“The state of Anxi mentioned in historical records in the Han and Wei times is generally believed to refer to Persia under the rule of the Parthians. “Anxi” was the transcription of “Arshak”, the name of the founder of the Parthian kingdom.” Yu (1998), p. 173.
“An-hsi..., long since identified with the country of the Arsak, the Arsacides i.e. Persia; see Chavannes (1907), p. 177, note 1.” CICA, p. 115, n. 267. See also Pulleyblank (1963), pp. 77, 221.
2. Hedu 和櫝 [He-tu] is usually accepted as Hecatompylos (Hekatompulos. Gk. ‘Hundred-gated’) – an identification first proposed by Hirth (1875), pp. 141 and 143, n. 1.
“In the Hanshu, ch. 96A it is recorded: “the
state of Anxi: the seat of the royal government is at the town of Fandou
However, in the Houhanshu, ch. 88, it
is recorded: “The state of Anxi: Its king lives in the town of Hedu 和櫝.”
The main theories regarding the identity of Fandou are a) Parθava (see the
Behistun inscription of Darius I); b) Parthia (see History of Herodotus, III, 93); c)
Parthau (see Isidore of Charax, Parthian
Stations); and d) a form of address for Hekatompylos by the Parthians. For
Hedu, they are: a) Carta (see the Geography of Strabo, Xi, 7); b)
Zadracarta, the capital of Hyrcania (see the Anabasis of Alexander of Arrian,
III.23); c) Parthau; and d) Hekatompylos.
I believe, “Fandou” [buai-tiuk] may have been a transcription of “Parθava”. Parθava was one of the provinces under the Achaemenids and the birthplace of Arshak’s family. Nisa, the earliest capital of Anxi, was in the northeast of Parθava. By mistake, the Han people took the name of the province for the name of the capital. “Hedu” [huai-dok] may be taken as a shortened transcription of “Hekatompylos”, which means “the town of the hundred gates” in Greek. Hekatompylos was also one of the earlier capitals of Anxi.” Yu (1998), p. 173.
km. north-west of Ashkabad two towns, Old Nisa and New Nisa, were excavated. It
is possible that Nisa was really the first capital, or at least the home town of
Arsaces I [reigned circa 238 BCE]. The size
and splendour of the excavated halls attest to the wealth of the Parthian
rulers. It is not known whether the original Parthian name of Old Nisa was
Mithradatkirt, or whether this was a renaming of the old site by Mithradates
The next capital of the Parthians was the fabled Hecatompylos probably located between the present Damghan and Shahrud, but the site of which has yet to be found. Hecatompylos is mentioned as the royal city of the Parthians by Strabo, Pliny, Ptolemy and other classical authors, but we do not know when it became the capital. Isidore (paragraph 11) does not mention it, but he does say that in the city of Asaak, Arsaces was first proclaimed king and an eternal fire was kept there....” Frye (1963), pp. 210, 211.
“Qumis ruins lie just off the Mashad road between Semnan and Damqan. The turn-off is the tea shop at the way station of Quse – a kind of Iranian Paris, Texas. Long-distance trucks and buses thunder through without slowing. In the village are some mud-brick houses with walled compounds and wooden verandas; a lovely brick courtyard communal house, and a small but well-preserved caravanserai. Beyond are wheatfields, a long line of poplars and, further out, undulating hills of melted mud-brick. Recent excavations have identified this immense almost featureless ruin field as the lost city of Hecatompylos, the capital of ancient Parthia. Here, Alexander stopped that faraway summer of 330 BC. It is an exposed weather-beaten place, sun-scorched in summer under a vast blue sky, fringed by the distant ranges of the Elburz Mountains. Across the site, all that remains are huge mud-brick stumps of the central buildings and a brown sea of pulverized pottery.” Wood (2001), pp. 126-127.
According to a brief paper entitled “Semnan Province” by Andranik Hovian (downloaded from: http://www3.estart.com/iran/lifestyles/semnan.html on 28 Dec. 2002): “The oldest city in Semnan province is called Koomes. Koomes or Saddarvazeh (a city with 100 gates) used to be the capital of the Parthian Empire. Koomes was discovered in 1966 by John Hansman and during the excavations conducted in 1967, 1971, 1976 and 1978 by David Stronakh [also spelled Stronach] and John Hansman in that city indicators of certain time periods were discovered in Koomes:
a. The Iron age and the Achamenid period.
b. The Parthian period.
c. The Sassanid period.
d. The Islamic period.”
For details see: Hansman (1968) and Hansman and Stronach (1974).
Hecatompylos is said by Pliny NH (b), p. 44. (VI.
to be 133 [Roman] miles [197 km] from the ‘Caspian Gates,’ which are incorrectly
described [ibid. VI. XVII.
43] as being only 20 miles [30 km] from Hamadan. Further on he adds that
from Hecatompylos it is 575 miles [852 km] to ‘Alexandria of the Arii’ [Herat].
Ibid. pp. 61-62. (VI. XXI).
The distances between the site of Hecatompylos, as identified in Michael Wood’s account above, to the Caspian Gates and to Herat agree very closely with measurements made on modern maps. However, it is wise to remember to not put too much store in them, as many of Pliny’s measurements are demonstrably wrong.
“December 22 Qumis. On Tuesday, 18 Sha`ban 242 [856 A.D.], there was a catastrophic earthquake in the eastern Alburz which devastated the district of Qumis and the region of western Khurasan dependent on Nishapur. Along a fertile tract of land running for 350 kilometres between the Alburz and the Dasht-i Kavir, from Khuvar to beyond Bustam and in parts of Tabaristan and Gurgan, 200000 people were killed and practically all villages were ruined. In the district of Qumis, the earthquake was worst at Damghan, which was half destroyed with 45096 casualties. In the mountain regions there were extensive ground deformations, including probably surface faulting. The old city of Shahr-i Qumis, former capital of the province, was also destroyed and was probably finally abandoned after the earthquake. One third of Bustam collapsed and the region between this town and Damghan still showed the effects of the earthquake two generations later. Tabaristan and Gurgan were also affected by the shock, which had a disastrous effect on the water supplies of the district of Qumis, either causing the drying up of springs and qanats, or triggering landslides which dammed the streams flowing down to the plain. Outside the meizoseismal region, Nishapur to the east and the Jibal province to the west and southwest of Qumis were also strongly shaken, the earthquake being felt in Ray, Qum, and as far as Isfahan, where it caused great concern. Aftershocks continued for some year, probably causing damage in western Khurasan.” From: EDP.
“Khurasan. [859 A.D.] This was presumably a damaging aftershock of the 856 earthquake in the region of Qumis, towards Khurasan.” From: EDP.
3. Kangju 康居 [K’ang-chü] = Tashkent plus the Chu, Talas, and middle Jaxartes basins – see note 2.13 above.
4. Mulu 木鹿 [Mu-lu] = Merv. This is the oasis state of Merv, or Margiana Antiochia. Merv was referred to in Old Persian as Margu(sh) – and as Mouru in the Avesta, which appears to be an old corruption (Pavel Lurje, email: 18 May 2002). As the text implies, the Merv oasis had since ancient times been regarded as the final eastern outpost of Persian control (at least in the north of the country):
“In all probability the oasis state of Merv marked the military outpost of direct Sasanian rule under Shapur as it did later. In the eyes of the Persians what was beyond was no longer Iran but non-Iran.” Frye (1963), 243.
Pliny NH (b), pp. 46-48. (VI. XVIII), gives probably the best description of Margiana of any of the ancient authors:
“Next comes the Margiane country, famous for its sunny climate – it is the only district in that region where the vine is grown ; it is shut in all round by a beautiful ring of mountains, 187 [Roman] miles [277 km] in circuit, and is difficult of access on account of sandy deserts stretching for a distance of 120 miles [178 km] ; and it is itself situated opposite to the region of Parthia. In Margiane Alexander had founded a city bearing his name, which was destroyed by the barbarians, but Antiochus son of Seleucus re-established a Syrian city on the same site intersected by the river Murghab, which is canalized into lake Zotha ; he had preferred that the city should be named after himself. Its circuit measures 8¾ miles [13 km]. This is the place to which the Roman prisoners were brought by Orodes. From the heights of Merv across the ridges of the Caucasus right on to the Bactrians extend the fierce tribe of the Mardi, an independent state.”
I can find no other reference to the “fierce” Mardi tribe between Margiana and Bactria could have been. The fact that they are specified as forming and independent state suggests that they were fairly well established and it seems possible that we have a reference here to the people of Khwarizm (Chorasmia) who had developed an advanced urban culture centred along the lower Oxus (Syr Darya). Presumably they were conquered or neutralised by the Kushans by 55 CE at the latest as Kajula Kadphises would probably have had to pass through this territory to conquer Parthuaia. See note 13.
Strabo (c. 23 CE): XI. X. 2. says:
“Margiana is similar to this country [Aria], although its plain is surrounded by deserts. Admiring its fertility, Antiochus Soter [King of Syria 280-261 BCE] enclosed a circuit of fifteen hundred stadia [302 km] with a wall and founded a city Antiocheia. The soil of the country is well suited to the vine; at any rate, they say that a stock of the vine is often found which would require two men to girth it, and that bunches of grapes are two cubits [almost a metre in length].”
See also: Hirth (1875), pp. 142-143; Chavannes (1907) 177, n. 3; CICA, 115, n. 268; Leslie and Gardiner (1996) pp. 34 n. 13, 45 n. 30, 179.
according to antelope is a purely African species and is unlikely to have been
sent to China by Parthia and even less likely to have been sent by the Kushans
in 88 CE,
as the biography of Ban Chao notes. It also sports conspicuous horns in both
sexes, contradicting the information given in the text.
The text says the fuba was similar to a lin 鳞, but without a horn. Unfortunately, except for the fact that the fuba does not have a horn, this doesn’t help us very much. The lin is usually referred to as a female Chinese unicorn (commonly drawn with a scaly body). The Digital Dictionary of East Asian Literary Terms describes it as “an auspicious, mythical East Asian horse-like animal,” but Williams (1909), p. 527, notes that this character “seems to have also been intended for a large elk.” GR Vol. II, p. 716, No. 3631 says (translated from the French): “(Myth.) A fabulous animal represented either in the form of a stag endowed with a long tail and with one or two horns, or in the form of a mythical horse.”
As this animal was sent to China, it was definitely a real, and not an imaginary animal. As the text specifies that it did not have any horns, it most probably was the common and very graceful Persian or Goitered gazelle, Gazella subgutterosa, found from Asia Minor to Mongolia. The female has only rudimentary or no horns, the only member of this family showing this feature.. It is called the Goitered gazelle because the larynx of the male swells in the breeding season.
7. The Da Yuezhi and the Romans were both eager to break the Parthian stranglehold over the trade routes and the heavy taxes imposed by them as is made explicit in the Hou Hanshu by the expedition of Gan Ying in 97 CE whose original mission was to go to Da Qin, but was prevented or discouraged by the Parthians. The account of the Roman ‘envoys’ (or merchants) who arrived in China in 166 CE explicitly states that this was the first time there had been direct communication between Rome and Han. There had been, however, earlier embassies from Bactria then under Kushan rule. The “Indian” ambassadors mentioned may have also come from Kushan-controlled territories:
“... the Historia Augusta..., the evidence of Aelius Spartianus, presents us with evidence of great interest. Speaking of Hadrian, it says in fact: “Reges Bactrianorum legatos ad eum, amicitiae petendae causa, supplices miserunt” [“The kings of the Bactrians sent supplicant ambassadors to him, begging for his friendship”]. Hadrian reigned from 117 to 138 A.D. It therefore refers, in this case, to the Kushans. Then again, the plural of the word reges could refer us to Wima Kadphises and his successor Kaniṣka [or to Kaniṣka and his successor Huviṣka – depending on how one dates them], but it could also refer in a general manner to some local potentates during a period of disorder.... In 138, Antonius the Pius succeeded Hadrian and received, according to the evidence of Aurelius Victor [Épitomé‚ XV, 4], reinforced by that of Appian [Praef., 7], some Indian, Bactrian (Kushan) and Hyrcanian ambassadors. At this period an ambassador from Bactria could only be a Kushan ambassador....” Bussagli (1996), p. 288. (From the French).
There were also embassies from “India” to China recorded in the years 159 and 161 CE by sea via Rinan (Central Vietnamese coast), and from “beyond the barrier” in 173 and 183. See Leslie and Gardiner (1996), pp. 153 and n. 15. For a discussion of the possibility that these embassies may have been sent by Saka satraps in Gujarat rather than from the Kushans or Kushan dependencies, see ibid. p. 137.
8. The king of Anxi 安息 (Parthia) called Manqu 滿屈 [Man-chü], who sent envoys to China in 87 CE and 101 CE, was possibly Pacorus II, who was the overlord of Parthia circa 79-105 CE. There is an obvious difficulty with the transcription of the name. Perhaps it represents some title. On the other hand, we know that his reign was very disturbed; some of the Parthian barons refused to obey him, and plots were hatched, sometimes with the help of Rome. It is likely that one of these barons or princes was the ‘Manqu’ who sent the envoys to China and claimed to be the king of Parthia.
Thomas K. Mallon-McCorgray kindly sent me an email on 21 January, 2002 suggesting that the king here might have been: “Manchihr [or Manuchihr] I, king of Persis during the 1st half of the second century. The legend on his coins is: m n ch t r.” This makes a lot of sense phonetically. Additionally, the Chinese since the time of the Former Han were well aware of, and had already explored, the southern route at least as far as Kandahar. From Kandahar this route leads directly to Stakhr (near ancient Persepolis), the capital of Persis (Fars).
It is quite likely that Persis enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy at this period and may well have considered their vassalage to the Parthians to be more nominal than real. See note 1.38 above and Raschke (1976), p. 815, n. 719.
9. There has
been a great deal of confusion about the route outlined here in the Hou
Hanshu. Almost all commentators have assumed that it refers to the northern
route from the northeastern frontier of Anxi to the Persian Gulf. This has, I
believe, always proved unsatisfactory with neither the distances or directions
given matching modern geographical knowledge and the phonetic reconstructions of
the names of the towns along the route being, in general, quite
The key to the solution is that the route described in the Hou Hanshu actually refers to one of the southern alternatives via Kandahar – not the northern route, as generally supposed.
The southern route not only fits the Chinese directions and distances much better than the northern one, but strong linguistic evidence can be found to support the identification of the towns along it. See notes below for the distances, directions, and linguistic evidence.
It may be useful here to first give a general description of the main land routes entering India allowing the reader to check the various information and speculations I will give below on the probable routes taken by Gan Ying:
“It is a familiar fact that the
great Himalayan barrier, and its extensions, which, on the map, give India an
aspect of geographical exclusiveness, are in fact penetrable at a large number
of points. For example, there are routes from China to the Brahmaputra in Assam
; through Sikim it is possible to reach the Tibetan plateau ; further west a
number of feasible if arduous routes enter Kashmir from Turkestan. The most
notable of these routes used the famous Karakoram Pass, a desolate highway, if
such it can be called, from High Asia into trans-Indus Kashmir. But neither this
nor any other of these northern approaches has played a dominant role, so far as
we know, in the formation of Indian civilization. Their importance lay rather in
the reverse direction, in that they were amongst the chosen channels for the
diffusion of Buddhism and certain aspects of Buddhistic art from India into
central Asia and China.
On the north-western frontier of India and thence southwards to the Arabian Sea the picture is a very different one. Here the approaches into India, though not always easy, are abundant and loom large in Indian history and prehistory. For the most part they are still frequented, with a preference for one or two main routes. They may be grouped into two series : a northern and a southern.1 The northern group links north Iran and the Oxus region with Kābul and the central reaches of the Indus ; the southern group links central and southern Iran alternatively with Kandahār, north Baluchistan and the more southerly reaches of the Indus, or with Makrān and the Indus delta. These two groups, as we shall see, are significant in the cultural relations of Iran and India.
The northern group today converges on the Khyber Pass [1,067 m. or 3,500 ft.], which has been a major traffic-axis since the establishment of Peshawar as a metropolis in the second century A.D. An earlier route followed the more northerly line of the Kābul river with Chārsada, the ancient Pushkalāvatī (20 miles north-east of Peshawar), as its immediate goal. South of the Khyber alternative tracks used and still use the Kurram Valley and the Peiwar Pass [3,439 m. or 11,283 ft.] ; and further south again the Tochi, Gumal and other vallies [sic] carry ancient thoroughfares from the direction of the Gḥaznī-Kandahār uplands. At this point feeders from the southern group spread delta-like towards the Indus plain. The Zhob Valley carries or carried a modest traffic north-north-eastward from the direction of Quetta, itself the northernmost of the three focal points of the southern group ; the others being Kalāt and Las Bela. South-eastwards from Quetta a route, now followed approximately by the railway, enters the plains viâ Sibi. Westwards from Quetta, a camel-route leads toward Kirman and southern and western Iran. And at the southern end of our series, Las Bela, now ‘an insignificant Baluch town, . . . . must have stood full in the tide of human immigration into India for centuries in the past. It is a true gateway.’2”
Stein, ‘The Indo-Iranian Borderlands’, Huxley Memorial Lecture, 1934, Journ. Royal Anthropological Institute of
Great Britain and Ireland, LXIV (1934), 180ff., divided the region into
three zones ; but his northernmost sone, north of the Kābul river, is
insignificant from the point of view of regular traffic and is here included in
our northern group.
2 T. H. Holdich, The Gates of India (London, 1910), p. 139.
Wheeler (1947-48), p. 86.
It appears that Gan Ying travelled south along the Indus River and then across what is now southern Afghanistan via the regions of Kandahar and Herat on his way to the Persian Gulf. For a fuller description of Gan Ying’s travels see: Appendix D: Gan Ying’s Route to the Persian Gulf.
Greek texts the province is called Aria/Areia and the capital founded by
Alexander is called Alexandreia in Areia (or “among the Arians”). The Persian
capital/palace town there was Artakoan(a).
Strabo repeatedly refers to the general area of Ariana which apparently corresponds to Chinese Anxi but with the addition of Sogd, Baktria and Gandhara as far as the Indus (i.e. where Indo-Iranian languages were spoken).
I note with some interest that the so-called Bactrian language deciphered by Professor Sims-Williams is called precisely “Arian” in the Rabatak Inscription.”
The character man 蠻 ; (GR 7588; radical 142-19) EMC – ma¹n / mεÉn, was interchangeable with lüan (GR No. 7523; radical 149-12), where the reconstructed phonetic forms are given as: [l]wân / luân. Interestingly, the lüan form seems to have been the earlier as GR remarks that it was always used for 蠻 man on bronze inscriptions.
Unfortunately, I do not seem to have this character lüan in the character sets on my computer, nor is it in Pulleyblank’s Lexicon. It is made up of radical 120 on either side of radical 149. It also is given in Karlgren, No. 178a, where the reconstructions for it are: *blwân / luân / luan; and *bli̯wan / li̯wan / lüan.
The alternative reading for the second character (man / lüan) is not recorded in many dictionaries – which is presumably w s Hamadan and Sibin as Ctesiphon, the distance given between them of 3,600 li (1,497 km) is impossibly long – even if we accept Hirth’s suggestion of replacing the li with stadia – we still have a figure of 690 km – about 240 km further than I measure on my maps.
I propose that Susa is a far more likely identification for Sibin than Ctesiphon. I suggest that the second character in Sibin is the result of a transcription error; the character, bin 賓 = ‘guest’ being a mistake for the very similar-looking character sai 賽 = ‘compete’, ‘rival’, ‘game,’ ‘competition.’
My identification of Sibin as Susa (rather than Ctesiphon) is based on not just one, but several points:
1. The most
direct route to the Persian Gulf from Herat (Aman) was through Susa – travelling
there via Ctesiphon would have required a lengthy detour.
2. Yuluo 于羅 almost certainly represents Charax Spasinou on the Gulf, as I shall show in the next note (10.11).
3. The Hou Hanshu specifically states that Yuluo (Charax) was 960 li (399 km) southwest of Sibin. Charax Spasinou was actually southwest of Susa, but southeast of Ctesiphon.
4. Note also, that if we substitute stadia for li here, we get a very reasonable figure (178 km) for the distance from Susa to Charax, but it is far too short for the distance from Ctesiphon – which was closer to 350 km. If the site of Spasinu Charax was, as Casson (1989), p. 180 maintains, some 30 miles northwest of modern Basra, it would have been just about 180 km southwest of ancient Susa, as indicated in the text. However, see note 10.9c above for a discussion of the rapid extension of the shoreline into the Persian Gulf and its relevance to the distances given in the text.
Spasinou. The reconstructed pronunciation of Yuluo in the
Han period (*ka-ra) provides an excellent transcription of the Greek
– Karax or Charax – meaning a ‘palisade,’ or a ‘fort.’
The character yu 于 was sometimes used to transcribe foreign ka sounds, as in Yutian for Khotan and in Yulougu for the Khara Valley – see Ts’en (1981), p. 580. The reconstructed pronunciations of yu are given by K97a as *gi̯wo /ji̯u and EMC wuă.
The character luo 羅 commonly represents foreign ra, or ar sounds, as in a number of Sanskrit names and terms. See, for example, Eitel (1888), pp. 80, 127-131. Pulleyblank gives the EMC as la, and K. 6a as *lâ / lâ – as does GR Vol. IV, p. 158, No. 7273, which also lists several occurrences of its use to transcribe Sanskrit ra.
Charax (‘palisade’ or ‘fort’) was used by the Greeks as a name for quite a number of towns. This, I believe, has been the cause of much of the confusion regarding the location of the Yuluo mentioned in the Hou Hanshu.
There is also a Yuluo described in the Weilue, which seems to have been in a very different position than the one in the Hou Hanshu, leading scholars to make unlikely suggestions such as Hira or Dura Europa, or even that Gan Ying did not travel on the route from Aman to Yuluo. See, for example, Hirth (1875), pp. 148 ff, 196 ff, and Leslie and Gardiner (1996), pp. 166-167; 196-198, who “admit the possibility that there is a contradiction between the HHS and WL texts, though we are reluctant to suggest that there are two distinct places called Yü-lo.” They go on to add, “Were we to do so, we might place the earlier HHS Yü-lo towards Greece, the later WL one is Mesopotamia.”
The text of the Hou Hanshu clearly states that Gan Ying reached Tiaozhi, which was next to a large sea. He wanted to cross it to get to Da Qin but the sailors of the western frontier of Anxi (anxi xijie) discouraged him. A few sentences later we are told that Yuluo “is the extreme western frontier of Anxi (anxi xijieji). Leaving there and heading south, you embark on the sea and then reach Da Qin (Roman territory).”
I cannot see that there is any room to doubt that Gan Ying had reached the shores of the Persian Gulf and found a port nearby which he recorded as Yuluo. The head of the Persian Gulf was the only Parthian territory one could sail from at this period to reach Roman territory. And this Roman territory, frequently referred to as Haixi (‘West of the Sea’) was undoubtedly Egypt, as I shall discuss in the following note, 11.12. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, chapter 35 says:
“In the vicinity of the furthest tip of the Isles of Kalaios and Kalon Oros [“fair mountain”], as it is called, a little further on is the mouth of the Persian Gulf, where there is much diving for pearl oysters. On the left side of the mouth is a mighty range of mountains called the Asabô; on the right side, visibly directly across, is another mountain, round and high, called Mt. Semiramis. The sail across the mouth between them is about 600 stades; beyond, the Persian Gulf, a vast expanse, spreads up to places deep within it. At its very head is a legally limited port of trade called Apologos, lying near Charax Spasinu and the Euphrates River.” Casson (1989), pp. 71, 73.
“The town of
Charax is situated in the innermost recess of the Persian Gulf, from which
projects the country called Arabia Felix. It stands on an artificial elevation
between the Tigris on the right and the Karún on the left, at the point where
these two rivers unite, and the site measures two miles in breadth…. It was
originally at a distance of 1¼ miles [1.9 km] from the coast, and had a harbour
of its own, but when Juba [Juba II born c. 50 BCE
– died c. CE
24] published his work it was 50 miles [74 km] inland ; its present distance
from the coast is stated by Arab envoys and our own traders who have come from
the place to be 120 miles [178 km]. There is no part of the world where earth
carried down by rivers has encroached on the sea further or more rapidly….”
Pliny NH (b),
pp. 138-140. (VI.
“Charax Spasinu (or Pasinu, as it is spelled in Ptolemy 6.3.2 as well as here) was originally one of Alexander the Great’s many foundations called Alexandria; destroyed by flood, it was rebuilt as Antiocheia by Antiochus IV (175-164 B.C.) and then given a great antiflood embankment by his governor there, Hyspaosines, and renamed “Charax [‘palisade’] of Hyspaosines”, see S. Nodelman, “A Preliminary History of Charax,” Berytus 13 (1960): 83-121 at 90-91. It has been identified with a site marked by remains of an impressive set of embankments some thirty miles northwest of Basra (Hansman 38-39).” Ibid. p. 180.
Schoff (1912), p. 149 writes:
Spasini is the modern Mohammarah (30o 24’ N, 48o 18’ E.)
on the Shatt-el-Arab, at its confluence with the Karun. Pliny says (VI, 31) that
it was founded by Alexander the Great, whose name it bore; destroyed by
inundations of the rivers, rebuilt by Antiochus Epiphanes [Antiochus IV 175-164
under the name of Antiocha, again overflowed, and again restored, protected by
three miles of embankments, by Spasinus [reigned 127 to c. 121
BCE], “king of
the neighbouring Arabians, whom Juba has incorrectly described as a satrap of
King Antiochus.” Formerly, Pliny says, it stood near the shore and had a harbour
of its own; “but now stands a considerable distance from the sea. In no part of
the world have alluvial deposits been formed by rivers more rapidly and to a
greater extent than here.” (At the present day it is about 40 miles from the
Pliny’s reference to the possession of the lower Tigris by an Arabian chieftain, the name of whose city he extends to the “Characene” district of Elymais or Elam, indicates how large a part in the affairs of the Parthian Empire may have been played, at the date of the Periplus, by its subjects south of the Persian Gulf. Charax was an important stronghold of the Parthian Empire, protecting its shipping trade....”
“In 1857 H. C. Rawlinson assessed the probable location of Alexandria-Charax as follows: ‘I should look for the position about 10 miles above the Mohamrah creek, and there I trust researches will be made by some of our enterprising young officers during the present expedition [i.e. Chesney’s survey of the Tigris and Euphrates].’ Tscherikower, following what Rawlinson had fifty years earlier dismissed as ‘the received geographical identification’, felt that the city must be located at the confluence of the Eulaios/Karkheh and the Tigris. J. Hansman has identified a large mound in this area, known as Jabal Khuyabir or Naisan (cf. Maišan / Mesene), with ancient Charax.” Potts (1990), pp. 8-9.
“In this case the text records that in AD 131 the Palmyrene merchants of Spasinou Charax erected a statue at Palmyra in honour of Iarhai son of Nebozabad. What makes this text so important, however, is the added fact that Iarhai is said to have served as ‘satrap of the Thilouanoi for Meredat, king of Spasinou Charax.’ Spasinou Charax, a city located near modern Basra in the southernmost Babylonian province of Mesene, was the capital of the small but important kingdom of Characene. Situated in the shadow of Parthia, this kingdom enjoyed commercial success and attendant fame out of all proportion to its size, since Spasinou Charax was the most important Babylonian port of call for ships arriving laden with luxury goods from the East during the first century BC and the first two centuries AD. Palmyrene traders, as purveyors of these Eastern goods to Roman Syria and ultimately to the wider Mediterranean world, had established permanent colonies at Babylon, Vologesias, and, most importantly, Spasinou Charax.” Potts (1990), pp. 145-146.
“In ancient times the marshes [in the lower courses of the Tigris and Euphrates] were more extensive, and protected a kingdom called Characene or Mesene, just as Armenia was protected by its mountains and Hatra by its desert. The capital of the region bore different names at different times. Alexander the Great, its founder, named it Alexandria; one ward of the city, reserved for Macedonians, was called Pella after his birthplace. Antiochus IV, the last Seleucid king to exercise real authority in the region, rebuilt the city after flood-damage and changed the name to Antioch. Later still it had to be rebuilt yet again, this time by a local ruler named Spasines or Hyspaosines; he protected it with great embankments, like the levees on the lower Mississippi, so that it came to be known as Spasinu Charax, ‘the Stockade of Spasines.’ Its exact site is uncertain: a promising candidate is the place now called Jebel Khayabir, on the banks of the Shatt-el-Arab, but this site has never been properly explored and for political reasons is likely to remain unexplored for a long time.
Like Venice at the head of another large gulf, Spasinu Charax was a great centre of seaborne trade. Ships from here sailed regularly down the Gulf to fetch incense from Gerra, the chief port of eastern Arabia; and some went out of the Gulf, to follow the Iranian coast eastward and fetch the even more valuable spices of India. Unloaded at Charax, the goods were sent along a network of routes through the Parthian Empire – up the Tigris to the capital, Ctesiphon; up the Euphrates to Dura-Europos and the frontier with the Roman Empire; or via Hatra and Palmyra and other caravan-cities in the heart of Arabia Deserta. One of the few surviving works by a Characene citizen is the description of a great trade-route – the Parthian Stations, by Isidore of Charax, which begins at Antioch in Syria and guides the traveller to Ctesiphon and thence to the Iranian plateau and so eastward as far as Kandahar. In AD 116 the emperor Trajan himself visited Charax – the newest, most easterly and most short-lived possession of his empire – and saw the great ships setting sail for India, and wished that he were a little younger, like Alexander, so that he could go there for himself.” Sitwell (1984), pp. 107-109.
13. Haixi 海西 [Hai-hsi] – literally, ‘West of the Sea’ = Egypt. Haixi, and the associated names, Haibei 海北 [Hai-pei] ‘North of the Sea’ – which provided an overland route between Mesopotamia and Egypt – see note 12.21; and Haidong 海東 [Hai-tung] ‘East of the Sea,’ have continued to elude firm identification in spite of detailed treatment by recent scholars. Haixi and Haibei are first mentioned in the Hou Hanshu, and Haidong in the Weilue.
These regions or countries are presumably located in the various directions in relation to Xihai, or the ‘Western Sea,’ (sometimes called, Dahai, or the ‘Great Sea’). Although there has been some speculation that Xihai and Dahai might refer to the Mediterranean or even the Black Sea, all the evidence points to both names being used for the Indian Ocean which, to Chinese as well as the Romans, included the Arabian (or Persian) Gulf and the Red Sea. See Leslie and Gardiner (1996), Chap. 20.8, pp. 271-272.
The suggestion that best that fits all the evidence is that Haixi refers to Egypt. Egypt is certainly to the west of the Red Sea (which was considered an integral part of the Indian Ocean), and the major Roman ports in the Red Sea which were the termini of the extensive maritime trade with India and Parthia, were located along the eastern coast of Egypt – quite literally west of the sea. The use of Haixi as a name for Egypt may well have been reinforced by the fact that the characters represent a reasonable phonetic representation of the name into Chinese.
A major source of confusion has been the identification of Haixi with Da Qin in the Chinese texts as, for example, in the very next sentence, at the beginning of Section 12: “The kingdom of Da Qin (Rome) is also called Lijian. As it is found to the west of the sea, it is also called the kingdom of Haixi.” This does not seem to be an insurmountable problem to me – Egypt had been under the control of Rome since 30 BCE and was, therefore, considered ‘Roman territory.’ Also, almost all freight being shipped from the East to ‘Rome’ went through Egypt, which was the first territory met with by mariners which could be called ‘Roman.’ Merchants from Egypt may well have referred to themselves as Romans, as many of them would have been Roman citizens. So, it is not all surprising to find some confusion between the names used for Rome and Egypt at this early date so far away as China.
This identification of Haixi as Egypt is, I believe, confirmed in the following passage from the third century text, the Weilue:
“The kingdom of Da Qin (Rome) is also called Lijian. It is west of Anxi (Parthia) and Tiaozhi (Characene and Susiana), and west of the great sea. From the city of Angu (Gerrha), on the frontier of An-hsi (Parthia), you take a boat and cut directly across to Haixi (’West of the Sea’ = Egypt). With favourable winds it takes two months; if the winds are slow, perhaps a year; if there is no wind, perhaps three years. The country (that you reach) is west of the sea (haixi) which is why it is commonly called Haixi (Egypt). There is a river (the Nile) flowing out of the west of this country [into] another great sea (the Mediterranean). The city of (Wu) Chisan (Alexandria) is in Haixi (Egypt). From below (i.e. from the south of) this country you go due north to reach the city of Wudan (Tanis?). You head southwest and cross a river (the Sebannitus branch of the Nile, or along the Butic or ‘Hadrian’s canal’?) by boat, which takes a day. You head southwest again, and again cross a river (the Canopis branch of the Nile, or along more canals?) by boat, which takes another day. There are, in all, three major cities. Now, if you leave the city of Angu (Gerrha) by the overland route, you go due north to Haibei (‘North of the Sea’ – the lands between Babylonia and Egypt), then due west to Haixi (Egypt), then turn due south to go through the city of Wuchisan (Alexandria). After crossing a river, which takes a day by boat, you circle around the coast (presumably past Apollonia, the port of Cyrene). (From there) six days is generally enough to cross the [second] great sea (the Mediterranean) to reach that country (Da Qin = Rome).” [For an alternative translation see Hirth (1875), pp. 68-69]
going into the details of all the identifications I have made in this passage
(which I intend to publish later in the notes to my translation of the
Weilue), there are a few points here which clearly add weight to my
contention that Haixi = Egypt.
First, from Parthian territory one can sail directly to Haixi – which, in itself, strongly indicates Egypt. The only other Roman-controlled territory which could be reached by sea from the East were the Nabataean lands, annexed by the Romans in 106 CE, in the northeast corner of the Red Sea including the Gulf of Aqaba. This included the port of Leuke Kome, which was opposite the bigger Roman ports in Egypt, which only seems to have been able to handle smaller coastal ships. The only other alternative was the port of Aila or Aelana at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. Aila was very difficult to sail to because of the unfavourable prevailing winds and was unlikely to have been able to handle the large ships the Romans used in the India trade.
The estimation of two months for the journey with good winds seems very reasonable. The reference to it taking up to three years with no wind is probably only a repeat of the discouraging reports given to Gan Ying in 97 CE by Parthian sailors. It is true that it is often difficult to get a sailing vessel to the head of the Red Sea due to the contrary prevailing winds, but three years would seem excessive.
The reference to a river “flowing out of the west of the country into another great sea” is clearly a reference to the Nile. It certainly puts an end to any of the speculation (discussed above) that Haixi might refer to the Nabataean territories. Some have argued that the Nile doesn’t flow out of the west of Egypt, but out of its north. However, we have to look at it from the viewpoint of someone reaching the eastern coast of Egypt on the Red Sea. From this perspective, the Nile certainly does flow out of the west of the country into another big sea (the Mediterranean).
The next section of the text shows how one could travel from the south of the country and across the main branches of the Nile to get to Wuchisan. Despite the misgivings of Leslie and Gardiner (1996, p. 185), Wuchisan is not an unreasonable transcription of Alexandria into Chinese – as Hirth first pointed out (1875, p. 182). It is also significant that it is never mentioned as a du, or ‘capital city.’
Finally, the journey of six days (after first “circling around the coast”) across another big sea (which must be the Mediterranean) to Da Qin (proper) makes the identification of Haixi with Egypt, for all intents and purposes, certain. This clearly shows that Haixi was separate from Da Qin itself. While it is true that the journey from Alexandria to Rome usually took considerably longer than six days, the fastest recorded time being about nine days, the return journey could sometimes be made in less than six days, as Priscus of Panium reports:
“When the [Roman] emperor [Valentinian III] learned of these events he dispatched [c. CE 452] two thousand newly enlisted troops, and with a fair wind they landed in the great city of Alexandria on the sixth day.” Quoted in Gordon (1992), p. 19, who adds: “Such a rapid journey was only possible with the Etesian winds of July.”
The “etesian wind” blows from the north, northwest, or northeast, most of the time from about mid-May to mid-September each year. I find it difficult to imagine where else Haixi could refer to but Egypt.