In Mongolia and surrounding regions of China and Russia there are numerous places built by early empires, beginning about 200 BCE. For at least two decades researchers working in Inner Asia have noted that the urban centers of these nomadic or pastoralist empires differ in scope and purpose from those found in sedentary agricultural societies. Stationary urban populations were important for the growth of ancient and contemporary states in most regions of the world. The differences represented by the pastoralist empires of Inner Asia are emblematic of an alternative pathway to social complexity. Globally, the emergence of states is linked with a transformation of the concepts of sacred and cultural space. Overlays of local practice, cultural concepts, and practical concerns were the foundation for the broader objectives of the political economy and emerging hierarchies of control. For Inner Asia the evidence, based on a sample of 76 urban centers and palace complexes, suggests that built locations formed a distinct disjuncture with local practice. In this sense the transformation was from local/accepted/kin-based to global/imposed/corporate. Analysis of these places combined with information from historical and ethnographic sources suggest that early polities emphasized traditional concepts of spatial networks based on mobility in contexts beyond the built environment. However, in the planning and purposes of settlements leaders created functions that responded to the needs of the state. The urban centers of the steppe were typically the byproduct of polity formation, rather than the foundation.