85508 - History of Nomadism

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

Object of this course is the study of nomadic societies and their relations with the sedentary world. The student will be introduced to the main features of the nomadic societies in their historical development. The relations between nomadic and sedentary peoples will be examined in the Eurasian geopolitical space (from the I millennium BC until the Modern age) through some concrete cases: The Scythians and their relations with the Greeks and the Persians, the opposition of Iran and Turan, the Alans between the Caucasus and Europe, up to the Mongolian invasions of Central Asia and Europe in the XIII century. By the end of course unit, the student will be acquainted with the problems of incomprehension between two different models of society and different values, with the problems of communication and the mutual distorted perception between sedentary and nomadic world.

Course contents

Main features of the nomadic societies. Nomadism in its historical development. Interaction between nomads and sedentaries.

1: Nomadism in the Ancient world: Scythians, Sarmatians and Massagetes. Scythian society and way of life. Scythians and Achaemenid Iran; Scythians and Greeks in the Black sea region; Scythian, Persian and Greek misunderstandings. The war of Darius I against the Scythians according to Herodotus and Old Persian inscriptions.

2: Nomadism in Late antiquity: The Alans in Europe. Alan society and Alan way of life according to Ammianus. The Alans and the Arthurian cycle: the knights of the Round table, the Holy Grail and the sword in the stone.

3: Low Middle ages: The Mongols. Mongol society in XIII century and Mongolian way of life. The Mongol invasion of Chorasmia according to The Secret History of the Mongols. The Mongols in Caucasus, Russia and East Europe. From the battle near the Kalka river to Kulikovo. The invasion of China: Changes in Mongolian and Chinese societies during the Yuan dinasty.

Further developments of nomadism. Nomads in contemporary world: Diffusion of nomadism today, main areas and cultures.


Ehlers, E. (2011), “Nomadism”. Encyclopaedia Iranica (http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/nomadism)

Harmatta, J. (ed.) (1994), History of Civilizations of Central Asia. II: The Development of Sedentary and Nomadic Civilizations. Paris.

Krader, L. (1963), Social Organization of the Mongol-Tukic Pastoral Nomads. The Hague.

Kradin, N. (2002), “Nomadism, Evolution and World-System. Pastoral Societies in Theories of Historical Development”. Journal of World-System Research, 8: 368-388.

Kradin, N. (2006), “Cultural Complexity of Pastoral Nomads”. World Cultures, 15, pp. 171-189.

Ognibene, P. (2017) “Scythian, Persian and Greek Misunderstandings”. Estudios Iranios y Turanios. Homenaje a Helmut Humbach en su 95° aniversario. 3. pp. 119-128.

Panaino, A. – Gallo, N. – Martelli, F. – Ognibene, P. (a cura di) (2009), Migrazioni, nomadismo e politiche di cooperazione internazionale. Milano.

Riasanovsky, V.A. (1965) Custumary Law of the Nomadic Tribes of Siberia. The Hague.

Bibliography for attending and non-attending students to be agreed before the exam.

Teaching methods

Frontal lessons using textual material for students.

Assessment methods

The examination consists in a discussion of the main items presented during the lessons.

Solid vision of the subjects presented in the class, knowledge of the related arguments with precision in the terminology, ability in the critical reference to the different aspects of the discipline = highest votes.

Mnenomic knowledge with a correct language but not always consistent and critically argumented = discrete valutation.

Weak preparation, unfitting language, mistakes, incompetence in the bibliographical items, uncritical references = insufficient

Teaching tools

manuals, videos.

Office hours

See the website of Paolo Ognibene