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date: 28 June 2017

Warfare and Arms of the Early Iron Age Steppe Nomads

Abstract and Keywords

At the turn of Bronze and Early Iron Ages, the nomads of the Eurasian steppe brought about a new and progressive phenomenon in world military history: cavalry warfare. Spanning the vast distance from the Danube in the West to the Hwang Ho in the Far East, among nomadic peoples including the Cimmerians, Scythians, Sakas, Sarmatians, Xiongnu, and Xianbei, a universal mode of warfare, more or less similar in tactics, battle, arms and armor, and horse harness, dominated.

The chronological frames of the Early Iron Age are differently determined in various historiographical traditions, but for the history of steppe Eurasia the frame is customarily considered to begin in the 10th century bce and end in the 5th century ce. The main sources used in studying the military art of Early Iron Age nomads are of two categories: the literary sources (Greek, Roman, Chinese), and archaeological finds of weapons, armor, and horse harnesses belonging to the various archaeological cultures of steppe nomads. The literary sources noted the Cimmerians (10th–8th c. bce); people of the Scythian ethnic group (7th–3rd c. bce), the proper Scythians and the Sakas, Massagetians, Issedonians, and Sauromatians; the Sarmatians (2nd c. bce–4th c. ce); the Xiongnu (2nd c. bce–1st c. ce); their contemporaries the Wusun and Yuezhi, and some other peoples.

The light-armed cavalry was a basic military force of the nomads. Each nomadic man was an armed and skillful warrior. Judging from archaeological material and narrative sources, the nomadic light cavalryman was armed by bow and arrows, light javelin and/or lance, and probably lasso. The light cavalry consisted of the common nomads. Since the 7th c. bce noble nomad formed the heavy armored cavalry where the horsemen, and sometimes their horses, wore body armor and helmets.

The tactical principles and fighting methods of nomads were conditioned by the composition of their army, with light cavalry prevailing. One of the main methods was raids, which varied in duration, range, and composition of personnel involved. The battle tactics of nomadic troops developed due to a need to overcome a resistance of deep infantry formation. Since the long spears of infantry inhibited close combat, nomadic horsemen first covered the adversary with a massive and dense, although undirected, torrent of arrows. After that, light horsemen approached and threw spears and javelins from shorter distances, thus causing confusion in the ranks of the infantry. Then heavy cavalry rushed into the breach for fighting with close-combat weapons, spears, and battleaxes.

Keywords: nomads, Eurasian steppes, warfare, horse, cavalry, Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Xiongnu, archaeology, weapons

Eurasian Steppe Belt Geography

From East to West

The steppe zone stretches approximately between latitudes 35° and 50° north, from the Hwang Ho River in the Far East to the Danube Basin in the West, deep into the continent and far from the seaside.

Warfare and Arms of the Early Iron Age Steppe NomadsClick to view larger

Figure 1. Map of the Eurasian Steppe zone. Design by O. Symonenko.

It is a flat corridor that extends from the Pacific coasts to the foothills of the Western European mountain systems, the Tatras and the Alps. Broad open spaces of herbage are almost devoid of woodlands; dominating is the continental, or acutely continental, climate, which is arid in the south of the zone, with torrid summers and frosty winters. This huge corridor of the Eurasian steppes is as if closed from north and south by landscapes unfavorable to nomads, leaving only one direction free for their movement: from east to west.

Steppe in Asia

The eastern border of the steppe zone begins in Manchuria and opens the way for nomads to the North China Plain in the lower Hwang Ho River basin. To the west, the Manchurian steppes pass into the rocky plain of Mongolia, which further to the south gradually transforms into the Gobi Desert, the southern boundary of the steppe zone of Inner Asia. To the north, the mountain of Sayan-Altai and Khingan mark out the steppe enclaves of Tuva, Transbaikalia, and the Minusinsk Depression. Further to the west, the Sayan-Altai mountain system in the north and the Tian Shan spurs in the southwest constrict the borders of the steppe zone, forming the so-called Dzungarian geosyncline (the historical “Dzungarian Gate”), the only convenient route leading to the vast territories of the Western Siberian steppe region.

To the south of the Dzungarian Gate, behind the Tian Shan spurs, in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, one more steppe enclave took shape in the Tarim River valley. In the north, it is confined by the Pamir mountain chains, in the south by the Taklamakan Desert. Since long ago, the Tarim valley was a region occupied by nomads; in addition, across the passes of Hindu Kush and Pamir it served as a bridge between China and Eastern Turkestan.

The Dzungarian Gate leads to the West Siberian part of the steppe zone of Eurasia—to the plains of the upper reaches of the large Siberian rivers: the Ob’, the Irtysh, the Ishim, and the Tobol. In the south, in the territory of contemporary Kazakhstan, the steppe zone gradually passes into the Mujunkum sands, and then to Central Asia with its Kara-Kum and Kyzyl-Kum Deserts. The northern boundaries of the Western Siberian steppe border with the taiga zone is preceded by a narrow belt of the forest-steppe zone.

The Urals and the northern shores of the Caspian Sea constrict the steppe corridor again. Arid steppes and a semi-desert zone are located between the Ural and Volga rivers. In the north, the East European steppe gradually passes into the forest-steppe zone. Its southern border goes along the Caspian Sea coast; westward it follows the Caucasian Mountains to the Kerch Strain—the ancient Cimmerian Bosporus.

Steppe in Europe

To the west of the Don River, the steppe zone becomes narrower due to the forest-steppe encroachment in the northwest. The steppe zone occupies the northern part of the Crimean Peninsula; further on it follows the lower reaches of the Dnieper, Southern Bug, and Danube Rivers and continues up to the Carpathians. Along the lower flow of the Danube, the narrow strip of steppe passes around the southern spurs of the Carpathians and then widens again northward—for the last time—between the Tisza and the Danube Rivers in Hungary, where it forms the last steppe enclave, the Hungarian Puszta.

In summary, the Eurasian steppe zone stretches from East to West for about eight thousand kilometers, while its total area reaches eight million square kilometers. It comprises the territories of contemporary China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Hungary. Climatic and natural conditions throughout the steppe on the whole were rather similar, giving rise to the most efficient form of human economic activity in the region: pastoral nomadism.

Emergence of the Mounted Warriors

The military art of nomadic horse breeders of the Eurasian steppes is a unique phenomenon in world military history. Its emergence and evolution can be attributed to three interrelated factors: the unique geographic conditions of the steppe zone, the emergence of pastoral nomadism, and horseback riding.

At the Dawn of Riding

The horse breeders of the Eurasian steppes gave rise to a special kind of military art: mounted warfare. Specific features of the economy of these peoples included roaming long distances (as a rule, from several hundred to several thousand kilometers) and using the horse (and, to a lesser extent, the Bactrian camel) for transportation and, primarily, as riding animals. Large masses of mounted nomads were in a state of constant military alert, ready to easily engage with the enemy and, equally easily, to escape it. Thus, it was the horse breeders of the Eurasian steppes who invented and developed strategy and tactics of mounted warfare that had no analogies in world military history.

In the Eurasian steppes nomadism emerged simultaneously with riding; one may say that the former gave rise to the latter. Steppe stock breeders learned riding and, finally, became mobile and able to cover long distances. Nomads turned riding into a new and victorious type of warfare. Archaeological and figurative art sources indicate that cavalry as a type of armed force most probably emerged at the beginning of the 1st millennium bce.1

Perhaps it is training with horses in an atmosphere of permanent danger and compulsion to obedience that develops in a person certain consistent qualities of character: self-confidence, rapid decision-making and execution, courage and even necessary cruelty in action, and the habit to command and to achieve goals by all means necessary, not to mention the physical advantages (quick reaction, physical strength and agility, good vestibular apparatus, etc.). Horse breeders have always realized their superiority over others: they know things that others do not know, and that they fear, and the sacred horse obeys them. These features probably helped such people become the military and political leaders of ancient societies, and to form their elites. It is significant that in some European languages, the word for “nobleman” means “rider”: chevalier (French), caballero (Spanish), Ritter (old German). In these countries the social elites consisted of Alans, Huns, and Vandals who were demobilized from the Roman cavalry and received allotments in the territories of modern France, Spain, and Germany.

The main characteristics of nomadic military art changed little during the millennia of the existence of their cultures. Types of weapons, tactical methods, warfare strategy, army organization, main combat principles, and military traditions had much in common in synchronous nomadic societies. The differences were mostly connected to specifics of the military organization of the adversaries of the individual nomadic societies.2


Who is to be called a nomad? It was Professor Anatoly Khazanov who formulated an extended definition of pastoral nomadism. He distinguished its five main characteristics: (a) pastoralism as the main economic activity; (b) livestock kept all year round on natural pasture; (c) periodic mobility within pasture territories; (d) migration of the entire population with their livestock; (e) subsistence production oriented toward the satisfaction of immediate needs, in contrast to a capitalist economy.3

In various regions of the Old World, pastoral nomadism had its geographic particularities: tundra reindeer breeding in the north of Eurasia, from Lapland to the Chukchi Peninsula; sheep and horse breeding in the Eurasian steppe zone; yak and small stock breeding in the Asian highlands of Tibet and Pamir; camel, sheep, and goat breeding in the Near East (Iran, Afghanistan, Arabic countries). The focus here is on Eurasian steppe horse breeders, who developed the art of riding and periodically conquered huge parts of the ancient world.

Nomadic Empires: The Special Steppe States

It is difficult to reconstruct the social and economic relations of ancient nomads, primarily because of the scarcity of literary sources. However, we have a great deal of ethnological evidence concerning nomads in modern times. Taking into account the fact that the living environment, the economy, and the traditions of nomads barely changed over the centuries, it is possible to use this data retrospectively to reconstruct ancient realities with a reasonable level of reliability.

The nomadic horse breeders of Eurasia developed an original type of statehood: the steppe empire. In this unit there were such state institutions as the central government, army, justice, the court, and state ideology. Yet the strong cultural specificity of steppe civilization predetermined the peculiar forms of nomadic statehood.

The nomadic empire can be described as a society of nomads organized according to the military-hierarchical principle, occupying a relatively large area and usually obtaining the necessary non-pastoral resources through outward operations.

As a rule, the formation of nomadic empires in the Early Iron Age was connected with the emergence among the nomads of a talented political and military leader who managed to integrate all of the tribes into a united empire (Ateas the Scythian, the Xiongnu Maodun Shanyu, the Xianbei Tanshihuai). Ultimately the motives of association acquired credibility depending on the fortunes of war and the talent of the leader. The leader’s abilities, demonstrated by victories and wealth, determined the extent to which steppe allies joined in his ambitious plans. These persons were the main creators of steppe states. After the unification of nomads, in order to maintain the unity of the country the ruler had to organize the flow of surplus products from the outside. If he failed, the empire would fall apart.

In general, the mutual obligations between the supreme steppe leader and his allies were rather limited. The leader served as the commander in chief, received the honors and the better share of loot, collected taxes in his own favor, and accepted any service from his subordinates, but did not have the final word in the internal affairs of his tribal allies. The very first military defeat or conflict with supporters, of course, could mean the end of the empire and its leader.

The Outward Exploitation

The military and political power of the nomads was secured by a high level of militarization of their societies. Military actions played a considerable (if not the main) role in their functioning, and every adult man was a warrior. Such militarization of nomad society was brought about not by some inherent “bloodthirstiness” or “bellicosity” of nomads but by trivial economic reasons. Pastoral nomadism per se did not secure a constant increase of surplus products; therefore, it could not provide stable prosperity. Accumulation of a surplus product by economic means was considerably hampered by the specific character of pastoralism: natural reproduction of livestock is a rather slow process. Thus, “home” exploitation did not guarantee a stable enrichment of the upper stratum of nomadic societies. Personal independence of ordinary nomads, cultivated for centuries and supported by their mobility, hampered the development of exploitation inside nomadic societies. Therefore, outward exploitation was the main way of obtaining surplus products, and, correspondingly, active enrichment of the upper social strata of their societies.4

The first steps of the implementation of outward exploitation were direct military actions: wars, raids, caravans pillage, etc. Thus, having frightened their victims with the prospect of confrontation, the nomads offered them a chance to buy peace with contributions, tributes, protectionist policy in trading, etc. Regular tributes were a means of outward exploitation that rendered a prompt and stable surplus profit.

Arms, Armor, and Horse Harnesses of Eurasian Nomads

The varying levels of social organization and ethnic leadership of Eurasian steppe nomads in different eras, as well as a certain similarity of weaponry and horse harnesses during definitive timespans, permits us to distinguish four long epochs in the development of their warfare. Named according to the dominant ethnic and tribal group of nomads in their respective times, they may be called Cimmerian, Scythian-Sakas, Xiongnu-Sarmatian, and Huns-Xianbei.

The Cimmerian Age, 10th–8th Centuries bce

Ethnic and Historical Background

The Iranian-speaking tribes of the Cimmerian cultural sphere (the Cimmerians and bearers of Karasuk, Uyuk, and Aldy-Bel archaeological cultures in Siberia) characterize the military art of the first nomads. The nomads of the Cimmerian period were tribal societies of the “chieftain” type. These peoples originated in the steppes of Altai and Tuva and during the next two centuries reached Ciscaucasia and the North Pontic region, from where they made predatory raids into Central Europe and the states of Asia Minor, Urartu, and Assyria.

The panoply of a warrior of the Cimmerian period consisted of a composite bow of the “Scythian” type; arrows with bone or cast bronze-socketed bilobate heads; bronze, iron or bimetal (with an iron blade and a bronze hilt) swords and daggers; spears with large heavy heads; and bronze and iron battleaxes. The protective armor was, most probably, made of leather and reinforced with bronze plates of various shapes. From their conflicts with Zhōu China, these nomads borrowed heavy, cast bronze helmets that became prototypes of Early Scythian helmets of the so-called “Kuban” type.5 Cimmerian archaeological sites often contain several pairs of bronze bits and bronze cheek-pieces. No information about Cimmerian saddle types is available.

Archaeological data and the few available pictorial materials indicate that cavalry was the main force of the Cimmerian army. In their time, the Cimmerians were a powerful force that for almost half a century harassed Phrygia, Lydia, Mannea, Urartu, and Assyria.6

The Scythian-Sakas Age, 6th–3rd Centuries bce

Ethnic and Historical Background

In the Scythian-Sakas period, Iranian-speaking nomads dominated the Eurasian steppes. They were at an early state level of social organization, characterized by an emergence of unstable polities with elements of statehood. Such polities were headed by the most energetic, courageous, and venturesome tribal leaders, called “kings” in the literary sources.

Tribes of the Asian part of the steppe zone, from Mongolia to Central Asia, are known from Persian and Greek sources as Sakas, Massagetae, and Dahae. The territories further westward, from the Ural to the Don rivers, were inhabited by nomads called by Herodotus the Issedonians and Sauromatians. The European Scythians were the western neighbors of the Sauromatians and, to a certain extent, were related to them. The territory of Scythia stretched from the Don Basin in the east to the Carpathian foothills in the west, from the forest zone in the north to the Crimean Mountains in the south.

Arms and Harness

The main weapon of the Scythians, Sauromatians, Sakas, and other nomads of their time was the bow, repeatedly mentioned in the works of classical authors. The composite bow of the “Scythian” type was made of several different pieces of wood. Such a bow was not large, 60 to 70 cm long. Archaeological finds of bows are almost unknown; therefore, they have been reconstructed on the basis of pictorial data, first of all found on toreutic objects. Arrows were from 40 to 70 cm long, made from reed or birch tree, with fletching. Their heads were of a pyramidal shape, made of bronze, casted, and socketed. The average length of a Scythian arrowhead was 2.5–3 cm. Arrowheads for Scythian, Sauromatian, Sakas, and Massagetian bows were almost identical, with small typological differences. Classical authors mentioned that Scythians used poisoned arrows.

A bow with arrows was carried in a gorytos, as a rule, made of wood and leather. One compartment contained the bow, while the other held the arrows. Gorytoi of Scythian aristocrats and kings were covered with golden plates (presumably made in Macedonia) bearing stories from classical mythology; similar decoration is unknown to the east of the Don.

Close-combat weapons of the nomads of the Scythian-Sakas period included swords and daggers, as well as battleaxes. The average length of a sword varied from 40 to 60 cm, although longer (up to 1 m) swords occasionally were used as well. The latter were most often found in Sauromatian and Sakas burials, while they were not popular with the European Scythians. Handles and sheaths of ceremonial swords were decorated with gold. A series of golden covers of sword sheaths made by Greek artisans has been found in burials of Scythian aristocrats.

The panoply of a nomad of this period, discovered in burials, always included a spear and one or two javelins. Their length did not exceed 2 m; they had iron heads and butts. Slings and lassos were additional kinds of throwing weapons possessed by ordinary nomads.

The main type of armor of the period was scale armor (lorica squamata). This cuirass was supposed to protect the torso, while armored chaps and a scaled shield were worn separately. Such a cuirass was flexible but rather heavy. An additional means of protecting the legs might have been scaled, or could have consisted of imported Greek greaves.

About two hundred armors have been discovered in Scythian graves,7 while such finds are very rare in Sauromatian or Sakas lands.8 It is possible that the Sakas favored cuirasses made from organic materials: leather, textile fabrics, or thick felt.

North Pontic Scythians widely used helmets. In the 6th century bce they were of the so-called “Kuban” type and later of Corinthian, Attic, or Chalkidian types, sometimes with various modifications (eliminated cheek covers). Scaled helmets were properly Scythian.

Horse harnesses of the Scythian-Sakas period were diversified and perfected for the warfare of their time. The iron bit was fastened to the bridle by decorated bronze cheek-pieces. The bridle was decorated with bronze, silver, or golden sets of plaques, figured cheek covers, and frontlets. In this era so-called pad saddles were common, consisting of two leather cushions, unevenly filled, with thickenings at the front and from behind, without stirrups. Such saddles were widespread from China to the Dnieper.

Archaeological materials of this period demonstrate that Scythian cavalry was already divided into light cavalry, armed with bows and javelins, and heavy cavalry, equipped with armor, swords, and spears for close combat. It is unclear whether such division existed among Sauromatian and Sakas troops—as has already been mentioned, finds of armor are almost unknown there. It is probable that the absence of a permanent enemy with heavy infantry did not favor the development of heavy cavalry by eastern nomads. The Scythian armored cavalry consisted of well-to-do nomads: almost all known armors have been found in noble graves.

Finds of arrowheads in the ramparts of Scythian forest-steppe fortified settlements and in skeletons from some Scythian burials testify to internecine conflicts and even wars. Classical sources contain information about Scythian-Sauromatian military conflicts.9

The Xiongnu-Sarmatian Age, 2nd Century bce–4th Century ce

Ethnic and Historical Background

In this period the steppe was dominated by two political and ethnic groups: Xiongnu in the east and Sarmatians in the west. Their polities were hardly different from the polities of the Scythian-Sakas period; however, they had a higher level of political integration. Tribes of the Xiongnu-Sarmatian period formed militarily strong, but short-lived, political unions: “nomadic empires.”

The first “nomadic empire” was created by the Xiongnu at the end of the 3rd century bce during the reign of Maodun Shanyu. He came to power in 209 bce and launched several conquering campaigns.10 He had defeated the Donghu; later, some of them divided into the Wū huán and Xianbei. The Xiongnu were the main and most dangerous enemy of the Chinese empires of Qin and Han. After a series of internecine wars and division into “Northern” and “Southern” polities (48 ce), the Xiongnu became weakened, and in 91 ce they were defeated by Xianbei. In the middle of the 2nd century ce, the Xianbei under the leadership of Tanshihuai won a decisive victory over the Xiongnu and replaced them as the main adversary of the Han Empire.

The western part of the Chinese province Gansu was inhabited by Yuezhi, who probably spoke one of the languages that belonged to the Tocharian group of the Indo-European linguistic family.11 At the beginning of the 2nd century bce, the Yuezhi were defeated by the Xiongnu and retreated to the west, conquering the country of Dàyuān (Fergana Valley). At the end of the same century (between 123 and 80 bce), the Yuezhi invasion devastated the Greek-Bactrian kingdom,12 and their ruling clans established the dynasties of the Kushan Empire.

The Wusun nomads were located by Chinese chroniclers in the area of Gansu Province that bordered the Yuezhi territory. After war with the Yuezhi in 160 bce, the Wusun resettled in the lands of the Sakas-Tigraxauda behind the Tian Shan, in southeastern Kazakhstan. In the west, the Wusun territory bordered with Kanghu; in the east they bordered the Xiung-nu, while in the South their lands reached the Fergana Valley.13

According to the information in Chinese chronicles, from the 2nd century bce until the 3rd century ce, in the territory of southwestern Kazakhstan existed the nomadic state of Kanghu. The Kanghu, Wusun, and Yuezhi nomads were related and shared the so-called Sarmatized culture,14 which was similar to the culture of the Sarmatians.

The lands of the latter began to the west of Kanghu, in the area of the Aral Sea. Sarmatian is a general name of a large group of Iranian-speaking nomadic tribes, by which these peoples were known to Greek and Roman authors. By their origin the Sarmatians were related to their eastern neighbors: the Yuezhi and Wusun. From the 2nd century bce to the 4th century ce, the Sarmatians roamed the steppes stretching from the Aral Sea to the Danube. Strabo provides information about the names and location of some Sarmatian tribes in the 2nd–1st centuries bce. Aorsians inhabited the basins of the Ural, Volga, and Don Rivers; Siracians lived in the North Caucasus; lands between the Don and the Dnieper were occupied by Rhoxolans; while Yazygians lived further westward. In the mid-1st century ce the Alans, a military strong clan, migrated to Eastern Europe from the borders of Xiongnu lands and gained political leadership among all Sarmatian tribes. At the same time Yazygians crossed the Carpathians and settled in the interfluves of the Tisza and the Danube, on the border of the Roman Empire. Sarmatians dominated in the European steppe until the middle of the 4th century ce when, in 375, they and their allies the Goths were conquered by the Huns.15

Arms and Harness

Archaeological materials of this period demonstrate further progress in the development of nomadic weaponry. One achievement was the invention of the bow of the so-called “Hunnic” type. It was bigger than the “Scythian” type (up to 1.5 m long), and it was composite and reflex—that is, in a loose state such a bow would bend in the opposite direction. This construction considerably increased the compressive strength and destructive force of the bow. The middle and end parts of the bow of “Hunnic” type were reinforced by bone stiffening laths, with limbs alone remaining flexible. Arrows for such bows were 0.8–1 m long and had larger (up to 5 cm) and heavier heads in comparison with heads for the “Scythian” bow. Tactics changed as well; archery became less massive and more targeted, since the new type of arrows had better aerodynamic qualities than the Scythian ones.

The earliest known finds of bone plates belonging to a “Hunnic” bow were located at Xiongnu sites and are dated to the 2nd century bce. In the 2nd and 1st centuries bce, such bows spread amongst the neighbors of the Xiongnu: the Yuezhi, Wusun, and bearers of the Sargatka culture in Southern Siberia. In the 1st century bce, the Yuezhi brought new bows to Central Asia; the bows were also adopted by the Kanghu and Parthians. In the 1st century ce, the Sarmatians (Alans) spread the bows of “Hunnic” type in Eastern Europe, although the size and weight of most of their arrowheads indicate that the Sarmatians continued to use bows of the “Scythian” type.16

Gorytoi of a peculiar construction should be regarded as an eastern innovation of the Xiongnu-Sarmatian period. They consisted of two cylindrical quivers for arrows sewn to a bow case or attached to it in some other way. Such gorytoi survived in the necropolis of Niyä in the Tarim River Valley, in graves of the 2nd century ce.17 They are depicted on belt plaques from an Alan burial ground of Orlat in Sogdiana and on Bosporan grave stones.

During the Xiongnu-Sarmatian period, short swords were gradually replaced by long (up to 1 m) blades. Xiongnu, South Siberian Sargatka, and Sarmatian warriors sometimes obtained long Chinese swords with jade cross-bars and scabbard slides. Such swords or their jade elements were found at the sites of those nomads.18 Using long swords, the nomads of the Xiongnu-Sarmatian time gained the ability to slash from the horse. Thus, beginning from the 2nd century bce, nomads from the Xiongnu in the east to the Sarmatians in the west used long swords, often with disc-shaped pommels. They were made from alabaster; some specimens were polychrome, made from chalcedony, rock crystal, or amber, and decorated with gold. In the 1st century ce, such swords became usual weapons of the Sarmatians and Kanghu, although short swords with various pommels continued to prevail in graves as symbols of the military status of the deceased. Ceremonial daggers have been found in the burials of Sarmatian and Kushan kings, handles and sheaths richly decorated with golden plates bearing coral and turquoise inserts.

The spear became an indispensable weapon of armored warriors; spearheads almost always accompanied finds of armor from this period.

The armor of the Xiongnu-Sarmatian period also differed from that of the Scythian age. Lamellar armor became widespread, its elongated plaques joined together by a complex system of cords. This armor did not require a leather or textile base; it was lighter than the scaled one and more practical. Lamellar armors were used by the Xiongnu, Xianbei, Wusun, Kanghu, Sarmatians, and warriors of the Sargatka culture.

In the east, the Xiongnu and their nomadic neighbors preferred lamellar helmets, while in the west the Sarmatians liked to wear Greek, Celtic, and Roman imported helmets.19

The dominant horse harness of this period also underwent considerable changes. Its characteristic feature became a phalerae—silver gilded ornamented roundels decorating the breast plate on the horse’s shoulders and massive frontlets. However, the nomads’ main innovation of the period was a new type of saddle, with vertical arches.20 Wooden arches were attached to asymmetrically filled cushions on the pad-saddle, making the seat more comfortable and safer.

The Huns-Xianbei Age, 4th–5th Centuries ce

Ethnic and Historical Background

After a series of defeats inflicted by the Xianbei, the Xiongnu tribes migrated westward and came into close ethnic and cultural contact with the late Sarmatians. This process resulted in an emergence of a new population, known as the Huns in literary sources. Beginning their westward migration in the middle of the 4th century ce, the Huns established their domination over the Sarmatian population of the Volga and Don regions and conquered the Crimea and the Gothic Hermanarix kingdom, partially destroying the Goths and Alans and partially incorporating them into their polity. Thus, after 375 ce, the nomadic empire of the Huns took shape in Eastern Europe.

Warfare and Arms of the Early Iron Age Steppe NomadsClick to view larger

Figure 2. The horse-breeder nomads of the Huns-Xiangbei period (4th–5th centuries ce).

From 425 ce the Huns began their move further westward, into the territories of the Roman Empire. In 445 ce, the famous Attila became the ruler of the Huns. Attila’s permanent wars with Rome ended with his defeat at the Catalaunian Plains, in France, in 451 ce. After Attila’s death, his empire gradually broke down.21

On China’s northern borders, at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century ce the Xianbei became divided into the Mùróng and Tuòbá dominions. Attacks of these nomads against China alternated with periods of peace. In the 5th century ce, their dominating position in the steppes to the north of the Great Wall of China was taken by the Ruǎnruan—another ramification of the breakup of the Xianbei. The Ruǎnruan kingdom existed from 402 until 555 ce, when it was destroyed by the Turks.

Arms and Harness

By the dawn of the Huns-Xianbei period, all nomads already used a strong and long-range bow of the “Hunnic” type. The Huns spread this type of bow up to the borders of the Roman Empire, and prevailing finds of large iron trilobate arrowheads, calibrated for such bows, diagnose the disappearance of the older “Scythian” bow.

Short swords had also almost disappeared, replaced by long double-edged blades. The Xianbei introduced single-blade straight broadswords, prototypes of a saber. Handles and sheaths of Hunnic swords were often decorated with inlaid incrustations in the cloisonné technique.22

In this period, lamellar armor was popular; it was widely used by the Huns, Xianbei, and Ruǎnruan. Archaeological finds and iconographic and literary sources indicate that the Xianbei had heavy cavalry, in which not only horsemen but also horses were protected by lamellar armors. There is no doubt that the development of heavy cavalry was favored by the necessity of presenting an adequate response to heavy Chinese infantry armed with crossbows.

It is customary to consider the Huns the inventors of the frame-saddle. But recent study23 indicates that they still used the pad-saddle with wooden arches, which appeared as early as the Xiongnu-Sarmatian period. The first saddles with a wooden saddle tree and high arches most probably were made by the Xiangbei in the 4th century ce. At least, the first finds of the details of such saddles date to that time.

Fight, Tactics, Warriors

The tactical principles and fighting methods of nomads were conditioned by the composition of their armies, with light cavalry prevailing.


Raids, varying in duration, range, and composition of personnel involved, were one of the main war methods. They were not aimed at the physical destruction of the enemy but rather at the capture of booty and the demonstration of military power in order to establish tributary relations and other kinds of outward exploitation.24 This “law of war” was ideologically substantiated by traditional nomadic consideration of pillage as a prestigious and honorable business. Bedouins, for example, considered it a shame for a young warrior to avoid taking part in a raid without serious reasons. Thus, in addition to the seizure of loot, these raids contributed to the development of military skills, providing a kind of school for young nomad warriors.

The raids were organized by various means. They were initiated at turns by not-numerous groups of volunteers, by individuals, and by larger forces of a tribe or several tribes. We have a unique description of the organization of Scythian private raids written by Lucian from Samosata:

When a man has been injured by another, and desires vengeance, but feels that he is no match for his opponent, he sacrifices an ox, cuts up the flesh and cooks it, and spreads out the hide upon the ground. On this hide he takes his seat, holding his hands behind him, so as to suggest that his arms are tied in that position, this being the natural attitude of a suppliant among us. Meanwhile, the flesh of the ox has been laid out; and the man’s relations and any others who feel so disposed come up and take a portion thereof, and, setting their right foot on the hide, promise whatever assistance is in their power: one will engage to furnish and maintain five horsemen, another ten, a third some larger number; while others, according to their ability, promise heavy or light-armed infantry, and the poorest, who have nothing else to give, offer their own personal services. The number of persons assembled on the hide is sometimes very considerable; nor could any troops be more reliable or more invincible than those which are collected in this manner, being as they are under a vow; for the act of stepping on to the hide constitutes an oath.25

Almost 2500 years later, in the 19th century, the Turkmens gathered volunteers to participate in the alaman (raid) in a similar way, though with differing details: the initiator of the alaman “puts the long lance with a pennon near his tent. Then anyone who will follow him in the raid sticks his lance alongside; when the number of participants is sufficient, the leader announces the venue as well as a time of start . . .”26

The passage from Lucian describes the “revenge” raid. The Turkmens of modern times called such a raid chapaul. Judging from the date of Lucian’s story, the classification of the raids into categories according to their participants and aim first appeared in ancient times. On the example of Turkmen raiding practice, we could suggest a similar phenomenon for the ancient nomads. Except for chapaul, the common raid, alaman, in order to capture booty or pastures, would likely have been permitted by a board of Turkmen elders. There was also the raid kaltaman, organized and carried out mostly by young people. Kaltaman was not sanctioned by the community and was carried out by the instigators at their own risk, mainly for the combat practice of young warriors. Tribe or clan did not carry the responsibility for it.27

Riding horses

Eurasian nomads setting off for a military campaign took two or more horses each, so that they had reserves. The use of reserve horses, which significantly enhanced the mobility of the nomads, was their usual habit: “And they run over very great distances, pursuing others or themselves turning their backs, being mounted on swift and obedient horses and leading one, or sometimes even two, to the end that an exchange may keep up the strength of their mounts and that their freshness may be renewed by alternate periods of rest,” wrote Ammianus Marcellinus about the Sarmatians.28

Riding horses were an important component of the military success of Eurasian nomads. They were of the aboriginal steppe type, similar to modern Kazakh or Mongolian horses: stocky, with a short neck and a big head, with powerful short legs. The shoulder and hip of the silver horse figurine from the Sarmatian “royal” grave near Porohy (Ukraine) bear miniature tamgas, which prove that Sarmatian horse keepers branded their horses. An excellent description of these horses is provided by the procurator of the province of Cappadocia Arrianus (2nd century ce): “Scythian horses . . . first are difficult to speed up, so one can treat them with full contempt, while comparing them with a Thessalian, Sicilian or Peloponnesian horse, but they endure difficulties whatsoever; and then one can see that swift, fleet, mettlesome horse straining himself to the utmost, while this short and scabby jade first catches up with him and then leaves him far behind.”29

Paintings in Bosporan vaults and in gravestones of the Sarmatian period bear images of horses of a slightly different type: tall, with long necks and slender small heads, resembling horses of Akhal-Teke breed. Horses of a similar constitution are depicted on the already mentioned bone belt-buckles of the 1st century ce from the Orlat burial ground; see also Xiongnu-Sarmatian Age, 2nd Century bce–4th Century ce: Arms and Harness.

Warfare and Arms of the Early Iron Age Steppe NomadsClick to view larger

Figure 3. Horses of nomads. 1. The Scythian horse of steppe race on a silver vase of the 4th c. bce; 2. The steppe horse of Kazakh breed; 3. A horse of the Akhal-Teke type on a carpet of the 3rd c. bce; 4. The modern Akhal-Teke horse.

Battle Tactics

The first mention of the famous Scythian tactic of the “simulated retreat” dates to the Scythian-Saka period. This trick aimed at luring the enemy deep into Scythian territory, and simulated flight with “Parthian” release at the pursuing enemy. The best-known examples of such tactics are the war of North Pontic Scythians with King Darius I (about 514 bce) and that of the Central Asian Massagetae with his predecessor Cyrus (about 530 bce).

Armored horsemen of the Scythian period did not practice spear charge because of their lack of comfortable saddle; they were in danger of falling down. For this reason their cavalry lost the advantage it should have held from the force of a compact formation multiplied by the pace of the horses. To overcome the resistance of the deep formation of the phalanx, it was necessary to develop specific tactics. Since the long sarissai of the infantry inhibited close combat, nomadic horsemen first covered the adversary with a massive and dense, although un-aimed, torrent of arrows. This is the reason why several hundreds of arrowheads were found in the gorytoi of the Scythian-Sakas period. After that, light horsemen approached and threw spears and javelins from close by, thus enhancing confusion in the ranks of infantry. Then heavy cavalry rushed into the breach for fighting with close-combat weapons, spears and battleaxes. At that period, the development of the military art of the steppe nomads was influenced by their confrontation with professional armies of the Near East (Urartu, Assyria, Persia) and the classical world (Greece, Macedonia, Greek cities of the North Pontic region).

During the Xiongnu-Sarmatian period, saddles with high arches had appeared. Such a saddle most probably was invented by the Xiongnu or a related people at the Han border. This saddle held the horseman firmly during the recoil of the spear and gave rise to a radically new battle method—a mounted spear charge. This method became the basis of the tactics of heavy cavalry of the cataphracti and, later, of medieval knights, lancers, and even Cossacks of modern times. The cataphracti, charging at the full pace of their horses, delivered blows with their spears to the enemy ranks, completely destroying them.

Nomadic armored horsemen charged in compact formation, bristling with spears 3 m long. The hypothesis about very long Sarmatian spears—up to 4.5 m—is wrong. It is based on a literary understanding of rather conventional images.30 After breaking the enemy’s formation, warriors abandoned their spears and slashed the unmounted enemy with their long swords. However, the bulk of the troops, as in the previous period, consisted of light cavalry armed with bows.

The Amazons

It is assumed that a peculiarity of the Sarmatian military art consisted in the participation of women in warfare. This opinion is based on female burials containing weapons and on the information of ancient authors.31 However, female burials containing weapons are present in many cultures of the Eurasian nomads. The nomads probably practiced the involvement of women in hostilities only in extreme cases: during defense against numerically stronger enemies or in the absence of male warriors. Apparently, nomadic women were armed with bows, javelins, or lassos.

Military Psychology, Customs, and Rituals

The nomads established military and political control over conquered territories and tributary relations with their populations. Sedentary peoples and nomads formed a kind of economic symbiosis: they could not exist without each other. The military aspect played an important role in this symbiosis. The sedentary population adopted, first of all, riding skills, cavalry, and all other characteristics associated with horse breeding and mounted warfare.

In the confrontation between nomadic and sedentary worlds, the nomads had several military advantages.32 First, it was not necessary for nomads to keep the expensive, specialized professional army that a sedentary society needs. Most nomads in peacetime were shepherds and became soldiers only during war, whereas each nomadic man was an armed and skillful warrior. The ratio of warriors to the total population in nomadic societies was 1:5 and sometimes even 1:4. Herodotus said that the Scythians, in the 5th century bce, were the type of society “where everyone is a mounted archer.”

Second, nomadic military organization was based on the clan and tribal principle. They had no specialization of warriors. Each horseman was able to shoot with bow and arrow at full gallop and to fight in close combat. The difference in equipment and arms depended only on the degree of prosperity of the warrior.

The third military advantage of Eurasian nomads was their way of life. All the boys prepared for careers as warriors almost from birth. Contemporary ethnographical examples allow us to confidently assert that in nomadic society some age-related groups had always existed, whose task it was to educate boys as future warriors. At a very young age each boy was presented with his first weapon—a knife—and put on horseback. The Turkmens, for example, did it between the ages of five and eight years in different tribes.33 The transition to the next age group was accompanied by initiations (varying for different nomads) and the change in the legal status of the future warrior: the young man had the right to feast with adult warriors, could carry and use weapons, etc. In the next age group young warriors became full members of the military community and were ready to fight for the tribe. Thus, a nomad entered into the cycle of military training from the time he could first walk.

Yet the most important advantage of Eurasian nomads was their great number of saddle-horses. The transformation of the horse into a weapon of war was one of the highest achievements of human civilization, if not the most progressive. The first and most important step in this direction was the development of the release of the bow from a galloping horse. For comparison, in the Assyrian reliefs of the 9th–middle of the 8th c. bce the mounted archer shoots from a standing horse held by a footman. The mobile nomadic archers amazed the unaccustomed warriors of settled peoples, who were “smashed” by the charge of a close cavalry formation. Physical and psychological characteristics of the horsemen’s charge, as a rule, made it quick and victorious. The image of an avalanche of galloping horses, crashing hooves, grinning muzzles, and the heavy breathing of animals, as well as the upraised arms of horsemen, plunged footmen into horror and shock. As Franco Cardini said, “just imagine for a moment a huge mass of steel, riding on a sweaty horse, the very embodiment of the sacred ancient horror and a new apocalyptic nightmare.”34 It is not without reason that all service regulations forbade infantry from taking to flight from cavalry—encounters could still be won, but flight meant certain death.

Ideology played an important role in the consolidation of nomadic armies. As their highest spiritual qualities, the nomads cultivated personal courage, military heroism, mercilessness to enemies, and defiance of death, as well as friendship and self-sacrifice toward friends. A special place in nomadic military morality was occupied by a cult of a “victorious hero,” according to which commonly held values of grace, pity, honesty, and nobility of spirit were not applied to defeated enemies, who were not considered human beings at all. These dominating worldviews were consolidated by traditions, religious beliefs, and heroic epos, as well as by civil and, significantly, by gender morality. A coward, an awkward warrior, or a loser was despised by women, and he risked remaining without descendants. The material reward—each warrior had his share in the booty—also raised the fighting spirit of nomadic warriors. All these factors guaranteed an availability of numerous skilled and victorious troops to nomadic leaders.

We have little literary evidence of the warrior ceremonies and military cults of the ancient steppe nomads. Archaeological finds have yielded even less evidence. However, the presence of warrior burials with weapons and armor among general masses of nomadic graves itself speaks to the existence of some specific military funeral rites. Herodotus described the altars of the Scythian god of war Ares:

In each district of the several governments they have a temple of Ares set up in this way: bundles of brushwood are heaped up for about three furlongs in length and in breadth, but less in height; and on the top of this there is a level square made, and three of the sides rise sheer but by the remaining one side the pile may be ascended. Every year they pile on a hundred and fifty wagon-loads of brushwood, for it is constantly settling down by reason of the weather. Upon this pile of which I speak each people has an ancient iron sword set up, and this is the sacred symbol of Ares. To this sword they bring yearly offerings of cattle and of horses; and they have the following sacrifice in addition, beyond what they make to the other gods, that is to say, of all the enemies whom they take captive in war they sacrifice one man in every hundred, not in the same manner as they sacrifice cattle, but in a different manner: for they first pour wine over their heads, and after that they cut the throats of the men, so that the blood runs into a bowl; and then they carry this up to the top of the pile of brushwood and pour the blood over the sword. This, I say, they carry up; and meanwhile below by the side of the temple they are doing thus: they cut off all the right arms of the slaughtered men with the hands and throw them up into the air, and then when they have finished offering the other victims, they go away; and the arm lies wherever it has chanced to fall, and the corpse apart from it.35

The further—medieval—history of the military art of Eurasian horse breeders is associated with Turkic-speaking peoples, and with two outstanding inventions of the nomads: stirrups and the sabre.36

Discussion of the Literature

The arms and warfare of Eurasian nomads of the Early Iron Age are the topic of numerous scientific and popular articles and books. It is impossible to analyze all of them, even briefly. Therefore, this discussion will limit itself to the key scientific monographs containing the publication of artifacts—pieces of weapons and horse harness—as well as works analyzing the military history of Eurasian nomads of the Early Iron Age. This review will focus on scientific publications in Russian. They are less known to Western readers but contain basic information on the archeology and military history of the Eurasian nomads of antiquity and the Great Migrations period, since the majority of the archaeological artifacts of Eurasian nomads have been found in the territory of Russian-speaking scientific space.

Also, a great deal of the Western literature addresses the ancient nomadic horse breeders. However, there is some disparity with regard to the specifics of the archaeology of nomads: while Russian-speaking scholars have paid equal attention to the publication of artifacts and theoretical studies, Western authors have preferred to study the military history and warfare of nomads in the context of their political history.37

Weapons and horse harnesses of the Cimmerians have been published in many articles, but a summary work by V. I. Klochko on this topic has appeared recently.38 It deals with objects from the territory of Ukraine; many artifacts found in Russia were not included.

The first classification of the Scythian and Sarmatian swords formed the basis of the book by W. Ginters,39 which today has only historiographical value. To date, the basic work on the typology and chronology of Scythian weapon is the monograph by A. I. Melyukova,40 whose classification remains relevant. The books and articles of Ukrainian scientist E. V. Chernenko have become classics of Scythian military studies.41 Weapons and warfare of Asian nomadic tribes of the Scythian Age are the topic of works by K. F. Smirnov,42 M. V. Gorelik,43 S. I. Rudenko,44 and Antony Karasulas.45

The warfare and arms of the Sarmatians are studied in detail in books and articles by A.M Khazanov46 and O. V. Symonenko.47 The monograph by R. Brzezinski and M. Melcharek48 is basically the English translation of the positions of Russian-speaking authors, including their positions on the book by T. Sulimirski.49

Asian nomads of the Sarmatian Age—the Xiongnu, Yuezhi, and Wusun—are the subject of plentiful literature in Russian, English, and Chinese. It is impossible to refer here even to small part of it. These works consider the problems of the military and political history of the Xiongnu and their neighbors, their relationship with the Han Empire and neighboring nomads, and the description and publication of weapons. Among Russian research, books by A. V. Davydova and S. S. Minyaev50 deal with the Xiongnu sited in the Trans-Baikal region and Mongolia. Xiongnu weapons formed the topic of works by Yu. S. Khudyakov.51 The problems of the military organization and history of the Xiongnu occupy a significant place in the works of N. N. Kradin,52 some of which are translated into European languages. The fundamental works of Thomas Barfield,53 Nicola Di Cosmo,54 Craig Benjamin,55 and Ying-shih Yü56 are classic studies of the military and political history of the Xiongnu, Yuezhi, and other Asian nomads of late antiquity. The sensational finds from the Yuezhi cemeteries in the Tarim Valley were published in several works.57

Among the nomads of the Great Migration period, the Huns have most interested European scientists. However, their archaeological connection with the earlier Xiongnu is still disputable,58 and the Russian scientist S. G. Botalov has proposed an interesting hypothesis about the formation of the culture of European Huns in the milieu of Late Sarmatian tribes of the Urals and Northern Kazakhstan.59 The majority of archaeological sites of Eurasian Huns in the territory of the former Soviet Union have been published in Russian by I. P. Zasetskaya.60 Hun sites of Central and Western Europe are summarized in the books of Joseph Werner and Istvan Bóna.61 In these publications a lot of space is devoted to weapons and horse equipment. The books by E. A. Thompson also should be mentioned.62 A special mention should go to the fundamental research of Otto Maenchen-Helfen, containing a sophisticated chapter on the Hunic warfare.63 Among other works, J. Lebedinsky’s book about weapons and battle traditions of the “barbarian” peoples of the Great Migration period should be mentioned;64 it contains quite a lot of talk about the Huns.

The abundant European65 and Chinese66 literature is devoted to military and political history, military training, and arms of the contemporaries of the Huns who roamed along the steppes north of the Great Wall of China—Xianbei, later transformed into Ruǎnruan.

Primary Sources

The main sources for the study of the military art of Eurasian nomads consist of textual evidence (works by Greek, Roman, and Chinese authors; decrees and inscriptions), visual sources (the depictions of warriors and arms in toreutics, petroglyphs, frescoes, reliefs, paintings, graffiti, etc.) and archaeological materials. This discussion covers only part of the literature, with a focus on works containing the most principal and objective or the most sophisticated and spectacular data.

The first mentions of the Cimmerians and the Scythians are contained in Assyrian cuneiform texts of the 8th–7th centuries bce. However, the most complete selection of information about them, and about Sauromates, Issedonians, Sakas, and Massagetae, as well as about smaller tribes of Eurasian steppe nomads, are contained in the fourth book of Herodotus’s History, “Melpomene,”67 written in the 5th century bce. The nomads of the Sarmatian period (Sarmatians, Dahae, Parni, Massagetae, Sakas, and others) were described at the dawn of the Christian era by Strabo,68 in the 1st century ce by Pliny the Elder,69 and in the 2nd century ce by Claudius Ptolemaeus,70 Cornelius Tacitus,71 and others. Later, information on the Huns and Alans was provided by the 4th-century author Ammianus Marcellinus.72

Apart from classical authors, precious evidence about the nomads of Asia (Xiongnu, Wusun, Yuezhi, Sakas, Kanghu, Sarmatians) is contained in Chinese chronicles: historical records73 (Shǐ-jì) by Sima Qian (between 109 and 91 bce), History of the Han Dynasty74 (Han shu) by Ban Gu et al. (62–82 ce), History of the Later Han Dynasty75 (Hou Han shu) by Fan Ye and Sima Biao (5th century ce).

Among the numerous depictions of nomadic warriors, it is worth noting the well-known golden comb and gilded silver vase with the images of Scythian warriors from royal barrows Solokha and Kul-Oba in Ukraine,76 the frescoes from Pantikapaion crypts and grave stones,77 spectacular bone belt-buckles with battle and hunting scenes from Orlat cemetery,78 and the Chinese depictions of Xiongnu, which are, however, rather stylized.

The most objective category of available sources consists of archaeological materials from nomadic graves: swords, daggers, spear- and arrow-heads, remnants of bows, as well as helmets, body armor, and horse trappings.

Further Reading

Bachrach, Bernard S.A History of the Alans in the West: From Their First Appearance in the Sources of Classical Antiquity through the Early Middle Ages. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1973.Find this resource:

Barfield, Thomas J.The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989.Find this resource:

Barfield, Thomas J. “Nomadic Pastoralism.” In The Oxford Handbook of World History. Edited by Jerry H. Bentley, 160–175. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Baumer, Christoph. The History of Central Asia: The Age of the Steppe Warriors. Vol. 1, Central Asia: A Complete Illustrated History. London: I. B. Tauris, 2012.Find this resource:

Beckwith, Christopher I.Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Benjamin, Craig, ed. A World with States, Empires and Networks 1200 bce–900 ce. Vol. 4 of The Cambridge World History. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Boltrik, Yurij V., and Elena E. Fialko. “Der Fürstenkurgan Oguz.” In In Zeichen des goldenen Greifen. Königsgräber der Skythen. Edited by H. Parzinger, 268–275. Munich: Prestel, 2007.Find this resource:

Bunker, Emma, Trudy S. Kawami, and Katheryn M. Linduff. Ancient Bronzes of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. New York: The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, 1997.Find this resource:

Desroches, Jean-Paul, and Marie-Catherine Rey. Chine: des chevaux et des hommes: donation Jacques Polain. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1995.Find this resource:

Cunliffe Barry. By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Di Cosmo, Nicola. Ancient China and Its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Di Cosmo, Nicola, ed. Warfare in Inner Asian History (500–1800). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002.Find this resource:

Fields, Nic. The Hun: Scourge of God AD 375–565. Oxford: Osprey, 2006.Find this resource:

Golden, Peter B.Central Asia in World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Khazanov Anatoly. Nomads and the Outside World. 2d ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Loewe, Michael. The Western Han Army: Military Culture in Imperial China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Maenchen-Helfen, Otto. The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.Find this resource:

Makkay, János. Iranian Elements in Early Medieval Heroic Poetry: The Arthurian Cycle and the Waltharius. J. Makkay: Budapest, 1998.Find this resource:

Rau, Paul. Prahistorische Ausgrabungen auf der Steppenseite des deutschen Wolgagebiets in Jahre 1926. Pokrowsk: Nemgosisdat, 1927.Find this resource:

Reeder, Ellen D., ed. Scythian Gold: Treasures from Ancient Ukraine. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999.Find this resource:

Samašev, Zajnolla. “Die Fürstengräber des Siebenstromland.” In In Zeichen des goldenen Greifen. Königsgräber der Skythen. Edited by H. Parzinger, 162–170. Munich: Prestel, 2007.Find this resource:

Sinor, Denis, ed. The Cambridge History of Warly Inner Asia. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Torday, Laszlo. Mounted Archers: The Beginning of Central Asian History. Edinburgh: Durham Academic Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Watt, James C. Y., et al. China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200–750 AD. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Yü, Ying-shih. Nomads and Han China: Expanding Empires: Cultural Interaction and Exchange in World Societies from Ancient to Early Modern Times. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2002.Find this resource:


(1.) U. L. Dietz, “Horseback Riding: Man’s Access to Speed?,” in Prehistoric Steppe Adaptation and the Horse, eds. Marsha Levine, Colin Renfrew, and Katie Boyle (Cambridge, U.K.: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2003), 197; and A. Khazanov, Nomads and the Outside World, 2d ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994), 15.

(2.) Khazanov, Nomads and the Outside World, 8.

(3.) Ibid., 16.

(4.) Khazanov, Nomads and the Outside World, 245–247; B. Spooner, “Nomadism in Baluchistan,” in Pastoralists and Nomads in South Asia, eds. Lawrence Saadia Leshnik and Günther-Dietz Sontheimer (Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz, 1975), 171–182; and A. I. Pershits, “Tribute Relations,” in Political Anthropology: The State of the Art, eds. S. Lee Seaton and Henri J. M. Claessen (The Hague: Mouton, 1979), 149–156.

(5.) V. I. Klochko, Weaponry of Societies of the Northern Pontic Culture Circle: 5000–700 BC (Poznan: Baltic-Pontic Studies, 2001), 298–323.

(6.) A. Ivanchik, Les Cimmériens au Proche-Orient (Fribourg: Éditions Universitaires, 1993).

(7.) E. V. Černenko, Die Schutzwaffen der Skythen (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2006), 10–11.

(8) . M. V. Gorelik, “Sakski dospekh” [The armor of Sakas], in Tsentralnaya Asia: Novye pamiatniki pismennosti i iskusstva [Central Asia: The new literary and art monuments] (Moscow: Nauka, 1987), 112–118.

(9.) Lukianus Samosatensis, “Тoksaris i filia,” 48, in Lucian of Samosata, with an English translation by A. M. Harmon, vol. 5 (London: W. Heinemann / Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936).

(10.) N. N. Kradin, Imperia khunnu [The Xiongnu empire], 2d ed. (Moscow: Logos, 2001), 47–55; Nicola Di Cosmo, Ancient China and Its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002); and Thomas J. Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989).

(11.) Craig Benjamin, A World with States, Empires and Networks 1200 bce–900 ce, vol. 4 of The Cambridge World History (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 475.

(12.) Craig Benjamin, The Yuezhi: Origin, Migration and the Conquest of Northern Bactria (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007), 213–215.

(13.) Vl. A. Semenov, “The Wusun in Northeastern Central Asia,” in Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia 38.3 (2010): 99–110.

(14.) A. N. Podushkin, Arysskaya kultura Yuzhnogo Kazakhstana IV v. do n. e.—VI v. n. e. [Arys culture of South Kazakhstan of the 4th c. bce–6th c. ce] (Turkestan: MKTU Press, 2000), 88–105.

(15.) O. V. Symonenko, “Sarmaty” [The Sarmatians], in Davnia istoria Ukrainy [The ancient history of Ukraine], vol. 2 (Kiev: Institute of Archaeology of the UNAS, 1998), 154–176.

(16.) O. V. Symonenko, Sarmatskie vsadniki Severnogo Prichernomoria [The Sarmatian horsemen of the North Pontic region], 2d ed. (Kiev: Oleh Filyuk Press, 2015), 105.

(17.) Wang Binghua, Xinjiang gushi: gudai Xinjiang jumin ji qi wenhua [The ancient corpses of Xinjiang: The peoples of ancient Xinjiang and their culture] (Wulumuqi: Xinjiang Renmin Chubanshe, 2002), 118, 137.

(18.) Simonenko, Sarmatskie vsadniki, 74–80.

(19.) O. V. Symonenko, “Sarmatian-Age Helmets From Eastern Europe,” in “Festschrift for Thomas T. Allsen in Celebration of His 75th Birthday,” special issue, Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 21 (2014–2015): 277–303.

(20.) Symonenko, Sarmatskie vsadniki, 301–304; E. V. Stepanova, “Sedla gunno-sarmatskogo vremeni” [Saddles of the Hun-Sarmatian age], Trudy Gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha [Transactions of the State Hermitage Museum] 77 (2015): 410–417; see also C. S. Goodrich, “Riding Astride and the Saddle in Ancient China,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 44.2 (1984): 279–306; and Yang Hong, “Qibing he jiaqi juzhuang” [The equipment of cavalry soldiers and armored cavalry], in Zhongguo gu bingqi luncong [Collected studies on ancient Chinese weapons] (Beijing: Wenwu Chuban She, 1980), 94–104.

(21.) O. J. Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 18–165.

(22.) I. Bóna, A hunok és nagykirályaik (Budapest: Corvina, 1993), 164–165.

(23.) Stepanova, “Sedla gunno-sarmatskogo vremeni,” 417–421.

(24.) Khazanov, Nomads and the Outside World, 224 ff.

(25.) Lukianus Samosatensis, “Тoksaris i filia,” 48.

(26.) К. К. Abaza, Zavoevanie Turkestana [The conquest of Turkestan] (St. Petersburg: Tip. M. M. Stasiulevicha, 1902), 263.

(27.) Yu. M. Botiakov, Alaman: Sotsial’no-ekonomicheskie aspekty instituta nabega u Turkmen (seredina ХІХpervaia polovina ХХ veka) [The Alaman: Social and economic aspects of the Turkmenian institution of raid (mid-19th–first half of the 20th c.)] (St. Petersburg: MA RAN, 2002), 58, 92.

(28.) Ammianus Marcellinus, “Res Gestae,” XVII, 12.3, in Ammianus Marcellinus; with an English Translation byJohn C. Rolfe, 3 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press / London: W. Heinemann, 1935–39).

(29.) Arrianus Flavius, “Kynegetikos,”, 23.2, in Xenophon and Arrian, On Hunting, ed. and trans. A. A. Phillips and M. M. Willcock (Warminster, U.K.: Aris and Phillips, 1999).

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