Episode 2 The Rise of the Steppe Nomads
Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)
Dr Kenneth Harl
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.