The Eurasian nomads were a large group of nomadic peoples of the Eurasian Steppe who often appear in history as invaders of Europe, The Middle East, and China. This generic title encompasses the ethnic groups inhabiting the steppes of Central Asia, Mongolia, and what is now Russia. They domesticated the horse, and their economy and culture emphasizes horse breeding, horse riding, and a pastoral economy in general. They developed the chariot, cavalry, and horse archery, introducing innovations such as the bridle, bit, and stirrup. "Horse people" is a generalized and somewhat obsolete term for such nomads, which is also sometimes used to describe hunter-gatherer peoples of the North American prairies and South American pampas who started using horses after the Europeans brought them to the Americas.
The earliest historical phases of China involved conflict with the nomadic Rong and Xiongnu peoples to the west of the Wei valley. The Roman army hired Sarmatians as elite cavalrymen. Europe was exposed to several waves of invasions by horse people, from the Cimmerians in the 8th century BCE, down to the Migration period, and the Mongols and Seljuks in the High Middle Ages, and the Kalmuks and the Kyrgyz and later Kazakhs down into modern times. The earliest example of an invasion by a horse people may have been by the Proto-Indo-Europeans themselves, following the domestication of the horse in the 4th millennium BCE (see Kurgan hypothesis). Cimmerian is the first invasion of equestrian steppe nomads that we can grasp from historical sources.
The concept of "horse people" was of some importance in 19th century scholarship, in connection with the rediscovery of Germanic pagan culture by Romanticism (see Viking revival), which idealized the Goths in particular as a heroic horse-people. J. R. R. Tolkien's Rohirrim may be seen as an idealized Germanic people influenced by these romantic notions. Similarly, George R. R. Martin's nomadic Dothraki people are heavily influenced by the lifestyles and cultures of historical horse people.
Linguistically, these peoples may be divided into several large groups:
a Perhaps a Sprachbund.
- Amitai, Reuven; Biran, Michal (editors). Mongols, Turks, and others: Eurasian nomads and the sedentary world (Brill's Inner Asian Library, 11). Leiden: Brill, 2005 (ISBN 90-04-14096-4).
- Drews, Robert. Early riders: The beginnings of mounted warfare in Asia and Europe. N.Y.: Routledge, 2004 (ISBN 0-415-32624-9).
- Golden, Peter B. Nomads and their neighbours in the Russian Steppe: Turks, Khazars and Qipchaqs (Variorum Collected Studies). Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003 (ISBN 0-86078-885-7).
- Hildinger, Erik. Warriors of the steppe: A military history of Central Asia, 500 B.C. to A.D. 1700. New York: Sarpedon Publishers, 1997 (hardcover, ISBN 1-885119-43-7); Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2001(paperback, ISBN 0-306-81065-4).
- Kradin, Nikolay. Nomadic Empires in Evolutionary Perspective. In Alternatives of Social Evolution. Ed. by N.N. Kradin, A.V. Korotayev, Dmitri Bondarenko, V. de Munck, and P.K. Wason (p. 274–288). Vladivostok: Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences; reprinted in: The Early State, its Alternatives and Analogues. Ed. by Leonid Grinin et al. (р. 501–524). Volgograd: Uchitel', 2004.
- Kradin, Nikolay N. 2002. Nomadism, Evolution, and World-Systems: Pastoral Societies in Theories of Historical Development. Journal of World-System Research 8: 368–388.
- Kradin, Nikolay N. 2003. Nomadic Empires: Origins, Rise, Decline. In Nomadic Pathways in Social Evolution. Ed. by N.N. Kradin, Dmitri Bondarenko, and T. Barfield (p. 73–87). Moscow: Center for Civilizational Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences.
- Kradin, Nikolay N. 2006. Cultural Complexity of Pastoral Nomads. World Cultures 15: 171–189.
- Littauer, Mary A.; Crouwel, Joost H.; Raulwing, Peter (Editor). Selected writings on chariots and other early vehicles, riding and harness (Culture and history of the ancient Near East, 6). Leiden: Brill, 2002 (ISBN 90-04-11799-7).
- Shippey, Thomas "Tom" A. Goths and Huns: The rediscovery of Northern culture in the nineteenth century, in The Medieval legacy: A symposium. Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 1981 (ISBN 87-7492-393-5), pp. 51–69.
- Nomadic Art of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Eurasian nomads