It is easy to mold the past into a shape that we find convenient and accessible. But the ancient world was much more sophisticated and interlinked than we sometimes like to think. …A belt of towns formed a chain spanning Asia. … Together with increasing traffic connecting India with the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, the ancient Silk Roads of antiquity were coursing with life.
Like most Americans I have learned history from a Western point of view. We were taught that the direction of civilization went from Greece and Rome westward into Europe. In his book, The Silk Roads, Peter Frankopan shifts the focus from the West to the East, primarily Persia.
Frankopan argues that the Greeks and Romans moved East towards the riches of Persia rather than West into Europe. The theme, Silk Roads is taken from the fact that in ancient times silk was a more portable and usable medium of exchange than horses, wheat, slaves, ceramics, or even coins.
In a narrative that mostly focuses on conquest. Frankopan also explores religious and cultural ideas: food and fashion, disease and death, and especially the major global faiths of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. All of these belief systems spread along the routes going across the spine of Asia.
A history of the world in 600 pages is impressive. Peter Frankopan is a specialist in Byzantine history; the immense amount of detail in the history of the East is almost overwhelming. He had to pack a lot into a small space, so we don’t hear about the Native Americans, Chileans, or Island Peoples. Well, I guess we can get those details from the Western history books.
I was frustrated at some of the details that Frankopan left out. For example, much was made of the cooperation between Muslims and Jews when Muhammad was beginning his conquests. Frankopan left out the fact that soon after, many Jews were slaughtered by Muslims. Christians were guilty of plenty of atrocities during the Crusades, but to this day the Muslims have enslaved more people than anyone else. For example, “Muslims enslaved an estimated 180 million Africans over its 1,400 year expansion.”
The book covers history up to very recently (published in 2015). A shift in power did go from East to West during the twentieth century. Now it seems that the shift is going back to the oil rich Middle East with concerns over energy. The interference of the United States in Middle Eastern affairs has caused regime changes which have led to anti-American biases. America used to be seen as a beacon of freedom but now is hated by many as a bully. Does the government really fear Russia and China that much? I can’t wait for the day when we turn our swords into plowshares.
This leads to my main takeaway from this book: it seems that the history of the world, Eastern or Western, is a history of war for control of wealth and power.
Frankopan’s conclusion is that the entire world is changing while “networks and connections are quietly being knitted together across the spine of Asia; or rather, they are being restored. The Silk Roads are rising again.”
As Frankopan points out “Cities are booming, with new airports, tourism resorts, luxury hotels and landmark buildings..” In a recent trip to Egypt our guide, Mohammed, told us that 25% of the economy in Cairo is dependent on tourism.
Recently tourism has dropped off. They know that one reason Americans have stopped coming is that Islam is perceived as violent. As a result, everywhere we went we saw books about Islam that try to give a different picture. They were free and we were encouraged to take them.
It was certainly thrilling to be walking on streets that major historical characters walked on.
In Alexandria we were at Koum al Dekka gharab. This area was recently discovered and is being excavated with the help of American money Mohammed gratefully told us. Alexander the Great walked here. The Egyptians are even hopeful that if they dig down far enough they may even find Cleopatra’s tomb! It doesn’t get much more exciting than that for a history buff.
For all of his good work, I think that Dr. Frankopan could insert a new Road, one that is exciting to me and very hopeful – “The Cyber-Optic Road”. People all over the globe can see on their cell phones how “the other half lives”. When I was a child leaders of countries could control all communication and deceive the people. Now they cannot. Rulers themselves may lust for power, but the everyday people are curious and friendly and I think ready to enjoy this new global society. That is why I am part of our DMin program, Leadership and Global Perspectives. We have learned that many things, including our theology, originated in the East. Let’s embrace it.
 Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (New York, NY, Vintage Books, 2015). 26.
 Frankopan, 78.
 Federer, Bill. “More Slaves Today Than at Any Time in History”, World Net Daily, http://www.wnd.com/2016/02/more-slaves-today-than-at-any-time-in-history/
 Frankopan, 505.
 Frankopan, 497.
 Thomas C. Oden. How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007). 9.