Geography of central Asia influenced the development of nomadic cultures because its light did not support large-scale agriculture. As a result, only grasses and shrubs grew on the steppe lands, which lacked rivers or other sources of water for irrigation. Grazing animals thrived because the humans could not digest the vegetations, but the livestock could, especially sheep, horses, cattle, goats, and camels.
Therefore, animals played an important role in the pastoral life of the nomads. Herding the flocks in migratory cycles, they lived mostly off the meat, milk, and hides of their animals.
Animal bones were used for food and dung was fuel for fires. They also made shoes and clothes out of wool from sheep and skins from other animals. Wool was the source of felt they used to make tents (yurts). Furthermore, fermented mare’s milk was a popular alcoholic drink, kumiss.
Because of the arid climate, development was limited, so agriculture only occurred at the oases where populations congregated.
Settlements were few, small, and temporary, because the nomads carried collapsible tents. Although nomads did cultivate millet or vegetables on the small-scale when the found sources of water, harvests could only supplement their main diet of animal products. The central Asian steppe nomads also produced limited amounts of pottery, leather, and iron weapons and tools.
Property was limited due to their nomadic lifestyle, but they were able to trade with settled communities to gain agricultural products and manufactured goods. Extremely mobile on their horses, nomads were also able to participate in long-distance trade.
For example, they used caravans to cross central Asia, linking China to the Mediterranean. In the future, these skilled horsemen would not only use their mounts to develop diplomatic relationships, but to also coerce a reign of terror in the largest empire of the world.