Foundations to 600 CE // Nomadic People

Pastoral Nomads Groups that live primarily by animal husbandry and that move regularly according to the dictates of the season or herd movement. This combination of major traits has often been designated a type of society in anthropology, since various forms of pastoral nomads have been common worldwide. Recent research has tended to dispute the purity of these traits, as well as the presumed autonomy of a pastoral nomadic mode of production. 

Many such societies have been shown to engage in forms of agriculture, and the relationships between pastoral nomadic societies and sedentary ones, especially in the context of colonialism and state formation, is inevitably complex. The pastoral nomads are sometimes belittled in historical studies because of their barbarian and warlike nature. However, it is absurd to say that they were not a significant driving force in history. Often times, the Nomads waged war with their sedentary neighbors. In many instances, nomadic hordes such as that of the Xiong Nu, Uyghur, and the Turk penetrated deep into sedentary lands such as the Chinese, Roman and Persian Empires.

In the Western steppes, for example, the nomadic Huns were a significant factor during the fall of Rome period. While nomads were warlike, it would be wrong to state that they were always at war. In fact, nomads traded as much as they fought. Because of their location, they served as operators of the Silk Road. The most crucial period of the Nomads was during the "Middle Ages", where the Seljuk Turks, Ghaznavid Turks, and Mongols conquered large sedentary civilizations.

The incredibly enormous Mongol Empire often accused of brutal conquests, left a legacy of world integration. Because nearly all of Asia became under their control, trade, cultural exchange, and economical activity was at a maximum. However, by the end of the period, the gradual development of firearms took away the prominence of nomadic war machines. Lacking the military edge that gave them their fame, nomads gradually lost their strength.

Nomads take pride in their livestock because it is central to their livelihood and the basis of their culture. Their movement is seasonal, linked to rainfall and the availability of good forage for their animals. Pastoral nomads raise several kinds of animals: usually one large prestigious species and several smaller animals like goats and sheep. Disease or drought affects each species differently, thus increasing the nomads’ chances of survival. They also combine animal raising with small-scale farming, fishing, petty trading or migrant labor. And though nomads are subsistence-oriented, they have strong commercial skills, trading or selling animal hides, milk and meat in exchange for grain, tea and modern consumer goods.

Nomadic peoples are organized into tribes or clans who have a customary claim over a specific territory. Tribal elder’s control who has access to common property like water, pasture, game or wild foodstuffs. Outsiders have to ask permission if they want to use resources on land which traditionally belongs to another group. Strong tribal identities are also one way pastoral nomads have of banding together to defend their livestock against theft by their neighbors.