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Nomads as Agents of Cultural Change

Nomads as Agents of Cultural Change: The Mongols and Their Eurasian Predecessors

Reuven Amitai
Michal Biran
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 317
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    Nomads as Agents of Cultural Change
    Book Description:

    Since the first millennium BCE, nomads of the Eurasian steppe have played a key role in world history and the development of adjacent sedentary regions, especially China, India, the Middle East, and Eastern and Central Europe. Although their more settled neighbors often saw them as an ongoing threat and imminent danger—“barbarians,” in fact—their impact on sedentary cultures was far more complex than the raiding, pillaging, and devastation with which they have long been associated in the popular imagination. The nomads were also facilitators and catalysts of social, demographic, economic, and cultural change, and nomadic culture had a significant influence on that of sedentary Eurasian civilizations, especially in cases when the nomads conquered and ruled over them. Not simply passive conveyors of ideas, beliefs, technologies, and physical artifacts, nomads were frequently active contributors to the process of cultural exchange and change. Their active choices and initiatives helped set the cultural and intellectual agenda of the lands they ruled and beyond. This volume brings together a distinguished group of scholars from different disciplines and cultural specializations to explore how nomads played the role of “agents of cultural change.” The beginning chapters examine this phenomenon in both east and west Asia in ancient and early medieval times, while the bulk of the book is devoted to the far flung Mongol empire of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This comparative approach, encompassing both a lengthy time span and a vast region, enables a clearer understanding of the key role that Eurasian pastoral nomads played in the history of the Old World. It conveys a sense of the complex and engaging cultural dynamic that existed between nomads and their agricultural and urban neighbors, and highlights the non-military impact of nomadic culture on Eurasian history. Nomads As Agents of Cultural Change illuminates and complicates nomadic roles as active promoters of cultural exchange within a vast and varied region. It makes available important original scholarship on the new turn in the study of the Mongol empire and on relations between the nomadic and sedentary worlds.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-4789-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Notes on Dates and Transliterations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. One Introduction: Nomadic Culture
    (pp. 1-9)
    Michal Biran

    When looking at the global past, one of the reoccurring phenomena from the late second millennium BCE and up to the eighteenth century CE is the political and military power of pastoral nomads on the fringes of the Eurasian civilizations, and—notably under the Mongol empire (thirteenth–fourteenth centuries)—at their hearts as well. The nomads’ impact in the cultural field, however, is much less apparent. Representatives of the sedentary civilizations bordering the steppe—whether Chinese, ancient Iranian, Muslim, medieval Slavs, or other Europeans—often portrayed them either as a violent force that left no mark on their culture or...

  6. Two Steppe Land Interactions and Their Effects on Chinese Cultures during the Second and Early First Millennia BCE
    (pp. 10-31)
    Gideon Shelach-Lavi

    Addressing the subject matter of this book,Nomads as Agents of Cultural Change, in the context of Chinese society of the second and early first millennia BCE is a tricky undertaking. In the first place, China was not yet in existence. Instead, the territories of present-day China were inhabited by various sedentary societies possessing or developing cultural attributes that would eventually become associated with Chinese culture.¹ Their counterparts on the steppe and semisteppe areas in north and northwest China were hardly “nomadic.” Some of these peoples, especially during the later phases of the period under review, may have been fully...

  7. Three The Scythians and Their Neighbors
    (pp. 32-49)
    Anatoly M. Khazanov

    Ancient authors and some contemporary scholars have used the name “Scythians” in two different meanings: a generic name for the ancient nomads of the Eurasian steppes, semideserts and deserts, especially the Iranian-speaking ones; and for a particular ethnic group or several groups that, in the first millennium BCE, inhabited the East European steppes, which stretch from the lower Danube to the lower Don Rivers for roughly 620 miles, and from the area to the north from the Black Sea to the forest-steppe zone for over 310 miles. Although this chapter is devoted to the latter, there will also be a...

  8. Four From Steppe Roads to Silk Roads: Inner Asian Nomads and Early Interregional Exchange
    (pp. 50-87)
    William Honeychurch

    The concept of the trans-Eurasian Silk Roads has gradually become familiar to peoples around the world. This concept refers to a broad network of exchange relations that were practiced on and off across Eurasia from around the first century BCE to the fifteenth century CE. Although the emphasis is often on silk, a wide array of goods, animals, technologies, styles, ideas, religions, and even diseases and genes were transported and shared along these networks. Today, the name “Silk Roads” graces popular publications, exhibits, institutions, marketing campaigns, and even musical venues, courtesy of the cellist Yo-Yo Ma. It has become a...

  9. Five The Use of Sociopolitical Terminology for Nomads: An Excursion into the Term Buluo in Tang China
    (pp. 88-118)
    İsenbike Togan

    The development of Chinese historiography from a literary genre to the Tang dynasty’s Office of Historiography took many centuries. The process was expedited in 629–630 when Tang Taizong (唐太宗) commissioned historians and advisers to write the annals of earlier dynasties. One of the terms that these historical accounts used in referring to nomadic groups wasbuluo(部落). Th is term had actually been coined earlier in theWeishu(魏書), the history of the Northern Wei dynasty (386–534), whose rulers themselves were of nomadic origin, and Tang historians adopted it to elucidate their account. Thereafter,buluocontinued to be...

  10. Six Population Movements in Mongol Eurasia
    (pp. 119-151)
    Thomas T. Allsen

    Pastoral nomads are, of course, synonymous with population movements; in normal conditions they pursue pasture and water in regular rounds and in periods of political or environmental crises launch far-reaching military conquests or long-distance migrations to find new homes, phenomena well exemplified by the history of the Alans in late antiquity and the Oirats/ Qalmaqs in the early modern age. But such movements were hardly restricted to the nomads, for when they were in an expansive mode, neighboring sedentary communities were also set in motion.

    Not unexpectedly, the Mongol explosion of the thirteenth century produced numerous population movements, a kind...

  11. Seven The Mongols and Nomadic Identity: The Case of the Kitans in China
    (pp. 152-181)
    Michal Biran

    One of the salient aspects throughout the Eurasian steppes during and after the Mongol conquest was a major shift in ethnicity and identity. This chapter examines this phenomenon through the prism of the later history of the Kitans. My principal argument is that Mongol imperial policies played a crucial role in determining the direction of identity change among their mixed subject population,¹ and contributed to the Kitan assimilation in China more than “the cohesive force of the Chinese nation”² that often gets the credit for nomadic “sinicization.”

    Peter Golden and Th omas T. Allsen have persuasively argued that the Mongol...

  12. Eight Persian Notables and the Families Who Underpinned the Ilkhanate
    (pp. 182-213)
    George Lane

    The picture often painted of the Mongols as an occupying force imposed on a subject people, ruling through a brutal military regime, is misleading, and for the most part essentially false. Though the initial decades following the bloody irruption of Chinggis Khan and his sons on Iran were marked by brutality, anarchy, and political chaos, once Möngke Qa’an had responded three decades later to the requests of the delegation “to build a bridge of justice”—that is, to extend full Chinggisid rule over western Asia—the resulting regime was one that was accepted, often popular, and was awake to the...

  13. Nine The Mongol Empire and Its Impact on the Arts of China
    (pp. 214-227)
    Morris Rossabi

    Ever since the landmark 1968 exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art on “Chinese Art under the Mongols,” historians and art historians have recognized that the era of the Mongol empire was not devoid of artistic and cultural merit.¹ It was clear that the stereotyped image of the Mongols as barbaric plunderers needed to be recast. Research, which has continued apace, has further altered this earlier perception. A joint Metropolitan Museum of Art and Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit on Chinese and Central Asian textiles, which derived in part from the Mongol era, focused on the mutual diffusion of Central...

  14. Ten The Impact of the Mongols on the History of Syria: Politics, Society, and Culture
    (pp. 228-251)
    Reuven Amitai

    My intention in this chapter is to show that Eurasian nomads could have a significant impact on societies that were not ruled by them at all or only in a transitory manner. The test for this hypothesis will be Syria from 1260 CE onward.¹ In the first sixty years of the thirteenth century, the country was mostly ruled by Ayyūbid princes generally based within it, and then by the Mamluk sultans (until 1516) whose capital was Cairo. Until 1291 there was also a shrinking Frankish presence on much of the coast. Twice the Mongols occupied most of the country for...

  15. Eleven The Tatar Factor in the Formation of Muscovy’s Political Culture
    (pp. 252-270)
    István Vásáry

    Continuity and disruption have always been crucial questions in historical research, and Russian history is no exception to this rule. The Tatar, or Mongol, invasion of Russia in the 1240s and the ensuing two and a half centuries of foreign rule—called the “Tatar yoke” by later Russian historiographers—fundamentally changed the Russian principalities.¹ In a gradual consolidation process, the grand prince of Moscow united nearly all Russian principalities and lands around his office by the second half of the fifteenth century, and all forms of Tatar overlordship had been terminated by 1480 (or, according to some historians, by 1502)....

  16. Twelve Mongol Historiography since 1985: The Rise of Cultural History
    (pp. 271-282)
    David Morgan

    In a Festschrift essay in which he discussed and celebrated the scholarly achievement of my undergraduate tutor at Oxford, the late Patrick Wormald commented that “In the last decade, James Campbell has turned, as most top-notch historians eventually do, to the historiography of his subject.”¹ While, unlike Campbell and indeed Wormald, I have no claim to be regarded as a top-notch historian, I too have turned to look at the historiography of my own subject: the Mongol empire. This is for a very specific reason. Twenty years ago I published a general book on the subject, which ought by now...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-330)
  18. Contributors
    (pp. 331-334)
  19. Index
    (pp. 335-349)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 350-350)