The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes: The Ancient World Economy and the Empires of Parthia, Central Asia & Han China
By Raoul McLaughlin
Published in November 2016
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
First, a brief warning: the audiobook is pretty bad. The narrator sounds very sleepy, and is hard to listen to.
However, the book itself is great. It covers the international commerce of late antiquity that connected the great civilizations of the Roman Empire, Persia, India, and China. The book draws on sources from all four major civilizations, as well as some other groups that existed along the silk roads.
The most fascinating aspect of the silk road is that it was very indirect. Civilizations would often only be aware of their neighbors - they would circulate goods within their known part of the world up to their frontiers, but not further. Only some steppe nomads had travelled far enough to witness the many different civilizations of the ancient world.
For example, a bundle of silk cloth might be produced in China. It would then be gifted by the Chinese government as a diplomatic gift to a Turkish tribe. The Turks would then sell it to Persian merchants to get metals and weapons. Once in Persia, the bundle of cloth would pass hands several times, sold from merchant to merchant. Finally, it would make its way to Egypt, and from there, be transported and sold in the markets of Rome.
Learning more about the silk road has helped contextualize both the modern Chinese Belt and Road program as well as the socio-economic context of the crusades.
I recommend this book to everyone who has even a cursory interest in the Roman Empire, Chinese history, economic history, the crusades, or steppe nomads. This book neatly intersects all topics without being too complicated for a novice.
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