Metal-working requires a furnace, heavy tools and of-course metal ore and yet nomadic Mongols were able to obtain metal weapons, so either they worked metal or traded it. But if they worked metal how were they able to move the tools around? And surely nomads didn't mine ore, right?

About.com claims, though without any citations:

Mongolia's nomadic people have at times hungered for goods from settled cultures - things like fine metal-work, silk cloth, and weapons. To get these items, the Mongols would unite and raid surrounding peoples.

Right so this paper talks about how the Hunnu empire - which as far as I can gather are the predecessors of Mongolians - had metal working orkshops, yet it also explicitly describes them as nomadic ??

In excavations of the sites of ancient Hunnu towns[...]iron works and various kinds of cast-iron ware have been discovered.


However, the mighty empire of the nomads did not last long

  • This is a good question - it could probably apply to most pastoral nomads turned conquerors across history: where'd they get their weapons from? Mar 27, 2013 at 15:58
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    "contemporary accounts by Meng Hung of Jin records a vast import of high quality iron from China, since before the days of Jin, there was an embargo on the scale of iron and weapon to the north, but subsequently both were exported in considerable quantities during thje time of Jin. Thus the mongols were able to acquire a large amount of high quality steel that previous nomads lacked." (from some forum, unsourced). Same forum mentioned heavy import from Kazakhs.
    – DVK
    Mar 27, 2013 at 17:48
  • @RISwampYankee Well I'm doing research on nomads in general, but mongolia seems a good example as any. Mar 27, 2013 at 18:55
  • @DVK If I could just get a source that would be amazing lol! There seems to be a lack of resources on nomads on the net. Mar 27, 2013 at 18:55
  • I just did a google search on "mobile forge" and turned up a half dozen links that look relevant.
    – MCW
    Mar 28, 2013 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


A smithy capable of producing horseshoes and simple iron weapons can be constructed in a matter of days. Nomad does not mean "moves every day", the non-raiding members of a group would have spent most of winter in one place, and everyone would have spent weeks at a time in single places. Nomadic blacksmiths are not paradoxical at all.

  • 3
    Good answer to a deceptively difficult question. You've articulated the answer that I was trying to devise. Do you have any citations or sources? I remember I researched historical smithing several years ago, but I don't remember any of the sources I used. And somewhere there has to be assumptions & estimates concerning nomadic economies.
    – MCW
    Mar 28, 2013 at 15:10
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    This is currently more of a comment than an answer. Please flesh it out further. Mar 28, 2013 at 16:01
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    1) Where would they get the skills as weaponsmiths? It requires specialization to devote the time to learning the trade, something really only possible in settled communities. 2) Where did they get the raw materials? How could they trade for enough steel to equip a conquering army with a nomadic lifestyle? Mar 28, 2013 at 16:14
  • One of the wikipedia entries on Mongols claims, citationlessly, that when the Mongols conquered a people they would leave kill everyone except the engineers for te siege towers, possibly they left swordsmiths too if they did do this. It would make sense to acquire anyone whose skills would prove useful in a war. Mar 28, 2013 at 22:54
  • Nomads traded horses and cattle (for stuff they cannot steal in a raid). Especially horses were famous, obviously. Dec 31, 2018 at 15:14

Genghis Khan's general Subutai was said to be the son of a blacksmith, so they apparently did have their own smiths.

Pastoralists with good access to horses and carts would have been quite capable of bringing along fairly heavy objects if they felt the need for doing so.

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    Genghis Khan's birth name of Temujin (as those of his brothers, Temülin and Temüge) is derived from temür meaning iron. The name "indicated an implied lineage in a family once known as blacksmiths". Mar 28, 2013 at 14:21

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