The Silk Road and Central Eurasia

Purpose of Course  showclose

This course will introduce you to the history of Central Eurasia and the Silk Road from 4500 B.C.E to the nineteenth century.  You will learn about the culture of the nomadic peoples of Central Eurasia as well as the development of the Silk Road.  The course will be structured chronologically; each unit will focus on one aspect of the Silk Road during a specific time period.  Each unit will include representative primary- and secondary-source documents that illustrate important overarching political, economic, and social themes, such as the discovery and production of silk in China, diplomatic relations between Han China and nomadic peoples of the Eurasian steppe, the international scope of the Silk Road trade routes, European interest in finding a “new silk route” to China, and the “Great Game” between China, Russia, and Great Britain in Central Eurasia in the nineteenth century.  By the end of the course, you will understand how the Silk Road influenced the development of nomadic societies in Central Eurasia as well as powerful empires in China, the Middle East, and Europe.

Course Information  showclose

Welcome to HIST341. Below, please find some general information on the course and its requirements
 
Course Designer: Christa Dierksheide and Professor Concepcion Saenz-Cambra
 
Primary Resources: This course is comprised of a range of different free, online materials.  However, the course makes primary use of the following resources from these main websites:

Several articles are authored by Dr. Daniel C. Waugh, Professor at the Department of History and Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington.  The “Art of the Silk Road” exhibit was organized as part of “Silk Road Seattle,” a collaborative public education project sponsored by the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington.
 
Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.  Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam.  However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the resources for each unit of this course.

In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.
 
Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 94.5 hours to complete.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself.
 
Tips/Suggestions: This course covers a great deal of history and a large part of the globe so take your time with the material.  Please also read carefully the introductions to each unit as well as the information in the instruction boxes: these show how the material under review fits together and will help you connect one section of the course to the next.  As in many history courses in the Saylor program, it is important that you have a good grasp of the material in each section before moving on to the next, as later coursework is often designed to build upon the knowledge obtained in previous assignments.  It may help to take notes as you work through the course materials, which will be a useful reference as you prepare to study for the Final Exam.



Learning Outcomes  showclose

Upon successful completion of this course,  the student will be able to:

  • Identify and describe the emergence of early nomadic cultures in Central Eurasia.
  • Identify and describe the rise of silk production in China.
  • Identify and describe the various routes of the Silk Road.
  • Identify and describe the reasons for China’s opening of the Silk Road in the second century.
  • Identify and describe Han China’s political and commercial relationships with nomadic tribes in Central Eurasia.
  • Identify and describe the impact of the Hellenistic World and the Roman Empire on the Silk Road.
  • Describe and analyze the “golden age” of the Silk Road.
  • Identify and describe the impact of the Mongol Empire on Silk Road cultures.
  • Identify and describe the transmission of art, religion, and technology via the Silk Road.
  • Analyze and describe the arrival of European traders and explorers seeking a “new” silk route in the 1400s.
  • Identify and describe the “Great Game” rivalry between China, Britain, and Russia in Central Eurasia in the nineteenth century.
  • Analyze and interpret primary source documents that elucidate political, economic, and cultural exchange along the Silk Road.

Course Requirements  showclose

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Have competency in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed all courses listed in “The Core Program” of the History Discipline (HIST101 through HIST104).

Unit Outline show close


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  • Unit 1: World Systems and Civilizations: The Significance of Central Eurasia  

    Central Eurasia encompasses a vast swath of arid land that is ill-suited for farming and far removed from coastal ports.  As a result, the earliest communities to emerge in Central Eurasia—around 4500 B.C.E.—were nomadic.  These migrant tribes were primarily herders, although a few tribes did engage in agricultural practices.  Nomads’ lives centered on the horse—used for both meat and transportation—and were shaped by frequent military campaigns.  When the Chinese opened the Silk Road in the second century, many nomadic tribes, particularly the Sogdians of the Fergana Valley, benefited by trading with silk merchants and raiding caravans.  In short, the opening of the Silk Road transformed the lives of the nomadic steppe peoples by introducing a new commercial system and by forging a link between Eurasia and the Mediterranean world.

    In this unit, we will examine the emergence of the earliest nomadic peoples in Central Eurasia.  We will then study how the rise of silk production in China and the opening of the Silk Road influenced the nomads of Central Eurasia.

    Unit 1 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 1 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 1.1 Origins  

    Note: This topic is covered by the resources beneath sub-subunits 1.1.1-1.1.4.

  • 1.1.1 Early Nomadic Communities  
  • 1.1.2 Agriculture and Herding  
  • 1.1.3 Horses  
  • 1.1.4 Technological, Military, and Political Developments  
  • 1.2 Discovery of Silk  
    • Reading: The Silkroad Foundation’s “History of Silk”

      Link: The Silkroad Foundation’s “History of Silk” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This reading offers an overview of the legendary origins of silk, and the secrets of sericulture. 
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 1.2.1 Yangshao Culture in China  
    • Reading: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Department of Asian Art’s “The Neolithic Period in China”

      Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Department of Asian Art’s “The Neolithic Period in China
       
      Instructions:  Please read this text in its entirety.  We retreat a little farther back into Chinese history here to learn more about the arts—crafts of regions that became very important in the development of the Silk Road.   The authors give particular attention to the art and artifacts of Yangshao culture and the use of jade.  In addition to reading the text, click on “View Slideshow” at the top of the page.  You may click on each individual image to enlarge it and for more information on each specific piece of art.

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  • 1.2.2 Domestic Silkworms and Chinese Monopoly  
    • Reading: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Silk”

      Link: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Silk” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: This reading covers subunits 1.2.2-1.2.5.  Please read this text in its entirety.  In this text, Professor Waugh describes silk as the product that best encompasses the history of economic and cultural exchange across Eurasia, as a political and religious symbol, and as a currency.
       
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  • 1.2.3 Spread of Sericulture in Eurasia  

    Note: This topic is covered by the reading beneath sub-subunit 1.2.2.

  • 1.2.4 Silk Textiles  

    Note: This topic is covered by the reading beneath sub-subunit 1.2.2.

  • 1.2.5 Silk as Commodity  

    Note: This topic is covered by the reading beneath sub-subunit 1.2.2.

  • Unit 2: Defining the Silk Road  

    The Silk Road was a series of interconnected trade routes linking all parts of Eurasia with China, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean World.  The route first emerged during the Han Dynasty in China, when merchants expanded the lucrative Chinese silk trade westward.  The Silk Road, however, was comprised of a number of routes.  A first, the Northern Route, began in the Chinese city of Chang’an and pushed westward through central Eurasia and Persia.  A second, the Southern Route, ran through India and ended in the Levant.  And a maritime route originated at the mouth of the Red River (present-day Hanoi), looped around southeast Eurasia and the Indian subcontinent, and ended at the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.  Luxury goods such as silk brocade, porcelain, frankincense, sandalwood, and glass were traded along these routes.

    In this unit, we will study the geography of the Silk Road and the many routes connecting East Asia, Central Eurasia, and the Mediterranean.  We will also consider the many cultures involved in this extensive trade network.

    Unit 2 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 2 Learning Outcomes   show close
    • Reading: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Dr. Jason Neelis's “Silk Road Trade Routes”

      Link: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Dr. Jason Neelis's “Silk Road Trade Routes” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: This reading covers subunits 2.1, 2.2, and all inclusive sub-subunits.  Please read this text in its entirety.  Dr. Jason Neelis, from the Department of Religion of University Florida Gainesville, offers an in-depth description of the network of routes commonly known as the “Silk Road," which he traces back to the Han Dynasty of China (206 BCE-220 CE)-- a subject that we will return to later in the course. Please be sure to use the "map" link at the top of the page for a general picture of the lands encompassed within this trading network.
       
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    • Reading: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “The Silk Roads and Eurasian Geography”

      Link: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “The Silk Roads and Eurasian Geography” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: This reading covers subunits 2.1, 2.2, and all inclusive units.  Please read this text in its entirety.  This reading offers a brief overview of the geography of Eurasia, and its relationship to human settlement and movement, with some photo gallery images of the landscapes in various countries.
       
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  • 2.1 The Northern Route  

    Note: This topic is covered by the readings under the Unit 2 introduction.

  • 2.1.1 Geography  

    Note: This topic is covered by the readings under the Unit 2 introduction.

  • 2.1.2 Cities  

    Note: This topic is covered by the readings under the Unit 2 introduction.

  • 2.1.3 Caravans  

    Note: This topic is covered by the readings under the Unit 2 introduction.

  • 2.1.4 Trade Goods  

    Note: This topic is covered by the readings under the Unit 2 introduction.

  • 2.2 The Southern Route  

    Note: This topic is covered by the readings under the Unit 2 introduction.

  • 2.2.1 Geography  

    Note: This topic is covered by the readings under the Unit 2 introduction.

  • 2.2.2 Trade Goods  

    Note: This topic is covered by the readings under the Unit 2 introduction.

  • 2.3 Maritime Silk Routes  
    • Reading: China Daily: Ministry of Culture, P.R. China’s “Maritime Silk Road”

      Link: China Daily: Ministry of Culture, P.R. China’s “Maritime Silk Road” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: This reading covers subunits 2.3.1 and 2.3.2.  Please read this text in its entirety.  The sea route led from the mouth of the Red River near modern Hanoi, through the Malacca Straits to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, and India, and then on to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
       
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  • 2.3.1 Eastern Han Dynasty  

    Note: This topic is covered by the reading beneath subunit 2.3.

  • 2.3.2 From China to the Red Sea  

    Note: This topic is covered by the reading beneath subunit 2.3.

  • Unit 3: Early Developments and the Silk Trade  

    There were several conditions that made the opening of the Silk Road possible.  First, the domestication of pack animals—camels, horses, and yaks—allowed for extended overland transportation.  Second, the nomadic nature of the peoples of Central Eurasia allowed silk merchants to travel across the continent without infringing upon borders or settlements.  Third, the consumption of silk in the Middle East and the Mediterranean spurred the expansion of the lucrative silk trade beyond China.  Moreover, the efforts by the Han Chinese to develop trade contacts with nomadic peoples to the west also opened the door to commercial exchange in Central Eurasia.
     
    In this unit, we will study the environmental, cultural and political conditions in Central Eurasia that laid the framework for the silk trade.  In particular, we will consider the early trade networks created by the Han Chinese and the Xiongnu, a nomadic confederation of Central Eurasian tribes.

    Unit 3 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 3 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 3.1 Reasons for New Overland Trade  
  • 3.1.1 Domestication of Pack Animals  
    • Reading: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh and Elmira Köçümkulkïzï’s “Animals”

      Link: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh and Elmira Köçümkulkïzï’s “Animals” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety. As you will find, this article builds upon the information presented in Unit 1 regarding the critical importance of domesticated animals to the lives of pastoral nomads and their role as intermediaries in the Silk Road.  Pay special attention to how these animals—camels, horses, and yaks—allowed for extended overland transportation. 
       
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  • 3.1.2 Expansion of Trade  
  • 3.2 Commerce and Trade  
  • 3.2.1 Early Central Eurasian-Chinese Contact  
  • 3.2.2 Mining and the Jade Trade  
    • Reading: Archnet's Digital Library: “Khotan”

      Link: Archnet's Digital Library: “Khotan” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This reading describes the oasis city of Khotan—the “City of Jade”—an important strategic and trading center between China and Central Asia.
       
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  • 3.2.3 Introduction of Gold and Bronze  
    • Reading: San Jose State University: Dr. Kathleen Cohen’s “Silkroad”: “The Han Dynasty Part 2”

      Link: San Jose State University: Dr. Kathleen Cohen’s “Silkroad”: “The Han Dynasty Part 2” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please go to “Part 2” and read this text in its entirety.  Pay special attention to the many different ways in which the nomads used gold.  This text also discusses the manner in which the trade of such items was influenced by larger developments in Chinese history.  The overview in this resource to the history of important dynasties, such as the Han, will be followed up in greater depth in subunit 3.3.1 of the course.

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  • 3.3 Chinese-Nomad Relations  
  • 3.3.1 Introduction to Han China  
  • 3.3.2 Han China and Its Policies toward Nomadic Groups  
    • Reading: Academia Sinica Institute of History of Philology: Ming-Ke Wang’s “The Nomad’s Choice: The First Encounter between Northern Nomads and Imperial China”

      Link: Academia Sinica Institute of History of Philology: Ming-Ke Wang’s “The Nomad’s Choice: The First Encounter between Northern Nomads and Imperial China” (PDF)
       
      Instructions: Download this PDF by clicking on the link under “Division of Humanities and Social Sciences.”  Please read this entire 1-page text. This article studies the relations between the Han Dynasty (206BCE-220 CE) and three groups of pastoral nomads: the Xiongnu, the Xianbie, and the Qiang.  In this work, the author reinterprets ancient Chinese historical materials to provide a new explanation for the diverse economies and social organizations of these early nomads.  This text is published by the Academic Sinica, the national academy of the Republic of China.
       
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    • Reading: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Selection from the Han Narrative Histories” (HTML)

      Link: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “Selection from the Han Narrative Histories” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This text narrates Zhang Quian’s journey and describes his foreign relations activities.  While the Han Chinese had embraced a policy of tolerance toward their nomadic neighbors to the west, this approach changed under Emperor Wu-ti.  Wu-ti dispatched emissary Zhang Qian on a mission to Central Eurasia to explore the possibility of forging an alliance with nomadic states there.  Zhang Qian’s descriptions of the nomadic tribes—such as the “Description of Western Regions”—formed the basis of political and economic intelligence and stimulated the creation of the Silk Road.  This text was originally digitized at Silk Road Seattle; J. Moore edited this text to ensure standardized spellings and place names.
       
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  • 3.3.3 Xiongnu  
  • 3.3.4 Scythian Culture  
    • Reading: Reading: Livius Onderwijs: Jona Lendering’s “Scythians/Sacae”

      Link: Livius Onderwijs: Jona Lendering’s “Scythians/Sacae” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text and all embedded links in their entirety.  The Scythians or Scyths were ancient Iranian nomadic tribes who lived in the Pontic-Caspian steppe.  Pay special attention to their relations with Han China.
       
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  • 3.3.5 Contemporary Developments on the Indian Subcontinent  
    • Reading: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Jason Neelis’s “The Mauryan Empire”

      Link: University of Washington’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: Jason Neelis’s “The Mauryan Empire
       
      Instructions: Please read all of this short text, which provides an introduction to the ancient Mauryan Empire and its significance in the political and cultural history of the Indian subcontinent.  Note that the text touches upon the expanding presence in India at this time of Buddhism.  The subsequent appearance and spread of this faith in China is covered in depth in Subunit 6.1. 
       
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  • Unit 4: Opening the Silk Road Between East and West  

    The opening of the Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean was driven by two major factors.  First, Han China sought to expand—and profit from—its lucrative silk trade.  Second, both the Hellenistic and Roman worlds created an enormous demand for silk.  The expansion of Alexander the Great’s empire into Central Eurasia allowed the Greeks to engage in the silk trade; many of the newly conquered lands had important trade nodes along the Silk Road.  During the Han Dynasty, Chinese emperor Wu Di established commercial relationships with Ferghana, Bactria, and the Parthian Empire—all nomadic peoples who played central roles in the rise of the Silk Road.  This new trade spurred a “silk craze” throughout the Roman Empire as well as the dispatch of Roman envoys to China.

    In this unit, we will study the expansionist impulses of Han China, the Romans, and the Greeks—all of whom garnered territory in Central Eurasia along the Silk Road.  In fact, as we will see, the silk trade played a significant role in the territorial expansion of these powers.

    Unit 4 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 4 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 4.1 The Hellenistic Era  
  • 4.1.1 Alexander the Great’s Empire  
  • 4.1.2 Alexander and Asia: An Archaeological View of Cultural Exchange  
  • 4.1.3 The Ptolemaic Dynasty  
    • Reading: History World: Bamber Gascione's “History of Egypt”

      Link: History World: Bamber Gascione's “History of Egypt” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text and all embedded links in their entirety.  Pay special attention to the sections “The Greeks in Egypt: 332-30 BC” and “The Ptolemaic Inheritance: 285 BC.”
       
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  • 4.1.4 The Seleucid Empire and the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom  
  • 4.2 The Romans and their Commercial Relations with Asia  
  • 4.2.1 Conquest of Egypt and New Eastern Contact  
  • 4.2.2 Problems with Parthia  
  • 4.2.3 The Roman Silk Craze  
  • 4.2.4 Roman Expansion and the Rise of a Maritime Trade Route  
    • Reading: Hofstra University: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodriguez’s “The Silk Road and Arab Sea Routes”

      Link: Hofstra University: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodriguez’s “The Silk Road and Arab Sea Routes” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  As indicated in subunit 2.3, trade between Asia and other parts of the world was conducted not only overland, but by sea as well.  The present reading indicates how the expansion of the Roman Empire promoted the formation of maritime trade routes linking the Mediterranean and Asia that continued to rise in importance in subsequent eras -- A development that had major implications for the history of the Silk Road.
       
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  • 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   show close
    Unit 5 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 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.
       
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  • 5.1.2 Tang Interactions with the Outside World  
  • 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.
       
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  • 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  
  • 5.3 New Powers in Central Eurasia  
  • 5.3.1 Roles in the Silk Road Trade  
  • 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.

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  • 5.3.3 Bactria  
  • 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.” 
       
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  • 5.3.5 Uyghur Empire  
  • 5.3.6 The Khazar Empire  
  • 5.3.7 The Samanids  
  • 5.4 Empires and the Silk Road  
  • 5.4.1 Byzantium  
  • 5.4.2 Sassanid Empire  
  • 5.4.3 Islamic Caliphate  
  • Unit 6: Cultural Exchange: Religion, Technology, and Art Along the Silk Road  

    Although the Silk Road was mainly a vehicle for the exchange of silk and other luxury goods, it also served as a venue for cultural transmission, enabling the circulation of art, new technologies, and religious beliefs.  For example, missionaries traveling from India along the silk routes first introduced Buddhism to China.  Other missionaries brought Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity eastward; these religions flourished in China and in the nomadic states of the Silk Road.  However, the rise of Islam had a significant impact on these religions.  In fact, the expansion of Islam influenced culture and trade across Central Eurasia.  Islamic beliefs spread to the nomads of Central Eurasia as Islamic merchants came to dominate the Silk Routes all the way into China.  Major Islamic commercial settlements were located in the Tang capital, Chang'an, and in the ports of Southeast China.  Over time, Silk Road cities that had been dominated by Buddhism and faiths such as Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity were increasingly centered around Islam.

    In this unit, we will consider how religions from India, Syria, and the Middle East were transmitted via the Silk Road and how Islam supplanted many of these religions beginning in the seventh century.  We will also study how technology and art often followed in the footsteps of religious exchange.

    Unit 6 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 6 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 6.1 Religion  
  • 6.1.1 Arrival of Buddhism in China  
  • 6.1.2 Nestorian Christianity  
  • 6.1.3 Manichaeism  
  • 6.1.4 Islam  
  • 6.2 Art  
  • 6.2.1 Scythian Art  
  • 6.2.2 Hellenistic Art  
    • Reading: Asia Society’s The Collection in Context: “Sculpture from the Kushan Period”

      Link: Asia Society’s The Collection in Context: “Sculpture from the Kushan Period
       
      Instructions:  Please read this text in its entirety.  This resource offers a view of the remarkable blending of Greco-Roman and Buddhist art that took place in the Gandhara region of what is now northern India.  Please use the links below the sculptures—especially the items “Buddha” and “Head of a Man”—to find short but valuable summaries of the ways in which these two ancient traditions are combined and expressed in the various works of art.
       
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  • 6.2.3 Buddha Iconography  
  • 6.2.4 Cave Paintings and Sculpture  
  • 6.3 Technologies  
  • 6.3.1 Moveable-Type Printing  
  • 6.3.2 Gunpowder  
  • 6.3.3 Astrolabe  
    • Reading: Astrolabe.org: James E. Morrison’s “Astrolabe History”

      Link: Astrolabe.org: James E. Morrison’s “Astrolabe History” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The astrolabe was an astronomical instrument designed to measure the altitude of the sun or stars, and was mostly used for astronomy and navigation.  Of Greek origin, it quickly spread through Europe, Northern Africa (the Maghrib), and the Islamic world (including eastern areas such as parts of Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and India).
       
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  • 6.3.4 Compass  
    • Reading: Cultural China’s “Compass”

      Link: Cultural China’s “Compass” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety. The compass was invented in ancient China around 247 B.C., and probably traveled from China to the Middle East via the Silk Road, and then to Europe.  The compass greatly improved the safety and efficiency of travel, and especially of ocean travel.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 6.3.5 Mapmaking  
  • 6.3.6 Shipbuilding  
    • Reading: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ “Technological Advances During the Song: Shipbuilding and the Compass”

      Link: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ “Technological Advances During the Song: Shipbuilding and the Compass” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  In the 12th century, with the rise of the Song dynasty, the technological advances in shipbuilding led to a blossoming of overseas trade, and the creation of China’s first permanent navy.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Vancouver Maritime Museum’s “Watery Kingdom: China’s Mariners from Antiquity to the Ming Dynasty”

      Link: Vancouver Maritime Museum’s “Watery Kingdom: China’s Mariners from Antiquity to the Ming Dynasty” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Click on the title on the webpage linked above to begin the presentation, and then use the “next” links at the top of each webpage to move on to each section.  Please read this text in its entirety (14 pages).  Pay special attention to the section on shipbuilding, which offers a brief overview of the history of shipbuilding and how it affected China’s overseas trade, from the Han period (210 BC-AD220) to the Song Dynasty (12th century).
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

      The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

      Submit Materials

  • Unit 7: The Silk Road in the Age of the Mongols  

    The Mongols—nomads of central Eurasia—dominated world history during the thirteenth century.  The Mongols invaded many postclassical empires and built an extensive cultural and commercial network.  Led by Chinggis Khan and his successors, the Mongols brought China, Persia, Tibet, Eurasia Minor, and southern Russia under their control.  The Mongol empire also opened trade routes—primarily along the Silk Road—as well as lines of communication between different regions in Eurasia.  

    In this unit, we will see how the Mongols presented a formidable nomadic challenge to sedentary, civilized societies throughout Eurasia.  We will also study how they unified the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian steppe and brought about an era of political peace and stability that bolstered the Silk Road trade.

    Unit 7 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 7 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 7.1 The Empire of Genghis Khan  
  • 7.1.1 Making of a Great Warrior  

    Note: This topic is covered in the reading beneath subunit 7.1.

  • 7.1.2 Political and Social Causes  

    Note: This topic is covered in the reading beneath subunit 7.1.

  • 7.1.3 Building the Mongol War Machine  

    Note: This topic is covered in the reading beneath subunit 7.1.

  • 7.1.4 Conquering China and the Islamic Empire  

    Note: This topic is covered in the reading beneath subunit 7.1.

  • 7.1.5 Life in the Mongol Imperium  

    Note: This topic is covered in the reading beneath subunit 7.1.

  • 7.1.6 Division of the Empire  

    Note: This topic is covered in the reading beneath subunit 7.1.

  • 7.2 The Mongol Empire after Chinggis Khan  
  • 7.2.1 Invasion of Russia  
    • Reading: University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literature: Professor Donald Ostrowski’s “The Shifting Present and Written Images of the Mongols”

      Link: University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literature: Professor Donald Ostrowski’s “The Shifting Present and Written Images of the Mongols”  
       
      Instructions: Please enter “Ostrowski” in the search box at the left of the screen and proceed to the pdf link for “The Shifting Present and Written Images of the Mongols.”  Please read all of this text (34 pages), which describes how succeeding generations of Russian historians have portrayed Mongol rule—its nature, long term effects, and the manner in which it was brought to an end.  The author attempts to divide these interpretations into various “paradigms” and indicates in his conclusion how each may reflect certain attitudes and conditions from the time period in which they were written.  This site is maintained by the University of Pennsylvania, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 7.2.2 Eurasia Minor  
  • 7.2.3 The Mongols in China  
  • 7.2.4 Global Connections  
  • 7.2.5 The Rise of Timur  
    • Reading: Encyclopaedia Britannica’s “Timur”

      Link: Encyclopaedia Britannica’s “Timur” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text and all embedded links in their entirety.  This entry narrates the life of Turkic conqueror of Western, South, and Central Asia and founder of the Timurid Empire in Central Asia.  Remember that Timur was the great, great grandfather of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty, which survived until 1857 as the Mughal Empire in India.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 7.3 Impact of the Mongols on the Silk Road  
  • 7.3.1 Political Stability  

    Note: This topic is covered by the reading in subunit 7.3.

  • 7.3.2 End of Islamic Trade Monopoly  

    Note: This topic is covered by the reading in subunit 7.3.

  • 7.3.3 East-West Relations  
    • Reading: University of Washington: William Rubruck’s “Account of the Mongols”

      Link: University of Washington: William Rubruck’s “Account of the Mongols” (PDF)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text and all embedded links in their entirety.  William Rubrick, a Flemish Fransciscan monk, undertook a mission to Eurasia in 1253 with the hope of converting the Mongols to Christianity.  Rubrick became the first European to visit the Mongol capital of Karakorum and see the Khan’s palace there.  In this account of his three-year journey, Rubrick details the diverse religions and ethnicities within the Mongol Empire as well as the nomadic culture of the Mongols.
       
      The text was translated by W. W. Rockhill: The journey of William of Rubruck to the eastern parts of the world, 1253-55. tr. from the Latin and ed., with an introductory notice, by William Woodville Rockhill (London: Hakluyt Society, 1900).
       
      Terms of Use: The material above is available for viewing in the public domain.

  • 7.3.4 The Pax Mongolica: A Contested History?  
    • Reading: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “The Pax Mongolica”

      Link: University of Washington: Professor Daniel C. Waugh’s “The Pax Mongolica
       
      Instructions:  Please read the article in its entirety.  Professor Waugh reflects in this piece on the manner in which the Mongol Empire has been portrayed in history.  He provides an interesting survey in the process of the dilemmas we face in attempting to assess the impact of Mongol rule on those parts of the world brought under their control, as well as the diverse factors that may influence the writing of history from one generation of scholars to the next.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Unit 8: The Timurids, Mughals, and the Ming  

    After the collapse of the Mongol Empire, the Timurids rose to power in the latter part of the fourteenth century.  Led by Tamerlane, the Timurids established their capital at Samarakand, one of the great cities of the Silk Road.  Through Silk Road commerce, Tamerlane and his successors established diplomatic relations with Ming China.  By the sixteenth century, the Mughal Empire, one of the great empires to occupy Central Eurasia, had assumed control of much of the Silk Road.  While some scholars have suggested that the Silk Road commercial system collapsed with the disintegration of the Mongol Empire and the rise of European maritime trade in the 1400s, overland trade continued to flourish. 

    In this unit, we will consider how the great land-based empires of Central Eurasia influenced the overland trade between the 1400s and 1600s. 

    Unit 8 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 8 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 8.1 Rise of Timurids  
  • 8.1.1 Timur and the Mongols  
  • 8.1.2 Campaigns in India  
  • 8.1.3 The Ottomans and Mamluks  
  • 8.1.4 Relations with Ming China  
  • 8.1.5 Samarkand  
  • 8.2 The Mughal Empire  
  • 8.2.1 Rise of Muslim Civilization in India  
    • Reading: Library of Congress Country Studies: James Heitzman and Robert L. Worden’s (ed.) India: A Country Study: “The Coming of Islam”

      Link: Library of Congress Country Studies: James Heitzman and Robert L. Worden’s (ed.) India: A Country Study: “The Coming of Islam” (PDF)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  Islam is now the second-most practiced religion in the Republic of India after Hinduism.  Before addressing the history of the Muslim-led Mughal Empire, which was established in the Indian subcontinent during the sixteenth century, this reading discusses Islam’s earlier arrival in India, and how it became an integral part of the region’s rich cultural and religious heritage.  
       
      Terms of Use: The material above is available for viewing in the public domain.

  • 8.2.2 Akbar and the Founding of the Mughal Empire  
    • Reading: University of Calgary’s The Applied History Research Group’s “The Mughal Empire”

      Link: University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s “The Mughal Empire
       
      Instructions: This series of readings covers many of the political and cultural milestones in the history of Mughal India, from the founding of the empire to its decline.  Please read all of the sections listed on the left side of the opening page (“Babur and the Founding of the Empire,” “Humayun,” “Akbar,” and “Chapter Summary”).  Note that some of these pages contain links to additional short readings and collections of images. 
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 8.2.3 Mughal Splendor and European Contacts  
    • Reading: George Mason University’s version of François Bernier’s “Letter to Monsieur Chapelain” (1667)

      Link: George Mason University’s version of François Bernier’s “Letter to Monsieur Chapelain” (1667) (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  Written in the mid-seventeenth century by a French physician, this document indicates some of the ways in which Mughal life was experienced and portrayed by Western observers.  Bernier was the first European to describe the region of Kashmir; his position as a medical doctor in the court of Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughal emperors, provides an unprecedented window into Mughal culture and customs, as well as the sentiments they inspired in contemporary Europeans.
        
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 8.2.4 The Mughal Era Contributions to India’s Cultural History  
    • Reading: University of Washington’s Daniel C. Waugh’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: “Mughal India's Timurid Heritage”

      Link: University of Washington’s Daniel C. Waugh’s “Art of the Silk Road” Exhibit: “Mughal India's Timurid Heritage” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  This final glimpse in our course of the Mughal Empire discusses the ways in which imperial elites looked back upon their own Timurid heritage and the manner in which these sentiments are reflected in their cultural productions.  Please use the links to the images on the left side of the page for short but valuable introductions to some of the major artistic and architectural accomplishments of Mughal India. By discussing its Timurid heritage, Professor Waugh points out the key characteristics of Mughal India.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Unit 9: European Traders and Explorers  

    Although the overland silk routes were lucrative trade networks, Europeans, as avid consumers of silk and other Eurasian luxury goods, were keen to establish a new silk route to the East.  In fact, when Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in 1492, he was looking not for the Americas but for a new silk route to the Far East.  As a result, Portuguese, Dutch, and English merchants sought to build an Asia trading empire between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Meanwhile, European missionaries, particularly the Jesuits, attempted travel to China along the original silk routes.  The Russians, too, sought to extend their influence in China; the “Siberian Road” linked Siberia, China, and European Russia.

    In this unit, we will consider how European traders and explorers sought to create new silk routes between the Far East and Europe.  We will examine the overland and maritime routes explored and exploited by Europeans between the 1400s and the 1700s.

    Unit 9 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 9 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 9.1 Early Explorers  
  • 9.1.1 A New Silk Route?  
  • 9.1.2 Marco Polo  
  • 9.1.3 Vasco de Gama  
  • 9.1.4 Christopher Columbus  
  • 9.2 European Merchants and Traders  
  • 9.2.1 Portuguese Merchants  
  • 9.2.2 East India Company  
  • 9.2.3 Dutch VOC  
  • 9.3 Missionaries  
  • 9.3.1 Jesuits  

    Note: This topic is covered by the readings in subunit 9.3.

  • 9.3.2 Exploration  

    Note: This topic is covered by the readings in subunit 9.3.

  • 9.3.3 Contact with China and Central Eurasia  

    Note: This topic is covered by the readings in subunit 9.3.

  • 9.4 Russian Influence  
  • 9.4.1 Rise of Tsarist Russia  
  • 9.4.2 Treaty of Nerchinsk  
  • 9.4.3 Creation of the “Siberian Route”  
  • Unit 10: The Silk Road and the "Great Game"  

    During the nineteenth century, European powers, particularly Britain and Russia, began to vie for control of Central Eurasia.  In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many European traders had established commercial outposts in China, India and the East Indies with the intent of opening a new silk route.  But in the 1800s, European nations began to use military and economic force to ply their way into Central Eurasian markets and territories.  Both Russia and Britain exploited the weaknesses and turmoil of Qing China and the nomadic states to gain access to territories and trade in Central Eurasia.  As Russia began to expand southward, Britain feared that it might encroach on its imperial holdings in India. A century-long conflict ensued for power over Central Eurasia—this Anglo-Russian conflict was known as the “Great Game.”

    In this unit, we will consider the implications of the Anglo-Russian conflict on the nomadic peoples in Central Eurasia. 

    Unit 10 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 10 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 10.1 The Great Game  
  • 10.1.1 Muscovite Expansion  
  • 10.1.2 British India  
  • 10.1.3 Qing China and Manchu Control  
  • 10.1.4 Zunghars, Mongols, Tibetans  
  • 10.2 Conflicts  
  • 10.2.1 First Anglo-Afghan War  
  • 10.2.2 Second Anglo-Afghan War  
  • 10.2.3 India Mutiny  
  • 10.2.4 Great Eastern Crisis  
  • 10.2.5 Anglo-Russian Entente  
    • Reading: Museum of Learning’s “Anglo-Russian Entente”

      Link: Museum of Learning’s “Anglo-Russian Entente” (PDF)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text in its entirety.  The Anglo-Russian Entente (1907) was a pact in which Britain and Russia settled their colonial disputes in Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet.  This agreement led to the formation of the Triple Entente (the association between Great Britain, France, and Russia—and the nucleus of the Allied Powers in World War I).
       
      Terms of Use: The article above is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0(HTML).  You can find the original Museum of Learning's version of this article here(HTML).

  • 10.3 Impacts  
  • 10.3.1 European Explorers on the Silk Road  
    • Reading: Channel 4’s “History: The Silk Route”: “The Route Rediscovered”

      Link: Channel 4’s “History: The Silk Route”: “The Route Rediscovered” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Please read this text and all embedded links in their entirety.  Interest in the Silk Route was renewed among Western scholars at the end of the 19th century thanks to the work of Swedish cartographer Sven Hedin.  Pay special attention to how this renewed interest was received in China.
       
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  • 10.3.2 Xinjiang and the “New” Silk Road  
  • Final Exam