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Winter Quarter 2005

Instructors: D. Waugh and possible guest lecturers
Office: 103E Smith
Class Hours: Hist/SIS 225, MWF, 8:00-9:20. Class meets in Smith 304, but probably will change to a different room as soon as possible.
Office Hours: MTW 9:30-11:00, and by Appt.
Messages: mailbox, Smith 315 (History Office); tel.: 206-543-5790

The course web site is:
If you have bookmarked in your computer the previous syllabus, be sure to delete that address and replace it with the new one.
Many of the required materials for the course are available only on-line; access to the online materials may require a password. See the hard-copy handout for access and password information; be sure to save it.

Course Overview

The course is an introduction to the history of cultural and economic interchange across Eurasia from approximately the beginning of the Common Era (CE=Christian Era [AD]) to approximately the beginning of the eighteenth century. The term "Silk Road" commonly designates the East-West overland trade routes, established around the beginning of the Common Era when Chinese silk began to reach the West and falling into disuse primarily because of Europeans' opening of sea routes to the East beginning in the late fifteenth century. It is likely that at various times even well before the appearance of European ships in the Indian Ocean at the end of the fifteenth century, the east-west maritime trade was more significant than the overland trade. While that sea trade will enter our discussions, the focus here will nonetheless be on the traditional land routes. The map below provides one idea of those traditional routes:

Here "Silk Road" will be used in a general sense. The routes were many. Some of the most important exchange was not east-west but north-south and was cultural rather than economic (the latter certainly involving more than silk). Moreover, it was relatively rare for those involved in the Silk Road to travel the whole route. The most persistent patterns of interaction were regional, and the actors more often than not indigenous. Thus the historic features of the Silk Road arguably began well prior to the Common Era and continued well beyond the "opening of the sea routes"--even into the twentieth century.

The course will examine subjects such as the importance of Inner Asian physical geography, the interaction of nomadic and sedentary peoples, the spread of important religions and resulting cultural syncretism, and, of course, the mechanisms and products of trade. To understand such topics requires some knowledge of Eurasian political history. However, there is a deliberate effort here to avoid bogging down in the details of reign dates and confusing successions of states about which we often know precious little. The scope of the course allows only summary treatment of some of the most important political entities. An effort will be made to provide guidance through the political maze by use of various chronological tables. To a considerable degree, examination of a single state among many or a handful of cities among a multitude can provide an understanding of basic themes and processes.

The course will be challenging both for the student and the instructor. The scope of the undertaking is one obvious reason: no one has the breadth and depth of expertise to grasp fully all the subjects which may arise during the quarter. There is no real textbook; the nature of the subject leads one often in quite diverse directions. At first glance it may seem that the course requires an inordinate amount of reading. Be aware though that there is a kind of deliberate open-endedness here, which invites you to follow topics which you may find to be of particular interest. The main written work is all essays on broad assigned topics; there are a great many possibilities for selection of appropriate material for good answers. You cannot be expected to read everything, although you are expected for each essay to show that you have looked seriously at a range of material and thought carefully about it. This is an invitation to active, not passive learning, and not an invitation to do only enough to get by. You should exercise your intellectual independence to inquire into what the instructor hopes you will agree is fascinating material.


There are no formal course pre-requisites, although some acquaintance with at least some part of the pre-modern history of Eurasia is certainly useful. Students should all have e-mail accounts and must be able to access web-based materials using one of the standard Internet browsers. Some of the required course materials will be available only through the password-protected course web site. Access to some on-line course materials may be possible only via a UW account. Since many of the web materials include pictures (which take some time to load), they may best be viewed through a high-speed internet connection and/or using the networked computers on campus. Students should also expect to participate in the electronic discussion site (E-Post) which has been created for this course.

Formal Requirements

Since much of the material presented in class is not duplicated in the assigned readings, regular class attendance is extremely important. Attendance will not be recorded, but the instructor will make some effort to track active class participation in order and will track participation in electronic discussion. Active participation will be rewarded with a grade bonus (up to 10% of the course grade). Grades will otherwise be based in the first instance on the several written assignments, all of which must be completed to receive credit in the course:

There is no mid-term exam. An explanation of the grading system is linked in a separate file.

Additional details regarding the written assignments are in separate files on the course web site, linked to the highlighed words.

The map quiz requires that you be able to locate on your outline maps the items on the list in the file linked to this syllabus. Most can be found in any good modern atlas, although a few may require using a historical atlas; various historical maps are linked in a separate file or may be found on the Silk Road Seattle website, which also features an interactive set of maps that allow you to test your geographic knowledge. You presumably will need to purchase two copies of each of the maps; be sure to keep one unmarked and bring it to the map quiz. The map quiz is scheduled for Wednesday, January 19 at the beginning of class; no makeup will be given, unless you can provide a documented medical excuse. Given the fact that this course deals with areas of the world whose geography is likely to be unfamiliar to you, the map quiz encourages you to master key geographic data that will be points of reference throughout the quarter.

The short essays should each be 4-5 pp. in length (double-spaced, with adequate but not excessive margins), responding to questions assigned in the detailed schedule below, which also specifies the due dates. Each essay should include notes (as appropriate, for example in identifying the sources of quotations), indicate clearly quotations and close paraphrasing, and include a bibliography of all sources consulted. Late essays will be penalized .5. In the first instance, the goal of each essay will be to deepen your understanding of material in specific assigned readings, but the goal will also be to encourage synthesis from any other relevant course materials (e.g., lectures). Sources beyond (but not in place of) the assigned ones may also be used.

The final exam question will be posted no later than the beginning of the last week of classes. The question will test your ability to deal analytically with some of the broad themes of the course and support general arguments with reference to specific evidence, especially from primary source readings (e.g., Marco Polo). The final exam will be due no later than 5 PM on Tuesday, March 15, the day of the scheduled exam for the class. Late final exams will not be accepted, the one exception being a documented medical excuse and prior warning that you will not be able to finish the exam on time.

The essays and final exam must be clearly written in correct English. They should include a bibliography of all sources consulted, and must indicate quotations by appropriate punctuation and annotate their sources with specific page references. Failure to identify specifically where you are using the words of others is plagiarism, as are some other kinds of failure to provide proper attribution. Plagiarized work does not represent satisfactory completion of the assignment and must be re-done before credit can be awarded. A second instance of plagiarism will result in witholding of credit and submission of the case to the University Committee on Academic Misconduct for determination of appropriate sanctions. You should read the web page regarding Academic Conduct and the separate page for more details on the important subject plagiarism, which provides a clear idea of what is acceptable and what is not. Also, read the statement of departmental and university rules, attached in a separate file. For proper form of citations and bibliography, click here or pick up from library reference the appropriate handout. Either MLA or Chicago Manual of Style standards are acceptable.

Some study tips are linked in a separate file.

Required Books

The following books are required and have been ordered for the class. With the few exceptions (e.g. for Marco Polo) noted in the detailed schedule , you are advised to read them in their entirety. Lest you be concerned about the number, most are in fact quite short.

You should purchase Rand McNally outline maps RG433: Middle East and India; and RG440: China and Japan (two copies each).

The following books have been ordered in a limited number of copies as recommended reading:

Also recommended, but not ordered: Apart from the books listed above, course materials are available on-line. Links to them are provided under the weekly assignments below. You will find a significant number of the relevant resources on the website "
Silk Road Seattle," which your instructor is continuing to develop.

Schedule of Class Meetings and Specific Assignments

Note: The syllabus introduces the week with a short narrative description of what is important in both lectures and readings. For some weeks you then find a list of study questions (i.e., questions to think about as you do the reading); in other weeks, those questions are integrated into the specific listings of readings. The assigned essay topics (coming approximately at two-week intervials) will provide you with further focus as to what is important in the reading. Be aware that the reading assignments are "open-ended" in the sense that I suggest much more than you would reasonably have time to cover. The "minimum" is the asterisked sections of the readings or asterisked individual items. Many of those items are short and primarily intended for reference (for example chronologies); some are relatively brief web pages. In the case of longer items (e.g., the Han Histories or Marco Polo), I suggest which parts deserve particular attention. Items beyond the "minimum" are to lure you into exploring additional materials. Just as the topic of the "Silk Road" is open-ended, so also are the possibilities for learning relevant material about the subject. One purpose of our course is to stimulate you to want to learn more, recognizing that your time is limited and you cannot do everything. This syllabus has been designed in part to open to you possibilities for following up on subjects that you may find of particular interest.

Week I. Introduction; geography; nomads.

Overview of this week's material:

The geography of the Silk Road challenges the modern student just as it did the historic traveller. We are entering a world of often unfamiliar and threatening landscapes, replete with strange names. Our first challenge then is to learn something about where events take place so that we are equipped with basic vocabulary for understanding our readings (preparation for your map quiz over the next two weeks will help you in this task). To understand the history of the Silk Road requires more--that we gain a sense of the ways in which geography may have determined patterns of human settlement and interaction--why is pastoral nomadism to be found where it is and not somewhere else; what is the relationship amongst mountains, deserts and oasis cities; why do some cities thrive and others die. Our first impressions may be that travel along the Silk Road is nigh impossible. Yet travellers continued over the centuries to follow in most of the same paths as their predecessors, despite desert sandstorms or blizzards in mountain passes.

Even though historically pastoral nomads have been looked down upon by sedentary peoples, one can argue that the nomads were the key to the functioning of the Silk Road, and their role in "creating" it may even be traced back several thousand years. Empires created by nomads--the Mongols are a good example--often dominated Eurasia and controlled the trade routes. Rulers whose ancestral traditions were nomadic frequently played a major role in the spread of religions of the book. So before embarking on Silk Road history, it is necessary to acquire some understanding of how nomads live, the ecology of pastoral nomadism, and what the nomads' values are. It is particularly valuable to read the early written (what we might term "primary") sources about nomads and not simply rely on what modern scholars tell us about nomadic life. Part of our task in the course is to think about how we might go about writing history--that is, how do we document conclusions with reference to primary sources, and what are the strengths and limitations (e.g., biases) of those sources.

Study questions: Here are some questions to help stimulate your thinking as you do your readings this week. You may not find obvious answers to all of them.
  1. When and why did the "Silk Road" begin?
  2. Is it one route or many? Do routes change in importance over time? What factors might determine specific routes of travel?
  3. Do modern borders have much of anything to do with earlier history? What kinds of "borders" might have been relevant in earlier times?
  4. What are some examples of places whose names have changed over time?
  5. Why are mountains important? Should we think of them only as an obstacle to tavel?
  6. How does one live in the desert?
  7. How does geography determine occupation/way of life?
  8. What are some of the kinds of impacts of humans on the environment? Did humans bring about environmental change only in modern times?
  9. Are there differences between the perception of geography by ancient observers and by modern people? What do people know and how do they interpret it?
  10. To what degree do you think for most people the horizon is the limit of their world (now and historically)?
  11. Regarding nomads:
    1. How do the biases of sedentary peoples affect our ability to learn about the nomads from the historical written sources?
    2. Nomads occupy a particular geographical/ecological niche which has tended historically not to be suitable for other types of human habitation. Where are nomads found and why?
    3. Why do nomads move, and do they move aimlessly? What are some geographic considerations (for example, altitude) which might affect the patterns of nomadic movement?
    4. What some specific examples of cultural adaptation of the nomads for frequent movement?
    5. What is "shamanism"? What are some of the key elements of what we might term nomads' "world view" and belief system? Might we imagine that nomads' beliefs make them particularly receptive to the messages of "religions of the book" (notably Christianity and Islam)? What did people like William of Rubruck think about that matter?
    6. Are nomadic and sedentary cultures incompatible and thus the relations generally hostile? Or might we better think of a kind of mutual dependence or symbiosis? Are nomads self-sufficient?
    7. Does nomadic culture change?
    8. Why would nomads seem to be so important for the history of the Silk Road (apart from the fact that your instructor says they were)?


*Readings: Note, the asterisk here prioritizes doing all that is indicated under this heading.


Week II. From the "Wool Road" to the Silk Road.


Deciding where to begin a historical narrative is always a challenge, since history rarely fits within any convenient scheme of periodization. This is true of the Silk Road, where in recent years some scholars are pushing its origins back into the remote millennia before the Common Era, arguing with some conviction that there is considerable evidence of the movements of peoples across Eurasia and trade in goods over long distances (see the article by David Christian assigned for Week I). While recognizing these facts, here we will begin our story in fairly conventional fashion, at the moment when China becomes unified under the Qin and then the Han rulers (ca. 200 BCE), which coincides, probably not accidentally, with the unification of many of the northern nomads in the Xiongnu (Hsiung-nu) confederation. This is the period when we can begin to document from written sources an ongoing relationship between nomads and sedentary peoples which results in considerable amounts of precious goods such as silk being sent off into inner Asia. This is also the time when the Chinese rulers sent missions westward which helped consolidate Chinese control over inner Asian routes of trade and brought to China knowledge of Western Eurasia. Finally, this is the time when in Western Eurasia, we begin to find the first substantial evidence about a major influx of goods from the East. By around the beginning of the Common Era, we know that eastern goods, among them silk, were becoming common in Imperial Rome.

While China had been unified in the brief period of the preceding dynasty, it was under the Han that for the first time and for a long period China was ruled as a great empire. One of the most interesting aspects of Han history to trace is how they developed an interest in Inner Asia and expanded in that direction. Further, one would wish to consider what the impact of that expansion may have been on state priorities and finances. For the first time, it seems, China began to learn seriously about regions in Central and Western Asia. What were the circumstances in which that knowledge was acquired and what in particular seems to have been of interest to the Han in those other regions? Did the Han control the early Silk Trade?

Another important set of questions is what happens culturally when nomads and sedentary peoples interact over long periods of time. In reading the Han histories, you already have an idea of how the Han consciously were hoping to seduce the Xiongnu with the lure of sedentary luxuries and thereby weaken them. From very early times, we can document how the nomads valued objects from sedentary cultures and incorporated their artistic motifs into what the nomads themselves produced. Similar evidence can be found in the arts of the sedentary peoples themselves, attesting to the influence of nomadic culture. Particularly interesting for us are the cases where nomads establish themselves permanently as rulers over sedentary areas and become patrons of sedentary culture.




Essay No. 1 (due Wednesday, Jan. 19): The early Chinese sources provide a particular perspective on nomads and the way they interact with sedentary peoples. Given what you have been learning about nomads from your reading and from discussions in class, discuss the degree to which you think the picture in the Chinese sources is an accurate one. What might need to be added or changed and why? Be sure to illustrate your contentions with specific examples.

Week III. Cultural and political interactions East and West.


The history of the Silk Road is the history of the interaction of cultures. Nowhere is this more evident than right in the center of the routes connecting East and West, North and South. That is, a lot of the most striking evidence for Silk Road history is to be found in the areas of southern Central Asia (today's Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan) and Afghanistan--a region that included what was known as Bactria. It is precisely in these regions that, thanks to Alexander the Great's conquests, Greek culture became intrenched and began to interact with local traditions. As the successor states to Alexander in Bactria declined, rulership in this region was assumed by leaders of various nomadic groups who came from north and northeast Asia. Among the new entities was the Kushan Empire, which by the 2nd century CE stretched across Bactria and through Gandhara (Eastern Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan today) and down into northern India. The Kushans presided over a striking artistic synthesis among Greek, local Central Asian, and Indian traditions, and it was under the Kushans that the spread of Buddhism north from its Indian homeland really accelerated.

The story of the Silk Road includes the spread of religion. The first of the "religions of the book" to concern us is Buddhism, which originated in South Asia and then spread north and east. While it reached China both by the sea routes around Southeast Asia and by overland routes, we will be concerned primarily with the latter. There is abundant evidence about the transmission of Buddhism through the territories of the Kushan Empire into Central Asia and then following the trade routes around the great Taklamakan Desert in what is today Xinjiang (western China). Buddhism brought with it the religious and artistic traditions of India, which then combined with Chinese traditions in striking ways.


Study questions:
  1. What kind of evidence do we have to determine the range of cultural influences in Bactria? What is the function of coins? What, specifically, do coins from the Bactrian region tell us?
  2. Does the establishment of the Kushans follow a recognizable pattern for Inner Asian history?
  3. Thinking of geography (given the preponderance of mountainous territory dividing them), how might you explain the apparently intimate connection between South and Central Asia?
  4. What are the basic elements of Buddhist belief regarding suffering and how to achieve liberation from it? In Buddhist belief, how does a person acquire merit?
  5. What contributed to the early development and spread of Buddhism (here, not necessarily thinking about Buddhism in China)?
  6. What are some of the basic postulates of Confucianism and Daoism? Which of these might be seen to conflict with or to coincide with Buddhist belief?
  7. Early Buddhist art seems to reflect what artistic influences?
  8. What is a stupa? What relationship does it have to ritual practice in Buddhism?
  9. How do those spreading a faith address the problem of translation of scriptures? Might this question give us some ideas about the importance of Central Asians in the transmission of Buddhism to China? Think about what languages would have been involved in this process and who would command them.
  10. What is some of the evidence we have about the role of imperial patronage in the spread of Buddhism in China? How important was "private" patronage?


I. Han China and its neighbors and foreign contacts.This reading reveals details of the interaction between the Han and the northern nomads (a relationship that was far from one-sided) and provides a sense of how far the Han's vision of the world extended in the era when in the conventional telling the Silk Road was first being established all the way across Asia.

II. The Crossroads of Asia.

*III. Begin (and continue next week) reading about Buddhism and the other religions of China. Note there are additional readings on Buddhism in the next two weeks, specifically concerning the pilgrim monks and the art of the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang. Your essay no. 2 will provide some focus for this reading.

Week IV. Cultural and economic exchange along the Silk Roads.


Much of our knowledge of the early Silk Road comes from the discoveries made by archaeologists in the ruins of the towns around the Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim Basin of western China (Xinjiang). The important centers of the Southern Silk Road include Lou-Lan and Niya. Discoveries made there include objects of daily life, many of which illustrate the cross-cultural connections of the region. In addition, there is a lot of written material, including administrative documents. Strikingly, the languages and alphabets of such documents include ones from South Asia.

Who was responsible for the transmission of objects and beliefs from one cultural region to another? Among the key groups of people throughout the history of the Silk Road were the various merchant diasporas, such as the Sogdians (at other times, the role was taken over by Jews, Armenians, or Indians). Unlike the Kushans, Sogdians never established a great empire. Their homeland was in the region occupied by today's Samarkand and the oases that extend up the Zeravshan River into Tajikistan. Although rulers only over small city states that usually were dependent on greater empires, the Sogdians were the merchants par excellence. Their influence can be found from the third to the eighth centuries across the Silk Road, where they established colonies in China and left inscriptions attesting to their presence in the mountain valleys of northern Pakistan. The Sogdians were important for their religious and cultural eclecticism, evidence of which may be found in the extraordinary paintings preserved in the ruins of their cities.

While there are debates as to how exactly Buddhism and other religions were transmitted along the silk roads, it is clear that traveller/monks played an important role. Among the great travellers on the Silk Road were Faxian and Xuanzang, who went from China to India and back, and whose narratives provide us with insights into the perils of travel and the nature of the flourishing Buddhist communities they encountered along the way. During their travels, they greatly enhanced their knowledge of Buddhist doctrine; they brought back to China copies of Buddhist texts which they were then in a position to help translate. They also contributed to the spread of Buddhist iconography by bringing back paintings and statues.

Study questions:
  1. Why was Niya important and why did it die?
  2. What are merchant diasporas?
  3. Did merchants travel the whole length of the Silk Road? If so, starting when?
  4. Where do we find evidence about Sogdian activity?
  5. What were the mechanisms of finance and exchange?
  6. What were some of the components of Sogdian culture?
  7. When pilgrim monks headed off to India form China, what were some of the things that particularly interested them? What do you think their most significant contributions were to Buddhism in China?



I. For Prof. Salomon's lecture:

II. The Sogdians.

III. Chinese pilgrim monks.

Essay No. 2 (due Friday, Feb. 4): Some have written about the Buddhist "conquest" of China. Given what we might posit about the process of the spread of any major religion and what you have learned from the evidence about the spread of Buddhism, does that descriptive term seem to be appropriate? You should consider a number of things here, keeping in mind the chronological framework of the evidence. To what degree did Buddhist belief coincide with or contradict indigenous Chinese beliefs? What aspects of Buddhist doctrine seem to have been particularly appealing and why? Who was responsible for the spread of Buddhism? What difficulties stood in the way of those wishing to promote the faith? Much of your evidence should be drawn from the travels of Faxian and Xuanzang, the material on sutras and their illustrations, and evidence from sites such as the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, Turfan, and Yungang. Note, the first section of readings listed for next week is relevant here.

Week V. Dunhuang. Introduction to the western end of the Silk Road.


The Buddhist monastic complexes along the Silk Road preserve striking evidence of the artistic achievements promoted by the patrons of that faith. Noteworthy among such centers is that of the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, at the eastern end of the Taklamakan. Dunhuang was long a major administrative, trade and religious center along the Silk Road. The Mogao Caves provide an unbroken chronicle of Buddhist art from the early fifth century to the fourteenth as well as abundant written documentation about life in the local communities. The art of the caves displays a variety of influences, some of them coming from India and via Central Asia. The caves also offer insights into the role of patronage in support of Buddhism. Among other highlights is the way that the cave paintings reflect the importance of Mahayana Buddhism, in some cases illustrating important texts such as the Lotus Sutra.

So far we have been looking mainly at the eastern half of the Silk Road, but now we must retrace our steps chronologically and pick up the threads of what is happening on the western end, starting with Imperial Rome and its successor Byzantium, exploring the world of the Nabataens, and then moving into the cultures in the Iranian regions of the Middle East prior to the coming of Islam. Among them are the Parthians and the Sassanians; it was under the latter that the very important religion of Zoroastrianism spread widely along the silk roads. The Persian/Iranian heritage of what later becomes the Muslim Middle East and Central Asia is incredibly rich and important. It was in this milieu, as we have seen already, that the Sogdian merchants flourished.



I. Dunhuang and the Buddhist art of the Mogao caves.
II. Rome and the western end of the Silk Road.

III. The Persian world prior to Islam.

Week VI. Tang China and East-West cultural exchange; the rise of Islam.


Many look upon the culture of China in the Tang era (7th to early 10th centuries) as the epitome of sophistication and elegance, and above all cosmopolitan incorporation of foreign influences. Insofar as this may indeed have been the period when China was most open to foreign cultures, we can learn a great deal about the cultural impact of Silk Road connections during the Tang period. We find, for example, interesting evidence about the establishment of foreign colonies in China, often accompanied by the introduction of new religions. One good example is Nestorian Christianity, which was introduced by Syrian missionaries in the seventh century and at least for a time enjoyed the support of the Tang rulers even if it never became widely popular. The Tang also welcomed the Persian princes who fled the Arab Islamic conquests. Chinese tomb sculptures and even Buddhist painting provide striking evidence of the ways in which the cultures of West and Central Asia became popular at least among the Chinese elite in the Tang period. At the same time, especially as the Tang began to decline in power and found themselves forced to rely on foreign military aid from groups such as the nomadic Uighurs, a strong reaction against things foreign developed in some conservative circles.

The establishment and flourishing of the Tang Dynasty coincides with the emergence of Islam as a world religion and the creation with surprising rapidity of a huge Islamic cultural sphere extending from the Western Mediterranean to the Far East. The rise of Islam had a profound influence on culture and trade all across Eurasia. Islamic culture incorporated many elements of the traditions in the regions into which the Arabs expanded--from Byzantine architecture and mosaics to Persian and Indian literary themes. Islamic beliefs spread amongst the nomads of Central Asia, and Islamic merchants came to dominate the Silk Routes all the way into China. Major Islamic commercial settlements were to be found in the Tang capital, Chang'an, and in the ports of Southeast China. Over time, Silk Road cities which had been dominated by Buddhism and faiths such as Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity increasingly became islamicized. The history and culture of the Islamic world will be a central focus of our attention in the remaining weeks of the course.

Study questions:
  1. In what ways might Imperial policy and political success have influenced the degree to which foreign culture was popular under the Tang? Might we imagine that such cultural influences spread equally through all social classes?
  2. Why would Nestorian Christianity (which was considered heretical by the mainstream Christian sects) be the one to spread first across inner Asia to China? What aspects of Christianity might have been incompatible with traditional Chinese religious beliefs?
  3. What are the five "pillars" of Islam? Is Jihad one of them?
  4. What is the difference between Sunnis and Shiites?
  5. Who are Sufis in the Islamic tradition?
  6. What is the relationship between Islam and the other "religions of the book" in Western Eurasia--notably Judaism and Christianity?
  7. What did early Islam "inherit" from the Classical world?
  8. To what degree do Quranic prescriptions specify some of the features of what at least some Muslim groups have insisted historically are part of the requirements of the faith (e.g., with regard to the position of women; with regard to imagery; with regard to commerce)?
  9. How easily did Islam "convert" Central Asians? Do we seem to find some compromises about basic requirements of the faith? Do we see evidence of syncretism with other religious traditions?


I. T'ang China:

II. Nestorianism. This is but one (and a very good) example of cultural diversity along the Silk Road; the history of Nestorianism under the Tang offers insights into the cosmopolitan nature of culture in Tang cities such as Chang'an.

III. Islam (reading also is for next week). Your essay no. 3 provides the focus for this reading.

Essay No. 3 (due Wednesday, February 23): Islam had a positive impact on cultural exchange and development across Eurasia. This can be seen in the syncretism involving pre-Islamic cultural traditions, in the promotion of trade and urban development, and in the active cultural and artistic exchange with both East and West. Would you agree or disagree? Illustrate your response with specific examples.

Week VII. Islam (ctd). Early Turkic empires.


In the regions north of China proper (by this I mean in particular Manchuria and Mongolia) new tribal groupings would continue to emerge and form significant political entities that interacted with China and often played a significant role in internal Chinese affairs. The history of these entities (which in some cases were ethnically and linguistically Turkic) exhibits the familiar patterns acculturation under the influence of sedentary centers. We have seen this in earlier centuries in the case of the Xiongnu. The first of the great Turkic states flourished from the sixth down into the eight century. Its extent and wealth can be appreciated from the Buddhist monk Xuanzang, who visited the Turk emperor in the region of what is today Kyrgyzstan. As the Turk Empire disintegrated, part of its former territories in the eighth century came to be ruled by another Turkic group, the Uighurs. The Uighurs were strong enough to save the Tang Dynasty from rebellion (at a price) and were influenced both by Chinese culture and that of the west transmitted by Central Asian merchants. For a time Manichaeism became the main religion of the Uighur elite. Many of the Uighurs converted to Buddhism; at least some who lived in Uighur territories in the Tarim Basin were Nestorian Christians. Eventually the descendants of the Uighurs would become Muslims.

With the decline of the Tang Dynasty, the territories of its vast empire were divided among competing political forces. Even though the Chinese heartland would flourish under the Song in the 11th and 12th centuries, areas in the north and west fell into other hands. The Tanguts (ethnically Tibetan) flourished astride the Silk Road in the northwest of metropolitan China. In the north, the Khitan/Liao and then the Jurchen/Jin made the transition from pastoral nomadism to patronage of sedentary (especially Buddhist) culture and established dynasties which ruled northern China. The rise of the Mongols under Chingis Khan brought an end to the independence of these groups; it was under the Mongols that once more China would be united, this time as part of an empire far larger than any that had earlier been known.



I. *Islam: Continue readings from last week.

II. Early Turkic empires.

II. Start reading on the Mongols. (Do not be alarmed at the length of the list--this reading continues for the next two weeks and, as usual, there are options.). Your essay question no. 4 provides a focus for this reading, but see also the "Overview" for next week.

Essay 4. (due Wednesday, March 9): Is it possible to derive from contemporary accounts ("primary sources") an objective picture of the Mongols and their impact on the historic "Silk Road"? Is the picture that emerges one of wanton destruction, constructive development (including flourishing trade), cultural openness, or some combination of these? Be sure to illustrate your essay with specific examples and critique the sources from which they come. Note: I am not looking here for a summary of my "Pax Mongolica" web page. You must show you have read carefully and thought about the primary sources (Ibn al-Athir, Polo, Rubruck, Ibn Battuta, Pegolotti, etc.), and you must base your essay in the first instance on your analysis of them.

Week VIII. The Mongols (I)


While there is a tendency by some to emphasize the Mongols as a destructive force, under them the Silk Road flourished as never before. At its peak, their empire extended from Europe to Korea and from the forests of Siberia to the Persian Gulf. Unlike the Xiongnu and other nomadic groups which never conquered China, the Mongols did. We have very substantial written documentation about the Mongols from eyewitnesses, which is one reason we will dwell on the Mongol period here. Everyone knows of Marco Polo. He lavishly praised Khubilai Khan, who completed the Mongol conquest of China. Everyone should know about the Franciscan William of Rubruck, who preceded Marco Polo, the Persian Ata-Malik Juvaini, who was writing when Marco was still young, and the Moroccan Ibn-Battuta, whom some consider to have been an even greater traveller than Marco. We learn from the study of the Mongols a great deal about the creation and raison d'etre of nomad confederations, the way in which the nomads interacted with sedentary peoples and were particularly interested in trade, the nature of religious tolerance whereby many faiths might flourish under Mongol patronage. There is striking evidence about the movement of peoples east and west under the Mongols thanks to imperial policies of conscription but also, presumably, the attraction of opportunities in distant regions, to which travel was possible thanks to the Mongol control of the overland routes across Asia. Even in the era when the empire had split, which came surprisingly quickly after it reached its apogee, European observers attest to the possibilities of traveling in relative safety all the way from West to East.

Study questions:
  1. Is there a conflict between the evidence of sources such as Ibn al-Athir and the Riazan tale on the one hand, or Juvayni or Ibn Battuta on the other? How might we resolve it if there is one?
  2. Why did the Mongols under Chingis Khan conquer Central Asia? What do we learn from Juvayni about Mongol culture and international connections prior to that and about the importance of, e.g., international trade for the Mongols?
  3. Pay attention to the chronology of the rise and fall of the various parts of the Mongol Empire. Can we generalize about Mongol impact in Eurasia on the basis of events of ca. 1220, the 1230s, 1258 or the 1330s? (Why might I have chosen these dates?)
  4. Why do Franciscans visit the Mongol court in the 13th century, and what do they observe? Do they come across as particularly "objective" observers?
  5. Who were the Christians they encountered amongst the Mongols? Who are the "idolaters"? Is there any reason to think the Mongols were particularly open to a variety of religions and that Mongol rule provided an environment which encourage religious toleration?
  6. What else do we learn from William of Rubruck's description of the inhabitants of the Mongol capital, Karakorum? You might want to compile a list of the different ethnic and religious groups he meets and the functions fulfilled by their representatives.
  7. Did Marco Polo go to China? How might one try to prove or disprove that he did?
  8. Is Ibn Battuta more or less biased/accurate than Marco Polo? In what ways?
  9. What was the position of Constantinople in the Silk Road trade in this period? How important was Chinese silk?
  10. Can we blame the Mongols for the Black Death and significant population decline in China under the Yan (Mongol) Dynasty?
Lectures: Readings:

*Continue Mongol reading from last week.

Week IX. The Mongols (II). After the Mongols: The Timurids and the Ming; the Mughals.


The heirs to the Mongols in Central Asia and much of the Middle East were the Timurids, whose dynasty was founded by another of the infamous conquerors, Tamerlane (Timur the Lame) in the last third of the fourteenth century. Tamerlane's capital of Samarkand was one of the great cities of the Silk Road. We know a great deal about it and the commercial life of the period from a contemporary observer, the Spanish ambassador Clavijo. The architectural splendors of Samarkand still impress us today. There is very interesting evidence about the relations between Tamerlane and his successors on the one hand and the China of the new Ming Dynasty on the other. At least in the early period of the Ming, China still looked outward. The early fifteenth century was the era of the great Chinese treasure fleets in the Indian Ocean, and a period when the overland trade into inner Asia was still quite important. The commercial and artistic exchanges between East and West are particularly important in this period for the development of the decorative arts in the Islamic world. Ceramics and painting contain striking evidence of Chinese influence.

While many would bring the story of the Silk Road to an end with the dawn of European maritime penetration of the Indian Ocean at the end of the fifteenth century, there is abundant evidence about the continuation of many of the well established patterns of overland cultural and economic interaction well down into modern times. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are a time of the flourishing of some of the great land-based empires of Eurasia. None is more impressive than the Mughal Empire, established in northern India in the second quarter of the sixteenth century and developing into one of the richest states in Asia. The Mughals maintained a place of prominence and power down into the eighteenth century. Their ancestry could be traced to the Mongols and Timurids, and the Mughal rulers retained a considerable interest in their Central Asian heritage. The overland trade routes into Central Asia and Iran from Mughal northern India continued to flourish. Europeans were welcomed at the Mughal court, where some of the rulers displayed the same kind of openness to various religions that we have seen earlier amongst the Mongols. One of the most interesting of our travel accounts of the Silk Road is that by an early seventeenth century Jesuit, Gos, who heads off from Agra in India through Afghanistan and then, turning eastward, traces the Northern Silk Road around the Tarim Basin.



*I. Finish reading on the Mongols.

II. Timurids and Ming. In doing these readings, with the focus on the Timurids, think about the ways in which Tamerlane and his successors continued the pattern established by the Mongols of promoting selective urban and commercial development and how the royal courts provided the stimulus for artistic exchange and development.

III. Mughals. The particular focus here should be on the way in which the Mughals consciously drew upon their Central Asian and Middle Eastern cultural heritage and the degree to which many of the Mughal rulers encouraged a kind of cultural syncretism. Further, be aware of the way in which Mughal economic power and trade with Safavid Iran and Central Asia meant that the overland routes of the "Silk Road" continued to flourish even in the era of European competition on the sea routes.

*IV.Morris Rossabi on the end of the overland Eurasian trade. Argument about Inner Asian political disorders causing end of traditional overland trade. (Access using Password 2.)

*V. Contemporary accounts about trade and travel on overland routes. For this week, read at least one (preferably two) of the following (Steel and Goes are particularly recommended); for next week, I recommend Olearius and/or Chardin (whose focus is Safavid Persia). These texts are relevant also for the final exam question:

Week X. The Crossroads of Asia.


Among the important trading partners of the Mughals was Safavid Iran. The Safavid dynasty established itself in Iran at the beginning of the sixteenth century. It was under Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), a contemporary of the great Mughal Emperor Akbar and his son Jahangir, that Isfahan, the Safavid capital, became the glorious city we know today. The economic policies of the Safavid state promoted silk production and trade as one important source of imperial revenue. We know a great deal about that trade from European sources. One of the new players in the overland trade in this period was Muscovite Russia, through whose territories travellers such as the Englishman Jenkinson and the German Olearius attempted to establish trade routes for the Europeans. However, it turns out that some of the conventional wisdom about a European takeover of the Asian trade is at very least misleading. This is a time when Europeans were competing for control of the trade routes, but the trade itself was often in the hands of Armenian or Indian merchants. The material on the Mughals and Safavids, spread over the last two weeks of the course, thus forms an appropriate conclusion to our course, since it encourages reflection on the degree to which the patterns of overland trade and cultural interaction we have witnessed in earlier centuries continued down into "modern" times.

Lectures: Readings:

*I. The Safavids.

*II. Read as much as you can (ideally at least two of selections, all of which are accessible using Password 2). I would prioritize either Dale or Steensgaard, so you learn about some of the Asian merchants.
  1. Gommans on the Indo-Afghan trade (esp. the role of the nomads). Interesting evidence about continuing importance of horse trade through Afghanistan.
  2. Richard Foltz on the Naqshbandiya Sufis and the Mughals. One of the many aspects of close Central Asian connections with Mughal India. The book from which this is taken contains a lot else on the subject; there are several places in the Conversations with Jahangir book where Sufi connections figure prominently.
  3. Stephen Dale on Indian Multani merchants. From a pioneering work trying to give to the Indian merchants their rightful place in the larger picture of Asian trade.
  4. Rudolph Matthee on silk production in Iran. From a very good book on politics and trade in Safavid Iran.
  5. Nils Steensgaard on the Armenian merchant Hohvannes. From a controversial book that, as in this section, perhaps diminishes the significance of the Asian traders and their sophisticated networks. The example here is a fascinating one. How much one should generalize from it is an interesting question.

III.Optional: The great rival of the Safavids and the empire that would dominate the Middle East and much of the Mediterranean world in the 16th and 17th centuries was that of the Ottoman Turks. For an overview of Ottoman History, read in the UCalgary web pages. For information about Bursa, an important Ottoman city in Western Anatolia that was a center of silk production, read the brief account in Silk Road Seattle.

Week XI.

Final Exam due no later than 5:00 PM, Tuesday, March 15.