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University of Flensburg MA European Studies Europe and the World: A Short History of the Last 13000 Years

The Rise and Fall of the Eurasian Steppe Nomads

Prepared by: Maryna Shchaveleva Matr. No. 539363 3rd Semester (Winter) Professor: Dr. James Lovejoy

Flensburg 2012 Contents Introduction..................................................................................................................................p. 3 1. Origins, Economic and Social Organization of Nomads.p. 4 2. Nomadic Polities..p. 7 3. The Relations between Nomads and Sedentary Societies 3.1. Tradep. 16 3.2. Wars.p. 18 3.3. The Change in the Balance of Powers.p. 22 Conclusion..p. 23 Bibliography...p. 25

Abstract The nomads of the Eurasian steppes seemed to be extremely successful in their conquests for a great period of time, from the beginning of the 1 st millennium BC until the late Middle Ages. On no other continents did nomadic pastoralists attain such power and influence on other societies. Yet, in a long-term perspective, they were defeated. Their relations with sedentary populations, as well as their role in the history of Eurasia were ambiguous: ranging from the destruction of ancient civilizations and spreading of epidemic diseases to accelerating the development of the continent by facilitating the diffusion of ideas between its distant regions. The reasons both for their temporary success and their eventual failure were connected with their peculiar socioeconomic organization which was determined by the arid conditions of the steppe zone. These conditions were the ultimate factor which predefined their development both before and after the Industrial Revolution.

Introduction Why did the sedentary lifestyle turn out to be more advantageous on the long run and become generally established everywhere in the past few centuries, while many nomadic groups invaded sedentary societies and gained numerous victories over them for almost three thousand years? In this paper, I would like to explore factors which caused both the military superiority of nomads in ancient/medieval times and their eventual defeat. I chose the Eurasian steppe nomads, or horse people, as the subject of my research, because they were the specific group which constituted the primary threat to civilizations. There were two main reasons for this: 1) they possessed greater military power than reindeer, camel or cattle nomads; 2) the territories they occupied (Central Asian and Eastern European steppes) lay in immediate proximity with permanent settlements where civilizations were born and developed. A nomadic lifestyle was inherent to humanity from the beginning of its existence most hunter-gatherer tribes constantly migrated in search of food, and only in the most abundant regions could they settle down. Speaking of sedentary and nomadic lifestyles, Jared Diamond generally associates the former with farming and the latter with hunting-gathering, although he remarks that this association does not necessarily hold true in all cases: depending on the environmental conditions, both mobile farmers and sedentary hunter-gatherers did exist. Currently there is no consensus among scholars as to whether the emergence of agriculture led to sedentism or vice versa; the causal link might have worked both ways in different regions. In any case, it is obvious that massive food storage was possible only under the sedentary lifestyle.1

Although it is also not clear whether the necessity to store food was the reason for settling down (Diamond 1997, p. 87) or whether it was its consequence (Diamond 1997, p. 89).

Nomadic pastoralists are a perfect illustration of Diamonds statement that the shift from hunting-gathering to food production did not always coincide with a shift from nomadism to sedentary living.2 Of course, arable farming required a sedentary way of life in most cases: farmers needed to attend their fields and gardens regularly to take care of crops and to collect harvests. Herding, on the other hand, did not require that the people who were engaged in it stay in one place. They did so only in regions which could provide rich pastures that wouldnt be exhausted quickly (which is apparently not the case of the Eurasian steppes). Otherwise, they were urged to move from one place to another in order to graze their livestock. Thus, it is no wonder that the lifestyle of food producers of Eurasian steppes was rather nomadic than sedentary: these lands didnt receive enough rainfall to provide a basis for arable farming, but contained enough grasses and other plants to support extensive pastoralism. In the course of history, these nomads played a significant role ranging from accelerating the development of the Eurasian continent by connecting together its western and eastern parts to destroying many societies and civilizations. They presented a strong counter power to sedentary populations from the 1st millennium BC to the middle of the 2nd millennium AD. Yet, the balance of powers started shifting in the Middle Ages, which led to an ultimate loss of the nomads might. In the following three sections, I will examine how and why this happened. 1. Origins, Economic and Social Organization of Nomads First of all, it is necessary to establish terminological clarity: as it has been mentioned, the broad term nomads applies both to hunter-gatherers and mobile pastoralists. The principle difference between the former and the latter lies in the basis of their economy: food-extraction in the first case vs. food-production in the second. Therefore, both the reasons and the character of their mobility are also different. In this paper, the term nomad will be used only in reference to nomadic pastoralists, as it focuses exclusively on them. Khazanov outlined several geographic types of nomadic pastoralism with their corresponding specific composition of herds (which in each case depended on availability of certain species in the region as well as local ecologic conditions that were favorable for herding some species, but not others): North Eurasian (reindeer herding), Eurasian steppe (mostly horses and sheep), Near Eastern (mostly camels, sheep, goats), Middle Eastern (mostly goats and sheep), East African (mostly cattle), High Inner Asian (yak and a particular mountain breed of sheep). 3 He is reluctant to include the Andes type in this list, as pastoralism in this region rather represents a form of herdsman husbandry (that is, most of the population leads a sedentary way of life and is occupied
2 3

Diamond 1997, p. 106. Khazanov 1983, p. 40ff.

with agricultural activities, while specially assigned herdsmen maintain livestock on remote pastures). Thus, Andean llama and alpaca herders were not a nomadic society in a full sense. Speaking of the origins of nomadic pastoralism, Khazanov insists that it did not emerge from hunting, as it is commonly believed. Undoubtedly, hunters were capable of taming animals, but this did not automatically lead to their domestication, as the latter implies regular reproduction of species and eventual changes in their genotypes through the altered forces of natural selection operating in human environments.4 Thus, domestication of animals required the following preconditions: 1) a good knowledge of the behavior of the animals to be domesticated; 2) a relatively sedentary way of life; 3) the disposal of surplus agricultural or vegetal products that may be used for fodder.5 Of course, hunters could perfectly meet the first condition, but hardly the other two. Thus, it is more probable that the process of animal domestication was carried out by sedentary populations which were involved in both types of food-producing economy cultivation of plants and animal husbandry. The spread of these economies from the places of their emergence to other parts of the world involved adaptation to new ecological conditions, including domestication of new species of plants and animals as well as the development of specific forms of economic specialization, which in certain (mostly arid) regions led to the predominance of pastoralism over agriculture. In the southern areas of Eastern Europe, domestic cattle, small stock and horses were present already in the 5th-4th millennia BC. On the border of the 4 th and the 3rd millennia BC, pastoralism became a predominant form of food production in certain areas of the European steppes. Parts of Central and Western Europe also witnessed the spread of pastoralism in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.6 Migrations of pastoralists in the Eurasian steppes started in the 4th millennia BC due to various reasons: growth of population, exhaustion of pastures, eagerness to move closer to centers of agricultural civilizations. These migrations were facilitated by the increase in pastoralists mobility around the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, when the first real horsemen (i.e. those who used harness) appeared. Yet, these pastoralists were still partially engaged in agriculture, and their migrations in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC were quite different (e.g. slower) from those of nomads in forthcoming centuries.7 Besides, the Bronze Age migrants were interested in finding new lands suitable for farming just as much as pastures. Although the necessary technological preconditions for the nomadic form of pastoralism (specific species-composition of herds, long-term practice of mobile and extensive forms of pastoralism, dairying, animal-driven wheeled transport, horse-riding) were already present in the
4 5

Diamond 1997, p. 159. Khazanov 1983, p. xl. 6 Ibid., p. 91. 7 Ibid., p. 94.

European and Central Asian steppes in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, the corresponding transformation of the steppe cultures occurred only at the beginning of the 1 st millennium BC. The ultimate stimulus for pastoralists of this region to finally abandon agriculture and become real nomads was most probably provided by a period of a very dry climate, the peak of which took place at the border of the 2nd and the 1st millennia BC.8 On the other hand, this transition was also facilitated by the emergence of sedentary states in the Black Sea region and Middle Asia, as it provided an opportunity for ancient nomads (such as Cimmerians and Scythians, who were drawn to this area from the East) to specialize exclusively in pastoralism, while they could receive products of other sectors of economy from these states. In the eastern part of the Eurasian steppes (Inner Asia), the transition to nomadism took place somewhat later. Here, it could be caused by certain pressures from the West (migration of such tribes as Ti, who are believed to be Scythians meaning nomads speaking languages of the Iranian group to China in the 7 th century BC, as well as appearance of nomads from the territories of modern Kazakhstan and Middle Asia in Mongolia). The walls which were built in China with the purpose of protection against threats posed by nomads from the North attest the presence of the latter in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC.9 Thus, by the end of the 1st millennium BC, the highly specialized type of economy nomadic pastoralism was present in all parts of the Eurasian steppe zone. Its main characteristics, as defined by Khazanov, were: 1) pastoralism as the predominant form of economic activity; 2) extensive character connected with the maintenance of herds on a system of free-range grazing without stables; 3) periodic mobility within the boundaries of specific grazing territories, or between these territories; 4) participation in pastoral mobility of all or the majority of the population; 5) orientation of production towards the requirements of subsistence.10 The archaeological materials show that some nomadic societies (e.g. medieval Turks and Mongols) engaged in other forms of production apart from pastoralism, such as metallurgy, weaving and pottery.11 This does not in any case mean that the level of development of handicraft in nomadic societies was the same as among settled peoples. Only in very few cases did handicraft form a specialized subsystem in pastoral economy. To fill this gap, nomads often captured the most qualified artisans during their conquests and used them later for their needs. At the same time, they were also inferior to their sedentary neighbors in terms of the agricultural sector of the economy. Thus, nomads could never exist on their own without the outside world and its non-nomadic societies, with their different economic systems.12 It is important to understand the reason for such
8 9

Khazanov 1983, p. 95. Ibid., p. 96. 10 Ibid., p. 16. 11 Kradin 2007, p. 8. 12 Khazanov 1983, p. 3.

disposition: nomadic way of organizing economy presupposes division of labour not within, but between different societies. The social organization of nomads was based on the notions of kinship and descent. As the mobility of nomads poses an obstacle to the formation of direct territorial links between them, these notions present the best alternative for the expression of social relations. Khazanov explains their functions in the following way: Kinship regulates relations within a relatively small collective (group) of people; it mediates the individuals position in a system of horizontal ties by superseding the discrete character of different descent groups. Descent regulates relations between different groups and at the same time establishes the individual's membership in a given society as a whole and in specific subdivisions of it; this membership involves both corresponding rights and commitments and sometimes even social positions. 13 Thus, the structure of nomadic societies was presented by stratified segmentary lineages based on the genealogical principle. For example, the Scythian royal clan claimed its descent from divine ancestors. It transformed itself into an estate and its members became leaders of separate subdivisions of ordinary Scythians.14 Yet, despite the obvious existence of social differentiation among nomads, stratification of their societies was usually underdeveloped for several reasons. First of all, it was constrained by such factors as their increased mobility and low density of population. Besides, one of the bases for social differentiation property-inequality which resulted from private ownership of livestock was often temporary, as even rich nomads could lose all of their stock at once, e.g. due to a jute. Although property differences did foster social mobility, encouraging individuals to attain higher status, they were seldom capable of providing a fundament for stable and hereditary stratification. Another source of social inequality the presence of dependent and exploited groups (e.g. slaves) within nomadic societies was also insufficient for stratification to emerge, as, in the conditions of non-diversified economy where everyone is involved in the same kind of production, the number of dependent persons must be limited (otherwise, their status eventually becomes the same as of ordinary nomads). Speaking of slaves, nomads obtained them not from among members of their own society, but by capturing people during their raids thus, these people did not constitute a part of nomadic society in a strict sense, so their presence does not necessarily point toward the internal social differentiation among nomads. The main source of social inequality was connected with the need of a distinct political leadership which had to fulfill internal organizational functions as well as regulate relations of nomads with the outside world. This need facilitated the emergence of a ruling stratum, and its strength determined the stability of the latter. Yet, the internal needs of a nomadic society were normally not a sufficient factor to establish social stratification within it for the same reasons which prevented the formation of complex stable nomadic polities and which will be
13 14

Ibid., p. 140. Ibid., p. 178.

discussed later. Thus, as a rule, nomadic societies became stratified due to external reasons such as the conquest of sedentary states, where stratification already existed. 2. Nomadic Polities Nomadic polities of the Eurasian steppes were militarized satellites of agrarian civilizations, as they depended on goods which they received from the latter. Furthermore, the level of centralization of nomads was directly proportional to the size of the neighbouring sedentary civilization: in North Africa and the Near East, nomads united into confederations of chiefdoms in order to trade with oases towns or to raid them; in the Eastern European steppe, nomads living close to the Ancient Rus organized into quasi-imperial structures; the emergence of powerful agrarian empires (such as Chin in China, Hellenistic states in Asia Minor, and the Roman Empire) caused the formation of nomadic empires. The dynamic bipolar structure of political links between agricultural civilizations and surrounding nomads (Rome and barbarians, states of the Black Sea region and Scythians, China and Central Asian nomads, etc.) repeated in cycles multiple times. Thus, the rise of steppe empires usually correlated in time with the periods of prosperity in agrarian states (especially in Inner Asia, where large areas of pasture areas allowed for the formation of large empires): for example, the Hsiung-nu Empire emerged soon after the establishment of the Han dynasty, while the Turkic Khaganate arose following the unification of China under the power of the Sui and, later, Tang dynasties.15 Similarly, the periods of crisis in China in the 4 th, 5th and 10th centuries led to political decline and disintegration among nomads. It is necessary to note that nomads do not completely fit into classical monolinear models of social evolution, such as local group community tribe chiefdom early state. First, not all of these forms were typical for nomadic pastoralists. For this reason, Nikolay Kradin suggests to distinguish three stages of complexity of their sociopolitical organization in the pre-industrial world: 1) acephalous segmentary clan and tribal formations; 2) secondary tribe and chiefdom; 3) nomadic empires and quasi-imperial pastoral polities of smaller sizes. 16 Second, the history of nomads developed rather in a circular pattern instead of presenting a steady growth of complexity. Thus, the transfer from one model of political organization to another could take place both in the direction of increasing complexity and vise versa and, generally, happened in cycles. Vast empires were created and fell apart time after time. The reason for this lay in the very nature of nomadic polities: from the evolutionary point of view, their origin was secondary, meaning that they emerged not on their own, but as a result of different forms of interaction of nomads with the outside world. Thus, they were dispositional in their character. This was a reason for their
15 16

Kradin 2002, p. 380. Ibid., p. 370.

considerable instability, diffuse and decentralized nature of their leadership, as well as their fluid composition. The secondary origin of nomadic polities was determined by the fact that, from an ecological point of view, nomads did not need a state: the specificity of nomadic pastoralism assumed a dispersed way of existence, as high concentration of herds in one place caused overgrazing and a greater risk of the spread of animals infectious diseases. This, together with their mobile way of life, was the reason of their relatively lower population density (which is one of the preconditions of the emergence of complex political organization, according to Diamond) 17 compared to sedentary societies. Thus, all production activities of nomads took place inside of their kin groups with only an occasional necessity of broader cooperation (e.g. in cases of loss of livestock). Consequently, the intervention of nomadic leaders into internal economic life of ordinary nomads was rather limited and did not allow for their power to develop to a formalized level on the basis of regular taxation.18 While in sedentary societies the power of their leaders was based on control over surplus products and redistribution of these, this was not quite possible in case of nomads, as the surplus was unstable in terms of their economy,19 since it largely depended upon and was limited by certain environmental conditions (such as availability of fodder in the steppe which could be drastically reduced due to a drought or a snowstorm), so redistribution affected mainly external sources of the empires income, such as plunder and tribute from sedentary populations. Livestock could be accumulated only to a certain extent: its maximum quantity was limited by the productivity of pastures. Thus, due to the specific character of their economy, which was conditioned by the steppe environment, nomads lacked the necessary prerequisites for the establishment of a more complex and centralized political systems (considerable population density, social stratification, division of labour, production of surpluses) within their own societies. Consequently, it was not internal reasons which lead to the creation of nomadic empires, but external ones: nomads were united by the necessity of obtaining agricultural and handicraft products by means of exploiting sedentary societies.20 This necessity could be satisfied by occasional raids, but while sedentary populations
17 18

Diamond 1997, p. 287. Kradin 2007, p. 117. 19 At the same time, Diamond point out that food surpluses were a prerequisite for the development of settled, politically centralized, socially stratified, economically complex, technologically innovative societies (Diamond 1997, p. 92). 20 Interestingly, the same necessity lay at the basis of nomads ideology the cult of war. As long as nomadic leaders were able to promise considerable gains from conquests, they could unite large numbers of nomads under their sway. Their unity remained stable as long as these promises could be fulfilled and fell apart when such consolidation did not serve its purpose anymore (it is for this reason that Khazanov calls them dispositional). Here, Diamonds statement that wars, or threats of war, have played a key role in most, if not all, amalgamations of societies (Diamond 1997, p. 291) acquires a double meaning: on one hand, disparate nomadic tribes joined together in view of a future conquest from which they expected to benefit, while on the other, the conquest itself united nomads and sedentary people in terms of a larger polity.

remained independent, such exploitation could not be stable. Besides, if raids were too large-scale or too frequent, they involved the risk of destroying the very foundations of the economic activity of sedentary populations, which would, in its turn, deprive nomads of the source of desired goods. Thus, in the long run, it was more beneficial for nomads to subjugate agriculturalists. This led to the emergence of nomadic empires which were xenocratic in character based on conquest and subjugation of other peoples. After the conquest, nomads formed a class-society, rising over the sedentary population; their elite became a ruling class of commanders, while ordinary nomads served as soldiers of expansion and repressions. This fact also supports the statement made in the previous section that a nomadic society normally became stratified due to external rather than internal factors. Another peculiar characteristic of nomadic social evolution is the fact that transformation of their political system did not necessarily involve changes in their social complexity, e.g. population density, complex technologies, structural differentiation and functional specialization among nomads. When the political system evolved to its upper limit (empire), usually only the total amount of population increased due to the addition of conquered societies, as well as the number of hierarchical levels.21 Thus, centers of nomadic empires were well-developed only in the military aspect, but in relation to socio-economic complexity they lagged behind the societies which they conquered. Kradin argues that only in relations with the outside world did nomadic empires represent states in the full sense of the word (due to their militarized hierarchical structure and international sovereignty). They had a complex system of warlords and were often regarded as independent actors on the international political arena by neighbouring agricultural states, with whom they sometimes held diplomatic correspondence and concluded dynastic marriages. The internal structure of these empires remained consultative and tribal. Most of them were based upon nonenforced relations consisting of reciprocal gift-exchanges and existed thanks to the external sources which they received from sedentary peoples without taxing pastoralists. As all basic production processes in the nomadic society took place within the limits of individual households, it was often unnecessary to establish bureaucratic structures which would fulfill administrative-distributive functions. Finally, the power of nomadic leaders was mostly consensual, based on their authority and their ability to obtain necessary products from outer sources and redistribute them among their subjects, as the stability of their empires depended on this ability. Resolution of conflicts among nomads was mostly based on traditional informal measures related to kinship and descent and lawenforcement structures were undeveloped, while in a state, the government can apply sanctions with the use of legitimated force.22 Monopoly of force was impossible in nomadic societies,
21 22

Kradin 2002, p. 370. Kradin 2002, p. 272. In these three respects (including bureaucracy), nomadic polities did not go past tribal stage according to Diamonds classification as well (Diamond, p. 268).


because each nomad was a warrior at the same time. If chiefs exerted too much pressure on their subjects, they could be simply overthrown (and this has happened many times in the course of history). Thus, considering the level of political organization of nomadic empires, Kradin suggests to define them as supercomplex chiefdoms. The differences between them and complex chiefdoms per se lay in the population size and homogeneity (tens of thousands of ethnically homogenous people in the latter vs. hundreds of thousands or more in multinational nomadic empires), as well as the territory they occupied, as nomads needed vast areas of land for pastures. Nevertheless, describing the same polities which emerged as a result of nomadic conquests, Anatoly Khazanov refers to them as nomadic states. At the same time, Diamond does not seem to have a definite point of view as to which category the level of political organization of nomadic empires fits best: e.g. he refers to the Mongol empire both as to a chiefdom 23 and as to a state.24 The difference between opinions on whether or not nomadic polities can be called states is probably defined by the perspective from which scholars look upon the social composition of these polities. If nomads and sedentary people are regarded as parts of one and the same society within the borders of a new polity, then it can be seen as a state: here, nomads form not the society per se, but its subdivision, while the whole society is characterized by stratification and division of labor. Hereto, Khazanov remarks that not every conquest leads to the emergence of a state, as in order for this to happen, both the conquering and the conquered societies already need to possess a certain degree of social differentiation (ideally, the sedentary population should already have a state with a stratified society).25 The fusion of the two societies, then, leads to an establishment of a new state ruled by nomads. On the other hand, if nomads are considered to be a separate society within a polity created after their conquest (which is the case when they do not participate in the internal life of the conquered territories), then the level of their socioeconomic organization, which is undoubtedly less developed than that of sedentary inhabitants of their empires, does not allow applying the term state in respect to this polity. Thus, the possibility of describing nomadic polities as states depends on the level of integration of nomads into the sociopolitical structure of sedentary states which they conquer: the higher it is, the more complex becomes their organization. This principle will be examined more thoroughly below. Kradin suggests that there are three models of nomadic empires (which differ, among other things, in the level of integration of nomadic and sedentary societies inhabiting them): 1) nomads exist separately from agrarians and distantly exploit them through raids and extortion of gifts (Hsiung-nu, Turks, etc.); 2) agrarians are subordinated to nomads and pay them tributes (e.g. the
23 24

Diamond 1997, p. 281. Ibid., p. 359. 25 Khazanov 1983, p. 230.


Golden Horde); 3) nomads conquer a sedentary state and move to its territory, raids and tributes are replaced with regular taxes imposed on peasants and townsmen (e.g. the Northern Wei). 26 Apparently, in the first case, integration does not take place neither in political, nor in socioeconomic sphere; in the second, a certain extent of political integration is needed in order to manage regular affairs; while in the third instance, the degree both of sociopolitical integration is high. A very similar trend can be observed in a slightly different classification of nomadic states presented by Khazanov.27 He describes states of the first type as those where nomads established vassal-tribute relations or other primitive forms of collective dependence with conquered sedentary populations and where they continued living side-by-side (in separate ecological zones which are better suited for their respective economies), but not together. Whether sedentary societies preserved their own states which became vassals or whether they were united with nomads in a new state formed as a result of the conquest, the level of integration between the former and the latter was low and it concerned only the political sphere, while no single socioeconomic system emerged. The process of limited sedentarization could be observed in such states, e.g. because nomadic aristocracy needed towns which functioned as centers of political power, handicraft and trade. States of the second type states usually emerged when nomads moved onto the territory of sedentary populations and started sharing the same ecological zones with them. Here, it is possible to observe integration of nomads, peasants and townsmen into a single sociopolitical and, to some extent, economic system. This integration was usually not complete and affected only certain strata in both societies. At the same time, a synthesis between less developed social relations of nomads and more developed relations of sedentary societies took place. States of the third type are characterized by a single socioeconomic and political system which involved division of labour between pastoralists and agriculturalists. Thus, social stratification in such states usually developed on the basis of economic specialization and ethnic differences of its population. In the Eurasian steppes, mostly the first and to a lesser extent the second type of states from Khazanovs classification were common, which was determined by the fact that nomads and agriculturalists occupied separate ecological zones here. The density of the nomadic population was relatively high, which stimulated its unification (that was often necessary before nomads could conquer sedentary societies). Another factor which fostered consolidation of nomads was the fact that sedentary populations of this region frequently opposed nomads in the form of large states and empires. The First and the Second Scythian states were based on the conquest and exploitation of sedentary peoples. Yet, already during the existence of their second state, Scythians began to settle
26 27

Kradin 2007, p. 119. Khazanov 1983, p. 231ff.


down. Their third state emerged after a series of Scythians defeats which drastically reduced their opportunities for exploiting the subjected population. Thus, this state developed mostly in the form of an agricultural-urban society, where internal forms of dependence dominated over external ones. This was also fostered by the existence of long-standing contacts between Scythians and the Greek poleis in the Black Sea region. The export of Scythian grain to the Greek states was profitable, so it stimulated the development of agriculture in the Third Scythian State. 28 Therefore, this state gradually lost its nomadic features. Just like the first two states of the Scythians, the state of the Hsiung-nu belonged to the first type. These nomads subjugated many other nomadic tribes and sedentary societies. For example, in the first half of the 2nd century BC, China had to pay them regular tribute. Besides, the Hsiung-nu started developing agricultural and handicraft sectors in their economy using Chinese prisoners and deserters for this. Yet, their state did not undergo a qualitative transformation which would make it sedentary: unlike the Scythians, the Hsiung-nu did not dismount their horses and remained nomads to the end. This very fact determined the fate of their state, which disintegrated when they started suffering defeats. Some late Hsiung-nu tribes migrated to China in the 4 th-5th centuries AD and created several smaller states there. However, after creating their states, these tribes settled down, which led to their quick assimilation by the Chinese.29 In the Middle Ages, a typical example of the first type of nomadic states was the Turkic Khaganat (551-744) an empire stretching from Byzantium to Manchuria. It emerged after the Turkic tribal polity subjugated other nomadic and sedentary polities of the region and established various kinds of vassal-tribute relations with them. The Turks tried incorporating the conquered nomadic units into their military and political organization, but these units mostly preserved their traditional sociopolitical structure. For example, their aristocracy remained the same, although now it was subordinate to the states ruling Ashina clan. Nomads who became vassals had to pay tribute and participate in battles, where they were often put in the front line, as their loss was of little importance to the Turks (that is why there were numerous separatist movements of nomadic vassals in the Turkic state). Sedentary societies conquered by the Turks had to pay them fixed duties, although there were also some occasional illegal duties collected by the nomads. The military and organizational functions in the Turkic Khaganate belonged to the Khagans and aristocracy.30 As all nomadic empires sooner or later did, the First Turkic Khaganate eventually collapsed, forming a western and an eastern part. Among these two, the Western Turkic Khaganate is noteworthy, as only it evolved beyond the state of the first type. Even though a large part of ordinary Turks continued living in the steppes, the Turkic elite was gradually replacing local
28 29

Khazanov 1983, p. 254. Ibid., p. 255. 30 Khazanov 1983, p. 255.


Middle Asian leaders, or the latter became deputies of the Khagan. The Turks began to move into the lands of the conquered, where some of them settled in oases, while others engaged in pastoralism in peripheral areas. Yet, the power of Khagans was weak in the second half of the 7 th and the first half of the 8th centuries; dependence of some of its territories (e.g. Sogdian Semirechye) was almost nominal and manifested itself only in tribute payments. Thus, the Western Turkic Khaganate had not fully evolved into the second type of the nomadic state before the Arabs conquered Middle Asia.31 The most prominent Eurasian nomadic empire was the Mongol state. It was created in 1206, after the long process of unification of Mongol tribes by Temujin, who then became Genghis Khan. As during the 12th century these tribes were struggling with each other for the key resources (such as land and livestock), their unity was unstable, and the future of the Mongol empire greatly depended on successful external expansion otherwise it would promptly disintegrate. This empire belonged to the first type of nomadic states: the Mongols never became involved in the life of the countries which they subjugated. Collection of taxes and management of sedentary territories were fulfilled by local authorities. Meanwhile, the Mongols continued their expansion which was accompanied by raids. As a result, their social structure underwent certain changes: since the politics of conquest demanded centralization and discipline, a rigid military organization based on a decimal system appeared; it was forbidden for both ordinary nomads and aristocracy to transfer from one subdivision to another (as the fluidity of social composition would undermine the military organization of the society). Although Genghis Khans Great Yasa forbade the Mongols to adopt a sedentary way of life, the necessity to maintain the empire led to the establishment of its capital, the city of Karakorum. Genghis Khans successors also tried to create a handicraft sector in their economy at the expense of conquered populations, withdrawing artisans from them and, in some cases, moving these to Mongolia in a position of slaves (for example, in Karakorum, there were captured craftsmen from the Middle Asia, Iran, China and even France), while in other instances, imposing a natural tax on them which had to be paid on the spot.32 The first type of nomadic statehood was present for the longest time in the Golden Horde (a Khaganate forming the north-western part of the Mongol Empire), as there was a fairly clear geographic demarcation between the nomads and the sedentary population in its territory. The Mongols directly interfered in the government of the Russian Princedoms only for a short time immediately after the conquest, during which they killed the most powerful princes, conducted a census of the population, established a system of taxes and sent their military subdivisions led by special officials (basqaqs and darugas) into Russian towns. In the following period, Khans of the Golden Horde were interested only in receiving regular tributes and other payments, maintaining
31 32

Ibid., p. 257. Ibid., pp. 234-241.


their sovereignty over the Russian princedoms, and preventing any instances of revolt from the latter. Yet, the Mongols also sometimes seized craftsmen from the conquered societies and introduced those into towns which they built on the territory of their state in order to use them as trade centers. Agriculture did not reach any considerable stage of development in the Golden Horde due to unfavourable environmental conditions, on one hand, and the fact that the Mongols received necessary agricultural products in the form of tributes from the conquered populations, on the other. The process of sedentarization was also very limited: only a little number of impoverished nomads and a part of aristocracy which fulfilled administrative functions settled in towns.33 Interestingly, we can see that the higher the degree of integration of nomads into the states which they conquered was and the more complex the structure of nomadic polities became, the less were such states nomadic. Therefore, it is possible to say that nomadism and the state are incompatible: 1) political organization of nomads could not evolve to the state-level on its own due to their specific way of social and economic organization (ultimately determined by environmental conditions of the steppe); 2) nomads could create a state by conquering sedentary populations and adopting their more complex political structure, but in this case such a state cannot be considered nomadic, as it contradicts the very essence of the nomadic way of life. In other words, to exist and maintain stability over a prolonged period a nomadic state must incorporate within itself a part of this outside world in the form of its sedentary population or, either directly or indirectly, it must subjugate that sedentary population.34 And for this very reason, such states cannot be regarded as nomadic in a strict sense: they are nomadic only insofar as they were founded and ruled by nomads, but their socioeconomic organization is not nomadic in principle. At the same time, when the creation of such states involved a certain extent of sedentarization of nomads, they, in fact, seized to be nomads.

3. The Relations between Nomads and Sedentary Societies 3.1. Trade Nomads were frequently involved in trade with settled peoples, obtaining grains and manufactured goods from them in exchange for livestock and animal products (e.g. meat, milk, leather). Such trade could occur in two ways: 1) direct exchange and trade, basically with agricultural and urban societies; 2) mediation or participation in the trade between different sedentary societies, and the services and other contacts linked to these.35 Direct exchange and trade often faced certain obstacles: as a rule, nomads were more interested in trading with sedentary
33 34

Khazanov 1983, p. 243. Ibid., p. 296. 35 Khazanov 1983, p. 202.


societies than vice versa, because nomadic economy was highly specialized and non-autarkic, so they needed to sell their surplus products when they had them (which was hard to do within their own societies) and to obtain other good which they did not produce themselves. Settled peoples, on the other hand, usually had more complex and more autarkic economies. This does not mean that they were not interested in trading with nomads at all or that they did not benefit from it; however, it was not of such vital importance for them as it was for nomads. Besides, for nomadic aristocracy and rich stockowners trade presented a means for stabilizing their economic and social positions, which was the reason why luxury goods were also sometimes present among traded items. It was not only the specialization of nomadic economy but also its instability which urged nomads to trade with sedentary societies. During favorable production cycles, when there was a surplus of livestock, trade usually increased. In other times, especially when the number of livestock was insufficient even for nomads own subsistence (e.g. due to a drought), trade lost its scope; however, its importance grew, because nomads need for agricultural products became much stronger. Thus, at such occasions, they had to sell a part of goods which they themselves needed. There even were cases when individual nomads who possesses too little livestock had to sell their wives and children (e.g. in the Golden Horde).36 Meanwhile, sedentary neighbours of the Eurasian steppe nomads usually saw trade with them as an instrument of political manipulation through economic pressure. For example, the Chinese state, which directly carried out or regulated trade with nomads, often tried to limit or stop it when nomads refused to admit that they had been subjected. Nomads, in their turn, obtained the right to trade by means of military aggression. Thus, the peace treaties between China and Hsiungnu contain evidence that the latter urged China to open up markets at frontier posts.37 At the same time, nomads mediated long-distance caravan trading. They could participate in this trade in a variety of ways: by providing transportation services, selling or renting out transport animals, conducting and safeguarding caravans, or by demanding payments for unobstructed passage through their lands. Thanks to their geographical position, mobility, ownership of transport animals, as well as their favourable attitude towards traveling and migration, nomads participated in the establishment of most of the great ancient and medieval terrestrial routes of trade. For example, Scythians brought goods from Greece to Ural, while some of the eastern Sarmatian tribes established trade between India and Babylon. The most famous example of such trading connections is the Great Silk Route which linked China, Middle East, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean regions. Nomads profited from the fact that it went through their territories and participated in its maintenance.
36 37

Ibid., p. 202. Ibid., p. 206.


Thus, nomads played an important role of mediators between remote core regions: they provided the connections for flows of goods, finances, technological and cultural information and epidemic diseases between the islands of the settled economy and urban civilization. 38 Horseriding and the use of wheel transport allowed for faster spread of goods and information, and the steppe became a pipe between the vessels that were the agrarian civilizations. 39 The First Turkic Khaganate established control over transcontinental silk trade and connected China, Byzantium and Islamic states with trade routes. Later, Mongols closed the chain of international trade into a singe complex of terrestrial and sea routes, thus even closer connecting all Eurasian centers of civilization Europe, Muslim countries, India and China. This facilitated the spread of religions (particularly Islam), geographical knowledge, and the development of linguistics (as their empire was multinational, Mongols created special schools to train interpreters and contributed to the emergence of the first multilingual dictionaries). Besides, Europeans became acquainted with many innovations from the east, ranging from food and fashion to such essential inventions as compass, gunpowder and printing technology. Large cities (Karakorum, Sarai-Batu, Sarai-Berke), which played a role of centers of political power, transit trade, multinational culture and ideology, arose in the steppe. As a result, political and economic changes in one part of the continent started playing a much more important role in the history of its other parts. In fact, because of this establishment of transcontinental connections in which nomads participated greatly, the development of Eurasia advanced much faster compared to other continents. The major underlying factor here was, of course, Eurasias orientation along the EastWest axis, which allowed nomads and their livestock to move freely across the landmass. 40 As Diamond points out, regions located at the same latitude share similar seasonal variations and, to a large extent, regimes of temperature/rainfall and habitation, while animals are largely dependent on latitude-related features of climate.41 Thus, Mongolian steppes were just as suitable for pasturing horses as the Black Sea region where they were domesticated. In other words, nomads could travel across the vast zone of the Eurasian steppes with no harm to their economy whatsoever. Furthermore, their traveling speed was greatly improved by the fact that they rode their horses. Meanwhile, American and African pastoralists lived in considerably different conditions. Llamas and alpacas which were domesticated in Andes were never ridden, so their owners mobility was incomparable to the speed of traveling of Eurasian nomads. Besides, the North-South orientation of both Americas with corresponding climatic differences and Mesoamericas extreme narrowness
38 39

Kradin 2002, p. 380. Ibid., p. 383. 40 Besides, the main direction of nomadic migrations (from east to west) correlated with relative levels of technological innovativeness of medieval societies in a fortunate way for the future development of the continent: Islamic countries were more technologically advanced than Europe, and China even more so (Diamond 1997, p. 253). 41 Diamond 1997, p. 183, 184.


south of Mexico prevented the spread of these animals from the Andes to Mesoamerica. Thus, llamas still did not reach civilizations of Central America (Maya, Aztecs, etc.) five thousand years after they had been domesticated.42 At the same time, wheels, which were independently invented in this region, also never reached the Andes for the same reasons. Therefore, both Andean and Mesoamerican populations had a means to increase each others mobility, but no opportunity to do so. In Africa, climatic conditions (the Saharan desert, the Tropical belt) and diseases (such as trypanosome diseases carried by tsetse flies, to which horses are very susceptible) also prevented the spread of domestic animals to the south. Thus, horses did not spread farther than West Africas kingdoms north of the equator.43 And even though there were herders of cattle in East Africa, as it was mentioned before, they obviously did not ride their cattle, so their mobility was no different from the mobility of Andean pastoralists. Correspondingly, the spread of information (ideas, technologies, innovations) was not possible on these continents in the same way as in was possible in Eurasia which lacks the severe ecological barriers transecting the major axes of the Americas and Africa.44 Finally, Australia was lagging behind all other continents merely because it has never given rise to food production due to its very low rainfall and productivity, so neither of the consequent social transformations eventually leading to the development and spread of technologies (including the emergence of highly mobile nomadic pastoralists) could have taken place there.45 3.2. Wars At the same time, the relations between nomads and their sedentary neighbours were no less frequently based on the specific advantage provided by the nomadic way of life their military superiority. History provides multiple examples of military confrontations between nomadic and sedentary communities ranging from irregular raids to the imposition of dependence, in which nomads often gained victory. Obviously, such relations were more beneficial for nomads than trade, as they provided an opportunity to obtain desired goods without giving anything back. Thus, pillaging was a regular activity of nomads which often provided an important supplementary means of subsistence for them. It should be clear by now that the main motives of nomadic conquests were seizure of land, agricultural products and handicraft goods. Generally, nomads were drawn to the western part of Eurasia, because it had more fertile and richer lands than the East, and their frequent migrations almost always involved wars with states occupying these lands. It is also possible that some nomadic migrations and conquests were triggered by their desire to move closer to the markets.
42 43

Ibid., p. 187. Ibid., p. 186. 44 Ibid., p. 262. 45 Ibid., p. 263.


This holds true in regard to the policy of the Scythian king Atheas, for example, as well as in regard to the Mongol expansion to Middle Asia which was accelerated by the decision of the KhwarazmShah to close the trade routes form Maveraunnahr into the steppes.46 Ancient and medieval nomadic conquests held members of sedentary civilizations in terror. Thus, Attila was described as the scourge of God, while in the Middle Ages, nomads were frequently included in registers of disasters along with cholera and plague. 47 Nomadic campaigns often brought massive destruction and even collapse of sedentary states: thus, frequent attacks of barbarians (Visigoths, Vandals, Huns and others) undermined the power of the Roman Empire and eventually lead to its downfall. Seven centuries later, the Mongol conquest brought large-scale devastation to many sedentary societies, especially to Russian princedoms: many important cities, such as Kiev, Ryazan, Vladimir, as well as numerous smaller settlements were robbed and burned. A considerable number of survivors including many qualified craftsmen were taken captive, which caused a deficiency of specialists in these areas and led to a qualitative decrease in technologies, particularly in pottery.48 For many centuries, sedentary states were unable to find efficient means of defending themselves against attacks of nomads. Expensive defensive systems which were created in many regions in different periods of time at borders between sedentary states and territories occupied by nomads (such as the Great Wall of China or a system of fortresses set up in Kievan Rus by prince Vladimir) proved incapable of fulfilling their main function.49 There were several reasons for nomads success in battles. Most importantly, it was a transformation of the sociopolitical backwardness of nomads into a military advantage, that is a strong, mass and mobile military organization. 50 As the division of labor among nomadic pastoralists was absent, while their labor productivity was greater than that of early agrarian societies (one or two pastoralists were able to herd hundreds of animals), a considerable proportion of nomads did not need to be involved in food production most of their time and could obtain martial skills instead. In fact, every male nomad was a warrior, which is especially true in terms of large nomadic polities based on conquest. For the same reason, nomads could easily allocate large quantities of men for campaigns in contrast to farmers and townsmen. The possibility to gather a great number of warriors within a limited space in the shortest time gave them significant tactical advantages. Besides, Eurasian nomads possessed horses (the jeeps and Sherman tanks of ancient warfare51) and, therefore, had cavalry and horse-drawn war chariots which made them mobile and
46 47

Khazanov 1983, p. 206. Ibid., p. 2. 48 Kradin 2007, p. 297. 49 Khazanov 1983, p. 222. 50 Ibid., p. 223. 51 Diamond 1997, p. 91.


nearly invulnerable to attacks of infantry forces they fought against. Nomads both closely watched technological progress in the military sphere as well as introduced their own innovations. We can explore some immediate factors which provided nomads with a military advantage on the example of the Huns.52 According to Diamond, horses allowed the Huns and successive waves of other peoples from the Asian steppes to terrorize the Roman Empire. 53 This is true, but not completely: Romans rode horses as well. Yet, the Huns and Romans possessed different breeds of horses, and the horses of the Huns were considerably more patient, enduring and less susceptible to diseases, so they indeed gave their owners an advantage in wars. Besides, the Huns literally almost never dismounted from their horses: they learned to ride them in early childhood and from then on performed most of their daily activities on a horseback, which made them excellent riders. In fact, they could easily shoot their bows in whichever direction while riding at full speed, both in attack and in retreat, which means that they were also excellent archers. Bows were the weapon of the Huns.54 These were reflexed composite bows with seven bone plagues that stiffened the ears and the handle, which made them unique and allowed shooting over very long distances (up to 160175 meters). Additionally, the Huns fought with long thrust lances and, more interestingly, lassos, which they used to immobilize enemies and drag them closer. Heavy four-wheeled wagons, which nomads used for transporting their possessions during their migrations, were used to fortify their camps during battles, while lighter and faster carts were used for fighting. Thus, what made the Huns superior warriors was a combination of their resources (special breed of horses well-adapted to wars, heavy carts), technology (powerful bows and other weapons) and great martial skills. Another factor potentially contributing to nomads success in wars was germs. As Diamond indicates, the winners of past wars were not always the armies with the best generals and weapons, but were often merely those bearing the nastiest germs to transmit to their enemies. 55 As it was mentioned before, nomads played a role of mediators in the spread not only of information and goods, but also of epidemic diseases. On one hand, they could themselves be a source of such diseases, as the process of animal herding always involved the spread of germs from animals to humans and a subsequent adaptation of the immune systems of the latter. Thus, nomads became invulnerable to certain germs, while agricultural societies which they confronted did not. 56 On the other hand, due to their increased mobility, nomads could carry germs causing devastating
52 53

Maenchen-Helfen 1973, p. 204ff. Diamond 1997, p. 91. 54 Maenchen-Helfen 1973, p. 221. 55 Diamond 1997, p. 197. 56 Nevertheless, the extent to which Eurasian nomads generic diseases which they picked up from their own livestock provided them with a military advantage is uncertain. While pastoralists in this region mainly herded horses, none of the six diseases indicated by Diamond (1997) on p. 207 (measles, tuberculosis, smallpox, flu, pertussis, falciparum malaria) either originated from these animals or caused continent-wide cataclysmic epidemics. In contrast, the pathogen of the most devastating epidemics plagues (including the Black Death) originated not from domesticates, but from wild rodents, i.e. rats (Wolfe, Dunavan and Diamond 2007, p. 281).


epidemics which originated in different places over very long distances: e.g., already in the 2 nd and 3rd centuries there was a spread of epidemic pathogens which lead to a drastic reduction of the number of population and decline of ancient civilizations. 57 Sometimes, nomads even consciously used epidemics to their advantage, infecting their enemies directly in the course of their battles. For example, during the siege of Kaffa in Crimea in 1347, Tatars (one of the Mongol tribes) threw corpses of their warriors who had died from the bubonic plague behind the walls of the city using catapults, which led to the outbreak of an epidemic in it.58 Yet, the role of germs in the history of nomads was ambiguous. While epidemics could certainly facilitate nomadic conquests of sedentary populations weakened by a disease, they nonetheless could lead to the breakdown of nomadic polities as well. The brightest example is the Black Death epidemic which originated in China (supposedly in Himalayas) in the middle of the 13th century. At first, the source of the epidemic was isolated and it did not go further than the south of China, but a century later, it became more active and started spreading rapidly. The fast diffusion of plague to the West over the trade routes which passed through the Mongol Empire caused great damage to all states involved in the transcontinental system of trade, from China to Great Britain. In Europe, for example, it killed of population in 1346-1352, with death tolls ranging up to 70% in some cities.59 This naturally led to a decline in trade in the 1350, which, in its turn, meant for the Mongols a decline in revenues necessary for the maintenance of their cities and their massive army. Besides, nomads themselves were not immune to the disease, and while its spread among them could have been slower than among sedentary peoples due to the relatively lower population density of the former, they also suffered human losses. Thus, the Black Death was one of the factors (along with internal struggles of Mongolian tribes and the expulsion of Mongols from China) which triggered the eventual decline of the Mongol Empire in the 15th century.60 Furthermore, it is possible that this very epidemic, due to its detrimental effect on the empire of Mongols, was one of the factors which facilitated the following upheaval in Europe. As Western Europe was spared of the Mongol invasion because it was of little interest to them (it didnt have anything valuable which nomads could not have obtained from other territories and lacked the steppes, which made it unsuitable for pastoral economy), it was able to strengthen and spread its power after the Black Death epidemic ceased. This development, together with the collapse of the Mongol Empire in the East, in the end result led to a permanent shift of world power from Eastern to Western Eurasia.61

57 58

Kradin 2007, p. 103. Ibid., p. 305. 59 Diamond 1994, p. 202. 60 Sue 2009; Kradin 2007, p. 107. 61 Sue 2009.


3.3. The Change in the Balance of Powers The benefits of sedentary lifestyle became more and more apparent as sedentary societies evolved and gained complexity. Beyond any doubts, sedentary living was decisive for the history of technology, because it enabled people to accumulate nonportable possessions. 62 First and foremost, this relates to storage of food, which is possible in large amounts only under conditions of settled existence and is essential for feeding non-food-producing specialists, and certainly for supporting whole towns of them,63 as well as to other things which are important for the development of technologies (such as means of production). At the same time, a nomadic lifestyle did not allow for great labor specialization within a society, as migrating communities could not produce and store large food surpluses necessary to support a range of professionals other than herders, warriors and warlords. As it was already mentioned, their surpluses of livestock were always temporary, as they depended upon the productivity of pastures. When the quantity of fodder reduced due to a drought or other reasons, animals died, depriving nomads not only of surpluses, but also of products necessary for their own subsistence in the severest cases. As a result of their lack of labour specialization, their technological capacities, which were apparently sufficient for defeating sedentary agriculturists for several hundred years, were nonetheless limited. Meanwhile, as Diamond notes, technology provides the direct means by which certain peoples have expanded their realms and conquered other peoples.64 Hence, the most important proximate factor leading to the defeat of nomads was the development of modern technology, especially transportation and warfare. For example, horses, which were one of the main factors which gave nomads a considerable military advantage, completely lost their role as the main assault vehicle and a means of fast transport in war after tanks and trucks were introduced during World War I.65 With the rise of modernization and industrialization, nomads proved unable to compete with industrialized societies. The first empires to invade the territories occupied by nomads were Russia, China and Ottoman Turkey, and then others followed. Thus, after losing their military superiority, nomads also lost political independence and faced the necessity to adjust to new external forces, including the economy of modernizing world. Their growing inferiority to surrounding states led to the decrease of the size of their territories as well as undermined their subsistence-oriented economy and the stability of their society. They had to face painful processes of acculturation followed by the upheaval of their ethnic self-actualization and activation of tribal and anti-colonial movements.

62 63

Diamond 1997, p. 260. Ibid., p. 89. 64 Ibid., p. 241. 65 Ibid., p. 91.


Ironically, Mongolian conquest indirectly facilitated the eventual defeat of nomads as a whole. The development of links between the West and the East in times of the Mongolian Empire caused the spread of information about explosives and primitive artillery from China to Europe, which fostered the development of similar weapons in European states 66 and eventually became the reason of military backwardness of nomads.67 Powerful firearms could be produced only in states with industrial economy, which nomads did not have. Of course, they could obtain weapons from industrially developed societies by exchange or other means, but artillery and large-scale reserves of ammunition werent accessible for them. Conclusion As we have seen, Eurasian steppe nomads were very successful in the military sphere for almost three millennia, yet they did not manage to maintain their power after the Middle Ages. Coming back to the question about the reasons which caused both of these trends, I conclude that these reasons were one and the same: ultimately, they were inherent in the very essence of nomadism. The arid steppe environment determined the one-sided character of their economy which primarily consisted of a single productive activity extensive pasturing. This economy assumed a relatively low population density and did not allow producing large livestock surpluses, as they depended on availability of fodder in the pastures. A mobile way of life did not allow nomads to store fodder for their livestock in large enough amounts. The limitedness of food surpluses did not allow for division of labour and prevented the development of considerable social stratification. Because of the non-autarkic character of their economy, nomads needed to obtain agricultural and handicraft products from outside sources, which were sedentary societies whose economies were more complex due to the existence of labour differentiation within them. For the same reason, nomads had a military advantage over settled populations: as none of the former were involved in any kinds of specialized economic activities except for pasturing (while pasturing was not as labour-consuming as agriculture of crafts at that time), all nomads were warriors at the same time. Their political organization was militarized. Their polities grew more complex only when they were planning to engage in military confrontation with other societies and, even more so, after their conquests. Internal factors which usually lead to the development of political organization to higher levels were absent or limited in nomadic societies, as their socioeconomic structure was rather primitive. For this reason, their evolution was circular: chiefdoms and empires existed only as long as they fulfilled their purposes of acquiring necessary products from sedentary states, whether by force or by trade. That is why the rise and fall of nomadic empires usually correlated in time with

This presents an example of one of the two possible ways of the diffusion of technology, as defined by Diamond; the second option is direct imitation, or blueprint copying (Diamond 1997, p. 256). 67 Kradin 2007, p. 108.


the rise and fall of sedentary civilizations in the same region. Thus, the development of nomadic societies had its limit which was determined by the nomadic way of life itself (which, in its turn, was determined by the environment of the steppe). In contrast, the development of sedentary societies did not have such a limit. Their evolution was more stable. Their sedentary way of life allowed them to produce and store surpluses sufficient to sustain various specialists engaged in different kinds of production other than agriculture. This caused gradual growth of their social complexity which, in its turn, led to the increase of political complexity as well. While nomadic polities could not have existed without their sedentary counterparts, the latter could perfectly have existed without nomads (although nomadic attacks might have accelerated their consolidation in some cases). This slow but steady evolution of sedentary societies eventually led to the development of industry, including the emergence of new warfare technologies. Nomads, on the other hand, could never reach the stage of industrialization, because their social structure largely remained on the same level and they possessed relatively few specialists who could elaborate new technologies on a large scale. This was precisely the insurmountable limit they faced. Thus, while the Neolithic revolution gave rise to nomadic pastoralists, the Industrial revolution signified their fall. The history of nomads proves that the adoption of a sedentary lifestyle was of tremendous importance for the future development of a society. While being food-producers, nomads could have never reached the modern stage of development for the simple reason that they were nomads and not sedentaries. At the same time, nomadic pastoralists could not even have existed without sedentary societies, as they largely depended upon the latter both in economic and in political respect. Yet, this doesnt mean that nomads were an evolutionary dead end. First of all, their economy was the most reasonable form of adaptation to the environment of their habitat. Even nowadays many areas of the Eurasian steppe zone cannot be efficiently used for agriculture. Second, nomads were actively integrated in the evolution of the continent as a whole, serving as transmitters of goods and, most importantly, information between remote parts of Eurasia, thus giving it an advantage in development compared to other continents. Yet, as the world has evolved beyond the limit which nomads could not supersede, their role in it diminished almost to zero.


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