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Empires of the Silk Road

Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 504
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    Empires of the Silk Road
    Book Description:

    The first complete history of Central Eurasia from ancient times to the present day,Empires of the Silk Roadrepresents a fundamental rethinking of the origins, history, and significance of this major world region. Christopher Beckwith describes the rise and fall of the great Central Eurasian empires, including those of the Scythians, Attila the Hun, the Turks and Tibetans, and Genghis Khan and the Mongols. In addition, he explains why the heartland of Central Eurasia led the world economically, scientifically, and artistically for many centuries despite invasions by Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Chinese, and others. In retelling the story of the Old World from the perspective of Central Eurasia, Beckwith provides a new understanding of the internal and external dynamics of the Central Eurasian states and shows how their people repeatedly revolutionized Eurasian civilization.

    Beckwith recounts the Indo-Europeans' migration out of Central Eurasia, their mixture with local peoples, and the resulting development of the Graeco-Roman, Persian, Indian, and Chinese civilizations; he details the basis for the thriving economy of premodern Central Eurasia, the economy's disintegration following the region's partition by the Chinese and Russians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the damaging of Central Eurasian culture by Modernism; and he discusses the significance for world history of the partial reemergence of Central Eurasian nations after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Empires of the Silk Roadplaces Central Eurasia within a world historical framework and demonstrates why the region is central to understanding the history of civilization.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2994-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    C. I. Beckwith
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxviii)

    Central Eurasia¹ is the vast, largely landlocked area in between Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia,² and the sub-Arctic and Arctic taïgatundra zone. It is one of the six major constituent world areas of the Eurasian continent.

    Because geographical boundaries change along with human cultural and political change, the regions included within Central Eurasia have changed over time. From High Antiquity to the Roman conquests by Julius Caesar and his successors, and again from the fall of the Roman Empire to the end of the Early Middle Ages, Central Eurasia generally included most of Europe north of the...

  7. PROLOGUE: The Hero and His Friends
    (pp. 1-28)

    In myth and legend, if not in fact, the Central Eurasian founders of many great realms followed this heroic model from protohistorical and early historical times on, including the Bronze Age Hittites² and Chou Chinese; the Classical period Scythians, Romans, Wu-sun, and Koguryo; the medieval Turks and Mongols; and the Junghars and Manchus³ of the late Renaissance and Enlightenment.

    During the Shang Dynasty⁴ Lady Yüan of the Chiang5clan offered sacrifice so that she would no longer be childless. Afterward she stepped in the footprint of the King of Heaven and became pregnant. She gave birth to Hou Chi ‘Lord...

  8. 1 The Chariot Warriors
    (pp. 29-57)

    Proto-Indo-European,³ when still a unified language, was necessarily spoken in a small region with few or no significant dialect differences.⁴ There seems to be no linguistically acceptable reason to posit the breakup of the language any earlier than shortly before the first Indo-European daughter languages and their speakers are attested in the historical record about four thousand years ago. The traditional idea, still generally believed, has the breakup occurring due to glacially slow internal change over time from a unity some six or seven millennia ago:5“In view of the great divergence among the languages of our earliest materials, we...

  9. 2 The Royal Scythians
    (pp. 58-77)

    The Iranian domination of Central Eurasia must have begun before circa 1600 bc, when the Group B Indo-Europeans appeared in upper Mesopotamia and the Greek Aegean, and members of the same group also moved into India and China. Although the earliest evidence for simple steppe nomadism goes back to the third millennium bc, perhaps as an adaptation to the fact that the region is climatically unsuited to intensive agriculture, on the basis of archaeology, as well as the earliest historical and linguistic evidence, it is now agreed that thehorse-mountedpastoral nomadic life-style was developed by the Iranians of the...

  10. 3 Between Roman and Chinese Legions
    (pp. 78-92)

    The Roman realm had actually expanded to imperial extent well over a century before it is generally considered to have become an empire under the successors of Julius Caesar (d. 44 bc). By 100 bc the Romans already ruled Italy, southern Gaul, Greece, Anatolia, and much of North Africa and were expanding into Spain as well. With the conquest of both Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul, which were Celtic-speaking territories, Rome had already begun successfully expanding into Central Eurasia long before Caesar’s conquest of the rest of Gaul (by 56 bc). Caesar even raided Britain in 55 and 54 bc and...

  11. 4 The Age of Attila the Hun
    (pp. 93-111)

    The Huns had taken up residence northeast of the Sea of Azov—in the eastern part of the Western Steppe—by about ad 200. They are otherwise unknown before that point and have no known historical, political, linguistic, or other connections.² In or around 370 the Huns entered the Pontic Steppe proper under their leader Balamber (or Balimber, fl. ca. 370–376).³ It is highly probable that their movement was in response to an attack on them by Ermanaric during his attempted formation of an Ostrogothic empire there.⁴ The Huns pushed westward, crushing the Alans and Ostrogoths by 375, in...

  12. 5 The Türk Empire
    (pp. 112-139)

    In the late fourth to early fifth century, the empire of the Avars or Jou-jan,¹ a people of unknown origin who had been subjects of the Hsien-pei, ruled the northern steppe from the northeast Tarim Basin to Korea. At the same time, the Hsien-pei Mongolic *Taghbač² ruled a great empire that included most of North China and the southern edge of the steppe zone. The two peoples were usually at war with each other until the early sixth century, when the *Taghbač, who were by then largely Sinicized, made peace with thekaghanor emperor of the Avars, Anagai. In...

  13. 6 The Silk Road, Revolution, and Collapse
    (pp. 140-162)

    The causes of the great upheaval in Eurasia in the middle of the eighth century remain to be established. Given the interconnectedness of the Eurasian world by that time, it is perhaps conceivable that the changes that occurred in Central Asia and the Eastern Steppe between 737 and 742 set in motion a domino effect that spread across the continent. However, this does not seem to account for the Carolingian Revolution in 751 or the Tibetan Rebellion in 755. A few common elements are known. By far the most important of these is surely the fact that all of the...

  14. 7 The Vikings and Cathay
    (pp. 163-182)

    Following the breakup of the great early medieval empires, and in connection with the apparent climatic downturn at that time, the peoples at the northern edge of Central Eurasia began migrating southward in a smallerscale repeat of the Great Wandering of Peoples.

    The Khazars were threatened in the 830s by someone, probably the Hungarians (Onogurs),² who had been their allies or subjects. They asked the Byzantines for help. Greek engineers helped the Khazars build a great fortress, Sarkel, on the lower Don in 840–841.³ The Hungarians are known to have been in the Western Steppe by 839, from which...

  15. 8 Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Conquests
    (pp. 183-203)

    The beginnings of the Mongol Empire are to be found in the intertribal politics and warfare on the Eastern Steppe following the overthrow of the Khitan by the Jurchen. The Tungusic-speaking Jurchen were not a steppe people like the Khitan and did not maintain a military presence in the steppe. Instead, they supported the strongest single people there, the Tatars. The peoples of the Eastern Steppe were divided, and none of them could establish dominance over the others in the face of the powerful Tatars. When Khabul Khan, head of the Borjigin lineage, managed to put together a Mongol confederation,...

  16. 9 Central Eurasians Ride to a European Sea
    (pp. 204-231)

    The late Renaissance conquests that established the great premodern Eurasian continental empires are not connected to the conquests of Tamerlane, which in most areas only interrupted or delayed their normal development. Upon Tamerlane’s death in 1405, the Ottomans almost immediately restored their empire and resumed their long-term expansion,6eliminating the remnant Byzantine Empire in 1453. The relatively early chronology of the Ottoman Empire’s reestablishment vis-à-vis the other empires mirrors the out-of-synch chronology of Byzantine periods of growth, which were usually during periods of weakness elsewhere in western Eurasia. This was evidently the result, in great part, of the region’s coastal...

  17. 10 The Road Is Closed
    (pp. 232-262)

    The Manchus knew they had to neutralize or, even better, subjugate the Mongols in order to achieve their dream of reestablishing the empire of their Jurchen ancestors, the Chin Dynasty, without succumbing to the Chin fate, which was to be conquered by the Mongols—though the Manchus apparently did not appreciate the quite different circumstances and background under which that conquest had happened. The Manchus’ carefully crafted strategy entailed incorporating the Mongols into their state as participants rather than ordinary subjects. The Mongols, as recent converts to Buddhism, were fervent believers and strongly devoted to the Dalai Lama. The Manchus...

  18. 11 Eurasia without a Center
    (pp. 263-301)

    In the Modern period, Eurasia continued to be dominated by the Littoral System, which ultimately grew out of the much earlier Littoral zone commerce. That earlier commerce should certainly not be overlooked, nor can it be doubted that it was significant; however, it has been argued that the maritime commerce of Asia was not merely as significant as the continental Silk Road commerce, it was much more important. This argument misses the point of what the Silk Road was, even according to most traditional treatments of it, and obscures what happened to it.

    The Silk Road was actually unparalleled by...

  19. 12 Central Eurasia Reborn
    (pp. 302-319)

    The worldwide Cold War between the communist and capitalist camps was won by the capitalists when the Soviet Union finally⁴ collapsed. The collapse was due partly to internal structural failure and partly to the crushing burden of supporting the increasingly impoverished countries of Central Eurasia while maintaining an enormous military and developing new military technology in order to keep up with the capitalists. When the Soviet Union’s federal republics, led by the tiny Baltic states, began declaring their independence, one by one, in 1990, the federal government attempted to clamp down on them. But after a failed coup in August...

  20. EPILOGUE The Barbarians
    (pp. 320-362)

    The origins of modern civilization go back to the Indo-European migrations that began four thousand years ago in the center of Eurasia. The Proto-Indo-Europeans lived in a marginal region where they developed an innovative quickness unparalleled by any of the other Eurasian peoples of the periphery, none of whom adapted in time to prevent the Indo-Europeans from dominating their territory. The Indo-Europeans possessed a powerful dynamism that was generally passed on to other peoples directly, in many cases by outright conquest. Through their servitude, the subjugated peoples within Central Eurasia (and even in the periphery, if only temporarily) learned the...

  21. APPENDIX A: The Proto-Indo-Europeans and Their Diaspora
    (pp. 363-374)
  22. APPENDIX B: Ancient Central Eurasian Ethnonyms
    (pp. 375-384)
    (pp. 385-426)
    (pp. 427-456)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 457-472)
  26. MAPS
    (pp. 473-477)