped up throughout the region.

Katorga and Gulag

Russia, later the Soviet Union, operated a series of labor camps, known as Gulags. They became so common that "Siberia" came to be used as metaphor for exile and punishment: "a bureaucratic Siberia"
By analogy, one working-class district of downtown Stockholm, Sweden, earned the name Sibirien (Siberia) in the late 19th century, referring to its low-cost tenement houses being built in outlying areas.

Geography and geology

further Geography of Russia With an area of 13.1 million km² (5.1 million square miles), Siberia makes up roughly 77% of the total area of Russia. Major geographical zones include the West Siberian Plain and the Central Siberian Plateau. Note that Siberia covers almost 10% of all land surface (148,940,000 km²) of our planet.
The West Siberian Plain consists mostly of Cenozoic alluvial deposits and is extraordinarily low-lying, so much so that a sea level rise of fifty metres in would cause all land between the Arctic Ocean and Novosibirsk to be inundated. Many of the deposits on this plain result from ice dams; having reversed the flow of the Ob and Yenisei Rivers, so redirecting them into the Caspian Sea (perhaps the Aral as well). It is very swampy and soils are mostly peaty Histosols and, in the treeless northern part, Histels. In the south of the plain, where permafrost is largely absent, rich grasslands that are an extension of the Kazakh Steppe formed the original vegetation (almost all cleared now).
The Central Siberian Plateau is an extremely ancient craton (sometimes called Angaraland) that formed an independent continent before the Permian (see Siberia (continent)). It is exceptionally rich in minerals, containing large deposits of gold, diamonds, and ores of manganese, lead, zinc, nickel, cobalt and molybdenum. Much of the area includes the Siberian Traps which is a large igneous province. The massive eruptive period was approximately coincident with the Permian-Triassic extinction event. The volcanic event is said to be the largest known volcanic eruption in Earth history. Only the extreme northwest was glaciated during the Quaternary, but almost all is under exceptionally deep permafrost and the only tree that can thrive, despite the warm summers, is the deciduous Siberian Larch (Larix sibirica) with its very shallow roots. Outside the extreme northwest, the taiga is dominant. Soils here are mainly Turbels, giving way to Spodosols where the active layer becomes thicker and the ice content lower.
Eastern and central Sakha comprise numerous north-south mountain ranges of various ages. These mountains extend up to almost three thousand metres in elevation, but above a few hundred metres they are almost completely devoid of vegetation. The Verkhoyansk Range was extensively glaciated in the Pleistocene, but the climate was too dry for glaciation to extend to low elevations. At these low elevations are numerous valleys, many of them deep, and covered with larch forest except in the extreme north, where tundra dominates. Soils are mainly Turbels and the active layer tends to be less than a meter deep except near rivers.
The highest point in Siberia is the active.volcano Klyuchevskaya Sopka, in the Kamchatka peninsula.


The climate of Siberia varies dramatically. On the north coast, north of the Arctic Circle, there is just a very short (about one-month-long) summer.
Almost all the population lives in the south, along the Trans-Siberian railroad. The climate here is continental subarctic (Koppen Dfc or Dwc), with the annual average temperature about 0 °C (32 °F) and roughly −15 °C (5 °F) average in January and +20 °C (68 °F) in July. With a reliable growing season, an abundance of sunshine and exceedingly fertile chernozem soils, Southern Siberia is good enough for profitable agriculture, as was proven in the early twentieth century.
The southwesterly winds of Southern Siberia bring warm air from Central Asia and the Middle East. The climate in West Siberia (Omsk, Novosibirsk) is several degrees warmer than in the East (Irkutsk, Chita). With a lowest record temperature of -71.2 °C (-96.1 °F), Oymyakon (Sakha Republic) has the distinction of being the coldest town on Earth. But summer temperatures in other regions reach +36...+38 °C (97-100°F). In general, Sakha is the coldest Siberian region, and the basin of the Yana River has the lowest temperatures of all, with permafrost reaching 1,493 metres (4,900 ft). Nevertheless, as far as Imperial Russia plans of settlement are concerned, the cold was never viewed as an issue. In the winter, Southern Siberia sits near the center of the semi-permanent Siberian High, so winds are usually light in the winter.
Precipitation in Siberia is generally low, exceeding 500 mm (20 inches) only in Kamchatka where moist winds flow from the Sea of Okhotsk onto high mountains — producing the region's only major glaciers — and in most of Primorye in the extreme south where monsoonal influences can produce quite heavy summer rainfall. Despite the region's notorious cold, snowfall is generally extremely light, especially in the east of the region.

Lakes and rivers

Impact craters

Mountain ranges



Siberia is extraordinarily rich in minerals, containing ores of almost all economically valuable metals—largely because of the absence of Quaternary glaciation outside highland areas. It has some of the world's largest deposits of nickel, gold, lead, coal, molybdenum, diamonds, silver and zinc, as well as extensive unexploited resources of oil and natural gas. Most of these are in the cold and remote eastern part of the region, with the result that extraction has proven difficult and began on a large scale only after Stalin came to power and developed labor camps to deal with the difficulty of attracting labour to such unpleasant climates.
Agriculture is severely restricted by the short growing season of most of the region. However, in the southwest where soils are exceedingly fertile black earths and the climate is a little more moderate, there is extensive cropping of wheat, barley, rye and potatoes, along with the grazing of large numbers of sheep and cattle. Elsewhere food production, owing to the poor fertility of the podzolic soils and the extremely short growing seasons, is restricted to the herding of reindeer in the tundra — which has been practised by natives for over ten thousand years. Siberia has the world's largest forests. Timber remains an important source of revenue despite the fact that many forests in the east have been logged much more rapidly than they are able to recover. The Sea of Okhotsk is one of the two or three richest fisheries in the world owing to its cold currents and extremely large tidal ranges, and thus Siberia produces over 10 percent of the world's annual fish catch, though fishing has declined somewhat since the collapse of the USSR.
Industry, developed during the interwar period (1920s and 1930s) and increased vastly during World War II, has declined greatly since the collapse of the USSR. At one point there were huge factories in Western Siberia and many even around Lake Baikal but these have largely ceased operation since the USSR collapsed.


Siberia has population density of about three people per square kilometer. Most Siberians are Russians and Russified Ukrainians. Ethnic Russians are descended from Slavs who lived in Eastern Europe several hundred years ago. There are approximately 400,000 ethnic Germans living in Siberia. Such Mongol and Turkic groups as Buryats, Tuvinians, Yakuts, and Siberian Tatars lived in Siberia originally, and descendants of these peoples still live there. Other ethnic groups include Kets, Evenks, Chukchis, Koryaks, and Yukaghirs. See the Northern indigenous peoples of Russia article for more.
Recently, there has been a rather large influx of Chinese merchants and laborers in Siberia, however, they are not counted in official statistics. Estimates of around a million Chinese in Siberia. Other East Asians are Koreans (i.e. from North Korea) and the Vietnamese brought over as laborers during the Soviet era (from the 1950s to the 1980s) and some of their families remained in Siberia.
About 70% of Siberia's people live in cities. Most city people live in apartments. Many people in rural areas live in simple, but more spacious, log houses. Novosibirsk is the largest city in Siberia, with a population of about 1.5 million. Tobolsk, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk and Omsk are the older, historical centers.


There are a variety of beliefs throughout Siberia including Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Tibetan Buddhism, and denominations of Christianity. An estimated 70,000 Jews live in Siberia. The predominant group is the Russian Orthodox Church. However, native religion dates back hundreds of years. The vast terrority of Siberia has many different local traditions of gods. These include: Ak Ana, Anapel, Bugady Musun, Kara Khan, Khaltesh-Anki, Kini'je, Ku'urkil, Nga, Nu'tenut, Numi-Torem, Numi-Turum, Pon, Pugu, Todote, Toko'yoto, Tomam, Xaya Iccita, Zonget. Places with sacred areas include Olkhon, an island in Lake Baikal.


The best way to tour Siberia is through the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Trans-Siberian Railway operates from Moscow in the West to Vladivostok in the East. The train has 2nd class 4-berth compartments, 1st class 2-berth compartments, and a restaurant car.


External links

Siberia in Arabic: سيبيريا
Siberia in Franco-Provençal: Sibèrie
Siberia in Asturian: Siberia
Siberia in Belarusian: Сібір
Siberia in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Сыбір
Siberia in Bosnian: Sibir
Siberia in Breton: Siberia
Siberia in Bulgarian: Сибир
Siberia in Catalan: Sibèria
Siberia in Yakut: Сибиир
Siberia in Chuvash: Çĕпĕр
Siberia in Czech: Sibiř
Siberia in Welsh: Siberia
Siberia in Danish: Sibirien
Siberia in German: Sibirien
Siberia in Estonian: Siber
Siberia in Modern Greek (1453-): Σιβηρία
Siberia in Spanish: Siberia
Siberia in Esperanto: Siberio
Siberia in Basque: Siberia
Siberia in Persian: سیبری
Siberia in Faroese: Siberia
Siberia in French: Sibérie
Siberia in Galician: Siberia - Сибирь
Siberia in Korean: 시베리아
Siberia in Croatian: Sibir
Siberia in Ido: Siberia
Siberia in Indonesian: Siberia
Siberia in Ossetian: Сыбыр
Siberia in Icelandic: Síbería
Siberia in Italian: Siberia
Siberia in Hebrew: סיביר
Siberia in Swahili (macrolanguage): Siberia
Siberia in Kurdish: Sîbîrya
Siberia in Latin: Siberia
Siberia in Latvian: Sibīrija
Siberia in Lithuanian: Sibiras
Siberia in Hungarian: Szibéria
Siberia in Macedonian: Сибир
Siberia in Marathi: सायबेरिया
Siberia in Malay (macrolanguage): Siberia
Siberia in Dutch: Siberië
Siberia in Dutch Low Saxon: Siberie
Siberia in Japanese: シベリア
Siberia in Norwegian: Sibir
Siberia in Norwegian Nynorsk: Sibir
Siberia in Occitan (post 1500): Siberia
Siberia in Low German: Sibirien
Siberia in Polish: Syberia
Siberia in Portuguese: Sibéria
Siberia in Romanian: Siberia
Siberia in Russian: Сибирь
Siberia in Sicilian: Sibberia
Siberia in Simple English: Siberia
Siberia in Slovenian: Sibirija
Siberia in Serbian: Сибир
Siberia in Serbo-Croatian: Sibir
Siberia in Finnish: Siperia
Siberia in Swedish: Sibirien
Siberia in Tagalog: Siberia
Siberia in Thai: ไซบีเรีย
Siberia in Vietnamese: Siberi
Siberia in Turkish: Sibirya
Siberia in Ukrainian: Сибір
Siberia in Walloon: Sibereye
Siberia in Samogitian: Sėbėrs
Siberia in Chinese: 西伯利亚
Siberia in Slovak: Sibír

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Alaska, Antarctic Zone, Antarctica, Arctic Circle, Arctic Zone, China, Darkest Africa, Frigid Zones, God knows where, Greenland, Iceland, Lower Slobbovia, North Pole, Novaya Zemlya, Outer Mongolia, Pago Pago, Pillars of Hercules, South Pole, Thule, Tierra del Fuego, Timbuktu, Ultima Thule, Yukon, antipodes, frontier, godforsaken place, jumping-off place, nowhere, outback, outer space, outpost, outskirts, pole, the Antarctic, the Arctic, the Great Divide, the Hebrides, the South Seas, the Yukon, the boondocks, the moon, the sticks, the tullies, tundra
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