The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan
Frankopan’s study reminds us that one-way systems are a recent invention. Traffic—physically and culturally—typically runs two ways, and certainly did along the Silk Roads.
Peter Frankopan, the director of Oxford University’s Centre for Byzantine Research, has rethought world history while relocating all the major central developments of that history well east of Europe. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, covers many continents and centuries and is an in-depth reading that draws over the latest forms of research. The book includes many Russian and German sources and contains vivid and intricate details with close connections to diverse cultures. The Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade, a major reason for the connection of trade routes into a transcontinental network.
Frankopan has actually recalibrated the view of history for challenging assumptions linked with where we come from and what is it that has shaped us on the whole. The traditional view taught within our schools as well as supported by museums displays is that we mainly link to the glorious Romans as a race, who were associated with the Greeks, who in turn were connected to the Egyptians.
Frankopan disagrees with this Eurocentric view as he views the center of the world as somehow connected to the east, way beyond Mesopotamia and the Caucasus, within Iran. Frankopan has dug deeply into the archives and quotes many texts to make his point. His facts actually support the overall theory that Chinese silks were being worn by elite Carthaginians 2,000 years ago, while the wealthiest Iranians were using Provencal pottery and Indian spices for Afghan, as well as Roman, cuisine. Frankopan asserts that trade, or wealth, has always been the most integral engine driving people over the Silk Roads. However, other things were also carried along these routes. In this case, he has emphasizes the fact that Alexander’s campaign in the east brought Greek culture to the Indus valley. Christianity also very quickly spread along the Silk Roads, as did Islam. Many scientific advances also took place along with philosophical ideas and many of them were cross-fertilized through the exposure to the east and the west.
It is a good book overall that very nicely captures the history of the world with a modern point of view and though process. It can actually be quite intriguing, but leaves many hostages to fortune when reviewed closely. For example, when emphasizing the overall appeal of early Islam to Jews, Frankopan highlights the pact Muhammad made along the Jews of Medina. On the other hand, he does not mention the truth about what happened to these Jews later: he shows one perspective and ignores another.
The spread of religions and cultural traditions along the Silk Roads, according to Jerry H. Bentley, also led to syncretism, because the religious beliefs of the peoples of the Silk Roads changed radically over time. We can see how the network of trade routes affected the rise and fall of empires along the regions and their impact on trade and cultural exchanges. How did it shape world development for centuries? Because they were routes of trade, which emphasizes how these routes served as spiritual highways connecting an eclectic mix of Eastern and Western religious movements. In a series of chapters—The Road of Faiths, The Road of Furs, and so on—studded with state-of-the-art research sourced from at least a dozen languages, the author brings wondrous histories to vivid life. “The ‘silk road’ label is relatively recent, coined only in 1877 by the German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen, uncle of the first-World-War flying ace, the Red Baron” (one of many fascinating details Frankopan has packed into his text).
The questions that crowded my mind as I read The Silk Roads were about trade and migration, the world’s oldest international highway was the vehicle which spread Buddhism through Central Asia. Its significance for Buddhism is that it was the principal path for the early transmission of Buddhism from India to China, and later for Chinese pilgrims travelling from China to India in search of teachings and scriptures. We can see the Silk Roads as transmitters of people, goods, ideas, beliefs, and inventions. It is perhaps worth noting, however, that long-distance trade can have unexpectedly bad side effects as well as direct beneficial effects. For example, the Black Death plague that devastated Europe in the 14th century is believed to have come via the Silk Road from Central Asia, where the plague is endemic among local rodents.
The Silk Roads was so much more than a bunch of fancy fabrics traveling on camels’ backs to clothe the Roman elite, which shows how the wealthy shape governance. The question is, how does it relate to our own ideas of trade and globalization today? It served the wealthy. Wealth and politics are still tightly interwoven; their influence is still changing lives. However, the economic impact of the bottom income earners, those making the silk, is “statistically non-significant.” Economic elites, business interests, and people who can afford lobbyists still carry major influence today in our political world. They support foundations for favor.
The Silk Road Caravan routes influenced the local cultures, as the routes of communication and trade opened previously isolated societies, I can see “Our Outreach Ministry” like a great caravan with servant leaders spreading the news of the kingdom, and influencing the community …changing lives.
Avery, Serge. “The Silk Road: A New History, by Valerie Hansen—Book Review.” http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/10.3/br_avery.html (accessed October 4, 2016).
Bentley, Jerry. Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Christian, David. “Silk Roads or Steppe Roads? The Silk Roads in World History.” Journal of World History 11, no. 1 (2000): 1–26.
Davies, Mark W., and Luke A. Jardine. “How to Write a Book Review.” In How to Write a Paper, 5th ed., edited by George M. Hall, 98–101. New York: Wiley, 2013.
Frankopan, Peter. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Knopf, 2016. Kindle edition.
Sattin, Anthony. “The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan Review—A Frustrating Trail.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/29/silk-roads-peter-frankopan-review (accessed September 5, 2016).
. Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (New York: Knopf, 2016). Kindle edition.
. Anthony Sattin, “The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan Review—A Frustrating Trail.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/29/silk-roads-peter-frankopan-review (accessed September 5, 2016).
. David Christian, “Silk Roads or Steppe Roads? The Silk Roads in World History.” Journal of World History 11, no. 1 (2000): 1–26.