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Chinese Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE)

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Map of the Ancient Silk Route.
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CARTOGRAPHER Anonymous () Primary
Persia36.Slk00m01
The great SILK ROUTE extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, with several land routes and one by sea. Both were extremely long and dangerous. For many years merchants and traders made their way across land, leading their donkey caravans over high mountains and through incredible deserts in hopes that the luxury goods that they carried would bring high prices from wealthy men at both ends of the long route. Knowledge of the peoples at the ends of the long trail was vague. Eratosthenes included in his map a reference to a city called "Thinae," somewhere above India that was the center of a great commercial nation. The name probably comes from "Cine," the Indian word for China. The Romans referred to the distant land of "Seres," but were very unclear about where it was and what its people were like. As the result of an expedition he had sent to Central Asia to bring back "Celestial Horses," the Han Chinese Emperor Wudi (141-87 BCE) heard of powerful nations to the West, including the Romans, which they called the Da Qin, and the Wusun, a people with "red hair and blue eyes." In an attempt to find out more he sent an expedition to the Selucids on the Tigris River, and was impressed with the wealth that wasfound there, particularly with the gold and silver coins. During their travels, the Chinese ambassadors encountered Parthian lords, nomads who had gradually assumed power in the old Persian areas. These lords expressed an interest in visiting China, which apparently they did. Gradually the Chinese expanded into Central Asia, establishing both a political and a commercial presence. They founded garrisons in both Dunhuang and Turfan. They also began to purposely export the silk that was so desired , as well as bronze vessels and mirrors. We will look at the examples of these objects before we return to discuss the Parthians as well as the Nabataeans, or ancient Arabs, who grew rich from the trade along the Silk Route.

Caption: Map of the Ancient Silk Route.

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