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in Kazakhstan 13 percent and so on). In total,


Nomads such areas cover about 25 percent of the
NIKOLAY N. KRADIN Earths land surface. The main food of
Russian Academy of Sciences and Far-Eastern Federal nomads comprises various kinds of dairy
University, Russia
products and, less often, animal meat, spoils
of the chase, products of arable farming,
Nomads (Greek: nomas) are, literally, those
and gathering. The economic system is
who lead a nomadic life. Therefore, in the
fragile and dependent on the environment.
very widest sense, everyone who leads a
Droughts, snowstorms (and ice), and epi-
mobile way of life can be termed a nomad,
demics (epizootics) can deprive a nomad of
including wandering hunter-gatherers, farm-
the means of subsistence. In order to counter-
ers engaged in slash-and-burn agriculture, a
act natural crises nomads developed an effi-
number of maritime peoples of Southeast
cient system of mutual aid. In a situation of
Asia, migratory populations such as the Gyp-
livestock loss, fellow tribesmen would provide
sies (Roma), and even present-day inhabi-
an individual with one or two heads of cattle,
tants of megalopolises who reside far from
thus restoring a means of subsistence. But the
their place of work. However, in the most
assisted group or persons were also bound to
common meaning, only pastoralists who
reciprocate this help if necessary. Ancient and
migrate together with their cattle are called
mediaeval nomads could also lose livestock to
nomads. Therefore, nomadism is a specific
raids from foreign tribes. These forays were a
type of economic activity and, at the same
favorite recreation of nomads.
time, a specific pattern of culture where the
Because animals constantly require new
popular majority engages in mobile, extensive
pastures, nomads were forced to move from
nomadic pastoralism.
one place to another several times a year.
It is significant that not many pastoralists
In the chronicles of settled civilizations,
are nomads. It is reasonable to relate nomad-
accounts reflect a stereotypical formula
ism to three main features:
asserting that the pastoral nomads moved
about according to the availability of water
1 extensive pastoralism as the main kind of and pasture, had no walled towns or fixed
economy; residences, nor any agricultural activities.
2 periodic migrations of the greater part of By virtue of this mobile way of life, nomads
the population and domestic animals; lived unpretentiously, occupying light col-
3 the specific material culture, mentality, lapsible dwellings (yurts, tents, marquees).
and ideology of steppe societies. The household necessities of nomads were
few and dishes were commonly made
Nomads live in the arid steppes and semi- of unbreakable materials (wood, leather).
deserts or high mountain areas where pastor- Clothes and footwear were sewn and made,
alism is the most optimal kind of economic as a rule, of leather, wool, and fur. The yurt
activity (in Mongolia, for example, the lands was a major architectural invention of the
suited to arable farming represent 2 percent nomads. Its circular form allows the greatest
of available land, in Turkmenistan 3 percent, amount of interior living space. The yurt

The Encyclopedia of Empire, First Edition. Edited by John M. MacKenzie.


2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
DOI: 10.1002/9781118455074.wbeoe171
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protects against cold in winter and against Desert, this travel radius is much greater
heat in summer. It has optimal aerodynamic (5070 km). There, summer pastures are
qualities, rendering it tolerant of strong winds located in the open plains and winter camps
and hurricanes. The yurt, without its timber are established in the hilly and submontane
floor, weighs about 200 kg, 75 percent of areas where the settlement would be pro-
which is the weight of the felt. Yurts could tected from cold winter winds. On the
be assembled within one hour. Felt carpets Onon River, nomads spend the winter in
could be utilized for up to five years while a quiet submontane valleys or even in the
timber frame lasted more than 20 years. mountains and, in summer, descend into
The specificity of pastoralism suggests a the wide productive river valleys. The largest
dispersed life. Concentration of great herds migrations covering 100200 km are
of animals in one place resulted in overgraz- made by the Mongols of the Ubur-khangai
ing, excessive grass trampling, and a higher and Bayan-khongor aimaks. The number of
risk of contagion from infectious diseases annual migrations in these aimaks can reach
among the animals. It was impossible to accu- 50 or even more.
mulate cattle ad infinitum because their max- Of all species, the horse was of major mili-
imal number was determined by the steppe tary and economic importance. The presence
landscapes limited capability. As such, irre- of a great number of nomads horses in the
spective of the stock-keepers nobility, his Eurasian steppes, or camels in North Africa
entire herd could be killed by dzut (snow- and Arabia, offered them significant advan-
storm), drought, or disease. Therefore, it tages in the exercise of war. The nomads have
became more profitable either to apportion never existed independently of the agricul-
the livestock among poor kinsmen for pas- tural world. They were in need of agricultural
ture, or to distribute them as gifts so as to raise products and handicrafts, which they
social status. Thus, pastoral nomadism could obtained by raiding rather than trading.
not provide the stable food surplus that was A certain mentality is characteristic of
needed to support large groups of people nomads, which assumes the specific percep-
who did not participate in food production tion of space and time, where distances are
the ruling aristocracy, officialdom, soldiers, measured in days on horsebackor the
priests of settled societies. flight of an arrow. The way of life involves
In arid areas, there is no one universal way rites of hospitality, unpretentiousness, endur-
of migrating even today. No fewer than ten ance, the presence of ancient and medieval
different variants of seasonal roaming from nomads cults of war, identification as
place to place are known. For example, the soldier-horseman with heroized ancestors
majority of Mongols relocated with their reflected, in turn, in both the verbal oeuvre
livestock an average of two to four times a (heroic epos) and the figural arts (zoomorphic
year. However, frequency and distance of ornament) and a cultic attitude to cattle, the
migration vary considerably based on the premier source of nomads subsistence. It is
pastures productivity. In the fertile Khangai important to note that there are now few clas-
steppes, nomads wander within a radius of sic nomads (those migrating continuously),
215 km. The summer camps of the Khangai only some peoples of Arabia, the Sahara, and
cattle-breeders are usually located in wide the Eurasian steppes, and Mongols.
river valleys, while the winter camps are There is no straightforward explanation for
established atop outer valleys for wind pro- the origins of nomadism. In recent times it
tection. In the semi-arid regions of the Gobi was believed that pastoralism was conceived
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in hunting societies. An alternative, now cattle, sheep, goat, camel), although the
more popular point of view, holds that horse is considered to be the most impor-
nomadism arose as an alternative to agricul- tant animal (among the Turks, Mongols,
ture in the unfavorable zones of the Old Buryats, Kazakhs, the Kirghiz, etc.). The
World, where a part of the population within nomads of this zone have established the
producing households was squeezed out. powerful steppe empires (Scythians,
They were obliged to adapt to new conditions Xiongnu, Turks, Mongols, etc.);
and specialized in pastoralism. There are also 2 The Middle East where nomads breed small
other points of view in a field in which the cattle while, for transport, use horses,
emergence of nomadism is keenly debated. camels, and donkeys (Bakhtiari, Basseri,
Some researchers are inclined to believe that Pashtuns and others);
3 The Arabian Desert and Sahara where the
the nomadism arose in the Middle East, on
nomads raise camels (Bedouins, Tuaregs
the periphery of the first (early) civilizations
and so on);
as far back as the 4th3rd millennia BCE.
4 East Africa, savannas south of the Sahara
Others are inclined even to find the signs of
where people raising great cattle (Nuers,
nomadism in the Levant at the turn of the Dinka, Masai, etc.) live;
6th8th millennium BCE. Some scientists are 5 The high-mountain plateaus of Inner-
of opinion that, for the present, this is too most Asia (Tibet, Pamir) and South
early to talk of the existence of true nomad- America (Andes) where the local popula-
ism. Even the domestication of the horse tion specializes in raising of such animals
(Ukraine, 4th millennium BCE) and emer- as yak, lama, alpaca and others;
gence of chariots (2nd millennium BCE) do 6 Boreal, basically subarctic zones where
not suggest just yet the changeover from the the population is engaged in deer farming
arable-and-livestock economy to the real (Saami, Chukchi, Evenkis, and others).
nomadism. In the opinion of this group of
researchers, the changeover to nomadism The rise of nomadism is related to a period
took place not earlier than at the turn of the of origin of the nomadic empires or imper-
2nd1st millennia BCE in the Eurasian steppes. ial confederacies (middle of the 1st millen-
There are a great number of different clas- nium BCE to the middle of the 2nd
sifications of nomadism. The most com- millennium CE). A great many diverse opi-
monly encountered schemes are based on nions have been proposed about the precon-
the degree of sedentism and economic activ- ditions for the origins of the nomadic
ity: nomadic, semi-nomadic, and semi-settled empires. These opinions can be classified as
(when arable farming predominates) econ- follows: diverse global climatic changes; the
omy, and transhumance system (when part warlike and greedy nature of nomads; over-
of the population lives wandering with the population of the steppe; the need to replen-
cattle). In some other constructions, the type ish an extensive pastoral economy by means
of nomadism is also taken into account: ver- of raids on more stable agricultural societies;
tical (mountainsplains) and horizontal, unwillingness on the part of the settled peo-
which can be latitudinal, meridional, circular, ples to trade with nomads (the cattle-breeders
etc. In the geographical context, one can talk had nowhere to sell their surplus products);
of six great zones where nomadism occurred: personal activity of the steppe societies rulers;
ethnic mobilization.
1 Eurasian steppes where so called five spe- The degree of centralization among nomads
cies of animals are ranched (horse, great is directly proportional to the extent of
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neighboring agricultural culture or civiliza- China and, thereby, strengthen his own
tion. That is the reason why, in order to trade power. It allowed him to maintain the exist-
with oases or attack them, the nomads of ence of an empire that could not survive on
North Africa and the Near East united into an extensive pastoral economy alone.
tribal confederations of chiefdoms, the The majority of nomadic empires did not
Eastern European steppe nomads living on exist for longer than 100150 years. Research-
the margins of the Ancient Rus established ers have repeatedly cited a set of reasons that
quasi-imperial state-like structures, while, could have caused the decline and collapse of
in Inner Asia, for example, the nomadic nomadic empires. Among them are:
empire became such an important
mode of adaptation. The imperial and natural phenomena (growing aridity of
quasi-imperial organization of Eurasian the steppe, short-term climatic stresses
nomads first developed after the axial age and epidemics);
ended, from the middle of the 1st millennium foreign policy factors (invasion of enemies,
BCE at the time of the mighty agricultural delayed wars, cessation of outside incomes,
empires (Chin in China, Maur in India, Hel- crisis of nearby agrarian civilizations);
lenistic states in Asia Minor, Rome in Europe) internal causes (demographic outburst,
and in those regions, firstly, where there were loss of the internal unity and separatism,
available large spaces favorable to nomadic gigantic sizes and weakness of the admin-
pastoralism (e.g., regions off the Black Sea, istrative infrastructure, class struggle,
Volga steppes, Khalkha-Mongolia) and, sec- internal wars of khans and civil wars, tal-
entless political rulers).
ondly, where the nomads were forced into long
and active contact with more highly organized
There were other events which potentially
agricultural urban societies (Scythians and old
contributed to the structural instability of
oriental and ancient states; nomads of Inner
nomadic empires:
Asia and China; Huns and Roman Empire;
Arabs, Khazars, Turks and Byzantium).
external sources of surplus products, which
Nomadic empires were organized in
integrated economically independent tribes
the form of imperial confederations. From
into a unified imperial confederation;
the outside, these confederations appeared
mobility and armament of nomads, which
autocratic and state-like (they were created forced the supreme power of an empire to
to receive gifts and tribute from outside the restore balance between different political
steppe) but from the inside were consultative groups;
and tribal. The stability of steppe empires the specific tanistrial system of power
directly depended on the skill of the khans inheritance, by which each descendant of
at organizing the production of silk, agricul- the ruling lineage (mothered only by main
tural products, handicraft articles and delicate wives) was prioritized according to age for
jewels in settled territories. As these could not administrative promotions, including the
be produced under the conditions of a cattle- right to a throne;
pastoral economy, obtaining them by force polygamy among the highest elite of
and extortion was the priority of the ruler nomads.
of a nomadic society. Being the sole interme-
diary between China and the steppe, the ruler Several great migrations of so called
of a nomadic society had the opportunity to pastoral nations and, later on, nomad-
control the redistribution of plunder from pastoralists (Indo-Europeans, Huns, Avars,
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Turks, Khitans, Mongols, Kalmycks, and semi-natural economy took place in many
others) are known. In the period of the countries. The population of domestic animals
Xiongnu, direct contacts were established in Russian Siberia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, and
between China and Rome. The Silk Road Turkmenistan decreased significantly. In the
emerged in the time of the Roman emperor first half of the 1990s, Mongolia was also in
Augustus. After the Mongolian conquests, as decline caused by the destruction of collective
a result, a unified chain of international farms, privatization of livestock, and the tran-
trade, along with technological and cultural sition to a market economy. The crisis was
exchanges, was formed. As a result of these accompanied by inflation. However, after the
processes, gunpowder, the compass, and first five years of crisis conditions, the situation
book printing were introduced into Western stabilized. The number of individual farms
Europe. In some studies, this period is called increased and total livestock numbers grew
the medieval globalization. by 17 percent, reaching 40 million head in
In the period of modernization, pastoral the current period. In herd composition, the
nomadism failed to compete with the indus- number of sheep decreased sharply while the
trial economy. The emergence of firearms number of goats rose, which resulted in an
and artillery gradually eroded the military increase in load on pastures. In China under
dominance of nomads over farmers. Nomads the control of the Chinese government, a
no longer played dominant roles in world his- deliberate policy of nomadic sedentarization
tory, and the political status of the steppe has been accompanied by widespread mech-
societies changed. They became part of the anization and a changeover of livestock to a
colonial periphery of the industrial world- stable nursing system was completed within
system. In Inner Asia, nomads became the the past several decades. As a result, total
vassals of two great world empires the livestock numbers increased from 10 to 74
Chinese and Russian. million head. This can be considered a gigantic
In the 20th century, forcible attempts were upswing in the economy. However, a consid-
made to realize collectivization and sedentar- erable proportion of the pastures in Inner
ization in the Socialist republics, which Mongolia are at the present time on the edge
turned out to be unsuccessful. The Socialist of serious degradation. About 40 million
method of pastoralist reformation has people continue to engage in nomadic pasto-
resulted, on the one hand, in intensification ralism (in North, Central and Innermost Asia,
of the economy, the breeding of new varieties the Middle East, and Africa). In countries such
of stock, and an increase in the production of as Niger, Somalia, Mauritania and others,
meat, wool, and milk. A process of sedentar- nomadic pastoralists constitute a compara-
ization was carried out and the living condi- tively large portion of the population.
tions of pastoralists were improved. Houses, Among ordinary people, the prevailing point
schools, and shops were constructed for them of view is that nomads were simply a source of
and electrical equipment was installed in their aggression and robbery. In reality, there has
seasonal sites. On the other hand, the seden- been a broad range of different forms of contact
tarization of the population and increase in between the sedentary and steppe worlds, from
the number of animals resulted in the degra- military confrontation and conquest to peaceful
dation of pasture, while plowing of the trade relations. The nomads played an impor-
steppes contributed to erosion. tant role in human history. They contributed
After the collapse of the Socialist system, a to the development of extreme ecological zones
return to the nomadic mode of life and which were poorly adapted for sedentary
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settlement. The pastoral nomads have elabor- FURTHER READING


ated the flexible adaptive strategies which con-
Barfield, T. 1993. The Nomadic Alternative. Engle-
tributed to the colonization of these empty wood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
spaces and the establishment of contacts Humphrey, C. and D. Sneath. 1999. The End of
between agrarian civilizations and nomad Nomadism? Durham, NC: Duke Univer-
groups. Thanks to their agency work, political sity Press.
and trade contacts were established and techno- Khazanov, A. M. 1994. Nomads and the Outside
logical, cultural, and other innovations were World, 2nd ed. Madison, WI: University of Wis-
consin Press.
disseminated. Many nomadic societies made
Khudyakov, Y. S. 1980. Vooruzenie eniseiskikh kyrgy-
their contribution to the treasury of world cul- zov VIXII vekov (The armament of Yenisei Kyr-
ture and to global ethnic history. However, pos- gyzes, 6th12th centuries). Novosibirsk: Nauka.
sessing a formidable military standing, nomads Kradin, N. N. 2014. Nomads of Inner Asia in Tran-
have also exerted an essentially destructive sition. Moscow: URSS.
influence on the historical process and, as Legrand, J. 2011. Mongols et Nomades: Socit, His-
a result of their military invasions, many toire, Culture. Textes, Communications, articles
cultural values, nations, and civilizations were 19732011. Ulaanbaatar: Admon.
Salzman, P. C. 2004. Pastoralists: Equality, Hier-
overthrown.
archy, and the State. Boulder: Westview.
Scholz, F. 2008. Nomadism: A Socioecological Mode
SEE ALSO: Mongol Empire, Great; Steppe of Culture. Ulaanbaatar: International Institute
empires; Xiongnu Empire of the Study of Nomadic Civilizations.