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date: 24 June 2017

Ethnicity and Identity in the Ancient Steppe

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.

Throughout more than two millennia, the extensive droughty areals in East Asia were occupied by the pastoral nomads. It was a long history of hybridity between steppe and agricultural areas. The ancient nomads had a specific pastoral economy, mobile life style, and peculiar mentality, which assumes the unpretentiousness and staying power, cults of war, and warriors horsemen; heroized ancestors reflected, in turn, in both verbal oeuvre (heroic epos) and the arts (animal style). They established the large empires that united many peoples. In the descriptions of the settled civilizations, the peoples of the steppe are presented as the aggressive barbarians. However, the pastoral nomads have developed the efficient mechanisms of adaptation to nature and circumjacent states. They had the complex internal structure and created the different forms of complexity—from heterarchical confederations to large nomadic empires. The different forms of identity in the pastoral societies (gender, age, profession, rank) are shown. Special attention was given to the description of how ethnic identity is formed from small groups. The ethnic history of the ancient nomads of East Asia was described. Special attention was also given to such pastoral societies as Xiongnu, Wuhuan, Xianbei, and Rouran.