The Rise of the Steppe Nomads

Introducing the Scythians - British ...

Episode 2 The Rise of the Steppe Nomads

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

In this lecture Herl describes the linguistic and archeological research that has allowed historians to trace the origin and migration of various steppe nomads.

Our first evidence of pastoral steppe nomads dates from 6500 – 5000 BC when some Proto-Indo-European speakers shifted from hunting gathering to herding and seasonal nomadism. Historically most wild horses originated from the Eurasian steppes. The first Eurasian nomads domesticated them for food, ie meat, milk and fermented mare’s milk.

By 4200 BC, steppe nomads were riding them bareback, enabling significant expansion of their herds. According to Harl, spoked wheels most likely originated on the Russian steppes. They were used for “gerts.” In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus describes these mobile tents drawn by oxcarts. The steppe nomads also perfect a light chariot for battle around 2100 BC. At this time, they began migrating and spreading their lifestyle north, west and east to European steppes and forests and the Mediterranean.

Those migrating northwest spoke Celtic and Germanic languages, those migrating north spoke Slavic languages and those migrating east spoke Indo-Iranian languages (which evolved into Persian and Sanskrit).

The nomads’ invention of the saddle and composite bow led to another mass migration starting in the 18th century BC, with the Cimerians (Herodotus refers to them as Scythians) launching period raids on the Assyrians and Phrygians.* Harl believes that the Assyrians early adoption of nomad military technology enabled the creation of their vast empire (14th – 7th century BC) . See Mesopotamia and the Rise of the Assyrian Empire

Indo-Aryan nomadic speakers began moving into the Indus and Ganges Valleys around 1500 BC and intermarried with the local population. Likewise their inventions helped enrich early Chinese, Persian, Greek and Roman civilizations.

*Phrygia was a kingdom in west central Anatolia. The King Midas myth traces back to the Phrygian empire.

The Mysterious Indus Valley Civilization

Everything you need to know about Indus Valley Civilization

Episode 11: Early Mediterranean Civilizations

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

Benjamin attributes the immense success of early Indus Valley civilization (located in modern day Pakistan and northern India) to a uniquely positive environment. The recurrent flooding of the Indus and Ganges rivers by seasonal monsoons created a flood plain with the richest alluvial* deposits in the world. This combined with the natural protection the Himalayas provided against invasion.

According to archeological evidence, grain cultivation began as early as 7000 BC and cotton domestication by 5000 BC. A tripling of the population between 3000 and 2500 BC led to rapid urbanization, gradually progressing from villages to towns to cities. A written language, consisting of roughly 400 symbols, developed. It has never been deciphered.

The two biggest Indus Valley cities were Harappa and Marenjo-Davo. Around 2300 BC, they each had 40,000 inhabitants each. Both produced exceptional pottery, sophisticated street layouts, drainage systems, multistoried buildings, marketplaces, indoor bathing facilities and toilets, and pipes to carry wastes. The cities collected grain (wheat, millet and barley) surpluses as a form of tax, which they stored in granaries.

From early on, Indus Valley cities and towns engaged in a vigorous maritime trade with Persia, Central Asia and Mesopotamia. By 2000 BC, they were also trading with Africa, Persia and the Arabian Peninsula. With Mesopotamia, they traded copper, ivory and pearls for wool, leather and olive oil. With Persia they traded semi-precious stones for gold, silver and copper.

Although the growth of the international trade led to the emergence of social classes, there is no evidence they they formed powerful kingdoms or engaged in military warfare. The richest residents lived in mutistoried homes with large courtyards, while the poor were crowded into one-room tenements. Society was extremely patriarchal. Unlike Sumer, under the code of Hammurabi, and Egypt, women had no legal rights no public life outside the home.

After 1900 BC, Indus Valley civilization began to decline (possibly due to deforestation, climate change, or epidemic malaria or cholera) and the cities were gone by 1500 BC. There is evidence of major migration of Indo-Aryan into the area starting around 1800 BC. It’s unclear where a major invasion took place or if the Indo-Aryans were gradually assimilated into the original Dravidian population.

*Alluvial deposits are nutrient rich sand and soil left behind by rivers and floods.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.