Reviews

In this substantial article, P. Golden discusses a cliché of classical historiography that consists in the systematically negative perception of encounters between nomadic and sedentary populations in early medieval Eurasia (c. 350 – c. 1200), most particularly in military matters.  The article’s first part is an evocation of the nomads and of their political and military encounters with a wide range of sedentary states.  The author successively evokes several tribes or tribal groups that almost never organised themselves in states, with a majority of Turkic entities: the Huns, Khazars, Qarluqs, Oghuz, Cumans, etc.  Indeed these steppe-dwellers used to make raids into sedentary territories.  They were also used as instruments of rivalries between sedentary groups or entities, when they did not make use of these same rivalries (in the cases of the confrontations between Romans and Parthians or the Byzantine Empire and Iran, in Russia’s inner divisions . . .).  The great sedentary states sometimes implemented policies of stabilisation of these boisterous nomadic entities at the doorways of their territories, allotting them some defensive functions.  However, if the nomads were making raids against sedentary populations whose goods they were sometimes coveting (in the steppes of the Pontus, of the Caspian, of the trans-Volga region . . .), if they were often serving these same populations as mercenaries, yet they did not try to conquer their territories.  Besides, P. Golden analyses the martial image of these nomads from Eurasia as they appear in contemporary, mainly Byzantine sources:  They are perceived as essentially hawkish, barbarian and false, resorting to war as a means of enrichment, and to duplicity in all political matters.

The second part of the study deals with multiple issues linked with the war craft in the steppe.  In fact, primary sources are unanimous on the supremacy of steppe’s peoples in terms of military skilfulness.  After some innovating reflexions (on the lexical designation of warriors in narrative primary sources, on the organised and disciplined character of nomads in terms of war practice, marled by the mobilisation of the whole society, women included), P. Golden develops on some concrete aspects of this practice.  He successively evokes the role of hunting as a military training, military tactics, the composition of armed forces, and the quantitative evaluation of the strength and of the military equipment.  For facing the nomadic threat seen under an essentially negative angle, the sedentary states implemented a wide range of means: military defence at the borders, elaboration of (generally ephemeral and unreliable) alliance systems, tentative conversions, practice of the gift of tribute (considered less costly than military confrontation), the key idea being often to divide in order to better rule.  As to the nomads, they used to exploit the inner divisions of the sedentary states, supplying numerous mercenaries in the Mediterranean, without showing interested in the conquest of large-scale sedentary territories.  When this conquest occurs, it drives to the formation of a nomadic state obliged, if it wants to survive and avoid subjugation, to leave the world of the steppe.  So doing, P. Golden contests an old theme of Russian historiography, according to which the nomads’ predating raids did often hold up the economic development of the sedentary regions affected by them, whilst the nomadic entities, benefiting from the wealth drawn from the boots, were not stimulated to develop proper productive forces.

Camille Rhoné, Pantheon Sorbonne University, Paris
CER: I-3.1.B-169