“At the beginning…all humankind lived on the move across a world in which the only barriers were the natural ones of forest, river, mountain, and desert, and the ones that humans made from branches and thorns.”
So begins Anthony Sattin’s fascinating exploration of nomads and their continuing influence, in Nomads: The Wanderers Who Shaped Our World.
- “…for most of the time Homo sapiens has been around, most us us were unable to read or write, but we were able to commit to memory long poems, huge amounts of information, and extensive, multi-layered narratives”
- “Persia’s wandering sixth-century BCE Archaemenid kings committed very little either to tablet or parchment concerning an empire that was the largest the world had known. [By 539 BCE] the Persians were masters of 40 percent of the world’s population”
I’m particularly interested in Scythian history for the novels I’m working on, which is why my writing friend Monica recommended this book (she is also writing Scythian-based fantasy). In addition to being the first to tame horses, invent the ox cart, and the horse chariot:
- Scythians crafted “beautiful and highly sophisticated jewelry” that included gold ornaments for themselves and their horses (see images above from WikiCommons).
- “Around 5,000 years ago, long before there was something called the Silk Road, nomads roamed the Steppe Route, driving herds, riding horses, linking west and east, mountain and desert, and the two great poles of settled civilization, China and Europe.”
- Burial goods provide an idea of the extent of trade: “gold and silver from the Near East, Lazurite beads from Central Asia, and turquoise and carnelian mined south of the Caucasus Mountains or maybe in Iran. The copper weapons with curved blades held in place by silver pins were similar to those made in Troy.”
- “...people of the steppes, whose need to migrate had led them to master horses and invent wagons and chariots, had the habit of crossing vast distances [and] could tolerate strange customs and found ways around indecipherable languages.”
- “Mongol khans made east-west trade…attractive by reducing tariffs and waiving local taxes on international goods. Duties on goods passing through the Black Sea ports were also kept low, perhaps no more than 3 percent of the cargo’s value; transit through Egypt, by contrast, could attract a levy of 30 percent.”
- “…the Altai elite dressed in silk, trimmed their clothes with fur from cheetahs trapped in the Caspian forests, sat on carpets woven in Persia, and looked into mirrors made in China.”
- “Roman glass, Persian textiles, and Greek silver have been found in Xiongnu burials. This tells us the migratory world was trading goods between the Yellow River and the Persian Gulf”
- “Between the maritime routes and the Silk Roads, the Mongols had stimulated the nearest thing the world had ever seen to a global trade network”
- In the Mongol mercantile center of Karakorum, “…Mongols, Chinese and Turks, Hungarians, Alans, Ruthenians, Gerorgians, Armenians, Arabs, and many others rubbed shoulders in the city’s alleys and shared benches in its taverns.”
- “There was a mosque, Buddhist temple, and Nestorian Christian church among twelve main places of worship [and] the Great Khan [allowed] the Nestorians to pray for him, Buddhist priests to chant mantras, and Muslim imams to recite their salat, yet all the while he retained his belief in the sanctity of the earth, with its profusion of sprites and spirits”
- “Under the Mongols, a babel of tongues wagged in caravanserais and post-houses between the Yellow Sea and the Mediterranean”
Nomads shared their wealth:
- “Among the Ariaal men living as nomads, those who carried the 7R genetic variant tended to be better fed and stronger…alpha nomads, But among settled Ariaal, the 7R carriers were less well-nourished and less dominant than their fellow tribespeople”
- “In a nomadic setting, someone with this variant of the gene may be better at protecting herds against rustlers or finding food and water…but might not be beneficial in settled pursuits such as focusing in school, farming, or selling goods.”
I’d love to read a story that highlights a hero with neurodivergent traits--similar to how Ender’s Game celebrated kids who played video games as the saviors of humankind.
Nomads--the original, self-sufficient “green” lifestyle:
“They lived in harmony with their surroundings because they were entirely dependent on them. Their way of life also required them to travel light because they had to pack and carry all their belongings with them when they migrated.”
The author journeyed with a nomadic group in the Zagros mountains of present-day Iran. “The Bakhtiari know the significance of each tone of their herd’s bleating, when they are content, or hungry, or threatened, whether a birth of death is near, just as they know how to read the clouds, and scents carried on the winds.”
- “By reducing [nature] to entertainment, we have engaged in a process that has destroyed the essential balance on which the natural world depended, on which we depended. We have undermined the foundations of our biosphere.”
- “Diversity--whether of thought, ideas, intention, color, or gene--has always been the key to humankind’s progress…The best things about humankind have come through cooperation, open markets and borders, free movement, freedom of thought and conscience, and nomads have always been among the best conduits” of these elements.