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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2020

1 - Violence in Inner Asian History

from Part I - Beyond Warfare: Armies, Tribes and Lords


In world history, steppe nomads have acquired a reputation for nearly unmatched wanton brutality, but rarely has such violence been examined in its political and social contexts. This essay examines violence among the pastoral nomads of Inner Asia –with a special focus on the nomadic empires originating in Mongolia and Manchuria – by looking at three separate aspects. The first of these concerns violence as a means of political action, especially in connection with royal succession or competition within an aristocratic milieu. It further explores, as a second aspect, intra-nomadic violence, as reflected in various types of intertribal conflict, possibly related to phenomena of political centralization as well as competition over economic resources. The third level of analysis refers to large-scale wars by nomads against non-nomads, most typically agricultural societies that were invaded and conquered by the nomads. This latter type of violence is the best documented because of the availability of plentiful sources from literate societies, but not necessarily the most representative. This chapter will also touch on elements that potentially contributed to increasing the level of violence, such as political and cultural resistance, improvements in armament, environmental conditions, and co-optation of non-nomadic soldiers.