The Silk Road: A New History

The Silk Road: A New History

Valerie Hansen

Language: English

Pages: 328

ISBN: 0190218428

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The Silk Road: A New History

Valerie Hansen

Language: English

Pages: 328

ISBN: 0190218428

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The Silk Road is as iconic in world history as the Colossus of Rhodes or the Suez Canal. But what was it, exactly? It conjures up a hazy image of a caravan of camels laden with silk on a dusty desert track, reaching from China to Rome. The reality was different--and far more interesting--as revealed in this new history.

In The Silk Road, Valerie Hansen describes the remarkable archeological finds that revolutionize our understanding of these trade routes. For centuries, key records remained hidden--sometimes deliberately buried by bureaucrats for safe keeping. But the sands of the Taklamakan Desert have revealed fascinating material, sometimes preserved by illiterate locals who recycled official documents to make insoles for shoes or garments for the dead. Hansen explores seven oases along the road, from Xi'an to Samarkand, where merchants, envoys, pilgrims, and travelers mixed in cosmopolitan communities, tolerant of religions from Buddhism to Zoroastrianism. There was no single, continuous road, but a chain of markets that traded between east and west. China and the Roman Empire had very little direct trade. China's main partners were the peoples of modern-day Iran, whose tombs in China reveal much about their Zoroastrian beliefs. Silk was not the most important good on the road; paper, invented in China before Julius Caesar was born, had a bigger impact in Europe, while metals, spices, and glass were just as important as silk. Perhaps most significant of all was the road's transmission of ideas, technologies, and artistic motifs.

The Silk Road is a fascinating story of archeological discovery, cultural transmission, and the intricate chains across Central Asia and China.

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31. Rong Xinjiang, “Kanshi Gaochang wangguo yu Rouran, Xiyu de guanxi” [The relations of the Kan-family rulers of Gaochang with the Rouran and Western Regions], Lishi Yanjiu 2007, no. 2: 4–14; Rong et al., Xinhuo Tulufan chutu wenxian, 1:163. 32. Jonathan Karam Skaff, “Sasanian and Arab-Sasanian Silver Coins from Turfan: Their Relationship to International Trade and the Local Economy,” Asia Major, 3rd ser., 11, no. 2 (1998): 67–115, esp. 68. 33. Most of the coins from Gaochang City were found

Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1991), 103, 37. 58. This passage has been variously understood by different scholars. Where Luo translates “sabao and merchants,” others see “sabao” as an adjective, with the resulting translation “sabao merchants.” Luo Feng, “Sabao: Further Consideration of the Only Post for Foreigners in the Tang Dynasty Bureaucracy,” China Archaeology and Art Digest 4, no. 1 (2000): 165–91, esp. 178–79; Legge, Fa-Hien, 104, 38. 59. Legge, Fa-Hien, 111, 42. 60. Joseph Needham,

Kushan dynasty was clearly powerful enough to send troops to western Xinjiang. Most Chinese records say little about these migrations from India, but one biography of Zhi Qian, a Buddhist teacher of Indian descent, explains: “He came from the Great Yuezhi Kingdom (viz. the Kushan empire). Led by his grandfather Fadu, hundreds of his countrymen immigrated into China during the reign of Emperor Ling Di [ca. 168–189 CE] and Fadu was offered an official post.”17 This conclusion—that the

Islamified at this time. Xinjiang Museum. In 1895 the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin launched the first scientific mission to Xinjiang, the source of many of these ancient manuscripts. Departing that April from the town of Merket on the Yarkand River, Hedin entered the Taklamakan Desert in search of the source of the Khotan River. After fifteen days, he discovered that he was not carrying enough water for himself and the four men with him. Still, he did not turn back because he did not want to

as did those of the surrounding oasis towns, making Islam the principal religion in the region today.1 They also gradually gave up speaking Khotanese, the language shown on the facing page, for Uighur, the language one hears most often in the city today. Almost all the materials about pre-Islamic Khotan come from outside the city. Because the oasis sits at the confluence of two major rivers, the environment is relatively well-watered. Extensive irrigation and occasional floods have created a

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