Episode 16: The Importance of the Nomads
The Big History of Civilizations (2016)
Dr Craig G Benjamin
One of my favorite lectures, this presentation covers the militarized pastoral nomads who dominated Central Asia from 5000 BC onward. According to Benjamin, the “life ways” of pastoral nomad conquerors only became feasible after when he calls the 5th millenium “secondary products revolution,” ie the discovery of secondary uses (ie blood, milk, hair, leather, and traction power) for domesticated animals. Domestication of the horse in the 5th millenium BC made it possible for pastoral nomads to establish vast military empires.
Benjamin covers three main networks of militarized nomads known for terrorizing sedentary civilizations: the Scythians, the Huns and the Mongols. Obtaining their weapons (bows and arrows, axes, swords and maces) from sedentary civilizations, all three played an invaluable role developing the Silk Road trade networks between China and they Mediterranean.
The Scythians terrorized the Greek city states. Although the Roman Army successfully kept them at bay, they eventually caused the collapse of the Assyrian Empire. Eventually networks of Scythian tribes extended as far east as Uzbekistan and China. Weakened by battles with the Celts and Sarmatians,* they were assimilated by the Goths in the third millenium BC.
The Huns, who appeared between the fourth and sixth century AD, devastated Europe’s Germanic tribes and the late Roman Empire.
The Mongols who appeared in the 13th century AD created the larges contiguous empire in world history.
*The Samatians were are large Iranian confederation around 500 BC
This film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a library card.