Impact of the Nomadic People on Civilization Centers

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  • 0:01 Agricultural Revolution
  • 2:19 Benefits of Mixed Settlement
  • 3:29 Causes of Friction
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The transition from being nomads to being farmers was full of surprises, from beer to a sudden drop in health, but the tensions between nomads and farmers was no less uneventful.

Agricultural Revolution

Around 10,000 BC, humanity began to settle down and start farming in a process called the Agricultural Revolution. However, not all of humanity started farming, and not even all of those who were exposed to the technology to do so. There were a number of reasons for this.

For starters, farming was a big gamble. Sure, if everything went as planned, you would have plenty of food for the year to come. But what if it didn't? Suddenly, you've wasted weeks and weeks of time for a crop that amounts to basically nothing. Secondly, farming didn't always have the best bang for the buck, at least nutritionally. We may have a mental image today of a family farm as the sort of place that grew just about everything one could want, but these early farmers didn't have access to all the plants we have today. Chances are, they were only growing two or three varieties, and those were not as hardy as crops today. Those crops did not supply the same array of nutrients as a diet based on hunting and gathering, so farmers were actually less healthy than their nomadic neighbors.

So why even bother? Farming actually came about through trial and error, with people spending a little bit of time farming and more time hunting or gathering, and gradually changing the proportion of time on each. Also, if a harvest went well, you could support many more people, which meant that more fields could be worked, increasing the likelihood of at least enough food to support everyone, even in a bad crop year. Finally, and most interestingly for many of us today, there was beer. Crops left accidentally in jars during a rainstorm fermented, creating the earliest form of beer. For us, it's something to drink at a barbeque. But for the first farmers, it was a religious experience due to its mind-altering effects.

Benefits of Mixed Settlement

Beer or not, not everyone decided to settle down at first. However, this actually worked out well for society as a whole. Farmers and hunters acted as insurance policies against one or the other having a bad year. Farmers whose crops failed could rely on distant relatives to feed them from their gathering, just as those hunters who were unable to find big game could then rely on the produce of the farms. Also, even if both fragments of society were doing well, trade still was advantageous. Roasted antelope tends to taste better with bread, anyway, and trade made that possible.

The advantages of trade didn't only apply to food, however. Nomads could create their own trade networks between settlements that otherwise would not have encountered each other due to the sedentary nature of their livelihoods. As a result, these nomads were able to convey not only goods, but also culture between villages of a given region.

Causes of Friction

While it may all sound too good to be true, it was. Just as there were many ways that early civilizations were able to build meaningful relationships with the nomads that surrounded them, there were just as many ways that those civilizations and nomads could grow to hate each other.

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