Loading...

HIST341: The Silk Road and Central Eurasia

Unit 5: The Silk Road During the Tang Dynasty   Under the Tang Dynasty in China, the Silk Road reached a pinnacle of sophistication and profitability.  The relative peace and internal division in China during Tang rule helped facilitate the Silk Road trade.  Moreover, the rise of new powers in Central Eurasia (such as the Uyghur Empire) encouraged the proliferation of commerce along the silk routes.  The Sogdians dominated the East-West trade along the Silk Road between the fourth and eighth centuries; they supplied many powerful empires, including the Sassanids, Byzantium, and Tang China, with luxury goods.  During this period, the Silk Road created an international web of trade that increased political and cultural interaction and transformed the nomadic cultures of Central Eurasia.

In this unit, we will study the increasingly important role of the Silk Road in forging a relationship among the nomadic states of Central Eurasia, China, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.

Unit 5 Time Advisory
Time Advisory: This unit will take you approximately 13.5 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 5.1: 2.5 hours

☐    Subunit 5.2: 1.5 hours

☐    Subunit 5.3: 7.5 hours
 

☐    Sub-subunit 5.3.1: 1 hour
 

☐    Sub-subunit 5.3.2: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit 5.3.3: 0.5 hour

☐    Sub-subunit 5.3.4: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit 5.3.5: 2 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 5.3.6: 1.5 hours
 

☐    Sub-subunit 5.3.7: 0.5 hour

 

☐    Subunit 5.4: 2 hours

Unit5 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

  • Describe some important ways in which developments in China during the Tang Dynasty affected the economic and social history of Eurasia.
  • Describe the diverse collection of merchants and intermediaries who participated in the Silk Road during this period and the special challenges they faced.
  • Identify (in addition to China) some of the other important contemporary empires in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.

5.1 The Tang Dynasty and Silk Road Commerce   5.1.1 Outline of Tang History   - Reading: University of Washington: John D. Szostak’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: “The Tang Dynasty” Link: University of Washington: John D. Szostak’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: “The Tang Dynasty” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text and the embedded links in their entirety.  John D. Szostak, Assistant Professor of Japanese Art History at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, offers a brief overview of the Tang Dynasty, and discusses the frictions between foreign traders and Chinese merchants in the eighth century.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.1.2 Tang Interactions with the Outside World   - Reading: The Silkroad Foundation’s “The Exoticism in Tang (618-907)” Link: The Silkroad Foundation’s “The Exoticism in Tang (618-907)” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This text discusses the role of Emperor Tai-tsung, the Star of the Golden Age.  Under the Tang, metropolitan culture flourished and foreign merchants and settlers exchanged new ideas and values. 
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.1.3 Cultural and Administrative Innovations in a Cosmopolitan Empire   - Web Media: Harvard University: Professor Peter Bol’s “The Universal Empire: Cosmopolitan Tang” Link: Harvard University: Professor Peter Bol’s “The Universal Empire: Cosmopolitan Tang
 
Instructions:  Please scroll down to Lecture 12, and click on the hyperlink that best fits your Internet access to launch the video.  Watch this video lecture in its entirety (50:41 minutes) in which Professor Peter Bol of Harvard University provides a valuable overview of this important era in both Chinese history and the development of the Silk Road.  This resource builds upon the material covered in sub-subunits 5.1.1 and 5.1.2, as well as it provides many additional insights into the manner in which the Tang can be viewed as a truly “cosmopolitan” empire.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.2 Trading Partners   5.2.1 Indian and Bactrian Traders   5.2.2 The Sogdian Traders   - Reading: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: “Sogdiana” Link: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: “Sogdiana” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text and the embedded links in their entirety.  Sogdiana was a crossroads region in the overland trade route.  As a result, Sogdians became successful traders and suppliers for caravans.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.2.3 Unification of Central Eurasia and Northern India   - Reading: The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History:” The Department of Asian Art’s “Kushan Empire (ca. 2nd century B.C.-3rd century A.D.)” Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History:” The Department of Asian Art’s “Kushan Empire (ca. 2nd century B.C.-3rd century A.D.)” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text and all embedded links in their entirety.  This reading describes the Kushan Empire, a period of great wealth marked by extensive mercantile activities and a flourishing of urban life, Buddhist thought, and the visual arts.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.3 New Powers in Central Eurasia   5.3.1 Roles in the Silk Road Trade   - Reading: University of California Irvine: Professor Oliver Wild’s “The Silk Road:” “The Greatest Years” Link: University of California Irvine: Professor Oliver Wild’s “The Silk Road:” “The Greatest Years” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  In this text, Professor Wild offers an introduction to the ‘Greatest Years’ of the Silk Road.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.3.2 The Sogdians   - Reading: University of Washington: Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams’ translation of “The Sogdian Ancient Letters” Link: University of Washington: Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams’ translation of “The Sogdian Ancient Letters” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  As indicated in 5.2.2, the Sogdians, a people of Iranian origin, played an important role in the commerce of the Silk Road.  In these letters, dated about 330 C.E., various Sogdian correspondents discuss goods traded along the silk route as well as escalating tensions with China.  These letters are also the earliest recorded examples of Sogdian writing.  They provide important information about the early history of the Sogdian diaspora, which encompassed the eastern end of the Silk Road. These letters were translated by Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.  The introduction is authored by Dr. Daniel C. Waugh, University of Washington.

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.3.3 Bactria   - Reading: University of Washington’s “Art and Culture of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Frank Harold’s “Balkh & Mazar-e-Sharif” Link: University of Washington’s “Art and Culture of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Frank Harold’s “Balkh & Mazar-e-Sharif
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety. The city of Balkh (modern day Afghanistan) was the commercial and cultural center of Bactria – a region which appeared in our survey of the conquests of Alexander the Great (see 4.1.2 and 4.1.4).  As this text shows Balkh continued to be an important part of the Silk Road during the Tang era, and after.    
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.3.4 Göktürks   - Reading: New World Encyclopedia’s “Göktürks” Link: New World Encyclopedia’s “Göktürks” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text and embedded links in their entirety.  Pay special attention to the sections: “Civil War” and “Dual Empires.” 
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.3.5 Uyghur Empire   - Reading: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Daniel C. Waugh’s “The Uighurs” Link: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Daniel C. Waugh’s “The Uighurs” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text and embedded links in their entirety.  Professor Waugh describes the Uighur Empire (744-840), and its transition from their nomadic origin, to a flourishing commercial center.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: Griffith University: Professor Colin Mackerras’ translation of “The ‘New T’ang History’ (Hsin T’ang-shu) on the History of the Uighurs” Link: Griffith University: Professor Colin Mackerras’ translation of “The ‘New T’ang History’ (Hsin T’ang-shu) on the History of the Uighurs” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  Make sure to study the four maps embedded in this page.  Pay special attention to the Uighurs’ commercial relations with the Tang dynasty.  This text is translated and annotated by Professor Colin Mackerras of Griffith University in Nathan, Australia.  The text is edited and introduced by Professor Daniel C. Waugh, University of Washington.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.3.6 The Khazar Empire   - Reading: International Institute for Asian Studies’ Newsletter 34, July 2004: P. Meerts’s “Assessing Khazaria” Link: International Institute for Asian Studies’ Newsletter 34, July 2004: P. Meerts’s “Assessing Khazaria” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  During the 9th and 10th centuries, Khazaria became one of the major arteries of commerce between Northern Europe and the Middle East as well as a connection to the Silk Road.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.3.7 The Samanids   - Reading: Iran Chamber Society: Cyrus Shahmiri’s “History of Iran: Samanid Dynasty” Link: Iran Chamber Society: Cyrus Shahmiri’s “History of Iran: Samanid Dynasty” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The Samanids were a Persian state that lasted for 180 years, and determinedly propagated Sunni Islam throughout their neighboring lands.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.4 Empires and the Silk Road   5.4.1 Byzantium   - Reading: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Byzantium and the East” Link: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Byzantium and the East” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  In 553-4, the Byzantines acquired the secret of silk manufacture, an industry that soon became the most important of the imperial monopolies.  Be sure to read Procopius’ excerpt from the History of the Gothic Wars.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.4.2 Sassanid Empire   - Reading: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: “The Sassanian Empire” Link: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: “The Sassanian Empire” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this text and embedded links in their entirety.  The Sassanid Empire (224-651) was one of the two main powers in Western Asia and Europe, alongside the Roman Empire for a period of more than four centuries.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

5.4.3 Islamic Caliphate   - Reading: University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s “The Islamic World to 1600: The Caliphate and the First Islamic Dynasty” Link: University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s “The Islamic World to 1600: The Caliphate and the First Islamic Dynasty”
 
Instructions: Begin by reading the first page of the site on the succession of Abu Bakr (632-634).  Please also click on the links on this webpage to access the short readings on “Sunni vs. Shi’a” and “Jihad.”  Returning to the Abu Bakr page, use the link in the bottom right hand corner to proceed to the text on Umar, and from there to the final reading on Uthman.   This resource provides an overview of the history of the caliphate from the death of Muhammad (632) to Uthman (644-656).  Included within the material is important information regarding the expansion of the Islamic world during this period, as well as the internal disputes which led to the division between Sunni and Shi’a. 
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.