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Reviewed by:
  • Mongols, Turks, and Others: Eurasian Nomads and the Sedentary World
  • Christopher J. Ward
Mongols, Turks, and Others: Eurasian Nomads and the Sedentary World. Edited by Reuven Amitai and Michal Biran. Leiden: Brill, 2005. 550 pp. $147.00 (cloth).

This is the eleventh installment of Brill's Inner Asian Library, which is edited by noted Eurasian scholars Nicola Di Cosmo (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University), Devin DeWeese (Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University), and Caroline Humphrey (Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge). The collection already includes a number of significant titles, including Brian G. Williams's The Crimean Tatars: The Diaspora Experience and the Forging of a Nation (2001) and Igor de Rachewiltz's The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century (2003). This volume is dedicated to the memory of the distinguished Mongol scholar David Ayalon (d. 1998) and is based on a series of papers presented by a grouping of Ayalon's former students at a June 2000 conference on Eurasian nomads and the outside world. Taken from this gathering held at the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, this ambitious work seeks to understand the role of nomadic peoples and sedentary peoples in Eurasia, particularly among and between pastoral Mongols and Turks, from ancient times to the present.

In such a wide-ranging volume that covers nomadic-sedentary history from the second millennium B.C.E. to the present day, a lucid explanation of the work's theme as well as its position within the larger scholarship on Eurasia is critical. Happily, the editors provide both of these. The general thesis here, which the editors and several authors take pains to reveal on several occasions, is that the relationship between the nomadic and sedentary populations of Eurasia must be [End Page 95] comprehended as one of symbiosis. Editors Amitai and Biran (both of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Asian and African Studies) also remark that a number of sedentary-nomadic interrelationships outside of Eurasia, specifically within the Indian subcontinent and Eastern Europe, are not the foci of this compilation. This is an important qualification to make as the omission of such an acknowledgment of this volume's thematic and geographic limits might have left the reader wondering if these areas bordering central Eurasia deserved some attention.

Within the premodern and modern Eurasian milieux, it is the nomadic peoples of the steppe region (defined roughly as the region between the Caucasus and Ural Mountains in the west to Manchuria in the east and to the Tian Shan mountains in the south) that receive the greatest attention here, although other areas inhabited by various Turco-Mongolian populations are also considered. The most important conclusion to be drawn concerning these groups, say nearly all of the authors, is that the idea of total or near-total nomadic independence and indeed the notion of pure nomadism at any point along the historical continuum examined here is simply absent. This point is perhaps best revealed by Owen Lattimore's assertion in his 1940 work Inner Asian Frontiers of China that "a pure nomad is a poor nomad" (p.3). A corollary to this statement is that while the fiction of pure nomadism must be revealed, the impact of certain factors that obviated the existence of this phenomenon should also be contemplated. Specifically, the editors reveal a general theme among the collected papers: that the adoption of what Anatoly M. Khazanov terms "sedentary" religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, and Manichaeism, strengthened the dependence of nomadic peoples on their non-nomadic neighbors. Among all the religious influences on the nomadic populations, however, this work clearly reveals that Islam, as Amitai and Biran phrase it, "had the greatest impact on the Eurasian nomads" (pp. 5–6). Furthermore, the nomads themselves served as conduits of many religious and other sociocultural traditions, which are aptly described in this volume as syncretism. Here lies the key to this work: nomadic-sedentary interaction cannot be simplified as a process of sedentarization by formerly nomadic groups; rather, both sides influenced and ultimately changed the other.

Among the sixteen articles contained here, a number...


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