outline: Silk road carried trade,exchange of ideas, culture,religion- ups and downs
Trade along the route was adversely affected by the strife which built up between the Christian and Moslem worlds. The Crusades brought the Christian world a little nearer to Central Asia, but the unified Moslem armies under Saladin drove them back again. In the Fourth Crusade, the forces of Latin Christianity scored a triumph over their Greek rivals, with the capture of Constantinople (Istanbul). However, it was not the Christians who finally split the Moslem world, but the Mongols from the east.
Whilst Europe and Western Asia were torn by religious differences, the Mongols had only the vaguest of religious beliefs. Several of the tribes of Turkestan which had launched offensives westwards towards Persia and Arabia, came to adopt Islam, and Islam had spread far across Central Asia, but had not reached as far as the tribes which wandered the vast grasslands of Mongolia. These nomadic peoples had perfected the arts of archery and horsemanship. With an eye to expanding their sphere of influence, they met in 1206 and elected a leader for their unified forces; he took the title Great Khan. Under the leadership of Genghis Khan, they rapidly proceeded to conquer a huge region of Asia. The former Han city of Jiaohe, to the west of Turfan, was decimated by the Mongols as they passed through on their way westwards. The Empire they carved out enveloped the whole of Central Asia from China to Persia, and stretched as far west as the Mediterranean. This Mongol empire was maintained after Genghis’ death, with the western section of the empire divided into three main lordships, falling to various of his descendents as lesser Khans, and with the eastern part remaining under the rule of the Great Khan, a title which was inherited from by Kublai Khan. Kubilai completed the conquest of China, subduing the Song in the South of the country, and established the Yuan dynasty.
The partial unification of so many states under the Mongol Empire allowed a significant interaction between cultures of different regions. The route of the Silk Road became important as a path for communication between different parts of the Empire, and trading was continued. Although less `civilised’ than people in the west, the Mongols were more open to ideas. Kubilai Khan, in particular, is reported to have been quite sympathetic to most religions, and a large number of people of different nationalities and creeds took part in the trade across Asia, and settled in China. The most popular religion in China at the time was Daoism, which at first the Mongols favoured. However, from the middle of the thirteenth century onwards, buddhist influence increased, and the early lamaist Buddhism from Tibet was particularly favoured. The two religions existed side by side for a long period during the Yuan dynasty. This religious liberalism was extended to all.
Any history on the Silk Road would be incomplete without mention of Marco Polo. As a member of a merchant family from Venice he took the route. Starting in 1271, at the age of only seventeen, he trekked across Persia, and then along the southern branch of the Silk Road, via Khotan, finally ending at the court of Kubilai Khan at Khanbalik, the site of present-day Beijing, and the summer palace, better known as Xanadu.
Mongol invasion was a turning point in the history of the region. Islam will fall back from what they had gained: all the turbulence,-force released by falling edifices of old beliefs, cultures muddied by trades, wars was for their taking. There was the Black Death that hit as far as Europe. Two thirds of Europe will succumb to it. History would never be the same. Islam will make a giant leap backwards and would never be the same.
(To be Cont’d)
Posts Tagged ‘the Mongols’
Posted in culture, history, tagged Benny Thomas, Buddhism, culture, Daoism, Genghiz Khan, history, Islam, Kublai Khan, Marco Polo, recidivism, the Black Death, the Mongols on May 3, 2012 | Leave a Comment »
outline: Silk road carried trade,exchange of ideas, culture,religion- ups and downs
trade carried ideas,culture route-religions,Buddhism, Christianity and Islam
This region along the Silk Road was taken over by Alexander the Great of Macedon, who finally conquered the Iranian empire, and colonised the area in about 330 B.C., superimposing the culture of the Greeks. Although he only ruled the area until 325 B.C., the effect of the Greek invasion was quite considerable.
By the third century B.C., the area had already become a crossroads of Asia, where Persian, Indian and Greek ideas met. This `crossroads’ region, covering the area to the south of the Hindu Kush and Karakorum ranges, now Pakistan and Afghanistan, was overrun by a number of different peoples. After the Greeks, the tribes from Palmyra, in Syria, and then Parthia, to the east of the Mediterranean, took over the region. They had adopted the Greek language and coin system in this region, introducing their own influences in the fields of sculpture and art.
The most significant commodity carried along this route was not silk, but religion. Buddhism came to China from India this way, along the northern branch of the route. The Eastern Han emperor Mingdi is thought to have sent a representative to India to discover more about this strange faith, and further missions returned bearing scriptures, and bringing with them monks and it is pertinent to note that the Himalayan Massif, an effective barrier between China and India made Buddhism in China more derived from the Gandhara culture by the bend in the Indus river, rather than directly from India.
Christianity also made an early appearance on the scene. The Nestorian sect was outlawed in Europe by the Roman church in 432 A.D., and its followers were driven eastwards. From their foothold in Northern Iran, merchants brought the faith along the Silk Road, and the first Nestorian church was consecrated at Changan in 638 A.D. This sect took root on the Silk Road, and survived many later attempts to wipe them out, lasting into the fourteenth century.
The height of the importance of the Silk Road was during the Tang dynasty, with relative internal stability in China after the divisions of the earlier dynasties since the Han. The 754 A.D. census showed that five thousand foreigners lived in the city; Turks, Iranians, Indians and others from along the Road, as well as Japanese, Koreans and Malays from the east. Many were missionaries, merchants or pilgrims, but every other occupation was also represented. Rare plants, medicines, spices and other goods from the west were to be found in the bazaars of the city. After the Tang, however, the traffic along the road subsided.
It was at this time that the rise of Islam started to affect Asia, with the Moslems playing the part of middlemen. The sea route to China was explored at this time, and the `Sea Silk Route’ was opened, eventually holding a more important place than the land route itself.
But the final shake-up that occurred was to come from a different direction; the hoards from the grasslands of Mongolia.
(to be continued)
Rise of humans on the earth is a chronicle of mass migrations. Among these a road is surely a consequence of choices people make to reach their destination. In times of famine they sought places where food was in abundance. Later trade between peoples connected by roads. Road is the straight line between two points where geography has a say. In terms of geography we consider unfordable rivers, lakes and insurmountable mountains as features that stretch roads about. Of these we shall look at two roads in particular. These serve as locus for entire history of Europe and Asia to fan out. It brought about changes that none could have realized. Silk Road is one and the other is Appian Way which includes Roman road system as one whole.
The region separating China from Europe and Western Asia has Taklimakan desert, known as `Land of Death’; caravans throughout history have skirted its edges, from one isolated oasis to the next. The land surrounding the Taklimakan is equally hostile. To the northeast lies the Gobi desert, almost as harsh in climate as the Taklimakan itself; on the remaining three sides lie some of the highest mountains in the world. To the South are the Himalaya, Karakorum and Kunlun ranges, which provide an effective barrier separating Central Asia from the Indian sub-continent. Only a few icy passes cross these. Coming from the west or south, the only way in is over the passes.
On the eastern and western sides of the continent, the civilisations of China and the West developed. The western end of the trade route appears to have developed earlier than the eastern end, principally because of the development of the empires in the west, and the easier terrain of Persia and Syria.
In the west, the Greek empire was taken over by the Roman Empire. It is often thought that the Romans had first encountered silk in one of their campaigns against the Parthians in 53 B.C, and realised that it could not have been produced by this relatively unsophisticated people. The Romans obtained samples of this new material, and it quickly became very popular in Rome, for its soft texture and attractiveness. They reputedly learnt from Parthian prisoners that it came from a mysterious tribe in the east, who they came to refer to as the silk people, `Seres’. The Parthians quickly realised that there was money to be made from trading the material, and sent trade missions towards the east just as Rome sent their own agents out to explore the route, and to try to obtain silk at a lower price. In short this trade route to the East was seen by the Romans, as a route for silk rather than the other goods that were traded.
The name `Silk Road’ itself does not originate from the Romans, however, but is a nineteenth century term, coined by the German scholar, von Richthofen. The description of this route to the west as the `Silk Road’ is somewhat misleading. Firstly, no single route was taken; crossing Central Asia several different branches developed, passing through different oasis settlements. The routes all started from the capital in Changan, headed up the Gansu corridor, and reached Dunhuang on the edge of the Taklimakan.
In addition to silk, the route carried many other precious commodities. Caravans heading towards China carried gold and other precious metals, ivory, precious stones, and glass, which was not manufactured in China until the fifth century. In the opposite direction furs, ceramics, jade, bronze objects, lacquer and iron were carried. Many of these goods were bartered for others along the way, and objects often changed hands several times. There are no records of Roman traders being seen in Changan, nor Chinese merchants in Rome, though their goods were appreciated in both places. ( To be Cont’d)