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Article

Nikolay Kradin

Throughout more than two millennia, the extensive droughty areas in East Asia were occupied by pastoral nomads. A long history exists of hybridity between steppe and agricultural areas. The ancient nomads had a specific pastoral economy, a mobile lifestyle, a unique mentality that assumed unpretentiousness and stamina, cults of war, warrior horsemen, and heroized ancestors that were reflected, in turn, in both their verbal oeuvre (heroic epos) and their arts (animal style). They established vast empires that united many peoples. In the descriptions of settled civilizations, the peoples of the steppe are presented as aggressive barbarians. However, the pastoral nomads developed efficient mechanisms of adaptation to nature and circumjacent states. They had a complex internal structure and created different forms of social complexity—from heterarchical confederations to large nomadic empires. The different forms of identity in pastoral societies (gender, age, profession, rank) are presented in this article. Special attention is given to how ethnic identity is formed from small groups. The ethnic history of the ancient nomads of East Asia is described, particularly for such pastoral societies as the Xiongnu, the Wuhuan, the Xianbei, and the Rouran.

Article

Craig Benjamin

The Inner Eurasian nomadic confederation known in ancient Chinese sources as the Yuezhi were probably descended from Indo-European-speaking pastoral nomads who migrated eastward away from the original homeland of all Indo-European-speakers sometime during the Bronze Ages. The ancestors of the Yuezhi may have been members of the Afanasevo culture who eventually settled in the modern Chinese provinces of Xinjiang and Gansu, and spoke the Indo-European language branch of Tocharian. The ruling dynasty (the core Yuezhi) established a wealthy semi-sedentary pastoralist confederation, based on the export of jade and horses to Zhou dynasty China, and became powerful enough to treat their militarized nomadic neighbors the Wusun and Xiongnu with “contempt.” This remained the situation until the 2nd century bce, when, according to Han dynasty annals, the resurgent Xiongnu were able to defeat the Yuezhi and force them to migrate away from their homeland. Following a thirty-year migration, the Yuezhi resettled in northern Bactria and by a century or so later they had reinvented themselves as the embryonic Kushan empire. These events were bound up with broader cultural and political developments in ancient Inner Eurasia that demonstrate the particular interconnectedness of historical processes in that region. The Yuezhi were well known to a range of contiguous peoples (generally by variants of the appellation “Tocharian”) and the events in which they found themselves involved, particularly during the 2nd century bce, were to have a profound effect on the subsequent political, military, and cultural development of much of Inner Eurasia. In particular, the “domino-effect” of their migration led to significant changes in the broader Eurasian polity, affecting the Han Chinese, Xiongnu, Wusun, Saka, Sogdians, and Bactrian Greeks. Because of these consequences, and their role in establishing the Kushan Empire, the great facilitators of Silk Roads trade and exchange, the Yuezhi must be regarded as one of the most significant of all Inner Eurasian pastoral nomadic confederations.

Article

Michael R. Drompp

The Uyghurs (Chinese Huihe迴 紇, Huihu回鶻) were a pastoral nomadic people living in the region of the Selenga and Orkhon river valleys in modern Mongolia; they spoke a Turkic language. The empire that they created on the steppe lasted for nearly a century (744–840) and played an important role, both politically and culturally, in East Asia. Centered on the Mongolian Plateau, the Uyghur Empire at its height controlled numerous other peoples within a territory that included lands to the north in the modern regions of Tuva and Buryatia, as well as some parts of the northern Tarim Basin and eastern Inner Mongolia.1 During its eventful history, the Uyghur Empire sent cavalry to help the Tang Dynasty put down the An Lushan rebellion, maintained strong political and economic ties with China, fought with the Tibetan Empire for control of important international trade routes, built cities on the steppe, celebrated its rulers’ achievements in stone stelae, and—uniquely in the world—adopted Manichaeism as its state religion. After their empire collapsed, the Uyghurs developed new polities in Gansu and the Tarim Basin that continued to exercise influence in Inner Asia.

Article

At the turn of Bronze and Early Iron Ages, the nomads of the Eurasian steppe brought about a new and progressive phenomenon in world military history: cavalry warfare. Spanning the vast distance from the Danube in the West to the Hwang Ho in the Far East, among nomadic peoples including the Cimmerians, Scythians, Sakas, Sarmatians, Xiongnu, and Xianbei, a universal mode of warfare, more or less similar in tactics, battle, arms and armor, and horse harness, dominated. The chronological frames of the Early Iron Age are differently determined in various historiographical traditions, but for the history of steppe Eurasia the frame is customarily considered to begin in the 10th century bce and end in the 5th century ce. The main sources used in studying the military art of Early Iron Age nomads are of two categories: the literary sources (Greek, Roman, Chinese), and archaeological finds of weapons, armor, and horse harnesses belonging to the various archaeological cultures of steppe nomads. The literary sources noted the Cimmerians (10th–8th c. bce); people of the Scythian ethnic group (7th–3rd c. bce), the proper Scythians and the Sakas, Massagetians, Issedonians, and Sauromatians; the Sarmatians (2nd c. bce–4th c. ce); the Xiongnu (2nd c. bce–1st c. ce); their contemporaries the Wusun and Yuezhi, and some other peoples. The light-armed cavalry was a basic military force of the nomads. Each nomadic man was an armed and skillful warrior. Judging from archaeological material and narrative sources, the nomadic light cavalryman was armed by bow and arrows, light javelin and/or lance, and probably lasso. The light cavalry consisted of the common nomads. Since the 7th c. bce noble nomad formed the heavy armored cavalry where the horsemen, and sometimes their horses, wore body armor and helmets. The tactical principles and fighting methods of nomads were conditioned by the composition of their army, with light cavalry prevailing. One of the main methods was raids, which varied in duration, range, and composition of personnel involved. The battle tactics of nomadic troops developed due to a need to overcome a resistance of deep infantry formation. Since the long spears of infantry inhibited close combat, nomadic horsemen first covered the adversary with a massive and dense, although undirected, torrent of arrows. After that, light horsemen approached and threw spears and javelins from shorter distances, thus causing confusion in the ranks of the infantry. Then heavy cavalry rushed into the breach for fighting with close-combat weapons, spears, and battleaxes.

Article

Precipitation and elevation shape land and water usage in Central Asia, distinguishing the southern irrigated oases from the steppes, deserts, and prairies, where instead nomadic pastoralism (sometimes rain-fed agriculture) is economically rational. The former was included in Russian Turkestan, the latter in the Steppe provinces. The colonial state recognized land usage rights of the nomads; while not formally admitting land property among the settled population, it allowed them to enjoy it within Islamic law. Nomads paid a capitation; at first tilled land continued to be taxed as a share of the real harvest. Land-assessment works from the 1890s, though, imposed a tax based on the estimated harvest value, initially on irrigated land and then, with some differences, on rain-fed land. Irrigation was paid for eminently through corvées. The increase in the share of land under cotton did not derive from state coercion but from factor endowments and absolute and relative prices. Subsidies, in the form of import duties and, above all, a growing tax break contributed to this. Despite political claims, new irrigation had a limited impact under the tsars. While the “cotton boom” altered the landscape and local economy of the oases, in the Steppe and Semirechie (now south-eastern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) the natives lost land to settler peasants from European Russia. The latter received land that statisticians and surveyors had deemed excess for the nomads and former nomads. Conflicts around land, water, and forests coalesced in the 1916 uprising, which in turn initiated a cycle of violent retaliation between Russians and natives that would last until the early 1920s. With the establishment of Soviet power, a first land reform “decolonized” former resettlement areas; in 1925 and 1927 another land reform aimed at reducing landlessness in southern Central Asia, while restoring pre-war output levels and cotton procurement mechanisms.

Article

Rafis Abazov

Modern Kyrgyzstan emerged as a political entity in 1924 when the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast (KKAO) was established as an autonomous oblast (province) under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation after the completion of the border delimitation in Central Asia (1924–1926). However, the oblast very soon was renamed Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast (May 1925). The oblast was upgraded to the status of the Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Kyrgyz ASSR) on February 1, 1926 (also within the Russian Federation). Its status was further elevated on December 5, 1936 when the country became the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic (Kyrgyz SSR or in short Kirgizia (in Russian) and a full member of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). During its early days, the new republic lacked the cohesive national economic system, strong national identity, and human resources necessary for functioning as a nation-state. Therefore, the central Soviet government in Moscow initiated huge investment and technology transfers, and recruited the tens of thousands of specialists (from teachers to engineers) it felt were necessary to move to the country in the 1920s and 1930s. The consequences of the Soviet policies were two. One was rapid economic growth between 1930s and 1960s (in fact one of the highest in the USSR), including rapid industrialization and urbanization. The other was the rapid demographic change due to the massive immigration from other parts of the Soviet Union, especially from Belorussia, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The Kyrgyz people benefited from the cultural revolution of the 1920s and 1930s, as the literacy rate grew from 4.7 percent in 1926 to 70–80 percent in 1936 (Soviet official estimates). The Kyrgyz SSR experienced a second wave of industrialization and mass migration in the 1940s as hundreds of factories were moved to the republic from the war zone, and tens of thousands of Volga Germans and people from the Caucasus and Crimea were deported to the Kyrgyz land. However, despite massive investments and impressive economic growth between the 1950s and 1970s, the Kyrgyz SSR remained one of the poorest republics in the term of per capita in the USSR. Economic conditions in the country deteriorated in the late 1980s due to the blunders in the Gorbachev policy of perestroika. Yet, the Kyrgyz government continued to support the preservation of the Soviet Union, although small emerging opposition groups called for secession from Moscow. The Kyrgyz government declared its full independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union finally disintegrated. The country was renamed the Kyrgyz Republic (KR). Under the leadership of President Askar Akayev (1990–2005), the first democratically elected president in the history of Kyrgyzstan, the country became one of the most democratic states in the Central Asian region. It has struggled to revive its crumbling economy and infrastructure and to address its chronic problems of mass poverty and unemployment. Intransigent economic problems and systemic corruption have led to two consecutive revolutions in Kyrgyzstan (in 2005 and 2010). Yet, the country has established economic, legal, and institutional foundations for the development of a modern, competitive and productive national economy as the nation still dreams of developing Kyrgyzstan to become the “Switzerland of Central Asia.”

Article

After the military conquest of the Kazakh Steppe in 1920, Russian and Kazakh Bolsheviks implemented policies of hard decolonization (1921–1922): tens of thousands of Slavic settlers were expropriated and land was distributed to nomads. During the period of 1923–1927, soft decolonization prevailed: Kazakhstan was created as an ethnonational administrative region and agricultural immigration was prohibited. Kazakhs were given priority in access to land and water and they were included in the state and party administrations. No sedentarization plans were drafted. With the Soviet economic policy turn of 1928, Kazakhstan became the object of plans for expansion of grain cultivation (to this end, peasant colonization from Russia was made legal again) and of industrialization. Moscow lunched an offensive in order both to subjugate and to incorporate Kazakh society: Kazakh pastoral elites and former Tsarist administrators were expropriated and deported; and young Kazakh men were drafted into the Red Army for the first time. In 1929, plans for the total sedentarization of Kazakh nomadic pastoralists were suddenly proclaimed, then rapidly became of secondary concern as they were merged with the total collectivization drive. Policies toward nomadic pastoralists were dependent and auxiliary to grain production policies from 1928 to early 1930. Then, from late 1930 to 1932, Kazakh livestock was requisitioned in order to feed Moscow, Leningrad, and the army, as the Soviet peasants had slaughtered their animals during collectivization. Procurements turned an ongoing starvation crisis into a calamitous famine that killed one-third of the Kazakhs. When no livestock were left, procurements were discontinued in Kazakhstan. Private ownership of animals and pastoral nomadic ways were explicitly allowed again. Kazakh mobile pastoralism had been transformed: pastoral routes were shortened; pastoralists were a smaller share of the population; and their work was organized within state and collective farms. The famine turned the Kazakhs into a minority in Kazakhstan and forced them into Soviet state institutions.

Article

Michal Biran

The Qara Khitai or Western Liao dynasty (1124–1218) ruled in Central Asia in the period that preceded the rise of Chinggis Khan. Founded by Khitan refugees who escaped from north China when the Jurchen Jin dynasty (1115–1234) vanquished their Khitan Liao dynasty (907–1125), they soon carved out for themselves a multicultural empire in Central Asia that combined Chinese, nomadic, and Muslim elements. Vanquishing the Qarakhanids and the Seljuks and making the Khwārazm Shāhs, the Gaochang Uighurs, and various Mongolian tribes their vassals, at its height the Qara Khitai Empire stretched from the Oxus to the Altai Mountains (namely, from Uzbekistan to western Mongolia including most of Xinjiang, China). Their biggest victory in 1141 against the Seljuks even became the basis for the legend of Prester John. Practicing religious tolerance and mostly indirect rule—leaving local rulers largely intact apart from in their capital Balāsāghūn (Burana, Kyrgyzstan)—and, using their Chinese and nomadic cultural capital, the Sinicized Buddhist nomads ruled over their heterogeneous but mostly Muslim sedentary population in rare harmony. The aging dynasty, however, could not survive the repercussions of Chinggis Khan’s rise, which coincided with the bolstering of the Khwārazm Shāh’s power. In the early 13th century, after a Naiman prince who had escaped from Chinggis Khan usurped the Qara Khitai throne, the Mongols vanquished the Qara Khitai, incorporating most of their troops into the Mongol army and channeling their skilled subject population for imperial needs. A scion of the Qara Khitai established the Muslim Qutlughkhanid dynasty of Kirman (south Persia, 1222–1306) that ruled under Mongol and later Ilkhanid aegis.

Article

The vast region known as “Soviet Central Asia” encompassed the territory of five Soviet republics, Kazakhstan, Kirgizia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Because of the region’s environmental features, particularly its aridity, historically there had been a close linkage between people and the environment in this region. But the Soviet regime set out to radically reshape this relationship, focusing on the fields of agriculture and animal husbandry, large-scale water engineering, nuclear and biological weapons testing, and medicine and public health. By focusing on the environmental impact of these policies, scholars can see how Moscow’s efforts brought many benefits to the region. Cotton production boomed, and Moscow declared the eradication of malaria. But they also left horrific scars. Josef Stalin’s program of agricultural collectivization devastated Kazakhstan, resulting in the death of more than 1.5 million people. The Aral Sea, once one of the world’s largest bodies of water, began to shrink dramatically during the Soviet era, a development due in large part to Moscow’s efforts to divert the waters that fed the sea to cotton production.

Article

Michael R. Drompp

The people who called themselves Türk (Chinese Tujue突厥) appear in historical records only a few years before they overthrow their political masters in the middle of the 6th century CE and create a powerful steppe empire that stretched at its height from Manchuria to the Black Sea. These early Türks are sometimes called “Kök” (Old Turkic “Blue,” referring particularly to the color of the sky but also indicating the East) Türks to distinguish them from other peoples who spoke Turkic languages and called themselves by various names, some of which included the term Türk. The Kök Türks dominated much of Inner Asia for most of the period from the mid-6th to the mid-8th centuries; during that era their polity waxed and waned in strength and did not always enjoy political unity. Nevertheless, they exercised authority throughout much of Eurasia for some two centuries; Türk military, diplomatic, and economic interactions with their neighbors, including the Chinese, Persians, and Byzantines, are an important component of their historical significance. They created Inner Asia’s first native script and first known examples of historiography, and promoted the international exchange of goods and ideas on an unprecedented scale. The expansion of Türk power and culture helped shape the Inner Asian world in which the Mongols later established their empire.

Article

The Turkic identity that first emerged with the rise of the Türk empire in the mid-6th century did not encompass all Turkic-speaking nomads in the Inner Asian world. The Türks, who founded the first Turkic nomadic empire, reserved the term Türk for themselves. In turn, the Uighurs and the (Yenisei) Qirghiz, who succeeded the Türks in the Mongolian steppes, did not identify themselves as Türk. As a result, after the final collapse of the Türk empire in the mid-8th century, Turkic identity did not survive among non-Türk groups in the Mongolian steppes. Turk became a much broader identity in the Islamic world. Muslim writers spread the term Turk (plural Atrāk), virtually using it as a synonym for Inner Asian nomads including both Turkic- and non–Turkic-speaking groups. Accordingly, when the Mongols entered the Islamic world, Muslim writers in general identified them as Turks. The Muslim view of the Turks as Inner Asian nomads was adopted by the Mongols of the Ilkhanate and the Mongol successors in Central Asia (Timurids, Moghuls, and Shibanid Uzbeks), who viewed themselves as the most prominent branch of the Turks. (The designation Central Asia is used here for the interior region stretching from the Caspian Sea in the west to Xinjiang, China in the east. Inner Asia denotes the steppe regions.) Essentially, their Turkic identity was a non-Tajik, Inner Asian nomadic identity, not a non-Mongol, Türk-related identity. Importantly, it encompassed Mongol identity. In the histories and documents produced in the Ilkhanate and the Mongol successor states in Central Asia, Turk in the phrase “Turk and Tajik” and various Chinggisid and Timurid genealogies primarily denoted the Mongols. However, a Central Asian type of Turkic identity was non-existent in the Qipchaq Steppe during the Mongol and post-Mongol period. Apparently, the term Turk had not been used as a self-appellation among such non-Türk groups of the Qipchaq Steppe as the Qipchaqs. Likewise, the Mongol successors of the Qipchaq Steppe (Uzbeks, Qazaqs, and Tatars) did not self-identify as Turks. However, like their Central Asian counterparts, they identified themselves as Mongol descendants.

Article

The histories of humanity and nature are deeply entangled across Inner Eurasia. Great expanses of steppe and mountain connected peoples at the far ends of the landmass and sustained unique civilizational zones of nomadic and settled societies. These are regions profoundly shaped by some of the most complex climatic regimes and by one of the most devastating disease vectors in the world. Viewed in the longue durée of the Holocene, the premodern prehistory and history of Inner Eurasia takes on new dimensions when reviewed in the context of the latest work being done in environmental, climate, and genetic science.