History of Nomadism

Nomads moving camp

The word nomad comes from the ancient Greek word nomas, meaning one who wanders to find pastures for grazing.

The history of nomadism goes back much further. Before agriculture all homo-sapiens would have been nomads, constantly moving around to find food and escape the harshest weather.

The development of agriculture about 10,000 years ago meant a move towards a more settled existence. However, in many areas nomadism was still practiced. Herds of livestock would be moved from place to place to avoid depleting the land.

Over time other types of nomads came into existence who were not farmers. They offered trades, crafts and services and moved from place to place to find customers. The Romani people are one example of this type of nomadism.

Nomadism has been gradually dying out yet a considerable amount of people still practice it. In 1995 there were an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world.

The break-up of the Soviet Union led to a revival of nomadism in central Asia. The collapsing economy encouraged a return to nomadism in areas that had been collectivised.

It is estimated that 30% of the Mongolian population are Nomads.

Even in developed countries nomadism still exists, for instance, the Romani, who still live in many European countries, and the Saami, who continue to live their traditional life in northern Scandinavia.

The traditional nomadic way of life may be in decline. However, in developed countries the rising cost of housing, combined with opportunities from technology, such as remote working, mobile devices and crowd-sourcing, make a new type of nomadism possible. This new nomadism is not based on farming but on skilled information activities that do not require physical presence.

Nomadism for the digital age