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In my world, there is an entire nomad-based society. While they have some influence based on gypsies, they are mainly based on Mongolian Horsemen. At some point in my fictional history (ca. 12th-13th centuries in our time), they eventually form their own major kingdom. However, despite creating formal cities an towns, they still continue to have their nomadic ways, not always staying in one place. Even though they are like this, how could a civilization that is nomad-based continue staying stable and structured?

For the notes:

  • While they move around a lot, they also use this to guard their territories and lands, and keeping their military mobile

  • Some "villages" are just nomadic groups that move around, creating temporary structures and mainly living in wagons/carriages like gypsies

  • Their main food is livestock, and being a rancher is a huge industry there

  • Some of their "cities" are giant groups of travelers

  • Geographically, the kingdom is in a huge, wide valley

  • Some permanent structures include tradeposts and military fortresses near the borders

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    $\begingroup$ Can you explain how e.g. Mongolia does not fit your question? Seems pretty stable and somewhat structured. Even if structures have changed a lot over the 20th century. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Dec 5, 2022 at 16:55

4 Answers 4

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Have a central location where they have slaves build a city to centralize it all.

This is what the Mongols did. They brought in their experts and slaves and made Karakorum. The Khan lived in it for a few weeks of the year, and all the loot and information of the empire went there.

You can also follow Genghis Khan's rulership ideas.

  1. Have a culture that encourages promotion based off ability, not blood ties. Blood tie promotions means a fractured tribal culture which is pretty ineffective.

  2. Give armies a lot of freedom and don't micromanage. He gave commanders a lot of freedom to accomplish their goals, and forbid looting till the battle was over, forcing them to defeat their enemies quickly. This led to inspired commanders winning many battles.

  3. Support religious tolerance. Your leaders should study the common religions in their area so that they can offer respect to them. Offer freedom from taxes to key religious figures. Religion can easily serve as rallying point against a society which seeks to destroy it, and religious tolerance keeps your society stable.

  4. Rely heavily on psychological warfare. They would generally let their enemies keep their cities, so long as they paid tribute to the horde, and they would slaughter entire cities which resisted them. They had the stick and the carrot, and were very fair.

  5. Maintain spy networks. When moving a lot and ruling over a vast area you need to know what's going on. Establish horse networks to carry news, and informants in every area you want to do stuff in. Intelligence is often the best way to ensure you can win when you stay mobile, and to be aware of any rebellion.

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Being stable and structured doesn't require being immobile. Our real world nomadic societies, without having unmovable structures are nevertheless stable and structured.

What the society needs is traditions and costumes which allow it to thrive and be well adapted to the environment where those take place. If fixed buildings are a burden, there is little sense in having them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Songs and dances are a great way to pass on traditions. They don't need any buildings. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Dec 5, 2022 at 16:16
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A few ideas:

There is a thriving trade of messengers. The only big issue I see with this is it is difficult to know where to go to do business. For instance, a rancher needs to drive their livestock to a big market. Therefore, there has to be a class of messengers who crisscross the lands constantly, trading information with each other about where large gatherings are and how they are moving. If there are enough of them then a trader won't be more than a day out of touch, and finding large gatherings shouldn't be an issue.

Settlements are permanent, residents are not. On the other hand, one reason that cities are where they are is because of advantageous geography. It simply makes sense for a city to arise at a particular place because it has (water, good land, central location...) However, there is absolutely no requirement for that city to be built of permanent structures or have permanent residents. Therefore, the location of the city is always the same, ish, but it's more like a giant camp with defined areas for doing certain things rather than a built up area with permanent structures.

You'd still need tons of messengers to make the second option work, though, or you cannot have a central leader.

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    $\begingroup$ Nomads don't just wander aimlessly, but migrate similar routes every year as seasons change, so at a certain time of year they make their way to a certain location. Markets and other gatherings are then organized in the same place annually. $\endgroup$
    – Cloudberry
    Dec 5, 2022 at 18:50
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You could base the culture in a steep-sided valley. The Swiss farmers have high summer pastures and low winter pastures Alpine Transhumance. Many of the families that farm this way have done so since the Middle Ages. This sort of farming avoids the Tragedy of the Commons only if there is a lot of trust between neighbours. Perhaps being in a valley means you have two neighbours up and down the valley rather than six on a hexagonally tiled plain.

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