MEDVEDEV A.P. Ancient “Nomadology” – Knowledge of the Ancients About the Main Issues of Nomadic Studies


Aleksandr P. Medvedev

Doctor of Sciences (History), Professor, Head of the Archaeology and Ancient History Department,

Voronezh State University,

Prosp. Moskovskiy, 88, 394052 Voronezh, Russian Federation

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Abstract. Introduction. Based on the study of the ancient literary tradition, the article analyzes the fundamental beliefs of the ancient Greeks and Romans about early nomads, the Scythians and the Sarmatians: origins of nomadism and nomads, their lifestyle, relations with settled neighbors, patterns of historical development of nomadic societies, etc. The interest of the Greeks and Romans in their contemporary nomads was largely explained by the fact that their lifestyles were very different.

Methods. The author discusses the formation of the image of a nomad from Homer to Herodotus, emergence of its mandatory attributes that eventually became a literary topos.

Analysis. The researcher points out the fact that it was Herodotus who gave a brief but comprehensive description of the Scythian nomadism in the fourth book of his Histories. Moreover, in his third narration about of the Scythians origins he actually described a phenomenon that was later called the steppe pulsation law. The paper also provides the analysis of the views of Aristotle toward the nature of nomadism and natural causes of nomadic lifestyle (Dionysius Periegetes). Based on the works of ancient authors, the author specifies several types of nomadism and stages of historical development of early nomads. It appears that the full cycle was completed only by the Scythians who created an early state. The author reveals its socioeconomic nature based on the exopolitary mode of production dominated by so-called remote (war, plunder, extortion of gifts) and tributary forms of exploitation of dependent settled populations.

Results. The analysis of the ancient narrative tradition shows that ancient authors who were contemporary to the Scythians and the Sarmatians made a number of important observations in the field of nomadology that later served as a theoretical basis for this emerging discipline.

Key words: ancient literary tradition, Herodotus, nomadism, nomads, Scythia, Scythians, Sarmatians, “steppe pulsation” law.

Citation. Medvedev A.P. Ancient “Nomadology” – Knowledge of the Ancients About the Main Issues of Nomadic Studies. Vestnik Volgogradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Seriya 4. Istoriya. Regionovedenie. Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya [Science Journal of Volgograd State University. History. Area Studies. International Relations], 2020, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 103-112. (in Russian). DOI:

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Ancient “Nomadology” – Knowledge of the Ancients About the Main Issues of Nomadic Studies by Medvedev A.P. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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