Given that nomads are always on the move, how would you conduct trade with one another? Or maybe a better question did they even conduct trade with one another?

Were there always cities/villages where nomadic communities were prevalent where they could gather to meet/share news/trade? IE were there cities in ancient Mongolia and ancient Americas?

The question I am asking is the one in the title, the other questions in the descriptions are just to explain that question in more detail.

  • 1
    the general idea seems to be that there were "meeting places" where tribes tended to come together to trade, neutral areas where there were rules against fighting etc. Another idea is that those tended to later develop into more permanent settlements, the first towns and cities, the trade posts on the caravan routes, etc. – jwenting Mar 26 '13 at 13:21
  • Third Bullet – Mark C. Wallace Jul 9 '13 at 16:47
  • I voted to close this question because it is far too broad, spanning the entire world over a period of many thousands of years time, and most of that period is prehistorical, making it a question about anthropology and archeology, not history (as illustrated by the one excellent answer that has been posted). It also gives no definition of what even constitutes "nomadic". Perhaps it has the kernel of a good question, but must hone in on a specific period with some substantiation. – user2590 Aug 27 '13 at 18:25

Perhaps the biggest challenge in answering this question is the difficulty in generalizing across space, across various kinds of nomadic groups, and indeed, across individual nomadic groups. Also, much of what can be said depends on what we know about nomadic groups in recent history and make assumptions about ancient groups. I think someone with good archeological research skills might be able to offer a more full answer for you:

Having said that, I thought I would share some observations on general aspects of nomadic trade I found useful in one article cited below:

  • Some groups are defined by anthropologists and historians as "pure pastoralists," that is, they are almost completely dependent upon the products they find in the lands they cover, and meat and products of the animals they bring with them. For these groups, there is very little significant trade, and it is not carried out in formalized ways. Examples include Kirghiz tribesmen. (p19) This probably corresponds most closely to the trade you are talking about before the dominance of agricultural communities.

  • Another way to distinguish the above group is made by E. Gellner: "symbiotic" nomads vs. "simple or primitive" isolated nomads (p42). The latter might have traded with each other but are not at the periphery of a more organized system.

  • Once they develop, more common was the interaction between nomadic groups and agricultural communities, as in the "symbiotic" nomads that are embedded into a larger system. Most infamously, this could take the form of raids, etc. but there was also trade in the form of barter of livestock, livestock products, and wild foods for grain, etc.

  • Trade between nomadic groups could take place (as pointed out by @jwenting) at appointed places. Example in the article, quoting the work of P. H. Gulliver is the Labwor Hills as a site of exchange between the Tobur and the Jie pastoralists in East Africa.(p43)

  • A more recent important contribution (though controversial) is the work Debt: the First 5,000 Years by anarchist anthropologist David Graeber. The descriptions of trade between nomadic groups makes frequent appearance in the work, which begins by critiquing the typical way that bartered exchanges before the existence of money are portrayed in our textbooks. Rather than an inefficient system replaced by rational accounting methods of cash, Graeber looks at the rich cultural systems of exchange, debt, and power that are embedded in these systems. Rather than telling you necessarily "where" they engaged in trade, I would encourage you to look at this source as synthesizing scholarship on how such trade was carried out and mediated relationships between groups.

Page Numbers above are from:

"Nomadic Pastoralism" Rada Dyson-Hudson and Neville Dyson-Hudson Annual Review of Anthropology Vol. 9, (1980), pp. 15-61 Walled access at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2155728

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