In our world, nomadism disappeared in most temperate and some semi arid climates after the agricultural revolution. But could it have survived?


  • Nomadic people living in a large area. Other nations are living on the same continent, including other nomads but also several well established states that have been using agriculture for several centuries.
  • Climate: Temperate
  • Geography: Diverse but with access to plains and many rivers.
  • Era: Middle ages, Renaissance
  • Magic: not significant

Result: Despite being exposed to more advanced technologies, including agriculture, the nomads kept their way of life. Could they resist the temptation of the otiose life of the farmers? Could they resist the technological progress? And could they resist the military threat of a potentially more advanced neighbor?

Cause: What I am looking for: What could cause the nomad to keep their nomadic ways?


7 Answers 7


In addition to Michael Kjörling's answer: Some Native American tribes also moved around, following buffalo herds, much like the Sami. Indigenous Australians were also semi-nomadic.

As for reasons to remain nomadic (besides following seasons or resources):

And could they resist the military threat of a potentially more advanced neighbor?

Well, if they couldn't resist such threat that might be a good reason to pick up sticks and go somewhere else. It might initially be thought of as a temporary situation, but become ingrained over generations - especially if the aforementioned military threat still prevented returning "home". Such an external threat might also lead to a more close-knit group, less likely to disperse and settle.

An alternative, and perhaps more intriguing reason: Maybe it's actually the nomadic people in your world who possess some special technology or skill. But said skill is in high but infrequent demand, and they go where the work is. While we don't see coherent "tribes" doing this, some modern day professions require individual people to "follow the money" too. For instance, specialized deep-sea divers might work in oil fields all over the world. While not "traditionally" nomadic, it does fit the description.

One could imagine something similar for a whole culture. Perhaps instead of being driven from place to place by their circumstances, these nomadic peoples are instead invited from place to place. Priests or mystics. Or scholars or plain old mercenaries. Or artisans or builders, perhaps. Maybe they've mastered, say, bridge building or something. You don't need a new bridge every day, so those that have mastered it decide to travel from place to place, bringing families along. And soon, you have a "tribe" of nomadic bridge builders. Settled cultures may not bother learning the craft themselves, because, again, you don't need new bridges all the time, and when you do, you just summon the experts.

Or maybe it started earlier; there was a settled city/state that'd mastered something, and it sold its services. Over the years the settled culture disappeared (because reasons) leaving their travelling groups perpetually travelling. They'd have their own customs already (from their original culture), rather than develop them while on the road.

In fact, the idea of a travelling skilled labourer adhering to an archaic tradition is not too far from the journeymen ("knaves") that exist to this day. Some, in particular in Germany, still wear the (peculiar) traditional clothes during their journeyman years. While this is only a "temporarily nomadic" way of life (typically a journeyman completes three years as "wandering apprentice"), it could conceivably become a more permanent way of life.

Or maybe work dried up for this particular group a long time ago, so now they're "just" nomadic, despite the original reason being lost to time.

Edit: Actually, an old-fashioned travelling circus is perhaps another real-world example of a nomadic profession. And circus folk practically have their own culture, itself an amalgamation of different cultures, since a circus performers come from all over the world. But as they travel from place to place, they constitute a sort of tribe (for lack of a better word) with its own culture.

And things like this have been going on forever; bards, thespians, musicians performers of all kinds travelled from place to place.


Anything is possible, I think the closest I can think of that actually existed in a similar way was the Gypsies. They roamed around Europe and Asia Minor never putting down roots, doing a little tinkering, trading and filching when necessary.

One of the reasons they didn't settle down is because they were 'different'. The locals didn't really want them around for very long, they looked different, dressed different and acted different.

Different species would make this even more prevalent. Of course, if as a nomad your group causes to much strife where you go, then the locals will and governments will attempt to put an end to it.

ETA another idea.

Migrant workers, they are sort of nomads. They move across the country harvesting crops and keep moving as one harvest is done and the next is ripening.


The short answer is that yes, it is basically possible to have a fully nomadic people in a temperate climate, and there are many reasons why a people may choose to not adopt high technology even if it is available.

A good example might be the Sami people of northern Scandinavia, some of whom live similar to nomadic lives even today, moving with their reindeer. Not all Sami people keep reindeer, and quite possibly not all who keep reindeer live a nomadic lifestyle, but traditionally reindeer herders have moved with their herds thus essentially living a nomadic lifestyle. Reindeer husbandry is in Sweden and Norway legally protected as a right exclusive to Sami.

As this map of their range and the extent of the Sápmi area shows, the Sami people live well within the north temperate zone which extends up to the arctic circle, as well as further north.

The Sami people have adopted technology, but I can see no real reason why it has to happen that way. Two reasons that I can imagine why such a people might not adopt technology, or do so only in a limited fashion, is pursual and discrimination by the "more advanced" people, and some form of cultural taboo. Mix the Sami culture with the Amish and it appears that you would have pretty much what you are looking for, without going too far out of what we actually have in our world, today.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually, the green zone is the temperate area : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperate_climate#mediaviewer/… $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Nov 1, 2014 at 1:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent Are we looking at and for the same thing? The article clearly says In geography, temperate or tepid latitudes of Earth lie between the tropics and the polar regions. as well as that The north temperate zone extends from the Tropic of Cancer (approximately 23.5° north latitude) to the Arctic Circle (approximately 66.5° north latitude). If you compare the maps, they also indicate specifically-shown-as temperate zone range for the Sami, even though that's not the only climate zone they live in. And if you replace reindeer husbandry with something else, why not? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Nov 1, 2014 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ The legend says that the green area is the temperate zone. My point is that agriculture in the northern climates, boreal and tundra is very hard. The only way people can survive there is if they live as nomads or hunter/gatherer. Thus, it is not really surprising that the Sami are still nomad. Many Canadian Inuit were forced to abandon their way of life (as in many other countries) but they used to be more or less like the Sami. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Nov 1, 2014 at 18:25

In a slightly different vein, post-structuralist thinkers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their book "A Thousand Plateaus" discuss the historical facts of nomadism and work it into a conceptual tool to describe not only societies and practices, but also aesthetics and just about anything else you can think of.

Starting from an older description of nomads cited in the book, they say that, counter-intuitively considering the nomadic tendency to wander, that in fact nomads are "those who do not move." And what they mean by this is that nomads have not responded to environmental cues in the same that that sedentary, agrarian, and ultimately urban societies have. While most societies either moved with changing climates to more productive lands and better temperatures, or produced the concrete jungles of the urban as population magnets for PERMANENT migration (and the word permanent is key here), nomads could in fact be looked at as the people who "stayed" in an area (even with their wandering), in spite of climactic change. This can be seen with the three major climates inhabited by nomades: temperate steppe, arctic steppe, and desert areas.

While a real understanding of Deleuze and Guattari's use of the nomad concept would require reading that section of the book (easily found online under the name "The Nomadology"), the fundamental descriptor of the nomad stems from the way that they understand and experience space, a description that then opens itself up to describing far more than simply nomadic societies.

In short, nomads can be seen to occupy "smooth space," while state societies (urban, agrarian, sedentary, etc) are seen to produce "striated space." A nomadic existence can be seen to occupy space in a fluid manner, lacking in many ways both roads and paths, but all the same maintain "flows" throughout space among various "waypoints" (oases, etc) as need be. Rather than occupied strict and rigid social hierarchies (although certainly not excluding the existence of hierarchies), nomads instead form bands based on numbers and intensities of use and force, and these bands are capable of dissolving and reforming.

This can be seen in contrast to so-called "state societies" that maintain not only the striation of physical space with roads, fences, buildings, and other structures, but also of social space with rigid hierarchies and social and economic roles.

The two types of societies, while possessing no need of animosity toward each other, are often mutually exclusive. Nomads, in their fluid occupation of smooth space, are by their nature opposed to the rigid striation of space by state societies. In this way, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that while war, and the "war machine" are not the OBJECT of the nomads, the war-machine is indeed a SUPPLEMENT to nomadic existence. And by this they mean that nomads occupy space fluidly, failing to recognize boundaries (especially of the state variety) and often occupying smooth space to the very limits as permitted by the utility of their systematic waypoints and the physical barriers presented to them.

When a nomadic society encounters the striations of a state society, the nomads must either flee and recognize the boundaries of the states as a physical boundary, be integrated into the state society, or often, transform from a simple nomadic society into a war machine whose goal is not animosity and therefore the destruction of a state society, but rather the destruction of state striations and the reclamation of smooth space. This can be seen time and time again in society, often under the guise of "barbarian invasions" (Rome, anyone?).

Interestingly, the latter sections of Deleuze and Guattari's Nomadology explores two very different and very curious extensions of nomadism. The first is the way state societies are able to capture and control the nomadic war machine to produce a captive society within, yet separate from, the state society: the military. This seems quite an odd proposition, but provides for a number of insights into social and political dynamics. The second is the way in which nomadism can exist WITHIN state societies, indeed in the form of the migrants, migrant laborers, and groups like the Romani mentioned above (and most of these mentioned in the Nomadology also), but also in the form of different mentalities and subcultures within the state society. The mentalities and subcultures, much like the literal nomads, seek to reclaim smooth space (including smooth mental space, smooth space of identity (racial and gender identities are included here), and many other phenomena) from state striations, and where the nomadic mindset encounters state striation, it must either submit and integrate, or transform into a war machine with the objective of reclaiming smooth space. However, nomads trapped within state societies can also occupy a strange middle ground of "holey" space, where feat of hiding and camouflage and subversion and subterfuge permit the extension of smooth space in all directions, by taking advantage of the cracks and fissures in state society.

This description is simplistic compared to the propositions and description found in the book, but I feel I have captured the general idea. It is a read that I found well worth the effort, and provides many insights into what nomadism is, and how many of the properties of nomadism find their way into our every day lives and the way our inner mental life, seeking freedom, acceptance, and growth, encounters and overcomes so many heavily differentiated barriers.


Consider the following line: Is there a need for them to settle down?

People would settle down because there valid reasons for this, e.g.:

  • Safety; settling down allows for walls to keep out dangerous animals or bandits
  • Food sparsity; (actually works in both ways) settling down allow to claim the little resources that are available and to keep them for yourself
  • Numbers; the greater the numbers the more of a logistical nightmare it becomes to move them on a regular basis

Hence if such reasons are not given, why settle down?

As you state:

  • Climate: Temperate
  • Geography: Diverse but with access to plains and many rivers.
  • Era: Middle ages, Renaissance
  • There seems to be no shortage of land and pastures, so why cultivate the land instead of taking and moving?
  • There seems to be sufficient technological advancement to assume that these nomads can be in possession of enough weaponry to defend themselves and their herds against wild animals and the occasional bandits/highwaymen.
  • There seems to be enough room for the single tribes/groups to keep their numbers comparatively small (maybe some 50 to 60 people a group) and split should groups get bigger (there's presumably also a fair amount of young adults leaving their tribes to seek out live in the cities or go their own way).

So for the causes. There are probably 2 of them that are most important to consider:

  1. There are NO reasons for them not to live nomadic (see above)
  2. At that age of a people there is a thing we call culture. It's the way our forebears lived and that we were taught and brought up. Why do people living in the mountains learn skiing when small? Why do we have different languages in different countries? Because it has been as it is and there have been no reasons for it to change.

I hope I could help you :)

As an addendum and because I can't post comments yet:

Consider the Roma People they are living in nomadic ways today in the 21st century.

They don't really belong to any state so basically have no home. They basically cannot settle down without losing their identity/ethnicity.



Think of the Romani peoples (oft referred to as Gypsies). They are an itinerant thousand-year-old culture which has spread throughout the world. They made their living as casual general labor.

There have been nomadic cultures of merchant traders. They would not, themselves, be producers, but they would be purveyors of merchandise and produce. In the 'wild west', they went from settlement to settlement to peddle their wares.

Think of circus carnies. They spend their lives living in trailers, going from town to town, migrating from north to south during the year as the weather changes. They also are not producers, but rather traveling entertainers.

Even today, thee are those who have sold their homes, cashed in their assets, and bought a mobile home. They have no permanent residence, following the sun. There is no shortage of people that envy their lifestyle.

So what CAUSES these peoples to be nomadic? Financial inventive? They could make a living doing it? A sense of adventure? They do not like the live of the mundane? Perhaps none of the above, perhaps all of the above. But when it comes down to the gut issue, they do it because they CAN. They LIKE the lifestyle. It suits their personality. They are doing what they want to do. Is it genetic? They oft do say that 'It is in their blood'. But it IS a lifestyle that seems to fit with their personality. Do they need a reason to do it, or do they look for a reason to do it?

Methinks that, in many people, it just comes naturally, and when the opportunity arises, they just do it.

So, just supply the opportunity, and you will get nomadic people.


There are two kinds of nomads:

  • real nomads (which are moving from one place to another all the time)
  • semi-nomads (the ones who are moving according to seasons (i.e. they spend summers somewhere where animals have plenty of food, but location usually is far from village or similar, with cold winters etc.))

Semi-nomads still exist and it is not such a rare life style. When it comes to real nomads the reason why they kept moving was not because seasons were changing; the reason was that such activity is not sustainable.

They, well their animals actually, would deplete all resources, and then they were forced to move. So short answer is nomadic ways means you must keep moving, and nothing can stop that.

In order to stop moving you must perform different type of activity, and you must look after the resources that you are using.

  • $\begingroup$ big reason true nomads are almost gone is national borders. Countries like to control who moves in and out, nomads tend to not bother with border control agents very much so they get in many countries hunted down and forced to settle down or leave. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Nov 4, 2014 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting I guess that’s true, but not necessary relevant; because if you take countries like China or Russia, or Canada, national borders can not be considered and issue because of the large spaces. But anyway question was if there is a connection between climate and nomadic style of life; but I must say you make a good point. $\endgroup$
    – w_builder
    Nov 4, 2014 at 19:09

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