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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.
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