To travel the Silk Roads is to dive deep into composite cultures and interdisciplinary ways of understanding. A new book brings together more than 80 international scholars to explore the intrepid Afro-Eurasian routes that not only transported material goods, but also bridged cultural, political, and imaginary territories.
The term “Silk Road” is a modern label. It ripples alluringly off the tongue, conjuring up a lustrous path of lustrous fabric, shimmering through Asia, the Arab peninsula, Persia, and Southern Europe. But the term is a misnomer, reducing the complex history of Afro-Eurasian trade and interaction to both a single trail, and a single luxury product.
In fact, between 200 BCE and 1400 CE, mercantile and cultural exchange in Afro-Eurasia existed across a vast network of trade routes, and dealt not only in silk, yarn, and woven fabrics, but also in metals, pots, semi-precious stones, medicines, glass, furs, fruits, horses, servants — and slaves.
To travel the Silk Roadsis to dive deep into composite cultures and interdisciplinary ways of understanding. Across vertiginous mountain ranges, fertile river plains, forbidding deserts and the empty enormity of the steppe,these networks defied geographic boundaries, as much as they also passed through and merged many cultural, political, or imaginary territories. The substantial movement of materials and people also transported and evolved ideas, technologies, languages, stories, music, and faiths.
As we grapple with rapid-pace digital globalization and its associated anxieties, challenges, and backlashes, this is a fascinating moment to revisit the Silk Roads and their extended, intricate history of movement and exchange.