Nomadic Challenges and Sedentary Responses summary



Nomadic Challenges and Sedentary Responses summary


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Nomadic Challenges and Sedentary Responses summary

Chapter 4   Nomadic Challenges and Sedentary Responses

  1. Introduction

By the end of the second millennium B.C.E., civilizations based on livestock domestication and sedentary agriculture had emerged in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Despite the accomplishments of civilized cultures, civilizations actually occupied only a small portion of the earth. Most of the inhabited earth was populated by small groups of peoples who practiced pastoral nomadism, shifting cultivation, or hunting and gathering. Although these more scattered peoples did not develop civilizations of their own, they strongly affected the core regions of civilized cultures.
In some cases, incursions of migratory peoples resulted in the collapse of civilizations, as in the case of Harappa. In other cases, migratory peoples were able to establish ruling dynasties within civilizations, as in the case of the Zhou. In many cases, migratory peoples served as links between civilized cores.

  1. The Rise and Spread of Pastoral Nomadism
    1. Introduction

It is probable that nomadic societies were prevalent by 1500 B.C.E. In the millennia that followed, pastoral nomadism varied according to the type of domesticated animal chosen as the primary source of livelihood. Nomadic peoples lived in the grassy plains of Asia, Africa, and the Americas, where the grasses provided the sustenance for their herds. These lands were generally unsuitable for sedentary agriculture. Pastoral societies tended to absorb or replace hunting and gathering groups who occupied the same ecological niches.

    1. The Horse Nomads

The first nomads for which there is substantial information are the Indo-Europeans the Hittites, Hyksos, early Greeks, and Aryans. The earliest horse nomads did not ride their animals, but fought from chariots. Later Indo-European groups rode on horseback. The Hsiung-nu (known as the Huns in the West) played a major role in both Asia and Europe as a destructive force. Wars among pastoral nomads often drove large bands into the sedentary agricultural zones that surrounded the steppes. These migrations often contributed to the fall of civilizations.

    1. The Reindeer Herders of the North

Reindeer herding as a form of pastoral nomadism may have developed even before herds were kept on the Eurasian steppes. Reindeer herders lived in isolation far from the core regions of civilization.

    1. The Camel Nomads

In Arabia and the Sudanic zone of Africa, camel nomadism became common sometime prior to the last centuries B.C.E. Able to subsist on limited water and fodder, camels became critical to the maintenance of trade routes that crossed the great Saharan and Arabian deserts.

    1. The Cattle Herders

From the upper reaches of the Nile throughout the plains of southern and eastern Africa, cattle nomadism was common. Better adapted to the ecology of the region than horses, cattle became the basis of wealth for warrior-dominated societies of southern Africa. Like the reindeer herders, the societies of cattle herders were initially distant from core zones of civilization.

    1. Nomadic Peoples of the Americas

Because of the absence of large mammals in the Americas prior to the European contact after 1492 C.E., pastoral nomadism in the Americas was limited to the Andean highlands. There llamas and alpacas did provide a basis for limited pastoralism. The absence of large mammals restricted the peoples of the American steppes by limiting their mobility and their ability to make war.

  1. Nomadic Society and Culture
    1. Introduction

Migratory patterns defined the social systems and material culture of nomadic cultures. Typically the steppe environment forced nomadic peoples to migrate seasonally in search of fodder and water necessary for the maintenance of their animals. In Africa, the tsetse fly drove cattle herders from some regions. Though migratory, nomads often claimed particular grazing regions and water sources as their own. It was necessary for pastoral nomads to defend their territory continuously from raids and seizure.

    1. Societies Oriented to Domesticated Animals

Maintenance of their herds was critical to the survival of nomadic groups. Animals supplied meat, milk, and dairy products that were the staples of nomadic diet. Animals defined wealth within the group. Even religious rituals tended to center on animal sacrifices. Camel and horse nomads also depended on animals to transport their goods from one pastureland to another and to market. Animals provided the mobility these groups required to survive. Material cultures of nomadic groups were dominated by the animals they herded. Animals provided the basic subject matter for art and religion. Housing within pastoral societies was defined by the need for mobility. Animal hides and fleeces provided the material from which clothing was fashioned.

    1. Courage Cultures and Nomadic Patriarchy

The harsh environment in which they lived and violence endemic to pastoral groups tempered nomadic societies. Warlike males bound to each other by ties of personal loyalty tended to dominate these societies. Physical valor and courage were among the most valued of attributes. Many pastoral nomads lived in kin-related bands numbering up to 100. Tribal membership was defined by recognizing a common ancestry among kinship groups. Clan groups within a tribe often quarreled with one another. Violence between kinship groups set off vendettas that limited the ability of clans and tribes to cooperate.

    1. Nomad Hospitality

The violence of nomad society was offset by a strong emphasis on hospitality. Those who refused hospitality to travelers or refugees risked retribution from other nomadic groups. Tribal legends celebrated leaders for their generosity.

    1. Cultures Made for War

Males in nomadic societies trained for war either against civilization centers or against other nomadic groups. The mobility obtained from their animals gave nomadic peoples significant advantages as warriors, even against the armies of sedentary peoples. Pastoral nomads achieved a reputation for ferocity in battle among the civilized peoples.

    1. Family Ties and Social Stratification

Men dominated gender relationships within pastoral societies. Males controlled herds, participated in commerce, made war, and ruled their households. Inheritance was through the male line. Marriage tended to be patrilocal, and polygamy was common. Marriage was generally viewed as an alliance between family groups. Female dominance, although not unknown in nomadic societies, was rare. Social stratification was common with pastoral societies, with wealthier families acting as the patrons of the less wealthy. Beyond gender and patron-client relationships there has been limited social stratification in pastoral societies, perhaps because of limited occupational specialization. Among most nomads, only shamans are differentiated by occupation.


  1. Nomads and Civilization
    1. Introduction

Nomadic interaction with centers of civilization has been varied. Often depicted as cruel raiders and pillagers, nomads more often interacted with their civilized neighbors as merchants and consumers of manufactured products.

    1. Nomads as Mercenaries and Empire Builders

Civilized centers were constantly aware of the potential military threat posed by nomadic groups. Rulers often paid tribute to their nomadic neighbors or recruited them as mercenaries for their armies. There were inherent dangers in such recruitment, as mercenaries could create rival states on the borders of empires. In some cases, nomads have captured empires, seized the thrones of deposed rulers, and continued to govern using the institutions of the conquered peoples. Pastoral nomads have often been ambivalent to civilized life, preferring instead the harsh environment of the steppes. Those dynasties established by nomadic groups generally failed to last beyond several generations.

    1. Soft Living and the lure of the Desert and the Steppe

Nomads have been suspicious of the 뱒oft living?of civilized peoples. The Muslim historian Ibn-Khaldun theorized three stages of nomadic adaptation to civilized life: vigor, adaptation to luxury, dissolution. This theory has proved remarkably accurate.

    1. Nomads and Cross-Civilization Contacts and Exchanges

Nomadic peoples established nearly all of the long-distance trade routes among civilized cores. In addition, nomadic peoples could be persuaded, for a fee, to provide protection for trade caravans crossing the steppes. Herd animals provided means of transportation for long-distance merchants and their goods. Ideas, religious beliefs, artistic motifs, and technological innovations traveled from one civilization center to another along the trade routes.

  1. Conclusion: Nomads and the Pattern of Global History

Although pastoral nomads have not created empires of their own, their interactions with civilized cores has been extensive. The capacity of the civilized centers to support vastly greater populations, to develop greater occupational diversity, and to produce lasting institutions has given core regions great advantages over nomadic peoples. The impact of pastoral nomads has been significant, but usually of short duration.


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