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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 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, asrevealed in this new history. In The Silk Road, Valerie Hansen describes the remarkable archaeological finds that revolutionize our understanding of these trade routes. For millennia, key records remained hidden - often deliberately buried by bureaucrats for safe keeping. But the sands of the Taklamakan Desert have revealedfascinating 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 northwest China to Samarkand, where merchants, envoys, pilgrims, and travelers mixed in cosmopolitan communities, tolerant of religions from Buddhism to Zoroastrianism. Hansen notes that there was no single, continuous road, but a chain of marketsthat 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. Hansen writes that 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 Southeast Asia.
Valerie Hansen is Professor of History at Yale University. Her books include The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, Negotiating Daily Life in Traditional China: How Ordinary People Used Contracts, 600-1400, Changing Gods in Medieval China, 1127-1276, and, with Kenneth R. Curtis, Voyages inWorld History. To find out more about Valerie Hansen and The Silk Road, visit her website at www.valerie-hansen.com.
Table of Contents
Note on Scholarly Conventions
At the Crossroads of Central Asia The Kingdom of Kroraina
Gateway to the Languages of the Silk Road Kucha and the Caves of Kizil
Midway Between China and Iran Turfan
Homeland of the Sogdians, the Silk Road Traders Samarkand and Sogdiana
The Cosmopolitan Terminus of the Silk Road Historic Chang'an, Modern-day Xi'an
The Time Capsule of Silk Road History The Dunhuang Caves
Entryway into Xinjiang for Buddhism and Islam Khotan
Conclusion The History of the Overland Routes through Central Asia
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