Most of the quasi-medieval world include nomads, most often there is only one culture of nomads and they are accompanied with the footnote "inspired by the Mongols". Even when that isn't the case, the audience might assume that.

I find the overused quasi-Mongols tiresome. So, are there any historical characteristics that could be applied to steppe nomads to set them clearly aside from the horse lords of Mongolia, considering that the Mongols were only a group of thousands of steppe nomads?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Nomads have existed for far, far longer than non-nomads which means there are many, many other than just Mongols. You can find plenty of references from before history or the earliest recorded history until today over all continents and whatever you please. Could you perhaps specify what you want them to be other than just non-Mongols? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Sep 3 '18 at 17:08
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Chlodio Can you define 'steppe'? E.g. do you actually mean "a large area of flat unforested grassland in southeastern Europe or Siberia."? If not, you could draw a lot from the nomadic peoples of North America who didn't have horses at all until the Europeans showed up. $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Sep 3 '18 at 17:36
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Other notable nomads: Proto-Turks, Berbers (notable also for using camels), Germanic Goths, Visigoths, etc., many North American Native American tribes, Maasi . . . $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Sep 3 '18 at 17:47
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ For Song of Ice and Fire, GRRM deliberately tried to make his steppe nomads not just the Mongols. Their culture is intended to be a mix of Huns, Alans, and Sioux. When it came time for the TV show to design a language for them, they deliberately made it sound Finno-Ugric instead of Mongol-Turkic. The result? Everyone describes them as Mongols who speak Arabic. $\endgroup$ – abarnert Sep 3 '18 at 18:33
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ In other words, no matter how hard you try to make them different, as soon as people realize you've got horse-riding nomads from the steppes in your fantasy, they will think of Mongols and the zillions of fantasy people inspired by the Mongols. You will have to work extra hard to fight that association, which will probably come at the expense of other characterization, so you ultimately have to decide how hard you want to fight. $\endgroup$ – abarnert Sep 3 '18 at 18:38

You could easily create your own nomads and there are many historical inspirations.

  • Nomads have herds of herbivore animals. The mongols and native americans have horses, the Tuareg have goats and camels, the Sami people have raindeer, other african nomads like the Massai have cattle.
  • Nomads need to move periodically because their herds won't find enough food in one place year around.
  • Since nomads live in areas of scarce vegetation, almost all of them use the dried excrement of their animals as fuel for cooking.
  • To move, nomads need movable accomodations. These are typically tents, but have different shapes and are made of different materials, depending on the environmental conditions and the available materials. They are usually in a very simple, yet stable way and can be erected and disassembled within half an hour.
  • They have little possessions, because everything has to be moved.
  • Nomads care for their animals because they secure their life. The female animals are milked to produce dairy products, the meat is eaten, the skins are worked into clothing and even the bones are used as tools.
  • Having big, ridable animals aids the nomad lifestyle, but is not neccessary for it.
  • Their animals, the nature and environment usually play a big role in their traditions and religions. They are so dependent on the weather that they often can "read" the atmosphere and predict the weather.

There are plenty of nomadic people outside of central asia.

How about the Plains Indians?

Lakota camp https://ancientexplorermagazine.wordpress.com/2016/07/07/origins-and-culture-the-lokota-indians/

The different Amerind groups under this designation lived a nomadic life, following the bison herds. When horses became available it make that easier.

Africa has many groups of nomadic people. The Maasai are nomadic pastoralists and the people and cultural regalia are spectacular. They would be a fine basis for a fictional nomadic people.


If you want to base your people on Europeans you could read up on the Sami people of Finland.

sami people

The Sami are a nomadic people, and in the summer months many still live in their tepee like homes, known as Katas, which can easily be taken down and reconstructed in a different place as the people move across the country with their animals.

My understanding is that the reindeer are somewhere between the North American bison (wild) and the African cattle (tame) - semidomesticated.

Any one of these could be a jumping off point for pastoral / semipastoral nomads with lifestyles superficially similar to the nomads of central asia.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Upvote for Maasai. Don't mess with people whose "coming of age ceremony" for young men was 'go kill an adult lion in solo melee combat'. $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Sep 3 '18 at 18:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ About the Sami, I specially said specially said steppe nomads. I'm very well aware that desert and tundra nomads existed (not that most writers would know this). $\endgroup$ – Chlodio Sep 3 '18 at 19:44

You could give the nomads an indo European sounding language and names, like the more or less Iranian steppe nomads of antiquity like Scythians, Alans, etc.

Or you could give them language and names like some of the horse riding plains Indians of North America, or even South America.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The Scythians did some amazing things when it came to thumbing their noses at the larger imperial powers they rubbed shoulders with. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 3 '18 at 17:15

Amazons (the classic north-east-of-Greece kind). Or at least an equal-opportunity tribe, which might be revolutionary enough for your setting. For those who know a bit of the classics, make a clear link to the Sarmatians.

  • $\begingroup$ The original Amazons, of course, are the from European steppe. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Sep 3 '18 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ @ohwilleke, are you sure that "original" and "Amazons" belong into the same sentence? In a way they were a here there be dragons by the Greeks ... $\endgroup$ – o.m. Sep 3 '18 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ The point is simply to distinguish the Old World myth (likely with a nugget of historical truth buried in Bronze Age and early Iron Age legendary history) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazons from the New World inhabitants of South American jungles, as the reference in your answer doesn't make clear what the reference is to. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Sep 3 '18 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ I did say historical. Just to clarify, the Amazons were not real; Ancient Greek invented them as bedtime stories inspired by more egalitarian Scythians of Ukraine. $\endgroup$ – Chlodio Sep 3 '18 at 17:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ohwilleke, I'll clarify. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Sep 3 '18 at 17:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.