chapter  2
27 Pages

A world-empire in the making

Pastoral nomadism as a way of life has certain characteristics that lend themselves readily to the successful conduct of war.3 Life in the saddle and exposure to extremes of climate bred a proverbial hardiness and resilience. The complex logistical problems entailed in movement between seasonal pastures provided the entire male population with a valuable military training and discipline, to which the exigencies of the annual winter hunt further contributed. It was a training that began very early, since children were taught to ride and to use the bow from around the age of three. The nomads’ skill with the composite bow – a weapon that itself played an important role in their military achievements – was notorious, and access to considerable numbers of horses permitted the creation of a formidably mobile force of mounted archers. Unfortunately, one resource in short supply was the capacity to leave written records, with the result that our view of the nomads is in large measure refracted through the lens of their sedentary neighbours, for whom nomadic greed and brutishness were a byword.4 The impact of the sedentary culture upon these tribal societies varied considerably: the Chinese distinguished the ‘cooked’ barbarians close to their frontiers, who were more susceptible to ‘civilizing’ Chinese influences, from the ‘uncooked’, whose territories lay further away.5