The Duck of Minerva

Nomadic Empires

14 September 2005

I’ve been dusting off a long dormant paper on nomadic empires and international-relations theory. While doing so, I came across this discussion of one pathway of pre-modern Central Asian state formation.

The centrifugal tendencies of the tribes and the nomad’s natural anarchical inclinations, could be contained only by successful campaigns for booty waged against “outsiders”. This is the paradox inherent in nomadic state-formations, which gives them an ephemeral appearance. A successful nomadic, empire-builder (cf. Attila) forges a nomadic empire with seemingly lightning speed and rules it with absolute power. But, this same state may appear to crumble and disappear with the same rapidity with which it came into existence….

– P.B. Golden, “Imperial Ideology and the Sources of Political Unity Amongst the Pre-Cinggisid Nomads of Western Eurasia,” Archivum Eurasie Medii Aevi II (1982), p. 49.

Lessons? I have no idea. Maybe Nathan Hamm or another Central Asia watcher could comment on any contemporary relevance.

While I’m at it: a bleg. If anyone knows about relevant transliteration systems (e.g., Chinggis vs. Genghis) – or knows anyone who does – I could use some help making the quotations and names I use in the paper consistent.

Oh, and if a specific collaborator of mine happens to be reading the blog and wonders: “why is Dan working on this and not our joint piece,” the answer is that the paper is to be presented at a conference later this month, and I’ll be back on our project in a day or two.

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