Reviews

D. Sinor questions several clichés of the historiography of Central Asia.  First he deplores the poor quality of the corpus of sources, almost inexistent, incomplete and biased since written by authors coming from alien and hostile identities.  Moreover it remains almost impossible to identify ethnically or linguistically numerous Inner Asian peoples, whether through the study of ethnic denominations, of etymology, of the administrative terminology or still through archaeology, in spite of the unquestionable progresses of archaeology and sinology.  In a second part the author depicts the characteristics of Central Eurasia as a historical entity.  D. Sinor provides terminological precisions about the prevailing economic structure, viz. pastoral nomadism.  Giving a central place to horse breading, this society responds to a military tropism:  The nomadic pastoral society is above all a military society which, if compared with the sedentary society, enjoys a greater mobility, but is in permanent need of important pastures.  The precariousness of balance, the necessity of a choice between stagnation and conquest has been underlined as soon as 1954 by Khazanov:  It is impossible for pastoral nomads to create a centralised and strong state because of the lack of sufficient pastures.  Moreover, because of their specific way of conquest it is impossible for these same nomads to occupy a territory without relinquishing their initial identities.  Last, D. Sinor contests the “dominos” theory as it has been applied to transcontinental migrations in Central Eurasia.  According to it, the migrations of the Eastern peoples have systematically and massively provoked the migration of other populations over long distances.  The illusion of the perpetual migratory movement lies down on a fallacious representation by Deguignes, an eighteenth-century author who introduced Central Eurasia to the Europeans.  The concept of a chain reaction, from the East to the West, of Eurasian migrations in the steppe belt has already been questioned in 1974 by Laszlo Vajda.  Actually, the migratory movements do concern only a part of the populations of the considered area.  D. Sinor underlines the problem of the identification of these populations that drove modern historians to confusions (for instance between the Huns and the Xiong-nu, or between the Joujan and the Avars), and to misinterpretations of migratory movements in Eurasia.  Confusions also occurred between the rapid movements of armies and massive, lengthy and long movements of entire populations.

Camille Rhoné, Pantheon-Sorbonne University, Paris
CER: I-3.1.B-181