Central Asian people - Central Asian women, slaves, families
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Central Asian People

Scythian women
Scythian women, on a gold plaque (PLATAR collection)

From prehistory right through the Middle Ages, most Central Asian people's most important attachments were to their family and their clan or tribe. Men, women, boys and girls wore clothes that identified which clan and which family they belonged to. They learned the stories of their clan, and they sang the songs of their clan.

Because families were so important in Central Asia, women held more power than in West Asian or Chinese states, and more than in ancient Greece or Rome. One in five Scythian women was buried with armor and weapons, and it may be that the Greek stories of Amazons come from Scythian women fighting as soldiers in Central Asian battles. Some Central Asian people had one woman marrying several men at the same time.

Like everywhere else in Asia and Europe at this time, some Central Asian people were slaves. Often people became slaves when they were captured in a war, or because their parents were poor and sold them into slavery. Genghis Khan himself was a slave when he was a boy. Most Central Asian slaves lived like other poor people in their area, herding cattle, spinning, making felt, knotting carpets, and carrying water.

Also like everywhere else, most Central Asian kids didn't go to school. Kids needed to learn how to ride horses, and how to shoot a bow, and how to make cloth, more than they needed to read or write. But once the Silk Road was established, a lot of people in Central Asia became rich enough to send their kids to school. Buddhist monasteries provided a good education for boys and girls. With the coming of Islam, boys went to Islamic schools, but girls couldn't go. Some of the boys grew up to be scholars, or doctors, or philosophers.

Bibliography and further reading:

Buddhist monks
Islamic schools
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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