What Are Nomads? - Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:00 What Is a Nomad?
  • 0:40 Nomads & Early Civilization
  • 2:26 Groups of Nomads
  • 3:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

This lesson briefly explores nomadic culture in the areas where the earliest forms of civilization developed. Nomads were groups of people who did not settle permanently in one place.

What Is a Nomad?

You may think of a nomad as someone who is constantly wandering and never settling in one place. While it is true nomads do not 'settle down,' did you know they can still play an important part of the local cultures they inhabit? They may also travel in cycles, sometimes returning to previous areas in which they once resided.

Historically, nomads were often hunter-gatherers, those who hunted and used local plants to sustain their lifestyle, peripatetic, nomads who shared a craft or trade, or pastoral, those who raised herds and moved to avoid using all the resources in one area.

Nomads and Early Civilization

Before around 1500 CE in the first areas of civilization (in modern day Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey), there were basically two ways of life: nomadic and settled. Nomads moved around to find resources, while settled farmers stayed in one place to form a community, eventually leading to the birth of cities.

Nomadic cultures usually developed because of environmental conditions. For example, people who lived in an area with land that wasn't fertile would continue moving to find fertile land. As the population grew, many people would continue moving to areas with better resources.

Clashes between these two groups often occurred as they fought for resources. People in settled areas often had better organization within their armies, but nomads had more animal protein in their diets, making them stronger than many of the settled farmers. If a nomadic group took over a settled group, the civilization would often decline because the nomads didn't care to keep the group's culture going. Even if the nomads did try to hold control over a group that had been conquered, they generally didn't understand their way of life and often failed at their attempts.

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