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Relations With Sedentarists

Much has been made historically of the so-called clash between the "desert" and the "sown," the "barbarians" versus the "civilized," exemplified even by the ancient Hebrew story of the first murder, when Cain the farmer killed Abel the herdsmen. In fact, one must beware false oppositions and note that the relations between pastoral nomads and sedentary societies have, for the most part, been peaceful, symbiotic, and mutually beneficial. Indeed, as Anatoly Khazanov argues, nomadic cultures can be seen as to some extent dependent on sedentary cultures, at least economically, especially as the former became more specialized. Throughout recorded history nomads have provided sedentary populations with items such as horses, furs, meat, and wool, in exchange for grains, luxuries, and other manufactured goods. These trade relationships have impacted the course of human history in many ways, not the least of which was the role of nomads in supporting and maintaining the so-called silk roads across Eurasia, which served as the conduit of long-distance interactions between sedentary civilizations for centuries.

Still, it is undeniable that the written historical record is dominated by numerous accounts of hostilities between nomadic and sedentary communities. This is due in part to the fact that these records generally emanate from sedentary writers seeking to portray nomads as "the other," enemies in every sense to sedentary society. At the same time, hostilities were a significant part of the relationship, often initiated by nomads for various reasons. For example, nomads sometimes struck at sedentary regions in an effort to compel the latter to engage in trade. This was particularly true along the border with China, where officials would seek to dominate their nomadic neighbors by denying them access to Chinese markets. In other instances, climatic changes in nomadic regions could lead to overpopulation or, conversely, to loss of herds, driving nomads to invade sedentary areas to fend off starvation. And finally, it is certainly the case that nomads often attacked sedentary communities to obtain loot, especially when the nomads enjoyed clear military superiority.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP) to Ockham's razorNomadism - Nomadic Society And Culture, Relations With Sedentarists, State And Empire Building, Bibliography