20 Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes in Historical Retrospective


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* First published in Kradin, N. N., Bondarenko, D. M., and Barfield, T. J. (eds.), Nomadic Pathways in Social Evolution, Moscow: Center for Civilizational and Regional Studies RAS, 2003, pp. 25–49.

1 For more details, see Khazanov 1994; 2000.

2 I want to use this opportunity to dispel one misunderstanding. Barfield (1989: 7) criticized me for not taking into account that many nomadic states existed without conquering sedentary regions. I am sufficiently acquainted with the history of Eurasian nomads to ignore this fact, which I never actually did (see, for example, Khazanov 1994: 231 ff.). What I held, and still hold, is that in order to exist the nomadic states had to maintain asymmetrical relations with sedentary societies, i.e. to be able to exploit them in one way or another.

3 After all, the Muscovite state began its career as a fiscal agent of the Golden Horde. The Moscow princes were loyal vassals of and collaborators with the khans. It is due to their obedience more than to any other factor that they were eventually able to take the upper hand over the other Russian princes.

4 The still-enigmatic animal style, ornamental art with prevailing zoomorphic designs, may serve as one of its earliest symbolic indicators. The semantics of this style were apparently fairly complicated, being related to the nomads' aesthetic concepts, religious beliefs, and system of values. In the context of this paper, it is important to note that the animal style also had certain political connotations and in its different varieties was widespread from the territory of contemporary Hungary to China.

5 Rachelwitz (1973) suggested that the ideology of Heavenly sanctioned supreme power was borrowed by the Turks, and later by the Mongols, from sedentary states. However, it had already been held by the Scythians (Khazanov 1975: 36ff.) and the Hsiung-nu (Kradin 1996: 70ff.). Therefore, it can be considered common to the nomadic states. The question of its origin remains open, but it seems that it might have various sources (Crossley 1992).

6 Remarkably, the Turks borrowed many titles from their non-Turkic predecessors (Golden 2001: 39 ff.).


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