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Life along the Silk Road

Life along the Silk Road: Second Edition

Susan Whitfield
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 2
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Life along the Silk Road
    Book Description:

    In this long-awaited second edition, Susan Whitfield broadens her exploration of the Silk Road and expands her rich and varied portrait of life along the great pre-modern trade routes of Eurasia. This new edition is comprehensively updated to support further understanding of themes relevant to global and comparative history and remains the only history of the Silk Road to reconstruct the route through the personal experiences of travelers.In the first 1,000 years after Christ, merchants, missionaries, monks, mendicants, and military men traveled the vast network of Central Asian tracks that became known as the Silk Road. Whitfield recounts the lives of twelve individuals who lived at different times during this period, including two characters new to this edition: an African shipmaster and a Persian traveler and writer during the Arab caliphate. With these additional tales, Whitfield extends both geographical and chronological scope, bringing into view the maritime links across the Indian Ocean and depicting the network of north-south routes from the Baltic to the Gulf.Throughout the narrative, Whitfield conveys a strong sense of what life was like for ordinary men and women on the Silk Road, the individuals usually forgotten to history. A work of great scholarship,Life along the Silk Roadcontinues to be both accessible and entertaining.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96029-9
    Subjects: History, Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  6. Map
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    COINED IN 1877 by Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen (1833–1905), a German geographer with commercial interests in a proposed railway to connect Europe and China across Eurasia, the term “Silk Road” is now commonly encountered both inside and outside academia.¹ Indeed, it can be said to have become a brand, used to label anything exotic and randomly eastern to the whole of pre-modern exchanges across Eurasia. Its use for a website trading clandestinely in banned products is perhaps one of the more intelligent appropriations of the term in recent years.²

    Yet the Silk Road is a term that was little...

  8. PROLOGUE: The Shipmaster’s Tale TAZENA, 520–535
    (pp. 8-13)

    IT WAS LATE SPRING, and Tazena was looking out to sea, immune to the bustle of the quay at Gabaza, the port at Adulis, to a ship just visible on the horizon.² The sea, for once, seemed calm, but Tazena knew too well the dangers of the treacherous currents that could pull ships onto the coral reefs lurking just below the surface. His countrymen still chose to bind the planks of their ships with cord rather than using nails, believing that it made them more pliable and able to withstand being dragged onto a reef.³ He had seen many nailed...

  9. ONE The Merchant’s Tale NANAIVANDAK, 730–751
    (pp. 14-37)

    IT WAS THE YEAR 751 by the western calendar, 134 by Islamic reckoning, the second year of the reign of al-Saffah., the first of the Arabic Abbasid caliphs and the Byzantine Carolingian emperors, and the ninth in theTianbao(Heavenly Riches) reign period of the Tang-dynasty emperor Xuanzong in China. Th e merchant Nanaivandak was from Samarkand, a city-state formerly independent but now, since the advance of the Arab-led armies east of the Amu Darya (Oxus river), under the rule of the caliphate.² He had traveled for nearly a year from Samarkand, over the towering Pamir mountains, and along the...

  10. TWO The Soldier’s Tale SEG LHATON, 747–790
    (pp. 38-56)

    IN THE 780s, Seg Lhaton, a Tibetan soldier, was quartered in a fort at Miran in the southern Tarim, over a thousand miles from his home.² His countrymen had retaken Miran and many other towns and army garrisons from the Chinese over the past two decades, and they now controlled the route between Sogdia and China, shutting off trade and diplomatic missions between Samarkand and Chang’an and thereby stopping one source of China’s wealth and power. A few merchants had recently managed to get through by going north of the Tianshan, but this was Uygur-held territory, and the merchants had...

  11. THREE The Horseman’s Tale KUTLUG, 790–792
    (pp. 57-72)

    IT WAS 790 and the beginning of the short steppe summer when the land is all too briefly green and the sky a constant, unrelenting blue, a respite from the grey and white of winter’s snow-laden clouds and frost-bitten earth. The camels and horses of the caravan crossing the steppe numbered in their thousands, but to the horseman approaching from afar, at the head of a herd of ponies, they were barely a speck in the rolling landscape.

    The horseman Kutlug was a Uygur Turk, with a characteristically broad face, thick eyelashes, and deep-set green eyes.² His language, Uygur, was...

  12. FOUR The Princess’s Tale TAIHE, 821–843
    (pp. 73-89)

    IN THE AUTUMN OF 821, Taihe, an imperial princess, sister of the current emperor of China and daughter of his predecessor, rode in a howdah on a Bactrian camel.² Her female attendants rode beside her on the treasured Nisean or Turkmen horses from the imperial pastures, not sidesaddle but with their silk pyjamed legs straddling the high-pommeled saddles.³ As the sister of the Chinese emperor, the princess had been chosen as “tribute”: she was on her way to wed the Uygur khagan to cement their countries’ friendship. The emperor had already received soft cloth made of camel hair, brocades, sable...

  13. FIVE The Courtesan’s Tale LARISHKA, 839–890
    (pp. 90-103)

    Larishka’s maidservant found her sitting in front of the mirror, her hand raised but arrested in action, a small dog at her feet.² The girl chided her mistress; her guests had already arrived and were expecting her. Larishka dipped a brush into a tiny pot of yellow orpiment pigment and carefully painted a crescent moon on her forehead to cover a scar.³ She was no longer young, but her thick makeup made it difficult to tell her age. The maidservant checked her mistress’s hair ornaments and helped her finish dressing. Then Larishka took her lute from its case and carefully...

  14. SIX The Pilgrim’s Tale CHUDDA, 855–870
    (pp. 104-125)

    The young man watched intently as the brown-robed foreign monk dipped his brush in ink and traced out a complex pattern on a square of rough paper. The monk waited for the ink to dry before giving the paper to the young man with careful instructions. He must make copies and burn them on a certain day each month while reciting a spell. The young man handed over a cup of grain and pushed his way out through the crowd milling around the table.² He had come to the monk because his hair had started to fall out a few...

  15. SEVEN The Writer’s Tale AHMAD, 903–935
    (pp. 126-137)

    AS AHMAD ENTERED THE CITY GATE of Isfahan, his heart lifted at the sight of the last of the fall roses.² The flowers were also travelers, having sprouted first in the Himalayas over two thousand miles to the southeast and then spread throughout Eurasia. Ahmad’s visit to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in 903 some three decades previously had taken him the same distance in the opposite direction, across the once great Arab caliphate.³ He had returned to his home, but part of him remained in Mecca. His journey, and those of others he encountered and read, took...

  16. EIGHT The Official’s Tale ZHAI FENGDA, 883–966
    (pp. 138-152)

    Zhai Fengda had just started school.² He sat with several other boys in a side hall in the monastery while their teacher, a young clerk in the army, gave each a brush and a piece of paper, already written on one side, and helped them grind ink. Then the teacher sat down next to Fengda and showed him how to compose the first five characters of theThousand Character Classic,writing them from right to left along the top of the paper. Fengda took the brush himself and tried to copy the characters in the space below. The first word,...

  17. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  18. NINE The Nun’s Tale MIAOFU, 880–961
    (pp. 153-168)

    Miaofu’s room was dark and thick with smoke.² Offerings of flowers, fruit, and incense had been placed in front of an image of the Amitabha Buddha that hung on the wall above a small shrine. In accordance with death-bed ritual, the abbot asked Miaofu in which Buddha-land she wished to be reborn, and he then described the joys she would encounter there, intoning the Buddhas of the ten directions and comforting her by explaining how each in turn would welcome her after her death. Then he led the clergy in chantingThe Sutra of Impermanence.³

    Miaofu was the former abbess...

  19. TEN The Widow’s Tale AH-LONG, 888–947
    (pp. 169-181)

    Widow Ah-long carefully unwrapped the small bundle she had bought from the pharmacist.² It was a special order, and the pharmacist’s boy had come to tell her of its arrival that morning while she was still struggling to get dressed. Rare medicines such as this were expensive, and Ah-long gave thanks to Buddha for her recent victory in the courts. Now she was assured some income from her land to pay for such purchases. Whether it would be sufficient to cover her gambling debts remained to be seen, but at least she had something to leave to her grandson. She...

  20. ELEVEN The Artist’s Tale DONG BAODE, 965–966
    (pp. 182-197)

    Dong Baode was the manager of the local Painting Guild and a Master Painter, a member of the government Painting Academy in the town of Dunhuang.² It was 965, and Dunhuang, though offering nominal allegiance to the new Song dynasty in China, had been ruled by the local Cao family since 920.³ Cao Yuanzhong (r. 944–74), who called himself king, was the current ruler and Baode’s patron.

    In addition to the Painting Academy, King Cao had established a government printing bureau. Lei Yanmei was employed there as an official woodblock printer.⁴ Like Baode, much of Yanmei’s work was commissioned...

  21. Epilogue
    (pp. 198-202)

    THE SILK ROAD DID NOT END with Dong Baode in the tenth century. Indeed, some argue that it continues to the present day.¹ This coda has therefore been added to provide no more than a snapshot and a guide to further reading on some of the main themes addressed in the book for the period following these tales, from about AD 1000 to 1400—although most of the examples below are from the thirteenth century. Over these centuries, many new powers rose and declined. Some of them are almost forgotten to history, like Khotan and the other Tarim kingdoms discussed...

  22. NOTES
    (pp. 203-240)
    (pp. 241-270)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 271-288)