A road as an empire: some remarks about the most important ancient periods and powers of and along the Silk Road

  • This paper was presented at the workshop “Goods, Languages, and Cultures along the Silk Road” at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, October 18 and 19, 2019. While many contributions to the workshop focused on recent developments in China’s current “New Silk Road” politics, on forms of communication, and on contemporary exchange of goods and ideas across so-called Silk Road countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia and with China, this short essay focuses on the history of the so-called Silk Road as an important transport connection. Although what is now called the “Silk Road” was not a pure East-West binary in antiquity but rather developed into a network that also led to the South and North, the focus here will be on describing the East-West connection. I will start with a few brief remarks on the origins of the connection referred to as the Silk Road and will then introduce the different great empires that shaped this connection between antiquity and the Middle Ages through military campaigns and by using it as a trading route and network. But the Silk Road was by no means only of economic and military importance. Its significance for the exchange and dissemination of religions should also be mentioned. This paper does not detail the importance of the numerous individual religions in the area of the Silk Road but discusses the phenomenon of the spread of religions and the loss of some of their own distinguishing characteristics in this spread, a phenomenon that could be described as a “unity of opposites” (coincidentia oppositorum). Finally, the essay asks who, in the face of the regular replacement of powers, held sovereignty over the transport connection: the subject (in the form of the empires) or the object (in the form of the road). Who were the main protagonists of and along the Silk Road in the course of history? Who were the people who became the great powers of the ancient Silk Road, building up the material route, governing parts of it, and organizing trade and relationships from the far East to the extreme West of the Eurasian continent?

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Author:Heiko Conrad
Parent Title (English):Working Paper Series on Informal Markets and Trade ; No. 11
Series (Serial Number):Working Paper Series on Informal Markets and Trade (11)
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Document Type:Working Paper
Date of Publication (online):2021/09/17
Date of first Publication:2021/09/17
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2021/09/17
Page Number:14
Last Page:12
Institutes:Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaften
Philosophie und Geschichtswissenschaften / Geschichtswissenschaften
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 38 Handel, Kommunikation, Verkehr / 380 Handel, Kommunikation, Verkehr
9 Geschichte und Geografie / 95 Geschichte Asiens / 950 Geschichte Asiens; des Fernen Ostens
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht