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Nomadic Empires: A World-Historical Perspective

Final Report Summary - NOMADICEMPIRES (Nomadic Empires: A World-Historical Perspective)

'Nomadic Empires: A World-Historical Perspective,' sought to provide an inclusive and wide-ranging reinterpretation of the history of nomadic empires from the fourth century BCE to the late nineteenth century CE. Its overall ambition was to rethink nomadic empires as a multifaceted world-shaping phenomenon through process-oriented comparisons that focus on imperial dynamics rather than imperial types.

The project achieved this by expanding the scope of the research significantly, extending it beyond the better known Eurasian nomadic empires into the Americas and Africa, where new research has revealed - and may yet further reveal - previously unidentified nomadic empires. The research was reoriented toward a new set of heuristic paths: the nodal spatial composition of nomadic regimes, the centrality of borderlands in imperial formation, and a notion of nomadic empires as kinetic empires that turned mobility into an imperial strategy. In the conceptual core of the project was a specific spatial reorientation in which developments were viewed from nomadic domains outward rather than from sedentary societies inward, an approach that produced a broader and more nuanced understanding of the emergence, behaviour, and historical influence of nomadic empires.

The outcomes of the project will collectively provide not only new ways to understand nomadic societies and empires but also world history, broadly conceived. The main outputs are:

Julien Cooper, ‘Kingdom of the Blemmyes: Three Thousand years of Nomad History'. This is the first comprehensive book on the Blemmyes, a seemingly obscure nomadic society living in the inhospitable desert regions of Northeast Africa. Dr. Cooper reveals how the Blemmyes reinvented themselves as an expansive pastoralist kingdom that challenged the hegemonic ambitions of Egypt, Nubia, and Aksum along the Nile. This marks a radical departure from the entrenched scholarly tradition that prioritises the ambitions and actions of sedentary civilizations and relegates nomadic societies at the margins as mere frontier irritants.

Marie Favereau, ‘The Horde: How the Mongols Changed Russia, Europe and the Islamic World.’ The book focuses on an imperial organization built by nomadic societies in the lower Volga after the Mongol conquests of the thirteenth century, uncovering a new kind of empire that was drastically different from the earlier imperial traditions of steppe nomads.

Pekka Hämäläinen, 'Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power'. This book, the first comprehensive history of the Lakota Indians, shows the centrality of this nomadic regime in the history of North America and reveals the kinetic empire of the Lakotas that dominated much of the American interior for nearly two centuries.

Bryan Miller, ‘Xiongnu: The World’s First Nomadic Empire.’ This book integrates the full corpora of ancient Chinese documents and archaeological remains from across the northern reaches of eastern Asia in order to construct a narrative that brings the world’s first nomadic empire, the Xiongnu, to life. It steps outside of stale formulations of nomads as fragile marauding societies, and portrays Inner Asian steppe peoples as occupying diverse geographies and engaged in a spectrum of varied pastoral lifeways. The book presents nomadic forces of the Xiongnu as innovators of malleable and mobile political institutions that allowed for the steppe empire to radically shape the geopolitics of Asia for the next two thousand years.

Maya Petrovich, ‘Warriors, Pirates and Nomads.’ The book draws upon European and Islamic materials in twenty languages in order to depict the history of a previously unacknowledged diaspora, the ‘Rumis,’ which profoundly shaped imperial histories in the Indian Ocean world of the 15th and 16th centuries. The book charts the rise and fall of the Rumis, focusing on their layered identities and on linkages between Anatolia, Yemen and India.

Irina Shingiray, ‘The Khazar Empire: A Material History.’ The book focuses on the Khazar Empire, which belonged to the first transcontinental regime created by the nomadic Turks and played a key role in western Eurasian geopolitics from the seventh through the tenth century. Drawing from geography, anthropology, and archaeology and building on the spatial and material turn in human sciences, Dr. Shingiray fleshes out what she calls ‘the art of nomadic sovereignty’, which saw nomadic Khazars building an imperial formation through war, trade, fictive kinship and ritual legitimization of power.