21 Nomadic Empires in Evolutionary Perspective

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Nomadic Empires

in Evolutionary Perspective*

Nikolay N. Kradin

Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography, Vladivostok


Social evolution among pastoral nomads has not been studied as well as the problems of general evolution. In generalizing essays in cultural evolution, nomads are only touched upon indirectly. The emphasis in these books is on the evolution of agrarian cultures and civilizations (Sahlins 1968; Service 1971; Adams 1975; Johnson and Earle 1987; Earle 1997 etc.). More attention to this problem was given by Marxist anthropologists (see details on this discussion in: Khazanov 1975; Markov 1976; Kogan 1980; Halil Ismail 1983; Gellner 1988; Bonte 1990; Kradin 1992; Masanov 1995 etc.). Because I have already considered the discussions of the Marxist anthropologists concerning nomadic societies specifically, and have proposed my interpretation of this problem (Kradin 1992, 1993, 1995a), I will not dwell on the Marxist approach. Now, my prime interest is in the problem of placing complex pastoral society within a general scheme of a cultural evolution.

For years, in anthropology, there has been a tradition of following G. Spencer in his understanding of social evolution as ‘change from a relatively indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a relatively definite, coherent heterogeneity, through successive differentiation and integrations’ (Car-neiro 1973: 90).

As H. J. M. Claessen showed in his brilliant review of neo-evolutionism, the current concepts of social evolution are much more flexible. It is apparent that social evolution has no specified line. Many channels of evolution do not cause a growth in complexity. The obstacles in the way of increasing

Kradin / Nomadic Empires in Evolutionary Perspective, pp. 501–524

complexity are simply vast, and in addition, stagnation, decline and even destruction are just as typical of the evolutionary process as any progressive

increase in complexity or development of structural differentiation. One can agree with Claessen's characterization of social evolution as a qualitative reorganization of society from one structural state into other (Claessen 1990: 234).

Nomadic societies are a good confirmation of these ideas. A cyclic movement among pastoral cultures has dominated over development in complexity. Nomads have many times united into political formations and created great empires which have after time disintegrated. The xenocratic empires of nomads represent the limits reached in the increasing complexity of pastoral societies. Nomads did not independently evolve beyond this stage of integration. This was an insuperable barrier determined by the rigid ecological conditions of arid steppes. Such a view on the essence of nomadic societies is shared by the majority of nomadologists of different countries (Lattimore 1940; Bacon 1958; Krader 1963; Khazanov 1975, 1984; Markov 1976; Kradin 1992; Masanov 1995 etc.).

In another short publication, I stated my conclusions concerning nomadism from the viewpoint of the theory of general evolution (Kradin 1994). I think that three levels of cultural integration of pastoral nomads are revealed, falling into an order of increasing political complexity as follows: (1) acephalous segmentary clan and tribal formations; (2) ‘secondary’ tribe and chiefdom; (3) nomadic empires and ‘quasi-imperial’ pastoral polities of smaller sizes. A changeover from one level to another could occur in either direction.

It is the critical peculiarity of nomadic social evolution that transformation of the political systems did not correlate with other criteria of social complexity. The political system of nomads could easily evolved from the acephalous level to more complicated organizations of power and vice versa, but such formal indicators as increase in population density, complex technologies, increase in structural differentiation and functional specialization were instead essentially unchanged. When transforming from tribal pastoral systems to nomadic xenocratic empires, only a growth in the total population (due to the addition of conquered populations) takes place. The political system becomes more complex and the total number of hierarchical levels increases.

In this paper, I will again discuss the social evolution of the most complex pastoral societies   nomadic empires   despite the fact that my opponents believe that these empires represent a fortuitous or accidental and short-lived episode in the history of nomadism (Kalinovskaya 1994). I think that this approach is incorrect. There were a great many of these ‘chance’ events, and they played too important a role in the cultural evolution of humanity. This was a specific version of adaptation under the extreme ecological conditions. The results of this adaptation were so specific that attempts to include the nomads in general evolutionary schemes (chiefdom   early state) run into serious problems.


Possibly the most intriguing question in the history of the Great Steppe is: what drove nomads to mass migrations and destructive campaigns against agricultural civilizations? With regard to this, a great many diverse opinions have been proposed. These opinions might be classified as follows: 1) diverse global climatic changes (drying according to A. Toynbee [1934] and G. Grumm-Grzhimailo [1926]; humidification according to L. N. Gumilev [1993: 237–340]); 2) the warlike and greedy nature of nomads; 3) overpopulation of the steppe; 4) growth of productive forces and class struggle, weakening of the agricultural societies in consequence of feudal division (Marxist conceptions); 5) the need to replenish an extensive cattle-breeding economy by means of raids on more stable agricultural societies; 6) unwillingness on the side of the settled peoples to trade with nomads (the cattle breeders had nowhere to sell their surplus products); 7) personal property of rulers of the steppe societies; 8) ethno-integrating impulses (passionarity according to L. N. Gumilev [1989]).

The majority of the factors listed here have a certain rationality of their own. However, the importance of some of them has been overestimated. So, the present paleogeographical data do not conform to a strict correlation between periods of the steppe drying (hunidification with periods of decline) and the prosperity of nomadic empires (Ivanov and Vasilyev 1995: table 24, 25). The ‘class struggle’ thesis concerning nomads has proved to be erroneous (Markov 1976; Khazanov 1984; Kradin 1992). The role of demography is not entirely known because the livestock increased faster than the human population. An increase in livestock has led to destruction of grasses and crisis of the ecosystem. The nomadic life can, naturally, contribute to the development of certain military characteristics. But the farmers outnumbered them many times over, and they also had an ecologically complex economy, reliable fortresses and a more powerful handicraft-metallurgical base.

It seems to me that the following important factors should be taken into account:

(1) Ethnohistorical studies of the present pastoral people of Asia and Africa show that the extensive nomadic economy, low density of population, absence of a settled way of life do not assume the need to develop any legitimated hierarchy. Thus, one can assume that a demand in the state system has not been intrinsically necessary for nomads (Lattimore 1940; Bacon 1958; Krader 1963; Markov 1976; Irons 1979; Khazanov 1984; Fletcher 1986; Barfield 1992; Masanov 1995 etc.).

(2) The degree of centralization among nomads is in direct proportion to the extent of the neighboring agricultural civilization. From the viewpoint of the World-System approach, nomads have always occupied a place of ‘semi-pheriphery’ which has consolidated different regional economics into a common space (local civilizations, ‘world-empires’). In each local regional zone, the political structurization of the nomadic ‘semi-pheriphery’ was in direct proportion to the size of the ‘core’. That is the reason why, in order to trade with oases or attack them, the nomads of North Africa and the Near East have united into ‘tribal confederations’ of chiefdoms, nomads of the East-Europe steppes living on the margins of the Ancient Rus' established ‘quasi-imperial’ state-like structures while, in Inner Asia, for example, the ‘nomadic empire’ has become such an important mode of adaptation (Grousset 1939; Lattimore 1940; Barfield 1981, 1992; Khazanov 1981, 1984; Fletcher 1986; Fursov 1988; Kradin 1992, 1996a; Golden 1993 etc.).

(3) Thus, the imperial and ‘quasi-imperial’ organization of the nomads in Eurasia first developed after the ending of the ‘axial age’ (Jaspers 1949), from the middle of the First millennium B.C. at the time of the mighty agricultural empires (Ch'in in China, Maur in India, Hellenistic states in Asia Minor, Roman Empire in Europe) and in those regions first, where there were available large spaces favorable to nomadic pastoralism (regions off the Black Sea, Volga steppes, Khalkha-Mongolia etc.) and, secondly, where the nomads were forced into long and active contact with more highly organized agricultural urban societies (Scythians and old oriental and ancient states, nomads of Inner Asia and China, Hunns and Roman Empire, Arabs, Khazars, Turks and Byzantia etc.).

(4) It is possible to trace a synchronism between the processes of growth and decline in agricultural ‘world-empires’ and in the steppe ‘semi-pheriphery’. The Han Empire and Hsiung-nu power appeared over one decade. The Turkish Khaghanat appeared just at that time when China has been consolidated under the dominion of the Sui and T'ang dynasties. Similarly, the Steppe and China entered into periods of anarchy one after another over a short period of time. When, in China, the sedition and economic crisis started, the system of remote exploitation of nomads ceased to work, and the imperial confederation collapsed into separate tribes until peace and order were reestablished in the south (Barfield 1992).

(5) Besides these general regularities, other more accidental factors (ecology, climate, political situation, personal features of political leaders and even luck) have played a part sufficient to determine the course of historical development in each particular case.

There were four variants of the form of power on the steppe. The first variant represents the classic internal integration of the tribal nomadic ethnos into a centralized empire. As a rule, this process was related to the appearance of a talented political and military figure who succeeded consolidating all the tribes and chiefdoms (=khanates) ‘living behind felt walls’ into a common state (Maotun of Hsiung-nu, T'an-shih-huai of Hsien-pi, A-pao-ci of Khitan, Chinggis Khan of Mongols). After the consolidation of the nomads, the ruler must arrange an incoming of surplus product from without to support the unity of the empire. If he had not succeeded in this, the empire would have collapsed. As this variant of steppe empire formation is most often associated with the name of Chinggis Khan in can be called Mongolian.

The second variant was related to formation, at the periphery of an already developed nomadic empire, of political consolidation with strong centripetal tendencies. In the struggle for sovereignty, this union overthrew its exploiter and occupied its place in the economic and political infrastructure of a region. This variant describes the interrelations between Turks and Jou-Jans, Uighurs and Turks, Jurchens (with some reservations because they are not entirely nomads) and Khitans. We will call this variant Turkic.

The third variant was connected with nomadic migration and subsequent submission of the farmers to them. In the literature, the opinion has been formed that this was typical of the origins of nomadic empires. However, conquest of the great agricultural civilizations was in fact more often accomplished by already developed nomadic empires (Khitan, Jurchen, Mongols). The formation of the state T'o-pa Wei was a classic example of this version of nomadic empire formation (or more adequately ‘semi-nomadic’ or even agricultural-stock-breeding). However this model is found most often, on a smaller scale, in the form of the ‘quasi-imperial’ formation of nomads (Avarian, Bulgarian and Hungarian powers in Europe, period of disturbance of 4–6 centuries in the North China [the ‘epoch of 16 states of five barbarian tribes’ in Chinese chronicles], Kara-Khitans in East Turkestan). We agree to call this variant Hunnian.

Finally, there has been a fourth, quite peaceful variant. It was connected with the formation of nomadic empires from the segments of the greater ‘world’ empires of nomads existing earlier. There were two such empires: the Turkish Khaghanate and the Mongolian Empire. In the former case, the empire divided into the East Turkish and West Turkish Khaghanates (later, the Khazar Khaghanate and other ‘quasi-imperial’ formations of nomads originated based on the West Khaghanate). In the Second case, Chinggis Khan's empire had been divided among his heirs into the uluses of Jochi (Golden Horde), uluses of Chaghadai, ulus of Helugu (Il-Khans of Persia), Yuan Empire (Khalkha-Mongolia and China proper). Subsequently, the Golden Horde collapsed into several independent Khanates. This variant may be, for example, called Khazarian.


The Empire is one of the forms of the state. Specific signs of empires are: 1) the presence of large territories; and 2) the presence of a ‘metropolis’ of the empire and ‘periphery’ subsystems dependent on a ‘metropolis’ (Thapar 1981: 410ff). The fundamental difference between the nomadic empires was that their ‘centers’ were highly developed only in the military respect while they fell behind the exploited or conquered territories in social-economic development etc. and, actually, were ‘peripheries’ and ‘provinces’ in themselves. In this case, the nomadic empire can be defined as nomadic society organized on the military-hierarchical principle, occupying a quite large space and exploiting the nearby territories, as a rule, by external forms of exploitation (robbery, war and indemnity, extortion of ‘presents’, non-equivalent trade, laying under tribute etc.). One can identify the following signs of ‘nomadic empires’: 1) multistage hierarchical character of the social organization pierced at all levels by tribal and super-tribal genealogical ties; 2) dualistic (into ‘wings’) or triadic (into the ‘wings’ and center) principle of administrative division of the empire; 3) military-hierarchical character of the social organization of the center of the empire, more often, on the ‘decimal principle’; 4) coachman service (yam) as a specific way of organizing the administrative infrastructure; 5) specific system of power inheritance (empire is a property of the whole khan clan, institution of co-government, ‘kuriltai’); 6) specific character of relations with the agricultural world (Kradin 1992, 1995a, 1996a, 1996c).

It is necessary to distinguish the classical nomadic empires from 1) the similar mixed agricultural   pastoral empires in which the nomadic element played a great role in their history (Arabian caliphate, state of Seljuks, Dunai and Volga Bulgaria, Osman Empire) and 2) the ‘quasi-imperial’ nomadic state formations which were smaller than empires (European Huns, Avars, Hungarians, Priazov Bulgaria, Kara-kitans, Tatar khanates after the Golden Horde collapse). Three models of nomadic empires are identified: 1) nomads and farmers coexisting over a distance. The creation of surplus products by nomads is accomplished through distant exploitation: raids, extortion of ‘presents’ (actually, extortion; non-equivalent trade) etc. (Hsiung-nu, Hsian-pi, Turks, Uighurs etc.); 2) farmers dependent on nomads; exploitation form   laying under tribute (Golden Horde, Yuan etc.); 3) nomads conquering the agricultural society and moving to its territory. The robberies and laying under tribute are replaced with a regular taxation of farmers and townspeople (Kradin 1992, 1993, 1995).

Nomadic empires were organized in the form of ‘imperial confederations’ (Barfield 1981, 1992). The confederations had an autocratic and state like look from the outside (they were created to withdraw the surplus products outside the steppe) but were consultative and tribal inside. The stability of steppe empires has directly depended on the skill of the supreme power at organizing the production of silk, agricultural products, handicraft articles and delicate jewels of the settled territories. As these products could not be produced under conditions of a cattle-breeding economy, obtaining them by use of force and extortion was the priority task of the ruler of nomadic society. Being a sole intermediary between China and the Steppe, the ruler of a nomadic society had a chance to control the redistribution of plunder obtained from China and, thereby, strengthen his own power. It allowed him to maintain the existence of an empire that could not exist on the basis of the extensive pastoral economy.

The chiefs of the tribes which made up a steppe empire have been incorporated into the military hierarchy of the ‘hundreds’ and ‘thousands’, however their internal policy was to a certain degree independent of the policy of the center. This peculiarity has been thoroughly analyzed by Thomas Barfield using the example of the Hsiung-nu empire (1981, 1992: 32–84). A certain autonomy of pastoral tribes has been determined by the following factors: 1) economic independence made them potentially independent of the center; 2) basic sources of power (predatory wars, redistribution of tribe and other external subsidies, external trade) were quite unstable and outside the steppe world; 3) general armament restricted the possibility of political pressure upon tribes; 4) for the tribal groupings displeased by a policy of a Khan, the opportunity of moving to new places, desertion under the protection of the agricultural civilization or revolt with the aim of overthrowing the disagreeable ruler have been provided.

For this reason, political relations between the tribes and management bodies of the steppe empire were not purely autocratic. Supertribal power was kept by virtue of the fact that, on the one hand, membership in the ‘imperial confederation’ provided the tribes with political independence from neighbors and a number of other important advantages and, on the other hand, a ruler of nomadic power and his surroundings guaranteed for the nomadic tribes a certain internal autonomy within the limits of empire.

A mechanism connecting the ‘government’ of the steppe empire and pastoral tribes was the institution of a gift economy. By manipulating gifts and distributing them among comrades-in-arms and tribal chiefs, the ruler of the steppe empire strengthened his potential influence and prestige as the ‘generous khan’. Simultaneously, he has bound the persons receiving gifts by the ‘liability’ of the return gift. Tribal chiefs receiving gifts might, on the one hand, satisfy their personal appetites and might on the other hand, strengthen their intratribal status by a distribution of gifts to fellow tribesmen or by organizing ceremonial feasts. Besides, receiving a gift from the ruler, the tribal chief felt as if he also received some part of the ruler's supernatural charisma which contributed additionally to rise of his own prestige.

One can assume that an integration of tribes into the imperial confederation was performed not only by symbolic exchange of gifts between chiefs of different ranks and the khan. The same purpose was achieved by inclusion in the genealogical kindred of different stock-breeding groups, diverse collective arrangements and ceremonies (seasonal meetings of chiefs and festivals, battues, erection of monumental funeral structures etc.).

A certain role in the institutionalization of the power of the rulers of nomadic societies has been played by their performance of the functions of a sacred intermediary between a socium and Heaven (Tenggeri) which would provide patronage and favor on the side of the otherworldly forces. Subject to the religious conceptions of nomads, a ruler of a steppe society (Shan-yu, Khaghan, Khan) has personified a society center and, in virtue of his divine abilities, performed rituals which should provide prosperity and stability to the society. These functions were of colossal importance for the society. Therefore, in the case of natural stress or disease and loss of livestock, an unlucky Khan could weaken or lose his charisma. The unlucky Khan or chief could be replaced in some nomadic societies or even killed. But ideology has never been a predominant variable in power among the nomads. The life of the steppe society has been always filled with real alarms and dangers which have required from the leader active participation in their overcoming. As a whole, as noted above, the power of rules of the steppe empires of Eurasia has been largely based on external sources (Kradin 1992, 1996a).

Could the nomads create their own statehood? How should the nomadic empires be classified in anthropological theories of political evolution? Can they be considered states or pre-state formations? These questions are currently discussed by researchers of different countries and, especially, by Marxist anthropologists (see details on this debates in: Khazanov 1975, 1984; Kogan 1980; Halil Ismail 1983; Gellner 1988; Bonte 1990; Kradin 1992; Masanov 1995 etc.). It should be noted that for the Marxist theory of historical progress, nomadism has became the same stumbling-block as the ‘asiatic mode of production’. How could unchanged nomadic societies be interpreted within a framework of the common marsh of the production modes? A dialectic theory of social progress assumed, primordially, changes from lowest economical forms to the highest ones. However, the economic ‘basis’ of pastoral societies has remained unchanged: it is the same among the modern Masaai and Arabs as among the ancient Hsiung-nu. Thus, nomadism drops out of the Marxist dialectics of history. On the other hand, if the economic ‘basis’ of society didn't change, then the ‘superstructure’ should be unchanged. But the ‘superstructure’ of the pastoral nomads didn't remain basis-like persistence. The nomads now have created giant steppe empires, now have disintegrated to separate Khanates or acephalous lineage societies and all of this has contradicted the principles of Marxist theory (Gellner 1988: 93–97, 114).

The advocates of nomadic feudalism and the Engels – Stalin's scheme of five modes of production ‘connived’ at the difference in economical and cultural development between nomads and agrarian civilizations, thereby overestimating the level of the economic ‘basis’ of pastoralism. In these theoretical schemes , many facts were falsified and fitted to the Procrustean bed of dogmatic Marxism. So, the erroneous division into ‘early’ (pre-feudal and slave-owning societies in ancient Orient and West) and ‘late’ (medieval feudal) nomads has arisen.

Advocates of the concept of the pre-class development of nomads subjected to criticism the ‘nomad feudalism’ (Markov 1976 etc.). As ‘true’ Marxists, they nested up on the development level of the economic ‘basis’ of pastoralists. If the ‘basis’ of ancient nomads was not a class one, then the ‘basis’ of the later pastoralists must not be class either. On the other hand, primitive ‘superstructure’ should be adjusted to primitive ‘basis’. Therefore, nomads in social evolution have approached at most the late primitive (pre-class, pre-feudal etc.) stage.

This evolution in the discussions of Russian nomadologists was already obvious. For example, the analysis of the samples from the ‘Atlas of World Cultures’ of G. Murdoc indicates that almost all known ethnohistorical nomads have not approached the state level and class stratification (see Korotayev 1991: 157, table XI). But the conclusion relative to the pre-state nature of all nomads led to underestimating the development level of ‘superstructure’ for a number of pastoral societies – steppe empires. These empires were also declared pre-state, but was their political organization really of the same type as that of the Nuers, Gottentots or Kazaks and Kalmyks?

At present there are two popular groups of theories explaining a process of origin and essence of the early state. The conflict or control theories show the origin of statehood and its internal nature in the context of the relations between exploitation, class struggle, war and interethnic predominance. The integrative theories were largely oriented to explaining the phenomenon of the state as a higher stage of economic and public integration (Fried 1967; Service 1975; Claessen and Skalník 1978, 1981; Cohen and Service 1978; Haas 1982, 1995; Gailey and Patterson 1988; Pavlenko 1989 etc.).

However the majority of nomadic empires can not be unambiguously interpreted as either chiefdoms or states from the viewpoint of either the conflict or the integrationist approaches. A similarity of the steppe empires to the state clearly manifests itself in relations with the outer world only (military-hierarchical structure of the nomadic society to confiscate prestigious product from neighbors as well as to suppress the external pressure; international sovereignty, specific ceremonial in foreign-policy relations).

At the same time, as to internal relations, the ‘state-like’ empires of nomads (except some quite explainable cases) were based on non-forcible (consensual and gift-exchange) relations and they existed at the expense of the external sources without establishment of taxation on the cattle-breeders. Finally, in the nomadic empires, the main sign of statehood was absent. According to many current theories of the state, the main distinction between statehood and pre-state forms lies in the fact that the chiefdom's ruler has only consensual power i.e., in essence authority, whereas, in the state, the government can apply sanctions with the use of legitimated force (Service 1975: 16, 296–307; Claessen and Skalník 1978: 21–22, 630, 639–640 etc.). The power character of the rulers of the steppe empires is more consensual and prevented a monopoly of legal organs. Shan-yu, Khan or Khagan is primarily a redistributor and its power is provided by personal abilities and know-how to get prestige goods from the outside and to redistribute them among subjects.

For such societies which are more numerous and structurally developed than complex chiefdoms and which are at the same time not states (even ‘inchoate’ early state), a term supercomplex chiefdom has been proposed (Kradin 1992: 152). This term has been accepted by fellow nomadologists (Trepavlov 1995: 150; Skrynnikova 1997: 49) although, at that time, clear logical criteria allowing us to distinguish between supercomplex and complex chiefdoms had not been defined.

The critical structural difference between complex and supercomplex chiefdoms was stated by Robert Carneiro in the special paper (1992); he further develops these ideas in Chapter 3 in Alternative of Social Evolution. Actually professor Carneiro prefers to call them ‘compound’ and ‘consolidated’ chiefdoms respectively. In his opinion, a difference of simple chiefdoms from compound ones is a pure quantitative in nature. The compound chiefdoms consist of several simple ones and over the subchiefs of districts (i.e. simple chiefdoms), the supreme chief is ruler of the whole polity. However, R. Carneiro pointed out that when compound chiefdoms unite into greater polities, they rarely prove capable of overcoming the separatism of subchiefs, and such structures disintegrate quickly. He traced a mechanism of the struggle against structural division using the example of one of the great Indian chiefdoms inhabited in the 17th century on the territory of present-day American state of Virginia. The supreme chief of this polity, Powhatan by name, dealt with the centrifugal aspirations of the chiefs of the segments by replacing them with his supporters who were usually his near relations. This imparted an important structural impulse toward further political integration.

Similar structural principles have been observed by T. Barfield in Hsiung-nu history (1981: 49; 1992: 38–39). Hsiung-nu power has consisted of a multi-ethnic conglomeration of chiefdoms and tribes included in the ‘imperial confederation’. The tribal chiefs and elders have been incorporated into the all-imperial decimal hierarchy. However, their power was to certain degree independent of the center policy and based on the support on the side of fellow-tribesmen. In relations among the tribal members of the imperial confederation, the Hsiung-nu Shan-yu has relied upon support of his nearest relations and companions-in-arms bearing titles of ‘ten thousand commander’. They were put at the head of the special supertribal subdivisions integrating the subordinate or allied tribes into ‘tumens’ numbering approximately 5–10 thousand warriors. These persons should be a support for the metropolis' policy in the provinces.

Other nomadic empires in Eurasia were similarly organized. The system of uluses which are often known by the Celtic term tanistry (Fletcher 1986), has existed in all the multi-polities of nomads of the Eurasian steppes: Wu-sun (Bichurin 1950b: 191), European Huns (Khazanov 1975: 190, 197), Turkish (Bichurin 1950a: 270) and Uighur (Barfield 1992: 155) Khaganates, Mongolian Empire (Vladimirtsov 1934: 98–110).

Furthermore, in many nomadic empires, there were special functionaries of lower rank engaging in support of the central power in the tribes. In the Hsiung-nu empire, such persons were named ‘marquises’ Ku-tu (Pritsak 1954: 196–199; Kradin 1996a: 77, 114–117). In the Turkish Khaganate, there were functionaries designed to control the tribal chiefs (Bichurin 1950a: 283). The Turk have also sent their governor-general (tutuks) to control the dependent people (Bichurin 1950b: 77; Taskin 1984: 136, 156). Chinggis Khan, after the reform of 1206, appointed special noyons to control his relations (Cleaves 1982: §243).

The nomadic empires, as supercomplex chiefdoms, provide a real model prototype of an early state. If the population of complex chiefdoms are as a rule estimated in tens of thousands of people (see, for example: Johnson and Earle 1987: 314) and if they are, as a rule, ethnically homogenous, then the population of a multi-national supercomplex chiefdom makes up many hundreds of thousand and even more people (nomadic empires of the Inner Asia have amounted to 1–1,500,000 pastoral nomads) their territory (nomads, needed a great area of land for pastures!) was several orders greater than areas needed for simple and complex chiefdoms.

From the viewpoint of neighboring agricultural civilizations (developed preindustrial states), such nomadic societies have been perceived as independent subjects of international political relations and, quite often, as equal in status polities (Chinese called them go). These chiefdoms had a complex system of titles of chiefs and functionaries, held diplomatic correspondence with neighboring countries, contracted dynastic marriages with agricultural states, neighboring nomadic empires and ‘quasi-imperial’ polities of nomads.

The sources of the urban construction (already the Hsiung-nu began to erect fortified settlements, while the ‘headquarters’ of the empires of Uighur and Mongols were true towns), the construction of splendid burial-vaults and funeral temples for representatives of the steppe elite (Pazyryksky burial mounds al Altai, Scythian burial mounds in Northern Black Sea Area, burial placed in Mongolian Noin-Ula, burial mounds of Saks time in Kazakhstan, statues of Turkish anf Uighur Khagans in Mongolia etc.) are characteristic. In several supercomplex chiefdoms, the elite attempted to introduce clerical work (Hsiung-nu), in others, the epic history of the people was written down in runes (Turks), while there is a temptation to call some of the typical nomadic empires (first of all, Mongolian Ulus of the first decades of the 13th century) states. This is, in particular, supported by the mention of the system of laws (Yasa) in the Secret History of Mongols, legal organs of power, written clerical work and creation of laws (so called Blue book   Koko Defter Bichik) and by attempts to introduce a taxation under Ogodei (Kradin 1995b).

T. Skrynnikova has written an excellent book on the power in the Chinggis Khan's empire (1997). In that monograph she considers that the Mongolian empire could not be a state. In a conversation during the International Hunnian Congress in 1996 in Ulan-Ude, she told me that my earlier position concerning a pre-class character of the Mongolian empire (Kradin 1992) seems to her to be more correct. It may be that my later opinion is false. In the future, I intend to make a special study of the evolution of medieval Mongolian society. However, Skrynnikova's position and mine are principally similar. The nomadic empires are distinguished from the settled agrarian states as nomads had no specialized bureaucratic organs and no elite monopoly of the legitimated application of force.

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