Monday, July 26, 2021

History’s Oldest Battle: Nomads Versus Civilization

The battles between the nomadic people and the sedentary civilizations are history’s oldest, longest, and most ferociously fought battles. Such battles have been raging for the last 6000 to 8000 years. Between 4800 and 4200 BC, the nomadic people of the steppes domesticated the horse, which gave them the capacity to cover long distances swiftly and conduct surprise raids on sedentary civilizations. Between 2100 and 1700 BC, the nomads developed the composite bow, made of wood, bone, and sinew, which allowed their warriors to release an arrow at a great speed, from the distance of up to 100 yards, while remaining mounted on a fast running horse.

The sedentary civilizations learned about the domestication of horses and the composite bow from the nomads. In the tomb of Tutankhamun, who died in 1324 BC, several composite bows have been found.

In the fifth century BC, Herodotus wrote about the nomadic Scythians who used to come down from the steppes of Southern Russia, and invade Southeastern Europe and the Middle East. The Scythian diet was similar to the diet of the Mongols during the time of Genghis Khan: meat, milk, yogurt, and fermented mare’s milk. Herodotus wrote that the Scythians were hardy people who rode without stirrups and saddles, using only saddle-cloths, but historical evidence shows that between the fifth and ninth centuries BC, the Scythians developed a wooden saddle which allowed their warriors to ride on their horses while shooting arrows or fighting with their swords.

The saddle that the Mongols used during the time of Genghis Khan was an improvement of the Scythian saddle—it allowed the Mongols to ride for days without stopping for rest or food. The Mongol warriors would eat and sleep on the saddle of their moving horses when they were on their way to attack an enemy city.

The Scythian nomads were the earliest warriors in Europe to use mounted warfare. They established their dominance in the eighth century BC, when they vanquished the Cimmerians in the Pontic steppes. They fought several wars with the Achaemenid Empire, the Macedonians, and other settled civilizations. Some groups of Scythians became hellenized and Romanized. The Hephthalites, Huns, Goths, Turks, Avars, Khazars, and other nomadic groups were the inheritors of the Scythian tradition.

The Mongols and the Turks are the most successful nomadic civilizations of the last one thousand years. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Mongols conquered the largest contiguous land empire in history but on a psychological and cultural level they remained rooted in their original homeland of Mongolia. They lost their empire in two hundred years but they retained Mongolia. The Turks lost their original homeland in the north of the Caspian and Aral seas, and in the Orkhon Valley, but between the twelfth and twentieth centuries, they conquered several new territories for their people. Modern Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan are predominantly Turkish.

The European imperialist expeditions, launched between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries, were partially nomadic ventures. The Spanish, the British, the Portuguese, and the Dutch were rooted in their European nations, but during the age of imperialism, they acted like extremely mobile nomadic conquerors. They sailed across the seven seas in search of lands that they could conquer and plunder. In a few places like North America and Australia, the Europeans decided to settle down and found new nations. But in most places, their imperialism was organized on nomadic lines—they took whatever they could and returned to their European homeland.

The successful empires contain the elements of both—sedentary culture and nomadic culture. The empires remain rooted in their original homeland, but they earn bulk of their revenues from the nomadic ventures of their warriors and traders.

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