A. The Main Caravan Routes.

B. The territories of Haixi, Haibei and Haidong.

C. The “great seas” and the “Western Sea.”

D. Sea Silk.

E. Wild Silks.

F. Maritime Commerce and Shipping during the Han Period.

G. The Water Cisterns on the Route between Petra and Wadi Sirhan.

H. The Identification of the city of Angu with Ancient Gerrha and Modern Thaj.

I.  The Spread of Ideas and Religions along the Trade Routes.

J. Climate and other Changes along the Silk Routes.

K. The Identification of Jibin as Kapisha-Gandhāra.

L. The Introduction of Silk Cultivation to Khotan in the 1st Century CE.

M. The Canals and Roads from the Red Sea to the Nile.

N. Kanishka’s Hostage in History and Legend.

A. The Main Caravan Routes

The overland routes from China to India, Parthia, and the Roman Empire stretched thousands of kilometres and presented the traveller with many geographical, and ever-changing political, obstacles.
            Rarely, if ever, did caravans travel the whole route. Goods were carried to market-places where they were sold or traded, local taxes paid, and then other merchants transported them onward.
            Long-distance freight costs were high, so preference was given to trade in rare or precious goods that were relatively light, compact, and non-perishable (such as silk).
            The animal that made this long-distance trade possible was the camel. Camels can carry half as much as a horse and cart, and twice as much as a mule. They can travel long distances with minimal water and fodder. Carts and formed roads were, not needed, substantially reducing transport costs. Caravans could use alternative routes, or head across open country, whenever necessary. There was no need to stick to a road, if there was enough water, fodder and fuel available.
          At first the caravans mostly used the two-humped, or ‘Bactrian’ camel, native to Central Asia, and better adapted to the cold than the one-humped dromedary, or ‘Arabian’ camel. Cable and French (1943), pp. 169-172.
          At some point, it was discovered that first-generation hybrids between the two had more stamina than either of the original breeds, but it was some centuries before a cold-resistant one-humped variety was bred. Bulliet (1975), pp. 141-175.
            A standard camel load in Roman times was about 195 kg (430 pounds). Over 227 kg (or 500 pounds) could sometimes be carried for shorter distances. A pack camel could travel 24 to 32 kilometres (15 to 20 miles) a day, and go for long periods without food or water. Bulliet (1975), pp. 20, 24, 281, n. 35. The main east-west caravan routes provided excellent conditions for camel travel almost the whole way from China to the Roman Orient.

Trade between distant parts of the Eurasian landmass has been occurring for several thousand years at least. Lapis lazuli was traded from the mines in eastern Badakhshan to Mesopotamia and Egypt by the second half of the fourth millennium BCE at the latest.
          The earliest long-distance road, the ‘Persian Royal Road,’ may have been in use as early as 3,500
BCE. By the time of Herodotus, (c. 475 BCE) it ran some 2,857 km from the city of Susa on the lower Tigris to Smyrna near the Aegean Sea. It was maintained and protected by the Achaemenian empire and had postal stations and relays at regular intervals. By having fresh horses and riders ready at each relay, royal couriers could carry messages the entire distance in 9 days, though normal travellers took about three months.
          This ‘Royal Road’ linked in to many other routes –some of them, such as the routes to India and Central Asia, were also protected by the Achaemenids, ensuring regular contact between India, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean.
          Another very ancient series of routes linked Badakhshān in northeastern Afghanistan –the only known source of lapis lazuli in the ancient world – with Mesopotamia and Egypt by the second half of the fourth millennium
BCE, and by the third millennium with the Harappan civilization in the Indus valley. Sarianidi (1971), pp. 12-13.
          By the second millennium nephrite jade was being traded from mines in the region of Yarkand and Khotan to China. Significantly, these mines were not very far from the lapis lazuli and spinel (‘Balas Ruby’) mines in Badakhshān and, although separated by the formidable Pamir, routes across them were, apparently, in use from very early times.
          Regular diplomatic contacts and large-scale trade between China and the West first occurred soon after the daring explorations and international contacts developed by the famous explorer and diplomat, Zhang Qian circa 112

The main ‘Silk Route’ to the west crossed out of the Tarim Basin past Kashgar by relatively easy passes, accessible to camel caravans. They crossed into Ferghana, and then continued through relatively flat country, with sufficient water and fodder for camels, all the way to Parthia, Syria, and beyond.
         However, camels do poorly in mountainous or rocky regions, so goods had to be off-loaded onto mules, yaks, or human porters before crossing the high passes over the Pamir and Karakoram mountains into southern Bactria and northern India.
          Dunhuang was at the crossroads of several routes, including the main route from Central Tibet to Mongolia, and the three main branches of the ancient ‘Silk Routes’ across and around the Tarim Basin.
          The first major difficulty facing caravans after leaving Chinese territory at the Yumen Frontier Post (about 85 km northwest of Dunhuang – see Stein (1921), II, p. 691), was to find a way around or across the fearsome Taklamakan desert. The Taklamakan forms a giant oval enclosed to the north, northeast, west, and south by some of the highest and most forbidding mountain ranges in the world. To the east, it opens into the vast wastes of the Gobi desert.

‘Silk Routes’ rather than ‘The Silk Road.’

“The use of the plural above, ‘Silk Routes’ rather than the more familiar ‘Silk Road’, is deliberate. We are not dealing with a single entity like Watling Street or the Appian Way, but with a complex network of roads and tracks reaching right across Eurasia. There are some permanent nodes in the network, such as Ch’ang-an where much of the silk was produced and Rome where much of it was consumed; but the line taken by a particular caravan depended on the weather, the economic situation and the political situation, any of which might change with surprising suddenness.” Sitwell (1984), p. 174.

“The middle and shortest route by Lou-lan became deserted because of the shifting of the waters; but the southern, known in many stretches, was mentioned later by Marco Polo in regions east of Khotan, by streams of chalcedony and jasper. Six crossings between south and north are referred to in the Chinese annals, across what is now the central desert of Taklamakan.
          In these outer lands the raid of a single enemy was enough to ruin an oasis for ever. ‘Many travellers stick in the swamp. On the northern road, the Hiung-Nu fall upon one. On the southern there is neither food nor water, and on many uninhabited stretches there is hunger’: there was in fact a ten days’ trek without habitation worth mentioning, and the settled places when reached were too poor to afford the traveller sufficient provision for the way. The Chinese solved the problem through colonies of soldier-peasants: an imperial komissar was established to watch over crops and harvests and care for the visiting ambassadors; and the northern route in the second half of the first century B.C. came to take eight days less than the southern, while the Hiung-Nu were kept down.” Stark (1968), pp. 189-190.

The confusion surrounding the names of the routes.

Not surprisingly, the routes have frequently been confused in the literature. This is particularly because what was called the “Northern Route” in the two Han histories, is called the “Central Route” in the Weilue, and we have mention of both a “New Route” and a “New Route of the North” in the Weilue.
         There are, in fact, three main caravan routes around and across the Taklamakan Desert, and one to the north of it, described in the Weilue. Also briefly mentioned are the two secondary north-south routes joining the Southern Route with the Central Route, and the maritime route. See Appendix F.

“Yu Huan shows here how the route which led from Hami to Barkol and then to Gucheng (Guchen) to rejoin the Central Route at Kucha by turning off abruptly to the south after leaving Gucheng to cross the Bogdo ola mountains and reaching Turfan. Meanwhile there remains one obscure point for me : why Yu Huan says that the Northern Route rejoins the Central Route only at Kucha? He should have said, it would seem, that the two routes coincided from Gaochang (Turfan), but this is not a sufficient reason to presume that the Central Route had another lay-out than the one we have determined. – In the detailed examination Yu Huan makes later on of the three routes, he does not show that the Northern route fits together with the Central Route, but it proceeds to the Wusun, that is, as far as the Ili Valley. It is thus clearly proven that the new route established by the Chinese in the 2nd year of our era was the one which passed to the north of the Tianshan by Urumchi, Manass, Kur-kara-wusu [= modern Wu-su or Usu. 84o 40’ E; 44o 26’ N], then crossed the Iren Shabirgan [Erenhaberga Shan] mountains by the Dengnul [Talki Pass or Ak Tash Davan?] Pass to enter the Ili Valley (cf. Documents sur les T’ou-kiue occidentaux, pp. 12-13). – As one can see from the above, the three routes mentioned by Yü Huan basically correspond with those which the Imperial Commissioner Pei Ju 裵矩 described in his “Treatise with Maps on the Western Countries” 西域圖記 (Suishu, chap. LXVII, p. 5 b) around the year 608 of our era: “The Northern Route goes through Yiwu 伊吾 (Hami), passes by Pulei Lake 蒲類 (Lake Barkol), the Tiele 鐵勒 (Tölös) tribes, the court of the Khaghan of the Tujue 穾厥可汘庭 (the Borotala or Ili Valley), crosses the rivers which flow towards the north 北流河水 (the Chu, Syr Darya, and Amu Darya Rivers), and arrives at the kingdom of Fulin (Byzantium), which is in contact with the Western Sea. – The Central Route passes through Gaochang 高昌 (Yar-khoto, near Turfan), Yanqi 焉耆 (Karashahr), Qiuci 龜玆 (Kucha), Suole 疏勒 (Kashgar), crosses over the Congling 葱嶺 (Pamirs), then crosses the kingdoms of Pohan 鏺汘 (Ferghana) and Suduishana 蘇對沙那 (Osrushana = modern Ura Tyube), the kingdom of Kang (Samarkand), the kingdom of Cao (Ishtykan), the kingdom of He (Koshania), the large and small kingdoms of An (Bukhara and Kharghan near Karminia; but it is necessary here to reverse the order of the two terms, for the itinerary passes through Kharghan before reaching Bukhara), the kingdom of Mu (Amol), and arrives in Bosi 波斯 (Persia), where it contacts the Western Sea. – The Southern Route passes through Shanshan 鄯善 (to the south of Lop Nor), Yutian 于闐 (Khotan), Zhujubo 朱俱波 (Karghalik), Hepanto (read )槃陀 (Tashkurgan), crosses over the Congling 葱嶺 (Pamirs), then crosses Humi 護密 (Wakhan), Tuheluo 吐火羅 (Tokharestan), the Yida 挹怛 (Hephthalites), Fanyan 忛延 (Bamiyan), the kingdom of Cao (Ghazni?; cf. LÉVI, in J.A. Sept.-Oct. 1895, p. 375), and reaches the land of the northern Poluomen 北婆羅門 (Hindus), where it contacts the Western Sea. – The only differences which turn up between these itineraries, and those of Yü Huan, come from, on the one hand, the fact that the routes of Pei Ju go further to the west and, on the other hand, the Southern Route described by Pei Ju emerges from the Pamirs in Badakhshan, whereas the Southern Route of Yu Huan goes from the Pamirs into Kashmir [but note that Chavannes incorrectly identifies Jibin with Kashmir].” Translated from Chavannes (1905), p. 534, n. 3.

The ‘New Route’ to Turfan probably became an alternative after the Chinese lost control of Hami to the Xiongnu. At the best of times this a difficult route north across the desert to the northeast of Loulan, with little fodder or water available. Caravans could have been supplied and supported from both Loulan and Turfan but only at considerable expense.
          The ‘New Route of the North’ followed through the kingdoms beyond Hami, which stretch in a long arc to the north of the Bogoda and Tianshan ranges to Wusun territory in the west. There is no mention of where it begins, or of Hami.
          Presumably, since Hami was off-limits, one would first head to Turfan via the ‘New Route.’ Then, to reach Jimasa and territories to the east, one would cross directly north across the Bogoda Mountains by a rather difficult track to Jimasa and join the ‘New Route of the North’ there. If one wanted to travel west, the route left Turfan and travelled along the relatively easy road to the region of modern Urumchi, and then west along the ‘New Route of the North’ to the north of the Tianshan range.

The nature of the trade.

“Sometime after the death of Alexander, Chinese silk, transported by caravan through central Asia and passed along by a chain of middlemen, started to filter through to the Mediterranean, where its superiority to the nearest thing the Greeks had, produced from wild Asia Minor silkworms, was swiftly recognized. In the second half of the second century B.C., the Chinese became more active in the trade, dispatching caravans on a regular basis. Starting from Paochi, centre of a complex of roads, these moved inside the Great Wall by way of T’ienshui, Lanchou and Wuwei to the western end of the wall and deep into Chinese Turkistan; by 118-114 B.C., some ten caravans a year were making the trip. At Anhsi between the Gobi desert and the Nan Shan mountains the route forked into three branches to avoid the vast salt swamp in the Tarim Basin, two looping to the north and one to the south. The southern loop and one of the northern came together at Kashgar, then forked again to snake through the difficult Pamir mountains; this stretch was more or less the halfway point to the Mediterranean. All three rejoined at Merv to continue across the desert and join up with the tracks that led through Persia and Mesopotamia to the sea. Nobody went the whole distance. Somewhere between Kashgar and Balkh was a place called Stone Tower, and here the Chinese turned their merchandise over to local and Indian traders. The latter carried their share south to India to send it the rest of the way by boat, the others plodded on into Persia, where they met up with Syrians and Greeks who took care of the final leg.” Casson (1974), pp. 123-124.

“The whole Indian trade shifted gradually north-west because of the overland route through Bactria, until the Hiung-Nu in A.D. 23 fell upon it and made it impossible again for fifty years. In A.D. 73 the Chinese began to resuscitate it, and again advanced along both sides of the great chain of oases of the Tarim basin to ‘open the roads that lead to China and establish peace’. Merchants along the trade line, from Parthia and Bactria and India, sent their requests and prayers to the Celestial Court; and it was during this renascence of the trade around A.D. 100, that the Syrian-Roman merchants and the Chinese tried to link up their trade directly, and failed because Parthia lay between.
          At this time, the trade was in its heyday: ‘peasant colonies were founded in the fertile lands; inns and posts for changing horses were established along the main routes; messengers and couriers travelled in every season of the year; and the Merchant Strangers knocked daily on our gates to have them opened’. It was the period of the Roman peace with Parthia and the never-to-be-repeated summit of the Asiatic trade in the ancient world. By 127 A.D. the Tarim relapsed into chaos, while traffic increased in the Persian Gulf or Aden as it waned in the north: that there was any connection between the Chinese of the north (the ‘long-lived’ Seres of Lucian) and those of the south (the Sines), was still undiscovered in Ptolemy’s day.” Stark (1968), p. 191.

“Unfortunately, whether by land or sea, the contact between the two great cultures was always tenuous. Shipments of Chinese goods came to the Mediterranean year in and year out, cinnamon-leaf and camphor and jade and other items as well as silk, and Graeco-Roman statuettes and jewellery and pottery made the journey the other way, but rarely was there a direct exchange; in between were merchants from other countries, particularly India, which not only lay astride the sea lanes but was firmly linked by branch roads with the overland silk route. These middlemen had solid information to pass on – it was they who supplied the many place-names in Central Asia and the names of the Indonesian islands that the geographers know now – but they were businessmen, not reporters. What filtered back to the man in a Roman or Chinese street was mere fanciful hearsay. The Romans thought the Chinese were all supremely righteous; the Chinese thought westerners were all supremely honest. Kan Ying, sent as envoy to Mesopotamia in A.D. 97, describes the people he met as ‘honest in their transactions and without any double prices’ – probably the first and last time that has ever been said about Near Eastern tradesmen. Kan Ying, the embassy of An-tun [in 166 CE] – we can number on the fingers of one hand the known occasions when westerners and Chinese met face to face.” Casson (1974), pp. 125-126.

“The Chinese are mild in character, but resemble wild animals in that they shun the company of the rest of their fellow men and wait for traders to come to them.” Pliny NH (a), p. 64 (VI, 54).

(a) The “Southern Route”

There were two branches of the Southern Route between Dunhuang and Shanshan (northwest of Lop Nor). The first led directly across the desert. It was short but difficult and dangerous. By the middle of the first century CE, the Han were able to cut off support from the Xiongnu and pacify the Er Jiang who lived in the Altin-tagh ranges to the south. They were then able to make use of the better-watered and sheltered, though longer, route further south. Aurel Stein pointed out:

“A look at the map shows that the route meant [in the Weilue] is the one which skirts the high Altin-tagh range, and still serves as the usual connection between Dunhuang and Charklik during that part of the year when the shorter desert route is closed by the heat and the absence of drinkable water.” Stein (1912), pp. 514-515.

The most feared stretches of desert were between Cherchen and Khotan. Not only was there a lack of water and fodder but the constant crossing of sand hills was very tiring for both man and beast. “The desert itself is quite flat, a billowing sea of soft yellow sand-dunes 5 to 30 m high. However, in some central areas, for example in the west of the Keriya River, the dunes can rise to more than 200 metres high – a tough challenge even for a camel caravan.”
          From Khotan there were several routes south: the one in the Weilue headed southwest across the Pamirs and through Hunza and Gilgit (Xuandu – the notorious ‘Hanging Passages’) to North India and Jibin (Kapisha-Gandhāra). Branch routes led south to Ladakh and Kashmir, northwest to Kashgar, and north along the Khotan River join the ‘Middle Route’ near Aksu. The Weilue informs us that an extension of the Southern Route extended right across India to the Pandya kingdom at the southern tip of the sub-continent.

Although it is not known if the following alternative route to India was in use this early, it is quite possible, and so I will mention here for consideration:

“South of the Southern Silk Road proper were more roads. One of them was the so-called Qinghai Road that led from Lanshou to Xining (the present capital of Qinghai Province), from whence it crossed the desert and reached the classic Southern Silk road near Miran. Another was and extremely arduous trade route that led from Xining in a south-westerly direction to Tibet, finally to reach Nepal and India. This Tibetan Route was opened in the 5th century AD [and perhaps earlier], even before Songsten Gampo (609-650) had politically unified the Snowlands.” Baumer, p. 8. See also Ibid., p. 2.

Historical records suggest that from the first century BCE until the second half of the third century CE the Tarim Basin experienced a relatively warm and wet period. This caused faster melting of mountain glaciers, which thus supplied more water to the rivers flowing down from the mountains into the Taklamakan desert. This, in turn, made the Southern Route more feasible, and the high passes over the Pamir and Karakoram Mountains somewhat easier to cross.
          By the late third and early fourth century this climatological process seems to have reversed itself, making the Southern Route more difficult to cross. Caravans were forced to use the longer middle and northern routes and even, when the northern nomads could be controlled, to avoid the Tarim Basin altogether, and pass to the north of the Tian Shan ranges. Stein (1921), p. 1524; Stein (1928), pp. 79, 435, 837; Almgren (1962), p. 101; and Hoyanagi (1975), pp. 85-113; Bao et al. (2004).
          Recent research has confirmed these historical indications. Ice samples from the Guliya ice core which is situated in the mountains about 150 km due south of Keriya have provided valuable temperature and precipitation data for the region over the past 2,000 years. They show that there was a relatively warm and wet period before 270
CE rapidly followed by a cold dry period between about 280 and 970 CE. Shi et al (1999), pp. 90-100.

“This worsening of climatic conditions was not limited to the Tarim Basin alone, but concerned all of China, which was plagued by periods of severe drought between about CE 280 and CE 320. The annals of the Western Jin (CE 265-316) report that, in the year 309, the Yellow River and the Yangtsekiang (Changjiang) practically ran dry and could be crossed on foot.” Baumer (2000), p. 3.

In spite of its difficulties, the Southern Route remained important. It was better protected than the Central and Northern routes from raids by the northern nomads. It was by far the shortest and most direct route to the jade centres of Khotan and Yarkand. It remained passable, if difficult, for individuals and smaller caravans travelling to India, over the notorious Karakoram Pass, and human porters could even travel through the Wakhan corridor to Gandhāra and southern Afghanistan.
          Not quite halfway between Kashgar and Yarkand, between modern Yengisar and Qizil, a route turned west and headed towards Badakshan as described in the Tarikh-i-Rashidi:

“The distance from Káshghar to Yángi-Hisár is six statute [shari] farsákhs. At about six farsákhs from Yángi-Hisár is an insignificant hamlet called Kará Chanák,1 in front of which flows another stream called Shahnáz, which waters several [other] places. The valley of the Shahnáz lies in the western range, and the [high] road from Káshgar to Badakhshán runs through this valley.” Elias (1895), pp. 295-296.

By far the easiest routes from China to the Turfan oasis – “Nearer (or Southern) Jushi,” as well as to the Jimasa region (“Further Jushi”), went through Hami (Yiwu). Because of its critical strategic importance, Hami changed hands between the Xiongnu and China numerous times. China finally lost control of it to the Xiongnu in 151 CE, and did not regain it for over 400 years.

South to India over the ‘Hanging Passages.’

The detailed account of the Southern Route given in the Hanshu (CICA, pp. 97-99) mentions that, between Pishan (= modern Pishan) and Jibin (Kapisha-Gandhāra) there is a small kingdom called Wucha, said to be 1,340 li (557 km) to the southwest of Pishan, just before the route turned west into the dreaded ‘Hanging Passages.’
縣度 [Hsüan-tu, often incorrectly given as Hsien-tu], from: 縣度 xuan = ‘to suspend”, ‘hang’, ‘dangerous’ + du = GR 11640a: “7. – To cross (the water by ferry). To cross (over)].” From this we get the infamous, ‘Hanging Passages’ – the narrow and dangerous hanging footpaths of the Hunza region. 
          It is significant that Xuandu is not listed as a guo (= ‘kingdom’ or ‘country’) in any of the ancient Chinese texts. It is clearly described as a locality, not a state. It has long been recognised that it refers to the terrifying hanging pathways, locally known as rafiks, which are so characteristic of the route through the Hunza valley to Gilgit. The most difficult passage in the whole Hunza valley is the section south of the junction of the Misgar and the Hunza rivers. See, for example, Chavannes (1905), p. 529, n. 5.
          Although it was impossible to take pack animals over this route, a route barely practicable for people on foot, it was by far the shortest route from the Tarim Basin to Gandhara and Jibin in what are now northern Pakistan and southeastern Afghanistan. The Hanshu describes Xuandu as follows:

The Hanshu describes Xuandu (Hunza/Gilgit) as follows:

“What is termed the Suspended Crossing is a rocky mountain; the valley is impenetrable, and people traverse the place by pulling each other across with ropes.” CICA, pp. 99-100, and n. 169.

The Hanshu gives the distance from the seat of the Protector General at Weili near Kucha to Wucha as 4,892 li (2,035 km), and to Xuandu, the ‘Hanging Passages’, 5,020 li (2,088 km). This would indicate that Xuandu was only 128 li (53 km) west of Wucha, placing it in present day Ghujal, or ‘Upper Hunza,’ which is on the way to the Shimshal Pass to the west, or the Kunjerab Pass to the northwest. The most difficult passage in the Hunza valley is the section south of the junction of the Misgar and the Hunza rivers.

Rafiks, the local name for such galleries, are fastened to the sheer cliffs by branches of trees forced into the fissures of the rock and covered with small stones. Elsewhere natural narrow ledges are widened by flat slabs packed over them. In some places the rafiks “turn in sharp zigzags on the side of cliffs where a false step would prove fatal, while at others again they are steep enough to resemble ladders. To carry loads along these galleries is difficult enough, and . . . for ponies, sure-footed as they are, wholly impassable.” Even his [Aurel Stein’s] terrier, Yolchi Beg, so nimble on the rocks of Mohand Marg, was fearful and allowed himself the indignity of being carried. Rafiks alternated “with passages over shingly slopes and climbs over rock-strewn wastes.” To negotiate this terrain, the “baggage animals were left behind [at Chalt] and coolies taken for the rest of the journey up to the Taghdumbash Pamir.” Mirsky (1977), p. 121.

“The next day’s march [from Khuabad] to Misgar, he had been warned, would be the worst part of the route. By starting before dawn while the river was still low enough to ford, he avoided a long detour and a perilous crossing on a rope bridge. Then the going reached a climax of “scramble up precipitous faces of slatey rocks . . . with still more trying descents to the riverbed”; slower still was the progress along rafiks clinging to cliffs hundreds of feet above the river. But the previous five days had toughened him, and he felt fresh when he emerged from the rocky gorge to an open valley. . . .  Here he discharged the “hardy hillmen who had carried our impedimenta over such trying ground without the slightest damage.” Beyond, the route was open to baggage animals at all seasons.” Mirsky (1977), p. 125.

The Kushans are thought to have controlled the whole region from the late 1st century and for most or all of the 2nd century CE. Chavannes’ mention in Ban Chao’s biography that, “(Ban) Chao then crossed the Congling and got as far as Xuandu.” There is no indication of the date or any other details. One can only assume that the reference was to a brief foray by Ban Chao to the borders of Kushan territories – perhaps to deliver a message – or just to scout out the territory for himself. See Chavannes (1906), p. 237.

From Xuandu (Hunza–Gilgit) there were four main routes one could take:

1. south along the Astor river and across the Burzil Pass into Kashmir,

2. a difficult route along the Indus River Valley to Taxila,

3. through the Swat Valley to Peshawar or,

4. via Chitral to Jibin (Kapisha-Gandhāra), and on to Wuyi (Kandahar) or Gaofu (Kabul/Kabulistan).

“Surrounded thus by granite precipices and huge wastes of ice and snow, affording only a hazardous passage during a few summer months into the neighbouring countries, Hunza-Nagar has but one vulnerable point on the southern part of the Hindoo Koosh, the ravine of the Kanjut River; while the junction of that torrent with the Gilgit River is the one gateway of the country assailable for an invading force. Even this entrance is practically closed during the summer months; for then the river, swollen by the melting snows, becomes an unfordable and raging torrent, overflowing the whole bottom of the valley at many points, so that the only way left by which one can ascend the gorge is a rough track high up upon the cliff-side, carried along narrow ledges, and overhanging frightful precipices – a road fit only for goats and cragsmen, which could be easily held by a handful of determined men against a large force; while at this season the river can only be crossed by means of the frail twig-rope bridges, which will support but two or three men, and can be cut adrift with a knife in a few moments.
          Such is the road into Hunza-Nagar from our side; but at the head of the Kanjut Valley there is a group of comparatively easy and low passes, leading across the Hindoo Koosh on to the Tagdambash Pamir, in Chinese territory, which are used by the Kanjuts on their raiding expeditions. . . . ” Knight (1893), pp. 345-346.

“As one ascends the valley beyond Hunza. . . .  It is only at certain points, where passage along the cliffs would otherwise be absolutely impossible for the best cragsmen, that any steps have been taken to open a road, and then it is but the narrowest scaffolding thrown from ledge to ledge. One comes upon position after position of immense natural strength in this gorge, where the dangerous and only path passes under stout sangas, which could be held by a handful of men against a host. Even as the Kanjuts had left the approaches to their valley below Nilt as difficult of access as possible, so had they done here, at the outlet of their country on to the Pamirs, rendering it almost impossible for an enemy to invade them from either direction.” Ibid., pp. 488-489.

“Strategically the Pamirs had always been written off as too bleak and barren to appeal to the Russians and too formidable for them to cross. Wood’s story suggested nightmarish conditions, which the Mirza’s travels fully supported. And, in April, Gordon found the going quite as bad, the wind unbearable, the snow freezing to their faces as it fell, and fuel and provisions desperately short. But from the Wakhi people he heard a different story. In summer the grazing was, as Marco Polo had recorded, some of the best in the world. Moreover, though mountainous, it was nothing compared to the Karakorams or the Kun Lun. The Pamirs, he was told, ‘have a thousand roads’. With a guide you could go anywhere and, in summer, considerable forces might cross without difficulty. The Chinese had done it in the past, the Wakhis had recently sent a contingent across to Kashgar, and the Russians might do it in the future.
          Finally, and most important of all, it was discovered that the passes leading south from the Pamirs over the Hindu Kush to Chitral, Gilgit and Kashmir were insignificant. This was so disconcerting that Gordon, ever discreet, omitted all mention of it in his published account. The discovery was made by Biddulph who, while the others explored the Great Pamir, made a ‘lonely journey by the Little Pamir’ (a misprint – in Gordon’s book actually has it as a ‘lovely journey’). In the process he climbed the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush and ascertained that at least two passes constituted veritable breaks in the mountain chain. One you could ride over without ever slowing from a gallop and both had artillery transported across them. To these Gordon added another ‘easy pass’ conducting from Tashkurgan to Hunza.” Keay (1977), pp. 257-258.

“Communication with Badakhshan is easy [from Gilgit and region] by the Darkot and Warogil Passes, which are the lowest depressions in the great Hindu Kush and Karakorum chains from Bamian on the west to the unknown passes of Tibet on the east.” Neve (1945), p. 132.

“And in those days [the journey from Gilgit to Kashmir], before ever Mr. Knight was there, before a regular road was made, when even the Indus had to be crossed by a rope bridge, and when the only track led by crazy wooden galleries along the sheer face of the most dreadful precipices, the journey was an experience well worth having and well worth talking about.” Younghusband (1909), p. 161.

“Gilgit, the northernmost outpost of the Indian Empire, covers all the passes over the Hindoo Koosh, from the easternmost one, the Shimshal, to those at the head of the Yasin River, in the west. It will be seen, on referring to a good map, that all these passes descend to the valleys of the Gilgit River and its tributaries. But the possession of the Gilgit Valley does more than this: it affords us a direct communication through Kashmir territory to the protected State of Chitral. . . . ” Knight (1893), pp. 290-291.

From Gilgit a relatively easy route, accessible to pack animals for most of the year, led to Mastuch in the Upper Chitral Valley. From here one can head either west into Badakshān or south to Chitral.
          From Chitral the relatively easy route ran through ancient Hadda (near modern Jalalabad) to Peshawar, the ancient city (where Buddhist accounts tell us Kanishka made his winter capital), and then to northern India; or directly southwest towards Ghazni, Kandahar, and the Persian Gulf.

 “Westward from Gilgit is the country of Chitral, distinguished as Upper and Lower. The latter, which is nearest to the Hindu Kosh, is situated on a river flowing from a lake called Hanu-sar, and ultimately falling into the river of Kabul. The country is rough and difficult. The Mastuch, as the capital is termed in the language of the country, is situated on the left bank of the river. It contains a bazar, with some Hindu shopkeepers, and is as large as Mozeffarabad, containing between four and five hundred houses: slavery prevails here. . . .
          The Mastuch, or capital of Upper Chitral, is situated in the same valley as that of Lower Chitral, at about three days’ march, and about thirty miles north-west from Gilgit. It stands upon a river, and consists of about four hundred houses, with a fort, on a moderately extensive plain, from whence roads lead to Peshawar, Badakhshan, and Yarkand. The mountains in the neighbourhood are bare, and much snow falls: the climate, however, upon the whole, is temperate. Some traffic takes place with Badakhshan and Yarkand, whence pearls, coral, cotton baftas, and chintzes, boots and shoes, and metals are imported: horses are also much brought, and tea, but the latter is not much in use. The chief return is in slaves, kidnapped from the adjacent districts, or, when not so procurable, the Raja seizes and sells his own subjects. Soliman Shah, the Raja, resides chiefly at Yasin, which is not so large as the capital, but is better situated for the command of the country. . . .  West from Yasin is the Darband, or fortified pass, of Chitral. . . . ” Moorcroft and Trebeck (1841), pp. 268-270.

Both Hadda (or Hidda – near modern Jalalabad) and Kapisha (near modern Begram) were probably considered part of the territory of Jibin at this time. See: Appendix K.


(b) The “Central Route” or “Middle Route.”

The Central Route headed west from the Yumen (‘Jade Gate’) Frontier Post, then northwest to the ancient town of Loulan, to the north of Lop Nor, and then on via the now-dry Kum (or Kuruk) Darya and Konche Darya to the region of modern Korla, where it joined the route coming from Turfan.
          This route was probably preferred for large caravans because of the ready availability of water. The importance of this route is underscored by the recent discovery of eleven beacon towers along the banks of the Konche Darya (Kongque River):

Great Wall extends to Xinjiang, 500 km longer: archeologists (02/22/2001)

The Great Wall of China is 500 kilometers longer than the earlier recorded length, according to archeological findings released in Urumqi recently.
          The new findings show that the Great Wall extends to the Lop Nur region in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, instead of previously acknowledged Jiayu Pass in Gansu Province.
          Lop Nur now is a desolate desert region where China had established nuclear test facilities.
          Mu Shunying, a research fellow with the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, discovered during a field survey conducted in 1998 an earthen wall stretching from western Yumen Pass in Gansu Province to the northern edge of Lop Nur.
          Luo Zhewen, president of the China Society of Cultural Heritage, said, "There is no doubt this is part of the Great Wall as it consists of the city wall and beacon towers, forming a complete defense system."
          The wall is identical to the sections at Jiayu Pass and Yumen Pass in terms of architectural style and function. However, this newly found section was made with yellow sandy stone and jarrah branches found locally, he added. Luo, 77, is China's top Great Wall expert.
          Mu said it's obvious that the new find is a man-made wall built for the purpose of defense, as its shape and size resemble the other sections of the wall. Moreover, a large number of arrowheads have been found near the new site which indicates battles took place nearby, Mu said. Great Wall Extends to Xinjiang, 500 km longer. The Great Wall is a military installation built some 2,000 years ago. It has been renovated by numerous dynasties in the years following the Qin Dynasty, when Emperor Qin Shihuang ordered to link up separated wall sections.
          With the addition of the new section found in Xinjiang, the total length of the Great Wall would be 7,200 kilometers. The Great Wall was listed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1987.
          According to historical records, Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) mobilized 600,000 laborers to build a wall from Dunhuang to Yanze, the present site of Lop Nur. The massive construction project is illustrated in frescos at the Dunhuang Grottoes.
          During a recent tour to Lop Nur, a Xinhua reporter saw the new section of wall, which undulates westward at heights ranging from one to three meters, with some portions completely missing. The lower part of some of this section is covered by reeds, jarrah and other kinds of plants that live in arid areas.
          The portion of the Great Wall in eastern China was made of brick, while most parts of the wall in western China were made of yellow sandy soil and jarrah branches.
          Luo said the Great Wall in Xinjiang was built to protect merchants traveling on the ancient Silk Road.
          Wang Binghua, a researcher of the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, said the Great Wall in Xinjiang runs parallel to the Silk Road. An official with the State Administration of Cultural Heritage said the state will further investigate this valuable historical site and take measures to protect it.
          Experts believe the newly discovered segment of wall is not likely to be the end of the Great Wall, as beacon towers continue to appear along the Kongque River, pass through Wulei, the site of the prefecture government of the western region during the Han Dynasty, and extend to Kashi in southwestern Xinjiang. Eleven beacon towers have been seen at the bank of the Kongque River.
          The Lop Nur River, which supplied water for Lou Lan, a busy commercial city on the ancient Silk Road, has dried up and civilization there moved elsewhere in China. The kingdom of Lou Lan was ruled by the government of the Han Dynasty. Troops of the Han Dynasty were stationed in Lou Lan. (Xinhua) Downloaded on 13 May 2001 from:


It has even been suggested that it might once have been possible to transport goods by water from Loulan to Yarkand or Kashgar, but there is no mention of this in the historical sources:

“From about 120 BC to AD 330, the MIDDLE SILK ROAD was regarded as the preferred caravan route. It crossed the dreaded Lop Desert from Dunhuang to Loulan, then led to today’s Korla, and from thence west to Kucha and Aksu and once again to Kashgar. This route had the advantage of making it possible to use a barge from Loulan on the Kum Darya (also called the Kuruk Darya), and then on the Konche Darya to Korla. The meaning of these two river names refers to the conditions in the 19th and early 20th centuries, for Kuruk Darya means “Dry river” and Kum Darya “Sand River”. According to Hedin’s explorations, during the first few centuries of our era the Tarim also flowed into the Kuruk Darya, so that perhaps in those days it was possible to transport wares on water from Loulan to Yarkand or Kashgar.4 It is not known whether this waterway was actually used in ancient times or whether the overland route was preferred.”

4. Sven Hedin, Scientific results of a journey in Central Asia 1899-1902, Stockholm, 1904-1907, vol. II, p. 263.

Baumer (2000), p. 9 and note 4. Baumer goes on to say that:

“The middle route could be used during winter only, not merely because the heat was less oppressive, but most of all because it was easier to take along water reserves in the form of ice blocks. This stretch offered no springs, and water was so scarce en route that it would never have been enough for an entire caravan.” Although he does not say so, he must be referring only to the period after the Kuruk and Konche rivers dried up – a process which probably began after the severe droughts which occurred from c. 270 AD onward.”

Zhang Qian probably took the Central Route in c. 119 BCE when he travelled to the court of the Wusun near Issyk-kol with 300 men, about 600 horses and myriads of cattle and sheep plus silks and gold. See Shiji 123 – translated in Watson (1961), p. 272, and Stein (1928), I, p. 341.

The Weilue says that the ‘Central Route,’ after reaching “ancient Loulan and, turning west, goes to Qiuci(Kucha), and on to the Congling mountains.”
          The ‘Central Route’ probably became the main route to the west whenever the Chinese lost control of Hami and/or Turfan. Fortunately, the section of the route between Loulan, to the north of Lop Nor, and Kucha is now well established:

“. . . . Dr. Hedin on his journey of 1896 to the terminal Tarīm had found an obviously ancient route line leading from Korla to Ying-p’an, where the dried-up bed of the Kuruk-daryā branches off towards Lou-lan, marked by a series of big watch-towers. His description of them strongly supported the belief that this line of towers dated back to the period when the ancient Chinese route from Tun-huang to Lou-lan and thence to the northern oases of the Tarīm Basin was first opened. The careful survey of them which I was able to make in the spring of 1915 on my way from the Kuruk-daryā to Korla has fully confirmed this belief. It has furnished conclusive evidence that these towers served as watch and signal stations along the road which connected Lou-lan with the Chinese administrative posts and military colonies established under the Emperor Wu-ti in the oases dotting the southern foot of the T’ien-shan.
          The chief, if not the sole, danger which threatened the safety of this great military and trade route came, as the account of the Former Han Annals shows, from the irruptions of the Hsiung-nu, or Huns. For these, as we have seen, the open Kara-shahr valley, with its easy approaches from the Yulduz and other great camping grounds north, must have at all times been the main gate. Experience gained during centuries on their far-flung northern borders must have proved to the Chinese commanders that the best safeguard against such attacks and raids lay in securing quick warning which would allow for timely preparation for defence. Korla and the adjacent parts of the route lay certainly nearest to the ground whence the danger of incursions threatened, and if they were to be adequately protected, a line of signal-stations pushed out to the north-east into the Kara-shahr valley would certainly suggest itself.” Stein (1928) Vol. III, p. 1227.

“The special interest to us of the Wei lio’s notice of ‘the central route’ lies in the fact that it makes a definite reference to the Lou-lan Site, almost contemporary with the documents found there, by its mention of ‘the ancient Lou-lan’, and that it details some of the chief stages on the desert journey by which the site was reached by travellers from the ‘Jade Gate’ and the westernmost extension of the ‘Great Wall’. The position of the last of these stages, the Lung-tui or ‘Dragon Mounds’, was first determined by me, in the course of my explorations of 1914, when I traced the line of the old Chinese route where it crossed the salt-encrusted ancient Lop Sea, some forty miles to the north-west of the station L.A.”. Stein (1921), p. 419.

“By deduction, one can accept that the route called ‘Central’ in the Weilue must coincide with the route called ‘Northern’ in the Hanshu. The fact that Yu Huan tells us that formerly there were only two known routes to the western countries, but that now a third, more northerly route, had been opened. Thus the only new route is the ‘Northern Route’. The ‘Central’ and ‘Southern’ routes are the same as those already followed during the period of the Former Han. We are, therefore, right to consider the ‘Central Route’ according to the Weilue as identical with the route called ‘Northern’ in the Hanshu. . . . ” Translated from Chavannes (1905), p. 531, n. 1.

The Hanshu describes the ‘Northern Route’ (i.e. the Weilue’s ‘Central Route’) as follows:

“The one [route] which starts from the royal court of Nearer Chü-shih [Turfan], running alongside the northern mountains and following the course of the river west to Shu-lo [Kashgar], is the Northern Route. To the west, the Northern Route crosses the Ts’ung-ling and leads to Ta Yüan [Ferghana], K’ang-chü and Yen-ts’ai.” CICA, p. 73.

“But it still remains for us to fix the location in detail of such intermediate stages as the text names, in the light of the knowledge now gained of the actual ground which the route crossed. For convenience of reference I may quote again that portion of the passage [from the Weilue] which concerns us here : ‘The central route is the one, which, starting from Yü-mên kuan, sets out on the west, leaves the well of the Protector-General, turns back at the northern extremity of the San-hung (‘Three Ridges’) [desert of] sand, passes the Chü-lu granary ; then, on leaving from the Sha-hsi well, turns to the north-west, passes through the Lung-tui (‘Dragon Mounds’), arrives at the ancient Lou-lan.’ Stein (1921), Vol. II, p. 555.

Apparently, a short cut, not mentioned in the Weilue or in the Han Histories, also existed between the region of Loulan and Miran (= Yuni – the early capital of Shanshan). At Miran (ancient Yuni) it rejoined the Southern Route via Khotan to Kashgar. For the identification of Miran as Yü-ni, the ‘Old Town’, the early capital of Shan-shan, see Stein (1921a), I, pp. 326 ff.
          This route was probably only used when political or other pressures demanded, as it crossed over 190 km of waterless salt crust, and was only really feasible in winter, when water could be carried in the form of blocks of ice:

“Another land route branched off near Loulan to Miran, where it joined the southern route. This section from Dunhuang to Loulan and Miran was rediscovered by Sir Aurel Stein in 1914. It was the shortest connection with Shule [Kashgar]. Moreover, since the Han dynasty it was protected by watch-towers from which could be transmitted smoke signals during the day and fire signals during the night. At the same time, however, it was very trying for men and animals, for a 190 km wide, waterless wasteland across the Lop Desert had to be traversed on a hard salt crust.5
          It was probably no better than now, a fact reported by Hedin as well as by Stein; namely, that the sensitive soles of the camels’ hoofs would be injured by the razor-sharp edges of the ground surface, until blood appeared. Then would come the painful operation of “re-soling” the camels to make them fit to go on. Pieces of leather literally would be stitched over the camels’ wounded heels!”

5. Marc Aurel Stein, Innermost Asia, Oxford, 1928, vol. 1, p. 285.

Baumer (2000), p. 9 and n. 5.

 From Korla the route led to Kucha, and Aksu, rejoining the Southern Route at Kashgar. The Weilue does not give details of the route past this point but it does list two ‘kingdoms’, Juandu and Xiuxiu, as dependencies of Kashgar. Both of these places (but with the variant Xiuxun) are mentioned in the Hanshu as being on the route from Kashgar to the Da Yuezhi, and both were near forks in the road which led to Ferghana (Da Yuan).
          Stein (1928), Vol. II, pp. 849-851 makes a very strong case for placing Juandu in the region of modern Irkeshtam, about 200 km west of Kashgar, on the modern border between China and Kyrgyzstan. This is near a major fork in the route here. One branch headed over the Terek Pass to Ferghana; the other led down the Alai valley, past Daraut-kurghān and Chat (where Stein locates Xiuxiu/Xiuxun – see notes 9.18 and 9.19), into the valley of the Surkhab (or Kizil-su), and then probably via the huge fortified Kushan city of Shahr-i Nau (40 km west of the modern Dushanbe – see note 9.22), and thence on to Termez, where it crossed the Oxus (or Amu Darya) and on to ancient Bactra (modern Balkh).
          Interestingly, the name Juandu can be translated as ‘Tax Control’, a function which Irkeshtam retains to this day. As Stein and many others have pointed out, the famous ‘Stone Tower’ of Ptolemy, where caravans from the west off-loaded their cargoes, must have been located not far to the west of Irkeshtam, in the Alai trough.

          “But during the centuries before and after the beginning of the Christian era, when Baktra was a chief emporium for the great silk trade passing from China to Persia and the Mediterranean, all geographical factors combined to direct this trade to the route which leads from Kāshgar to the Alai valley and thence down the Kizil-su or Surkh-āb towards the Oxus. Nature has favoured the use of this route, since it crosses the watershed between the Tārīm basin and the Oxus where it is lowest. Moreover, it has, in Kara-tēgin, a continuation singularly free from those physical difficulties which preclude the valleys draining the Pāmīrs farther south from serving as arteries of trade. According to the information received at Daraut-kurghān and subsequently on my way through Kara-tēgin, the route leading mainly along or near the right bank of the Kizil-su is practicable for laden camels and horses at all seasons right through as far as Āb-i-garm. From there routes equally easy lead through the Hissār hills to the Oxus north of Balkh.” Stein (1928), Vol. II, p. 848.

“Topographical facts, climactic conditions and local resources all support the conclusion that along the great natural thoroughfare of the Alai trough, which skirts the high northern rim of the Pamirs from east to west and is continued lower down by the fertile valley of the Kizil-su or Surkh-ab, “the Red River,” there once passed the route which the ancient silk traders coming from China and the Tarim basin followed down to the middle Oxus. Of this route Ptolemy, the great geographer of the second century A.D., has preserved for us an important and much-discussed record of Marinus of Tyre, his famous predecessor. This describes the progress made in the opposite direction by the trading agents of “Maës the Macedonian called Titianus” as they travelled from Baktra, the present Balkh, to the “country of the Seres,” or China, for the sake of their silk.
            There is no need here to discuss the details which this record indicates as to the directions followed by the route. That it led up from the Oxus to the Alai had been established long ago by Sir Henry Yule, that great elucidator of early travel, when he proved that “the valley of the Komedoi,” through which the ascent toward Imaos is said to have led, could be no other than Kara-tegin, the valley of the Surkh-ab. Medieval Arab geographers still knew it by the name of Kumedh. The Kara-tegin valley and its eastern continuation, the trough of the Alai, offer in fact the easiest line of communication from the Oxus to the Tarim basin. But the advantages of the physical features which make the Alai particularly suited to serve as a natural highway between the two were brought home to me best by what the actual journey along it showed most clearly.
            For fully seventy miles from where the Russian military road crosses it the open trough of the Alai stretches with an unbroken width of from six to eleven miles at its floor down to the Kirghiz village of Daraut-kurghan. Eastward for another twenty miles up to the Taun-murun saddle, where the route from the Kashgar side enters the Alai, the “thalweg” is equally wide and easy. Climactic conditions, moister than on the Pamirs to the south, provide everywhere ample steppe vegetation. Hence the Alai forms the great summer grazing ground for thousands of Kirghiz nomads who actually move up there from the plains of Farghana with their flocks, camels and horses. Well did I remember their picturesque caravans with camels carrying rich carpets, felts and other comfortable possessions of nomadic households as I had met them on their regular migration when I travelled early in June 1901 from Irkesh-tam to Osh and Andijan in Farghana. Now the warmth of the summer had made their camps seek the higher side valleys for the young grass, and thence they would descend later in the season to graze along the main valley. All the way the great snowy range to the south, with Mount Kaufmann [
now known as “Lenin Peak” or “Pik Lenina” – 7,134 m or 23,406 ft] rising to close on 23,000 feet, presented grand panoramic views in the distance.
            Long before reaching Daraut-kurghan, I came at an elevation of about 9,000 feet upon traces of former cultivation and remains of roughly built stone dwellings such as are occupied now by the semi-nomadic Kirghiz lower down during the winter months. similarly, on the Kashgar side cultivation is to be found at Irkesh-tam and above it to the same elevation. Thus wayfarers of old could be sure of finding shelter and some local supplies all along this ancient route except for a distance of less than seventy miles on the highest portion of the Alai. Though the snow lies deep on the Alai from December to February, the route would be practicable even then just as the Terek pass (12,700 feet), much frequented from Irkesh-tam to Farghana, is now at that season, provided there were sufficient traffic to keep the track open.
            Such trade between the Tarim basin and the middle Oxus as was once served by the route through Kara-tegin and the Alai no longer exists. Balkh and the rest of Afghan Turkistan to the south of the Oxus have long ceased to see traffic passing from China. What little local trade comes up Karategin from the side of the Oxus proceeds from Daraut-kurghan to Marghilan or Andijan in Farghana, while exports from the Kashgar side find their way across the Terek pass to these places on the Russian railway.
            Daraut-kurghan, where I was obliged to make a short halt for the sake of arrangements about transport and supplies, is a small place at the point where the Kara-tegin valley opens out toward the Alai. A Russian Customs post here guarded the frontier of Bukhara territory. Three miles farther down lies the village of Chat with a large, well-cultivated area and a ruined circumvallation of some size occupied during the troubled times preceding the Russian annexation of Turkistan. It is a point well suited for a large roadside station, and it is in this vicinity that we may safely locate the famous “Stone Tower” which the classical record preserved by Ptolemy mentions as the place reached from Baktra “when the traveller has ascended the ravine,” i.e. the valley of Kara-tegin. [
In note 9.19, which see, I locate this site at Karakavak (Turkic for: ‘Black Poplar’ – Populus nigra L.), about half way along the fertile pasturelands of the Alai Valley at approximately 39o 39’ N; 72o 42’ E., rather than at Chat.]
            It is equally probable that “the station at Mount Imaos whence traders start on their journey to Sera,” which Ptolemy’s account of the trade route to China as extracted from Marinus mentions on the eastern limit of the territory of the Nomadic Sakai, corresponds to the present Irkesh-tam. This is still a place well-known to those who carry on the lively caravan trade from Kashgar to Farghana and who face here the vagaries and exactions of the Chinese and Russian Customs stations, both established close to each other.” Stein (1931), pp. 223-227.

There can be little doubt that Juandu (‘Tax Control’), in the region of modern Irkeshtam is ‘the station (όρμητήριον) at Mount Imaos, whence traders start on their journey to Sēra’, according to Ptolemy. See Stein (1928), Vol. II, p. 850. See also the discussions by I. V. P’iankov in the notes 9.18 on Juandu, and 9.19 on Xiuxiu/Xiuxun.
            An alternative route led from Tashkurgan (which could be reached either by heading south from Kashgar or southwest from Yarkand – thus, either from the ‘Southern’ or the ‘Middle’ Routes) past the Pamir Lakes via the Kushan-controlled regions of Wakhan and Badakhshān, and on to ancient Bactria. This route joined up here with the major east-west caravan routes leading from Chinese-controlled territory in the Tarim basin via the Alai, and past modern Dushanbe to cross the Oxus and reach Baktra (modern Balkh). See Stein (1931), pp. 232-242.


(c) The “New Route”

This route, called only the ‘New Route’ in the Weilue, has been confused with the ‘New Route of the North,’ by both Chavannes (1905), p. 533, n. 1, and Stein (1921), Vol. II, pp. 705 ff). See also note 4.3.
          The “New Route,” after it left Yumen guan [‘Jade Gate Frontier Post’], headed through Hengkeng [‘East-West Valley’], the wide Bēsh-toghrak valley which heads west towards Lop Nor. The ‘New Route’ seems to have followed the same path as the ‘Middle Route,’ for awhile, but then turned north before, or at, Bēsh-toghrak itself, thus avoiding some of the more difficult stages including the Sanlongsha [‘Three Sand Ridges’] and the Longdui [‘Dragon Dunes’].
          It then probably continued north across the desert, west of Hami, via the Palgan Bulak, Yulghan Bulak, and Biratar Bulak springs, to Lukchun in the Turfan oasis. Thence the route headed west, rejoining the Central Route before Kucha. See: The Times Atlas of the World.(1980), Map 24; The Contemporary Atlas of China. (1989), pp. 17, 18.
          The account of the ‘New Route of the North,’ on the other hand, ran via Hami to Eastern Qiemi, a dependency of Further Jushi, which was located immediately after crossing the gorge through the Bogda-shan mountains [called the Tianshan during the Han period], just north of Qijiaojing [Ch’i-chiao-ching]. The ‘New Route of the North’ then headed along the northern slopes of the massive range to the north of the Tarim Basin now called the Tianshan (and not to the south of it, as in the ‘New Route’), then through Wusun territory, and north of the Aral and Caspian Seas to reach Roman territory on the Black Sea (thus avoiding Parthian taxes on the caravan traffic).
          Qijiaojing was usually approached from the south via Hami (Yiwu). Here the road branched and one either went west to the Turfan oasis, or north through the Bogda shan mountains to the territory controlled by the king of Further Jushi in Dzungaria.
          The route through Hami was, and is, by far the easiest route to the north, and the only one with sufficient supplies for large caravans, but there is no mention of it at all in the itineraries of the Weilue.
          This strongly suggests that, at the time the information was gathered, Hami was out of bounds to the Chinese having once again come under the power of the Xiongnu. The Chinese captured and lost Hami several times during the Later Han Dynasty. “China finally lost control of it to the Xiongnu in 151
CE and did not regain it for over 400 years.” See Sitwell (1984), p. 174, in note 4.3.
          This explains the urgent development of a ‘New Route’ to provide communication with Turfan, which avoided Hami, for China no longer controlled it.

The Hanshu says:

“During the reign-period Yüan-shih [1-5 CE] there was a new route in the further royal kingdom of Chü-shih. This led to the Yü-men barrier from north of Wu-ch’üan, and the journey was comparatively shorter. Hsü Pu, the Wu and Chi colonel, wanted to open up this route for use, so as to reduce the distance by half and to avoid the obstacle of the White Dragon Mounds. Ku-kou, king of the further state of Chü-shih, realised that because of [the passage of] the road he would be obliged to make provisions available [for Han travellers] and in his heart thought that this would not be expedient. In addition, his lands were rather close to those of the southern general of the Hsiung-nu. . . . [Ku-kou was finally beheaded by the Chinese for disobedience].” CICA: 189-190, 192.

“I have explained elsewhere how this ever-present threat of the Huns [from 121 BCE to 73 CE] from across the northernmost T’ien-shan determined the direction of the ‘new northern route’ {note – this should read, simply, the “New Route”} which the Chinese in A.D. 2 opened from the ancient ‘Jade Gate’ in order to communicate with ‘Posterior Chü-shih’ or the territory around the present Guchen. To reach this ground, which, like Turfān immediately to the south, had passed early under their control, the route via Hāmi would undoubtedly have been the easiest. Yet Chinese administrative policy, was always disposed to face physical difficulties rather than risks from hostile barbarians, kept the new road well away from Hāmi and carried it through waterless desert wastes which at least offered protection from those dreaded nomadic foes.” Stein (1928), I, pp. 539-540.

This route left the Yumen frontier post and then headed west through part or all of the Hengkeng (literally; ‘East-West Gully’ = the present Bēsh-toghrak valley), and then directly north, past the still unidentified Wuchuan (‘Five Boats’), some 300 km across the desert to the town of Gaochang, at the southern tip of the Turfan Basin. From here it led on to Karashahr and joined the Middle Route near modern Korla. Almost all authors place the Yiwu(lu) 伊吾盧 [I-wu-lu] of the Han period in the region of modern Hami or Qumul.

“Known as Khamil in Mongolian, the name of this important Silk Road town is transcribed in Modern Standard Mandarin as Hami. It is famous for its succulent melons suffused with fragrance and sweetness. Large amounts of cotton are also grown in irrigated fields.” Mallory and Mair (2000), p. 13.

A few scholars, however, identify Yiwu with the modern settlement of the same name (and written with the same characters) about 160 km by road northeast of modern Hami, across the Karlik range. See, for example, de Crespigny (1984), pp. 43 and 522, n. 71. This tiny settlement is also known as Aratürük or Atürük. For the derivation of the name Qāmul = modern Hami, see Bailey (1985), p. 10.
          I have chosen the traditional identification, however, placing it near modern Hami, on the grounds that the strategically important and famously fertile Hami oasis is a far more likely location for the State Farms the Han established at Yiwu than the rather limited agricultural potential of the region surrounding modern Yiwulu / Aratürük. Pelliot places Yiwu some 30 miles (48 km) west of the town of modern Hami:

“In A.D. 73, the Chinese created a military colony in the region, with a walled city. . . . The military colony of I-wu-lu or I-wu did not thrive like that of Kao-chang..., and was abandoned with the whole of the region in 77. A new occupation in 90 was still less durable. The third effort, in 131, was more successful, but only for a time, and Qomul had already passed out of Chinese reach at the end of the Han dynasty. . . . As to the I-wu-lu of the Han, which the commentary of 676 on the two passages of the Hou Hanshu calls the ancient small town of I-wu, it was located about 30 miles west of Qomul [Hami], in the district of Na-shih....” Pelliot (1959), p. 155.

“Perhaps the earliest reference to Hami – or Yiwu, Yizhou or Kumul, as it was variously known – was in a book, made of bamboo slips and bound together with white silk, found in a second-century BC tomb in Henan Province. This record, discovered in the third century, is an account of the quasi-mythical travels of Emperor Mu, the fifth emperor of the Zhou Dynasty (1027-256 BC), who, on returning from his visit to the Queen Mother of the West, stayed in Hami for three days and received a present of 300 horses and 2,000 sheep and cattle from the local inhabitants.
          Hami was considered by the Chinese the key to access to the northwest, but they were not always successful in keeping the city free of nomadic incursions. In 73 BC [sic – should read AD] the Han general Ban Chao wrested the area from a Xiongnu army and established a military and agricultural colony. . . .
           Like Turpan, Hami is in a fault depression about 200 metres (650 feet) below sea level, and temperatures are extreme, from a high of 43o C (109o F) in summer to a low of -32o C (-26o F) in winter.” Bonavia (1988), pp. 105; 110-111.

“Cumul occupies a geographical position of great strategical importance. Like Ansi on the south, so Cumul on the north is a stepping-off and landing-place for all travellers who cross the inhospitable tract of Gobi between the provinces of Kansu and Chinese Turkestan. The approach to the oasis is by long and desolate stages, but from the moment that the traveller’s foot touches watered land he is in the midst of beauty and luxuriant agriculture, and for several miles before reaching the town the road leads through fields and by farmhouses surrounded with elm and poplar trees. Everything indicates prosperity and an abundance of every product.” Cable and French (1943), p. 138.

“Beyond Hami the track led to Tsi-kio-king [Qijiaojing – not quite 200 km northwest of Hami], the Seven-Horned Well, which stands as sentinel where north and south trade-roads divide, each taking its own way on one or the other side of the dividing mountain range. The old well watches the South Road disappear over a dismal gravel plain toward the burning oases of the Flame Hills [north of Turfan], and the North Road enter the narrow tortuous defile which cuts the Tienshan range of mountains in two. In times of peace Seven-Horned Well was a dreary hamlet, but in war-time it became a strategic desert outpost from which soldiers guarded three main arterial roads toward Turfan, Hami and Urumchi. It has been a scene of fierce Gobi battles, and its sands have many a time been reddened with blood and littered with the bodies of men and carcasses of horses. Every invader covets its strategic position and knows of its tamarisk growth, which, though smothered by sand, will supply abundant fuel for his army. . . . The southern road kept south of the mountain range, past East Salt Lake and West Salt Lake to Turfan, and over the steep Dawan Pass to Urumchi. The northern road, however, led through a jagged cut in the Tienshan where, for a long nine-hour stage, a narrow and almost level path wound with innumerable turns between great bare crags and lofty granite cliffs, emerging at last on the Dzungarian plain.” Ibid. 297-298.

“This constant liability to northern attack, from which Hami has suffered whenever Chinese power in Central Asia weakened, is fully illustrated by its chequered history, as recorded in the Chinese Annals, and right down to our own times. . . . As regards the former [Han] period, it will suffice to point out that within four years of the first establishment of a Chinese military colony in A.D. 73 I-wu was lost again to the Hsiung-nu; reoccupied between A.D. 90-104, it suffered once more the same fate. The notice concerning the re-establishment of a military colony there in A.D. 131 brings out clearly the strategic value which the Chinese rightly attached to Hami. But obviously their hold upon it ceased when imperial control over the ‘Western regions’ was abandoned after the middle of the second century.” Stein (1921), p. 1149.

From just north of Lop Nor all the way to the Turfan Basin across the dreaded Gashun Gobi, there is a string of salt springs. During the Han, and up until about 270 CE, however, the whole region was much wetter than it is now, so they may have been fresh enough at the time to provide water for the camels, at least. Wild Bactrian camels still live in the area and have apparently adapted so they can drink the water from the salt springs:

          “There is no fresh water in the Gashun Gobi, only salt springs. No humans, not even the hardy nomad, can survive in this utterly barren area of over 1,750 square kilometres. The only inhabitant of this huge space is the wild Bactrian camel. Far removed from contact with domestic Bactrians and fully adapted to drinking salt water, the camels migrate from water point to water point, some of which are over 100 kilometres apart.” Hare (1998), p. 80.

As this route was protected from the raids of the Xiongnu by the empty desert to its east, and because it was less than half the distance of the difficult, but better-watered, route through Loulan, Korla and Karashahr to Turfan, it may have proved economical for the Chinese, when the route via Hami was not available to them, to set up strategic caches of supplies along this route.
          Stein (1928, Vol. I, p. 319) reports that some of his party found old tracks and their guide “took them to mark the passage of some Mongols making for Tun-huang from the western Kuruk-tāgh. On questioning, the guide told him that his grandfather “who like his father had been a hunter of wild camels and familiar with the wastes of the Kuruk-tāgh, knew vaguely of a route leading through them to the Tun-huang side.”

(d) The “New Route of the North”

The “New Route of the North” or “New Northern Route” ran to the north of the Bogdo Shan Mountains through Further Jushi (near modern Jimasa) and then almost parallel to the Central Route, and north of the Tian Shan, past modern Urumchi to the Wusun.
          The distance of 208 km mentioned in the text matches that between Turfan and the region of modern Guchen and Jimasa on modern maps. The town of Jinman
金滿城 [Chin-man] is described as houbu 後郶 in the Hou Hanshu which translates as something like: “The Headquarters for Further [Juzhi]”

“According to the Xiyushuidaoji (chap. III, p. 5 a), the site of the ancient Beiting is none other than the locality of Hubaozi, about twenty li to the north of the present sub-prefecture of Baohui. In fact, a Tang period stele has been found at this place which, although badly damaged, categorically proves that previously the sub-prefecture of Jinman was to be found here. Now, here is what one reads in the Jiu Tangshu (chap. XL, p. 29 b): “Jinman... was, during the Later Han, the Posterior Royal Court (of the kingdom) of Jushi. In the ancient barbarian court, there were five towns. The common name was therefore, the ‘Territory of the Five Towns.’ In the 14th Zhengguan year (640), after (the kingdom of) Gaochang (Yarkhoto) had been pacified, the District of Ting was established.” Several lines above, one reads in the same work that, in the second Changan year (702), the Protectorate of Beiting was created from the District of Ting. Thus this text confirms the opinion of the Xiyushuidaoji, for it proves that Beiting is Jinman. Now, we know, from an inscription found in situ that Jinman was 20 li to the north of Baohui xian (or Ximusa) which is 90 li to the southwest of Guchen. Besides, this text shows us that the name of Bishbalek (the five towns), that the Government of Beiting had under the Mongols, corresponds to a very ancient name already known in the T’ang period. Bishbalek is, therefore, not Urumchi. Like Beiting, with which it is identical, it is at some distance to the west of Guchen.” Translated and adapted from: Chavannes (1900) pp. 11, and 305, n.

Aurel Stein found the ruins of the old town about 10 km north of modern Jimasa, just beyond the village of Hu-p’u-tzu (Hupuzi): “The outer walls... appear to have once enclosed a roughly rectangular area, measuring approximately 2,160 yards [1,975 m.] from north to south and 1,260 yards [1,152 m.] from east to west.” Stein (1928), pp. 554-559. See also: CICA: 184, n. 622.
          The Hou Hanshu states that the king of the Posterior Jushi lived in the Wutu valley, which was 500 li [= 208 km] from the residence of the Jangshi [‘Adjutant General’] in Lukchun. As I measure it, this is exactly the distance between Lukchun and a point about 10 km beyond Jimasa on two maps of the route from Turfan to Guchen. See: Stein (1928), Map 28, and the U.S. Defence Mapping Agency’s ONC, Sheet F-7. This confirms the findings of Chavannes and Stein, making the identification virtually certain.
          Although this short route was probably used for military communications and the like between Nearer and Further Jushi, it could never have been a major caravan route:

          “I may point out here that the direct tracks leading from Turfān to Guchen across the high, snowy portion of the T’ien-shan intervening are only open for a part of the year, and, as my crossing in 1914 of the least difficult of the passes, the Pa-no-p’a, showed, impracticable at all times for any but the lightest transport. Trade caravans and military convoys would at all times have to make a great detour either west (via Urumchi) or east (via Ulan-su) in order to get round the Bogdo-ula range by a route practicable for camels or carts.
          This point has to be borne in mind when we compare the two routes referred to in the notice of the Former Han Annals. The ‘new route of the north’ coming from the Shona-nōr must have crossed the T’ien-shan by the easy and low saddle north of Ch’i-ku-ching over which the present Chinese cart-road from Hāmi to Guchen and Urumchi passes.” Stein (1921), p. 706, n. 6.

There were two main routes through Wusun territory. One ran west through Santai (near Lake Sairam) and then over the Talki Pass into the Ili valley. From Urumchi the route ran west through Manass.
            To the west of Manass there were two main passes south into the Kax He [K’o shih Ho] Valley which led on to modern Yining or Guldja near the junction of the Kunes and the Ili Rivers. The first headed over the mountains through modern Dushanzi to the south of Kuytun and Usa. The second pass, further east, led to the south of Lake Ayram:

“Another [of the so-called “Iron Gates”] is the defile of Talki leading from the Sairam (nor) or Sut (Kul) lake southward, to the Ili River. This was called Kulugha by Turki-speaking people, and Timur-Khalaga by the Mongols ; and Dr. Bretschneider explains that the word Khalaga or Khalga, means, in Mongol, a pass or gate, while Timur signifies iron. The Chinese traveller Chang-Te, in 1259, passed through the Talki defile, and described it as “very rugged with overhanging rocks.” He speaks of it by a transliterated Mongol name which stands for “iron roadway.” Elias (1895), p. 20, n. 3. The TCAW marks this pass as the “Xin’ertai.”

This route continued to the north of Issyk Kul through modern Almaty to Tokmak and Bishkek. All these routes were accessible to camel caravans:

“But his first words contained a test, and I had failed to meet that test. ‘The camel caravans did not cross the mountains,’ he had said. I should have corrected him, politely; knowing he had been referring to these mountains, to the Tien Shan.
          The camel caravans had crossed these mountains, through the eastern passes coming from the Middle to the Northern Route; making their way from Gao Chang, from Turfan. And they crossed them again from the west, travelling the Northern Route that led to Kuldja and the Ili.” Martyn (1987), p. 432.  

The alternative route (which would have been safer from the attacks of northern nomads) ran even further south, along the Kekes River Valley to Issyk-kol where, according to the Hanshu the Wusun had their capital at Chigu (“Red Valley”) – which I have located in the spectacular Jeti-Öghüz Valley just southwest of modern Karakol near the Issyk-kol lake itself (see CWR note 1.61).
          From Issyk-kol the way continued around the northern perimeter of the lake (“Most of the population and agriculture, and all the decent roads, are along the north shore.” King, et al. (1996), p. 375), and on via Tokmak to Bishkek, where it joined the previous route to Talas in Kangju territory. From there one could head through the Ferghana Valley to Khojend (Khodzhent or Kujand, known as Stalinabad during the Soviet era).
          It was, as closely as I can measure it on my maps, about 820-830 km between Jeti-Öghüz and Khojend by this route. So, it seems fair to assume that this is route mentioned in the Shiji, ch. 123, which records that “Wusun is situated some 2,000 li [832 km] northeast from Dayuan.” See TWR, note 1.61 for more details on these identifications, which find valuable additional support from this notice.
          From Talas there were three main branch routes: the one mentioned in the Weilue ran northwest along the Jaxartes or Syr Darya north of the Aral and the Caspian Seas to the land of the Yancai or Alans who, at that time, were living to the north of the Black Sea and stretching over to the western and northern shores of the Caspian. The Weilue states the Yancai bordered on Da Qin (Roman territory) which is undoubtedly a reference to the Roman territories in Armenia from which there was access to ports on the Black Sea, and from there to the Mediterranean.
          The other two routes ran south from Talas through Northern Wuyi (modern Khojend) to the region of modern Samarkand, where one branch went southwest through the oasis of Bukhara and Merv to Iran, and the other branch headed south through Termez (ancient Dumi – one of the five main divisions of the Yuezhi mentioned in the Hou Hanshu) and across the Oxus (or Amu Darya) to Bactra (Balkh). From there one could travel southeast to Gaofu (Kabul) and India, or southwest through Herat to Iran.

(e) North-South Routes across the Tarim Basin

“It is true that the Southern and the Middle Silk Roads were separated from each other by the Taklamakan Desert, but since the Bronze Age there were north-south connections along a few rivers such as the Khotan Darya and the Keriya Darya. Since after a great thaw in the Kunlun mountain range the waters of the Khotan Darya cross the desert and reach the Tarim even today, this transverse line linking Khotan to Aksu and going along the river has never been abandoned.
          About 180 km north of Khotan a mountain range with a reddish hue rises up from the desert plain. . . .
          The Mazar Tag chain of mountains ends next to the Khotan Darya. Here on a rocky ledge about 150 m high, the well-preserved Mazar Tagh fort proudly looks down on the river and watches over the former trade route. The position of the fort was almost impregnable, for the rock face near the southern crest falls almost vertically and is also quite steep in the east, while a tower at a distance of about 30 m protects the northwestern access. This massive 6 m tower reminds one of the limes of the Eastern Han and Jin eras between Loulan and Dunhuang. . . .
          The tower is certainly the most ancient structure and could date from the 3rd or 4th century AD. . . . ” Baumer (2000), pp. 67 and 69.

          “A look at the map as well as analysis of the satellite photographs show that a trade route along the Keriya Darya would be the shortest connection between the two former kingdoms of Khotan and Kucha. If one believes the report of Mirza Hidar, Kashgar prince and historian, the Keriya Darya was supposed to have reached the course of the Tarim as early as the 16th century. We may therefore surmise that Karadong, which was halfway between Keriya (today’s Yutian) and the Tarim south of Kucha, had been a fort at the beginning of our era, besides serving as a caravanserai for trade caravans. . . .
          The excavations of ancient Karadong by a Sino-French team, which began in 1991, have brought to light sensational finds and caused a reassessment of Karadong’s importance. First, in an area five kilometres long and three kilometres wide next to the fort, the archaeologists found twenty ruined houses, a temple and forty other ceramic sites that indicate completely destroyed houses or ceramic kilns. Most structures are concentrated in the northern half of the oasis south-east of the caravanserai, in an area of 1300 m by 800 m. In the southern half, an intricate irrigation system could be identified, extending more than three kilometres in a north-south direction. Coins from the Han Dynasty and numerous remnants of millet, wheat, oats and rice were also found. In view of the extended irrigation network, conceivably one or more of these cereals had been produced in Karadong itself. . . .
          As previously described, forty kilometres north of Karadong are the extended ruins of the proto-historic town of Yuan Sha as well as traces of even older settlements. Since Yuan Sha had been abandoned shortly before the turn of the era in favour of Karadong, the golden age of the latter settlement must have been in the first two centuries of our era. In those times Karadong was part of the Yumi principality which extended as far as Keriya. The complete lack of coins from the Tang Dynasty and of artefacts of a younger date than the 4th century AD leads to the conclusion that Karadong must have been abandoned in the 4th century AD. The political disturbances after the breakdown of Chinese authority in the 3rd century AD must have led to a recession of trade, depopulation, and as a consequence, neglect of the irrigation canals, which favoured the advance of the desert. The Keriya Darya probably transferred its river bed eastwards during this period, a fact that also made living conditions more difficult.” Baumer (2000), pp. 93, 95, 96.

B. The territories of Haixi, Haibei and Haidong

(a) Haixi 海西 – literally: ‘West of the Sea’ = Egypt.
          Haixi, and the associated names, Haibei
海北 – ‘North of the Sea’ – which provided an overland route between Mesopotamia and Egypt; and Haidong 海東 –‘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 Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. See Leslie and Gardiner (1996), Chap. 20.8, pp. 271-272.
          There is a detailed account of these territories in David Graf’s article, Graf (1996) – especially the section on ‘The Western Regions’ on p. 204, and the map at the end. However, he argues that the use of the terms Haixi
海西 [Hai-hsi], Haibei 海北 [Hai-pei], and Haidong 海東 [Hai-tung] indicate: “that the Chinese of the Han era were ignorant about the existence of the Arabian peninsula. For them, the great sea adjacent to the Persian coasts stretched westward forming an immense bay that extended all the way west to the coasts on Ta-ch’in. Their belief in this imaginary body of water resulted in the creation of the three coastal districts.”
          I cannot agree with this analysis. It is true that the Chinese, like the Romans, and the Greeks before them, considered the Indian Ocean and its two major Gulfs, the Red Sea and the Arabian (or ‘Persian’) Gulf as a whole. The Greeks referred to it as the Erythraean Sea. This is perfectly reasonable and accurate, as easily navigable entrances join all the waterways. Because the Chinese accounts do not mention the Arabian Peninsula does not mean they were necessarily ignorant of it.
          In my view, the Chinese division of these regions makes excellent sense. Thus we have: ‘West of the Sea’ (= Egypt); ‘East of the Sea’ (the lands on the east coast of the Persian Gulf, or Persis) and, finally, ‘North of the Sea,’ the region in between and joining them: (probably northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan and southern Israel). The Weilue mentions an overland route through Haibei from Parthian territory to Egypt (Haixi):

“Now, if you leave the city of Angu (Gerrha) by the overland route, you go due north to Haibei (‘North of the Sea’), then due west to Haixi (Egypt), then turn due south to go through the city of Wuchisan (Alexandria).”

This could refer to the long route up the Euphrates through Palmyra and Dura Europa, from where it turns south, and later west, to Egypt. There were two rather more arduous, but shorter, and more direct alternatives. the first of these went west from the head of the Persian Gulf, across the desert to the oasis of al-Jawf (Dumatha). Here the road forked, and one could head north up the Wadi Sirhan towards Damascus, or west towards Petra, Rhinocolura, and Egypt. It seems these routes were guarded by Roman patrols after their annexation of Nabataea in 106 CE. Bowersock (1996), pp. 157-159; Millar (1993), pp. 138-139.
          The other route left the region of the prosperous trading state of Gerrha in eastern Arabia and took one across the peninsula either to al-Jawf or to the Nabataean city of Hegra (modern Meda’in Salih – some 25 km north of the ancient site of Dedan) and on to the port of Leukê Komê (literally, ‘White Village’), which is probably be located in the vicinity of modern Egra = Al Wajh, 26° 13’ N, 36° 27’ E, on the east coast of the Red Sea.

“Much of the merchandise of the Orient was brought overland from the port of Gerrha on the Persian Gulf to the Arabian port of Leukê Komê on the east side of the Gulf of Aqabah and then shipped or transported by caravan northward to Aila. From there it was carried to Petra, to which a direct, overland route led also from Meda’in Aleh in Arabia. And “thence to Rhinocolura (modern el-Arish in Sinai on the Mediterranean) . . . and thence to other nations,” according to the Greek geographer Strabo, who wrote about the Nabataeans at the beginning of the first century A.D.” Glueck (1959), pp. 269-270. See also note 16.1.

“For this trade [with Elymais and Karmania] they opened the city of Carra [Gerrha] where their market was held. From here they all used to set out on the twenty-day march to Gabba and Syria-Palestine. According to Juba’s report they began later for the same reason to go to the empire of the Parthians. It seems to me that still earlier they brought their goods to the Persians rather than to Syria and Egypt, which Herodotus confirms, who says the Arabs paid 1,000 talents of incense yearly to the kings of Persia. Juba (c. 25 BC-AD 25) and Pliny, NH (AD 77) 12. 40. 80).” Potts (1990), pp. 90-91.

“The merchants of Palmyra were also active in Egypt. One group resident in Coptos was engaged in the commerce of the Red Sea and thus by implication possibly also with India and East Africa. Others used the overland route from Mesopotamia to Denderah in Egypt.” Raschke (1976), p. 644.

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 Xihai – the ‘Western Sea’), 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 was probably reinforced by the fact that the characters represent a reasonably close phonetic approximation 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 section on Da Qin in the Hou Hanshu: “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 contradictory 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 mariners reached which could be called ‘Roman.’ Merchants from Egypt may well have referred to themselves as Romans, as many would have been officially Roman citizens, even before Caracalla’s edict:

          “In AD 212 Emperor Caracalla issued his famous edict granting Roman citizenship to all the inhabitants of the Roman Empire (only the ‘capitulated’, whose identification remains a matter of scholarly dispute, were excluded).” Lewis (1983), p. 34.

It is not surprising to find both the names for Rome and Egypt interchanged at this time in distant China. This identification of Haixi as Egypt is, I believe, amply confirmed in the passage from the Weilue.
          To add weight to my contention that Haixi = Egypt – the Weilue says that 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 and included the Gulf of Aqaba and the port of Leukê Komê. See note 16.1.
          The port of Aila (also known, at various times as: Aelana, ‘A
aba, Elath, Ezion-geber, Ailath and Ailam), at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, was very difficult to sail to because of the unfavourable prevailing winds and would have been quite unsuited to handle the large ships the Romans used in the India trade. 
          The estimate in the Weilue of two months for the journey to Egypt 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.
          The reference to a river “flowing out of the west of the country into another great sea,” is clearly a reference to the Nile. This certainly puts an end to any of the speculation (as 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. If, on the other hand, one looks at it from the perspective of a sailor reaching the eastern coast of Egypt on the Red Sea. The Nile would certainly seem to 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 or Alexandria.

Wu – K. 61a *·o / ·uo; EMC ?ɔ

chi – K. 596d *d’i̯ǝr / d̑’i; EMC dri, also drih

san – K. 156a sân / san; EMC: san’, also sanh

Despite the misgivings of Leslie and Gardiner (1996, p. 185), Wuchisan is not an unreasonable transcription of Alexandria into Chinese – as Hirth (1875), p. 182, first pointed out. It is also significant that it is never described as a ‘capital city,’ or the seat of a king.
          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 considered separate from Da Qin “proper”. 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.

It is very clear in both the texts of the Weilue and the Hou Hanshu that Haixi (‘West of the Sea’) must refer to Egypt. And, of course, until the Romans annexed the Nabataean empire (which controlled the ports of Leuke Kome on the eastern shore of the Red Sea), it was the only part of the Roman empire accessible by sea for traders from the east, and was the western terminus for extensive maritime trade with Parthia, India and Southeast Asia.
          Also, there is other evidence which supports the identification of Haixi as Egypt. For example:

“At the time of the Eastern Han, this kingdom [Haixi = Egypt] had communications with China. During the reign of Emperor Hedi, in the Yongyuan period (89-105), the king of Dan [which was probably the port of Tāmralipti in the Ganges delta – see: Colless (1980), p. 169], named Yongyoudiao, sent an interpreter charged with offering precious objects from his country. The Emperor gave him a golden seal decorated with purple silk.
          Envoys from the same prince again came to the Court at the beginning of the Yongning period (120), to congratulate Emperor Andi on his accession to the throne. They brought some musicians and some skilful jugglers who performed transformations, belched fire, changed the head of an ox to that of a horse, amputated limbs, and then replaced them. They also know how to play with little balls and can keep as many as ten in the air at a time.
          These foreigners themselves said, “We are men from West of the Sea”. Now, ‘West of the Sea’ is [part of] Da Qin, and it is situated to the southwest of the kingdom of Dan.” Ma Duanlin quoted in Saint-Denys (1876), pp. 268-269. Translated from the French.

Haixi clearly must refer to Egypt for:

a. it is the main Roman territory one reaches after sailing from Parthia;

b. it has a large river flowing out of the west of the country (the Nile) into another ‘Great Sea’ which one crosses to reach the capital (Rome) of Da Qin;

c. and it contains the city of Wuchisan (= Alexandria).

(b) Haibei 海北 literally: ‘North of the Sea.’ The territory called Haibei 海北 ‘North of the Sea,’ must refer to the lands between Babylonia and what is now Jordan and/or Syria. This is a perfectly accurate description as the Chinese apparently [like the Greeks and Romans] referred to the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean as the one sea. The Greeks and Romans referred to it as the Erythraean (“Red”) Sea whereas the Chinese called it the Xihai or ‘Western Sea’ or Tahai which just means ‘great sea’ and seems to have been also used for the Mediterranean. See Appendix C.

          “The merchants of Palmyra were also active in Egypt. One group resident in Coptos was engaged in the commerce of the Red Sea and thus by implication possibly also with India and East Africa. Others used the overland route from Mesopotamia to Denderah in Egypt.” Raschke (1976), p. 644.

(c) Haidong literally: 海東 or ‘East of the Sea’ = Persis. Haidong probably referred to the region of Persis – the old homeland of the Persians and site of the ancient capital of Persepolis, destroyed by Alexander.
          For much of the 1st and 2nd centuries
CE it was, in all but name, independent of the Parthians. It was the seat of Sasanians who, under Ardashir I, founded a new Persian dynasty in 224 CE and overthrew the Parthians circa 226 CE.

“Persis was originally a district of the Persian empire that embraced the lands along the eastern shore of the Persian Gulf; see W. Hinz, RE Suppl. 12 s. v. Persis (1970). During the centuries when a Parthian dynasty ruled in Persia (ca. 248 B.C. to A.D. 226), the district became virtually an independent kingdom, with its own rulers and coinage, acknowledging vassalage to Parthian overlords only when these were strong enough to insist on it (cf. Raschke 815, n. 719). To judge from the statements in the Periplus, at the time of writing [between 40 and 70 CE] Persis controlled a broad expanse of territory, from a point on the Arabian coast opposite the Kuria Muria Islands to past Omana on the Makran coast.. It controlled as well the head of the Persian Gulf....” Casson (1989), p. 174. 

For more details see notes 11.5 and 11.11.

C. The “great seas” and the “Western Sea.”

Dahai 大海 [Ta Hai] – literally, ‘a great sea.’ I believe that, in this context, it can only refer to what we now know as the Indian Ocean, including the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. 
          The text says that: “The kingdom of Da Qin (Rome) is also called Lijian. It is west of Anxi (Parthia) and Tiaozhi (Characene and Susiana), and west of a great sea. From the city of Angu (Gerrha), on the frontier of Anxi (Parthia), you take a boat and cut directly across to Haixi (‘West of the Sea’ = which is definitely Roman Territory and, as I will show later, is almost certainly Egypt).” See: note 11.5.
         The Chinese text reads:
有河出其國西又有大海 – literally, “There is a river flowing from the west of this country (into) another great sea.” This, I believe, can only be interpreted as: “a river (the Nile) flows out of the west of this country (i.e. out of the west of “Haixi”) into another great sea (which can only be the Mediterranean).
          Although the terms used are somewhat confusing, if looked at carefully the meaning is quite clear. Chapters 96A and 61 of the Hanshu (see CICA, pp, 113, 235) and the Chapter on the Western Regions of the Hou Hanshu refer only to Xihai
西海 – the ‘Western Sea,’ which Gan Ying reached at the head of the Persian Gulf in 97 CE, and by which it was said you could sail to Da Qin, i.e. Roman territory (which could only be a reference to Egypt).
          This Roman-controlled territory, Egypt, is referred to as Haixi
海西, which literally means “West of the Sea” and, as we are told in this section of the Weilue, was also used as a name for the country because it was, quite literally at the western end of the “Western Sea.” It is important to keep these two entities, Xihai or the “Western Sea,” and Haixi or “West of the Sea” = Egypt, separate in our minds.
          Further, the Weilue refers to the same sea (running from the Persian Gulf to Egypt as
大海 dahai which can equally be translated as “The Great Sea” or “a great sea.” I think it should be understood as the latter here – “a great sea” rather than “The Great Sea” because the text refers to another 大海 dahai or “great sea” which has the river running into it. This must be the Mediterranean. This identification is confirmed a little further on in the text when we are informed that from Wuchisan (= Alexandria) you must cross a “great sea” to reach the “king’s seat of government” of “that country” (i.e. Da Qin = Rome).
          Leslie and Gardiner (1996), include a section (12.3 c.) on “The Western Sea” and another (20.8) on “The Hsi-hai and other seas” on pp. 146 and 271-272 respectively.

D. Sea Silk.

“They [of the Roman Empire] also have a fine cloth which some people say is made from the down of ‘water sheep,’ but which is made, in fact, from the cocoons of wild silkworms.”

This is the first known reference to “sea silk” in Chinese literature and is found in the chapter on the Western Regions of the Hou Hanshu which deals with the period of the Later Han (25-220 CE), and was composed by Fan Ye. Fan Ye states that he based most of the information in this chapter on a report presented to the Emperor by the Chinese general Ban Yong about 125 CE. This report contained a considerable amount of information on a country called ‘Da Qin’, or the Roman Empire.
          The Chinese Envoy Gan Ying apparently collected the bulk of this information during his journey to Parthia. He had been specifically sent in 97
CE to collect information on the Roman Empire by Ban Yong’s father, the famous general, Ban Chao. Although he only reached the shores of the Persian Gulf, he managed to gather much information on Da Qin that was new to the Chinese – presumably from seamen and other travellers he met in Parthia.
            The story of the ‘water-sheep’ is also found in the Weilue, which was written sometime during the second third of the 3rd century
CE by the historian, Yu Huan. It contains no criticism of the story of the ‘water-sheep’ and adds that other common domestic animals in the Roman Empire came “from the water.” It is worth repeating here:

“This country [the Roman Empire] produces fine linen. They make gold and silver coins. One gold coin is equal to ten silver coins. They have fine brocaded cloth that is said to be made from the down of ‘water-sheep’. It is called Haixi (‘Egyptian’) cloth. This country produces the six domestic animals [traditionally: horses, cattle, sheep, chickens, dogs and pigs], which are all said to come from the water.
          It is said that they not only use sheep’s wool, but also bark from trees, or the silk from wild silkworms, to make brocade, mats, pile rugs, woven cloth and curtains, all of them of good quality, and with brighter colours than those made in the countries of Haidong (“East of the Sea”).
          Furthermore, they regularly make a profit by obtaining Chinese silk, unravelling it, and making fine hu (‘Western’) silk damasks. That is why this country trades with Anxi (Parthia) across the middle of the sea.”

Here we have an account not only of cloth made from the “wool” of “water-sheep”, but also that made from domestic sheep wool, tree bark, and silk from wild silkworms (yecan), as well a very light silken cloth produced from rewoven imported Chinese cultivated silk.      
            Emil Bretshneider in his book, Arabs and Arabian Colonies (1871), p. 24, suggested that the ‘down of the water-sheep’ referred to in the Chinese accounts was, “. . . perhaps, the Byssus, a cloth-stuff woven up to the present time by the Mediterranean coast, especially in Southern Italy, from the thread-like excrescences of several sea-shells, especially Pinna squamosa.” Hirth (1885), p. 262.

“It is all very arbitrarily, it seems to me, that the shuiyang 水羊 or ‘aquatic sheep’ have been connected with the famous agnus scythicus which plays such an important role in the accounts of travellers of the Middle Ages until the 17th century. The two legends have nothing in common, for there is no question of water regarding the agnus scythicus; as Bretschneider remarked (On the knowledge . . . , p. 24) the cloth made from the wool of aquatic sheep must be the Byssus which is manufactured with the excretions of certain seashells, notably the Pinna squamosa. This opinion seems confirmed to me by the passage of Alestakhry (10th century) : “At a certain time of the year, one sees coming up from the sea an animal which rubs up against certain rocks on the coast, and deposits a kind of wool of a silken colour, that is, of a golden colour. This wool is very rare and highly valued, and none is allowed to be wasted. It is collected and is used to weave material, which is dyed now in different colours. The Ummayad princes (who reigned at Cordova then) reserved the use of this wool for their own use. It is only in secret that one can succeed in diverting any portion of it. A robe made with this wool costs more than a thousand pieces of gold.” Reinard, from whom we have borrowed this translation (Géographie s’Aboulféda, II, II, p. 242, n. 1) indicates that the animal which comes up from the sea to rub itself on certain rocks is the marine pinnus, a shell which attaches itself to the rocks. But, if it is true that the Byssus was, in fact, manufactured from the filaments of the Pinna squamosa, it is clear, on the other hand, that this manufacture being kept secret, a legend formed which attributed the tufts gathered from the rocks at the edge of the sea to a rot of marine sheep which came to rub against these rocks. The tradition reported by Alestakhry thus appears to me to well account for the expression “aquatic sheep” 水羊 which is found for the first time in this text of the Hou Hanshu. – By disassociating the aquatic sheep from the agnus scythicus, we cannot therefore say that the legend of the agnus scythicus was unknown in China. To the contrary, the Chinese literature which gives us the most ancient evidence relating to this fantastic animal. In fact, Zhang Shouqie 張守節, who published his commentary in 737 on the Historical Memoires of Sima Qian, quotes (Mém. Hist., chap. CXXIII, p. 3a) a passage from the Yiwuzhi of Song Ying 宋膺異物志 in which we read that: “To the north of Qin, in a little country which is subject to it, there are lambs which are born spontaneously in the ground. By waiting for the moment when they are on the point of hatching out, a wall is built all around them for fear that they might be eaten by ferocious beasts. Their umbilical cord is attached to the ground and, if one cuts it, they die. Therefore instruments are beaten to scare them. They cry from fear and their umbilical cords break. Then they are allowed to search for water and pasture and form a flock. . . . ” Translated from Chavannes (1907), p. 183, n. 4.

Many scholars remained sceptical and accepted the account in the Hou Hanshu that clearly states that the so-called ‘water-sheep’ were a fiction and that the cloth referred to was, rather, wild silk:

“The down of the water sheep is a particular favourite. HIRTH accepted BRETSCHNEIDER’S suggestion that this was cloth made from the thread-like excretions of sea-shells and that this is what was meant by the term byssus! This particular fable, whose acceptance by modern scholars demonstrates an almost absurd naivety, still continues to flourish (e.g. J. FERGUSON, ANRW II 9.2, above p. 590). For the various meanings of byssus see E. WIPSZYCKA, L’industrie textile dans l’Égypte romaine: matières premières et stades préliminiaires (Warsaw 1965), 40-41.” Raschke (1976), p. 854, n. 849.  

“The conclusion is that, in the whole of Chinese literature, there is only one mention of the shui-yang, that found in the Wei lio, in the middle of the 3rd cent. Later texts have been copied or abbreviated from it, and do not represent any independent tradition. In the Wei lio itself, this “water sheep” occurs only in connection with a certain textile, which was woven with threads of variegated colours without a monochrome ground ( ti; this was the main differentiation between chih-chêng, which had no “ground”, and the chin, which had one; but it was not always strictly adhered to in the practical use of the two terms); and even then, the author of the Wei lio had heard conflicting reports, some saying that the fabric was made of tree-bark (or bast), others of the silk of wild silkworms. Moreover, there is a disquieting sentence in the text: “In that kingdom, the six domestic animals all come out of the water”, to which former inquirers did not devote a word of comment. It sounds as though Ta-Ch’in being a maritime kingdom, the “West of the Sea Kingdom”, a rumour had reached China that Ta-Ch’in was indebted to the sea not only for its “water sheep”, but for its oxen, horses, dogs, etc. . . . In any case, since all the domestic animals in Ta-Ch’in are in the same plight, the shui-yang is merely the equivalent of yang alone, and, as a matter of fact, it is the word yang (“sheep”) alone, not “water sheep”, which is used when the Wei lio speaks a second time of the wool of the same animal. Under such conditions, while admitting that there must have been in China, in the early 3rd cent., a tradition about some special sort of “sheep’s down” of Ta-Ch’in, I think that we must be careful not to lay too much stress on the statement that this sheep was a “water sheep”. Pelliot (1963), pp. 509-510.

Evidence of the existence of sea-silk textiles in the 4th century Roman Empire, and the fact that the “marine wool” mentioned in Diocletian’s Price Edict of 301 CE possibly refers to sea silk, leads us to re-examine the references in the Chinese accounts.
          On closer examination of the wording of the Chinese text of the Hou Hanshu, it appears that the claim that the cloth made from “water-sheep” was false and really referred to wild silks is likely a critical comment added by the compiler Fan Ye in the 5th century
CE to the original report by Gan Ying. It seems quite probable to me now that the original reports had a factual basis, only to be discounted as myth at a later period.
          In fact, “sea-silk” has always been extremely rare and it is quite plausible that similar cloths from Da Qin examined by the Chinese in later periods were wild silks. Although wild silks were themselves uncommon, they were not nearly as rare (or as costly) as sea-silk. Wild silks could be easily mistaken sea-silk, as many of them were naturally similar in colour and appearance to sea-silk and they were, sometimes, blended together.         

          “The most famous product produced by the Pinnidae is the byssus fiber, which is an extremely fine and soft but strong fiber produced by a gland in the foot of the animal for the purpose of anchoring the shell. The byssus fiber of some of the larger species in this family is sufficiently long so that it can be spun and then woven or knitted to make small garments. It has a beautiful golden bronze sheen and was often combined with silk when used in making larger garments. Most authorities believe that the use of the byssus as a fiber in making garments probably originated in India near Colchi. This is based on the fact that the earlier Greek and Roman writers referred to Pinna but did not mention the use of the byssus before the time of Tertullian (150-222 A.D.). Tarento was the center of the industry in Italy, and Procopius, who wrote on the Persian wars about 350 A.D., stated that the five hereditary satraps (governors) of Armenia who received their insignia from the Roman Emperor were given chlamys (or cloaks) made from lana pinna (Pinna “wool,” or byssus). Apparently only the ruling classes were allowed to wear these chlamys. Even today a small remnant of the former industry remains in Italy and a few articles such as gloves, hats, shawls and stockings are made mainly for the tourist trade. According to Simmonds (1879) in “The Commercial Products of the Sea,” the byssus formed an important article of commerce among the Sicilians, for which purpose considerable numbers of Pinna were annually fished in the Mediterranean from a depth of 20 to 30 feet. He also said, “a considerable manufactory is established at Palermo; the fabrics made are extremely elegant and vie in appearance with the finest silk. The best products of this material are, however, said to be made in the Orphan Hospital of St. Philomel at Lucca.” Though the modern gloves and shawls are knitted, the chlamys, gloves and stockings of the ancients were woven, for knitting was not known until about 1500 according to Yates (1843). Articles made from Pinna byssus are extremely strong and durable except that they are readily attacked by moths so that great care must be taken in their preservation. There are, as a consequence, very few examples of the early garments in existence. On Plate 153 are shown the cleaned byssus of Atrina rigida Solander ; the shell of Pinna nobilis Linné, the species from which the byssus was obtained for the Italian industry ; and a glove made from byssus fibre at Tarento, Italy [presently displayed at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.].” Turner and Rosewater (1958), pp. 292 and 294.

The Oxford English Dictionary (1971), Compact Edition Reprint (1988) gives under Byssus:

“3. Zool. The tuft of fine silky filaments by which molluscs of the genus Pinna and various mussels attach themselves to the surface of rocks; it is secreted by the byssus-gland in the foot.”

          “These filaments have been spun, and made into small articles of apparel.. Their colour is brilliant, and ranges from a beautiful golden yellow to a rich brown; they are also very durable.. The fabric is so thin that a pair of stockings may be put in an ordinary-sized snuff-box.” [From: The draper’s dictionary, by S. William Beck (1886)].

The Treasury of Natural History or A Popular Dictionary of Zoology by Samuel Maunder. London. Longmans, Green, and Co. (1878), p. 526, states:

“PINNA. A genus of Molluscs, called also wing-shell, which in many respects approaches the Mussels. It has two equal wedge-shaped valves, united by a ligament along one of their sides ; and obtains a very considerable size, sometimes being nearly three feet long. The animal fixes itself, by its byssus which is remarkably long and silky, to submarine rocks and other bodies ; where it lives in a vertical position, the point of the shell being undermost, and the base or edge above. Sometimes large bodies of them are found even attached to a sandy bottom at the depth of a few fathoms. They are common in some parts of the Mediterranean ; and are not merely sought as food by the inhabitants on the coasts, but they gather the byssus, of which a stuff may be formed which is remarkable for its warmth and suppleness. The filaments are extremely fine and strong, and the colour, which is a reddish-brown, never fades. The finest byssus of the ancients was fabricated from these filaments ; and in Sicily they are still sometimes manufactured into gloves and other articles of dress, though, it must be confessed, more as an object of curiosity than use.”

“The Pinnidae have considerable economic importance in many parts of the world. They produce pearls of moderate value. In the Mediterranean area, material made from the holdfast or byssus of Pinna nobilis Linné has been utilized in the manufacture of clothing for many centuries: gloves, shawls, stockings and cloaks. Apparel made from this material has an attractive golden hue and these items were greatly valued by the ancients.
          Today, pinnidae are eaten in Japan, Polynesia, in several other Indo-Pacific island groups, and on the west coast of Mexico, In Polynesia, the valves of Atrina vexillum are carved to form decorative articles, and entire valves of larger specimens are sometimes used as plates.” Rosewater (1961), pp. 175-176.

The word byssus not only refers to the excretions of seashells, as sometimes assumed, but originally referred to fine threads of linen, and later, of cotton and silk. It is derived from Latin byssus via Gk. byssos – flax, linen. It is of Semitic origin related to Hebrew būts – fine linen. This word is probably related to the material “‘Böz,’ an exotic cloth in the Chinese Imperial Court.” Discussed in Ecsady (1975), pp. 145-153.
            It seems that the initial reports of sea-wool reaching China in the 1st century
CE were based on a genuine tradition. These reports were then embellished by the 3rd century to the point that the six main domestic animals known to the Chinese were said to have come from the water in the Roman Empire.
          By the 5th century, the whole story was being dismissed as a fable; the sea-wool explained away as merely a form of wild silk – with which the Chinese had had long experience.
            Felicitas Maeder very kindly, sent me a copy of her excellent article, “The project Sea-silk – Rediscovering an Ancient Textile Material,” from the Archaeological Textiles Newsletter Number 35, Autumn 2002, pp. 8-11. She also included a copy of the fascinating chapter, “Oriental Translations: Pinna Wool, Aquatic Sheep and Mermaid Fleece,” pp. 67-75, from Daniel L. McKinley’s monograph, “Pinna and Her Silken Beard: A Foray Into Historical Misappropriations” in Ars Textrina: A Journal of Textiles and Costume, Volume Twenty-nine, June, 1998. Winnipeg, Canada, 9p. 9-223.
          Felicitas Maeder’s article not only includes a beautiful full-page colour reproduction of a 14th century knitted cap of sea-silk but points out on page 10 that:

“Proof of the reality of the use of sea-silk for textile production at least in late antiquity is a fragment of a woven textile of the 4th century. It was found in 1912 in a woman’s grave in Aquinicum (Budapest), at that time a Roman town at the north-east frontier of the empire. It was described in 1917 by F. Hollendonner and 1935 by L. Nagy. J. P. Wild mentions this fragment in his study of textile manufacture in the Northern Roman provinces (1970) and adds that it supports the assumption that the ‘marine wool’ of Diocletian’s Price Edict meant sea-silk.”

Felicitas Maeder, through the “Project sea-silk” at the Natural History Museum in Basle, Switzerland, has mounted a spectacular exhibition on sea silk from 19th March to 27th June, 2004 featuring a wide variety of items made of sea silk loaned by museums all over Europe. They have just published a magnificently illustrated catalogue on the exhibition with detailed notes on all aspects of the history, production and uses of sea silk in both Italian and German, called Bisso marino: Fili d’oro dal fondo del mare – Muschelseide : Goldene Fäden vom Meeresgrund. Edited by Felicitas Maeder, Ambros Hänggi, and Dominik Wunderlin. Naturhistoriches Museum and Museum der Kulturen, Basel, Switzerland.

There can no longer be any question of sea silk being just a fable!

E. Wild Silks.

Wild silks are produced by a number of non-domesticated silkworms. They all differ in one major respect from the domesticated varieties. The cocoons, which are gathered in the wild, have already been chewed through by the pupa or caterpillar (“silkworm”) before the cocoons are gathered and thus the single thread which makes up the cocoon has been cut into shorter lengths, making a weaker thread. They also differ in colour and texture and are often more difficult to dye than silk from the cultivated silkworm.
          Commercially reared silkworms are killed before the pupae emerge by dipping them in boiling water or they are killed with a needle, thus allowing the whole cocoon to be unravelled as one continuous thread. This allows a much stronger cloth to be woven from the silk.
          There is ample evidence that small quantities of “wild silks” were already being produced in the Mediterranean and Middle East by the time the superior, and stronger, cultivated silk from China began to be imported.
          Pliny, in the 1st century
CE, obviously had some knowledge of how silkworms were utilised, even though his account included some muddled information:

“Another species of insect is the silk-moth which is a native of Assyria. It is larger than the insects already mentioned [i.e. bees, wasps and hornets]. Silk-moths make their nests of mud, which looks like salt, attached to stone; they are so hard they can scarcely be pierced by javelins. In the nests they make wax combs on a larger scale than bees and produce a bigger larva.
        Silk-moths have an additional stage in their generation. A very big larva first changes into a caterpillar with two antennae, this becomes what is termed a chrysalis, from which comes a larva which in six months turns into a silkworm. The silkworms weave webs like spiders and these are used for haute couture dresses for women, the material being called silk. The technique of unravelling the cocoons and weaving the thread was first invented on Cos by a woman named Pamphile, the daughter of Plateas. She has the inalienable distinction of having devised a way of making women’s clothing ‘see-through.’
        Silk-moths, so they say, are produced on Cos, where a vapour from the ground breathes life into the flowers – from the cypress, terebinth, ash and oak – that have been beaten down by the rain. First, small butterflies without down are produced; these cannot endure the cold so they grow shaggy hair and equip themselves with thick coats to combat winter, scraping together down from the leaves with their rough feet. They compact this into fleeces, card it with their claws and draw it out into the woof, thinned out as if by a comb, and then they wrap this round their body.
        Then they are taken away, put in earthenware containers and reared on bran in a warm atmosphere. Underneath their coats a peculiar kind of feather grows, and when they are covered by these they are taken out for special treatment. The tufts of wool are plucked out and softened by moisture and subsequently thinned out into threads by means of a rush spindle. Even men have not been ashamed to adopt silk clothing in summer because of its lightness. Our habits have become so bizarre since the time we used to wear leather cuirasses that even a toga is considered an undue weight. However, we have left Assyrian silk dresses to the women – so far!” Pliny NH (a), pp. 157-158. (XI, 75-78). 

“The use and production of wild silk was known to geographically widely diverse areas of the ancient world. In this case the larvae are not cultivated or fed. They spin the cocoon and then chew their way out of it. The cocoons are then collected and unwound. The domesticated silkworm is killed, either by scalding the cocoon or by the insertion of a needle, to insure that the thread remains undamaged from the efforts of the larvae to escape. Wild silk is coarser and somewhat less expensive and is the product of a considerable variety of larvae of the sub-order bombycina. It is to this class that the famous Coan silk of the ancient world belonged. Such wild silk was produced in China and possibly also in India, Central Asia and Mesopotamia. How much, if any, was exported to the West is unknown.” Raschke, Manfred G., 1976: 623. (Also see the discussion of Coan silk, ibid. 722, nn. 380, 381).

“One knows that Aristotle mentions fabrics made from the cocoons of a wild silkworm on the island of Kos.” Chavannes (1907), p. 184, n. 1.

            “The Arthaśāstra lists valuable goods considered important to be included in the king’s treasury and this includes a range of textiles such as silk, where a distinction is made between patrorṇā, kauśeya, and cīna-paṭṭa (II.11.107-14). Patrorṇā has been identified as uncultivated silk collected from various trees (Scharfe 1993:290) and together with kauśeya, which Xuanzang differentiates from Chinese silk and refers to as gathered from wild silkworms (Beal 1906/1958, vol. II: 133), it forms the Indian varieties of silk. Kauśeya is already mentioned in the fifth to fourth-century BCE grammar of Paṇini (IV.3.42) and occurs in the Epics.” Ray (2003), p. 220.

As Ray mentions in the above quote, Beal does claim that the kauśeya that Xuanzang mentions as being used for clothing in India, “is the product of the wild silkworm” (but on vol. I, p. 75 of my 1969 reprint of the 1884 edition). However, Watters (1904-05), I, p. 148, specifies that it was a silk made from the cocoon of “Bombyx Mori” – which is the domesticated silkworm. Monier-Williams (1899) p. 317, defines kauśeya simply as: “. . . silken. . . silk, silk cloth, silk petticoat or trousers, a woman’s lower garments of silk. . . .”

“The more than 500 species of wild silkworms fend for themselves, feasting on oak and other leaves. When they become moths, they are bigger and more gorgeous than the commercial Bombyx. More robust than their domesticated cousins, wild silkworms produce a tougher, rougher silk, not as easily bleached and dyed as the mulberry silk.
        China is the chief supplier of an off-white wild silk known as tussah. India has a monopoly on the muga caterpillar, which thrives in the humidity of the Assam Valley and produces a shimmering golden silk. The eri silkworm, raised on the castor plant in India, produces silk that is extremely durable, but that cannot be easily reeled off the cocoon and must be spun like cotton or wool.” Hyde (1984), p. 14.

There are a number of references in early Chinese literature to nanjin as a very rare and highly-prized tribute item coming from the south. Unfortunately, it has never been clear exactly what this product was. The Hanyu da cidian has several references to nanjin which show that as early as the Later Han it was being included in a list of rare treasures which also included precious jewels, special fine silk (used to produce fans), and fine mulberry paper. In the Pan shui it is listed along with ivory as a tribute item and says in a later entry that it was a form of unbleached silk.

“Nan Jin see Pei Wen Yun Fu p. 1425. I think this is a kind of silk.” Dr. Ryden, personal email 2/7/98.

“India has a monopoly on the muga caterpillar, which thrives in the humidity of the Assam Valley and produces a shimmering golden silk. The eri silkworm, raised on the castor plant in India, produces silk that is extremely durable, but that cannot be easily reeled off the cocoon and must be spun like cotton or wool.” Hyde (1984), p. 14.

The beautiful and expensive golden-coloured “wild” silk called “Muga” is produced only in the Brahmaputra Valley - mainly Assam and adjoining parts of Burma. This silk has always been highly prized - not only for its beautiful natural golden sheen, which actually improves with ageing and washing – but for the fact that it is the strongest natural fibre known. Garments made of it outlast those made of ordinary silk - commonly lasting 50 years or more.
           In addition, it absorbs moisture better than ordinary silk and is, therefore, more comfortable to wear. Nowadays, it is mainly sought after for the highest-quality saris given as dowry presents to wealthy brides in India. There is, apparently, quite a racket in India, where other “wild” silks are dyed so they can be passed off as the more expensive Muga variety. Also see: “On the question of silk in pre-Han Eurasia” by Irene Good. Antiquity Vol. 69, Number 266, December 1995, pp. 959-968; “Silk in Ancient Nubia: One Road, Many Sources” by Nettie K. Adams (to be published soon).

F. Maritime Commerce and Shipping during the Han Period.

By the first century CE a vast network of interlinked, regularly travelled, maritime trade routes stretched all the way from Britain to Korea (via the Mediterranean, Egypt, India and Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Tonkin), and down the east coast of Africa.
          These sea routes were, of course, closely linked with the overland routes, allowing a flow of goods and ideas across almost the whole of the known world at the time.
          Roman and Arab ships dominated the Egypt to India trade, but most of the trade between India and China was carried by Malay, Indonesian and Indian ships. It seems it was only later that Chinese ships regularly travelled to India. It was rare, however, for Chinese or Roman citizens to make the complete round trip journey between China and Egypt:

“The water of the great sea which is crossed on the road thither [to the Roman Empire] is salt and bitter, and unfit for drinking purposes; the merchants travelling to and fro are provided with three years’ provisions; hence, there are not many going. . . . During the T’ai-k’ang period of the emperor Wu-ti [= CE 280-290] their king sent an envoy to offer tribute.” From the Chin-shu, “written before the middle of the 7th century, and embracing the period CE 265-419, ch. 97. . . ,” translation from Hirth (1885), p. 45.

This network of sea routes was made possible by a series of four almost simultaneous developments:  

– China gained control of Jiaozhi [Chiao-chih] (Tonkin – centred near modern Hanoi in the delta of the Red River) by early first century CE.

– The annexation of Egypt in 31 BCE provided Rome with access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

– The strong desire of China and Rome both for direct trade with India, and to open a sea route between their two empires to evade the heavy taxes charged by the Parthians on the main east-west caravan routes.

– The emergence of a regular sea trade between India, Indonesia, and China, particularly by Indian, and Indonesian merchantmen. Some of these ships were very large for their day and are said to have carried up to a thousand passengers and cargoes of over a thousand tonnes.

This trade was made simpler and more reliable, for not only did the winds change direction at various seasons, but so did the ocean currents. This meant that ships could sail both ways across the Indian Ocean and in and out of the Persian Gulf (at different times of year) with not only favourable winds, but also favourable currents:

          “In tropical waters there is an interplay between air currents and ocean currents. Equatorial currents and trade winds keep one another company from east to west all year round across the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. The Indian Ocean differs because the monsoons dominate, and the ocean current is influenced by winds that blow from south to north in the six summer months and from north to south in the six winter months. This is the only ocean area in the world where currents change directions with the seasons. Arab and Indian dhows took advantage of those varying tailwinds when they sailed back and forth with their merchandise, in and out of the Persian Gulf. The changes in the monsoon were part of nature’s clockwork, and just as reliable as the sun and the moon.” Heyerdahl (2000), p. 290.

“We also have dramatic new evidence of sailing ability in the early historical period in Southeast Asia, in this case perhaps involving use of the monsoon winds that blow seasonally across the Bay of Bengal. About 2,000 years ago, pottery characteristic of the Indo-Roman site of Arikamedu in Tamil Nadu, on the Indian coast, found its way to the site of Sembiran in Bali (excavated by I.W. Ardika of Udayana University in Bali), an astounding 2,700 miles as the crow flies, or much more if the sailors hugged the coast. This Indian trade pottery--the largest assemblage ever found outside the Indian subcontinent itself--heralded a millennium of cultural contact that gave rise to the temples and civilizations of Pagan, Angkor, and Borobudur. Much of this trade probably involved spices--even Romans occasionally acquired cloves, which came from small islands in the northern Moluccas.” Bellwood (1997).

Most foreign shipping to China during the Later Han seems to have terminated at the port of Jiaozhi in the Red River Delta, near modern Hanoi and Haiphong. Sailing around Hainan Island and up the rest of the coast of China was hazardous and uncertain, as were the straits between Formosa and the mainland.
          From Jiaozhi junks could transport goods up the Red River some 330 km [205 miles] to Manhao, in what is now southern Yunnan and transported from there overland across the famous “five-foot road” to central China and the capital, Changan.
          Jiaozhi seems to be the only port under Chinese control mentioned in the early literature which was reached by envoys and merchants from Da Qin (the Roman Empire). It was not until later that ports to the north such as Nan-hai began to be frequented by ships from the south and west.

“Marinos [of Tyre] does not tell the number of stadia from the Golden Chersonese to Cattigara, but says Alexander wrote that the shore line extends toward the south, and that those sailing along the shore came, after twenty days, to Zaba. From Zaba carried southward and toward the left, they came after some days to Cattigara.
          He lengthens the distance, interpreting the expression some days to mean many days, and believing (ridiculously it seems to me) that the expression “some days” was used because the days were too many to be counted.” From: Ptolemy, Geography, 35 (Chap. 14, 1-2).

“. . . , and from those who have come to us we have also learned much concerning its [India’s] interior as far as the Golden Chersonesus, and from there to Cattigara. We have also learned that those who sail there sail to the eastward, and those returning sail to the westward.
          The navigators say that the time of the passage is uncertain, and that beyond Sina is the region of the Seres and the city Sera. What regions lie east of this they say are unknown, for they have stagnant marshes, in which grow reeds so thick and so large, that catching hold of them, and upborne by them, men can walk across these marshes. They say further that not only is there a way from there to Bactriana through the Stone Tower, but also a way to India through Palimbothra.
          The journey from the capital Sina to the gate of Cattigara runs to the southwest, and therefore does not coincide with the meridian drawn through Sera and Cattigara, as Marinus reports, but with one drawn more to the east.” Ptolemy, Geography, 37-38. (Chap. 17, 4-5).

“In the 9th year of the Yen-hsi period of Huan-ti of the Han dynasty [=
CE 166] the king of Ta-ts’in, An-tun, sent an embassy with tribute from the frontier of Jih-nan [Annam]; during the Han period they have only once communicated [with China]. The merchants of this country frequently visit Fu-nan [Siam, Cambodja?] Jih-nan [Annam] and Chiao-chih [Tung-king]; but few of the inhabitants of these southern frontier states have come to Ta-ts’in. During the 5th year of the Huang-wu period of the reign of Sun-ch’uan [= CE 226] a merchant of Ta-ts’in came to Chiao-chih [Tung-king]; the prefect [t’ai-shou] of Chiao-chih, Wu Miao, sent him to Sun-ch’üan [the Wu emperor], who asked him for a report on his native country and its people. Ts’in-lun prepared a statement, and replied. At the time Chu-ko K’o chastised Tan-yang [= Kiang-nan] and they had caught blackish coloured dwarfs. When Ts’in-lun saw them he said that in Ta-ts’in these men are rarely seen. Sun-ch’üan then sent for male and female dwarfs, ten of each, in charge of an officer, Liu Hsien of Hui-chi [a district in Chêkiang], to accompany Ts’in-lun. Liu Hsien died on the road, whereupon Ts’in-lun returned to his native country.” From the Liang-shu, “written about A.D. 629, and comprising the period A.D. 502-556, ch. 54: the account of Chung T’ien-chu.” Translation by Hirth (1885), pp. 47-48 [with some minor adaptations]. 

Soon after 111 BCE, when the Chinese conquered the Yue [Yüeh] kingdom, centred in the rich delta of the Red River, they began searching for land routes to the west. They found their path blocked by local tribes, and were forced to generally rely on the northwest route through Central Asia:

“At this time Han had already overthrown the kingdom of Yüeh [111 BCE] in the southeast, and the barbarian tribes living southwest of Shu [western part of present Szechuan] were all filled with awe and begged to be ruled by Han officials and allowed to pay their respects at court. The Han therefore set up the provinces of I-chou [109 BCE], Yüeh-sui [111 BCE], Tsang-ko [111 BCE], Ch’en-li [111 BCE], and Wen-shan [111 BCE], hoping to extend the area under Han control so that a route could be opened to Ta-hsia [Daxia = Bactria]. The Han sent Po Shih-ch’ang, Lü Yüeh-jen, and others, over ten parties in the space of one year, out of these new provinces to try to get through to Ta-hsia. The parties were all blocked by the K’un-ming barbarians, however, who stole their goods and murdered the envoys, so that none of them were ever able to reach Ta-hsia.
          The Han then freed the criminals of the three districts of the capital area and, adding to them twenty or thirty thousand soldiers from Pa and Shu, dispatched them under the command of two generals, Kuo Ch’ang and Wei Kuang, to go and attack the K’un-ming tribes that were blocking the Han envoys. The army succeeded in killing or capturing twenty or thirty thousand of the enemy before departing from the area, but later, when another attempt was made to send envoys to Ta-hsia, the K’un-ming once more fell upon them and none were able to reach their destination. By this time, however, so many envoys had journeyed to Ta-hsia by the northern route out of Chiu-ch’üan that the foreign states in the area had become surfeited with Han goods and no longer regarded them with any esteem.” From Chapter 123 of the Shih chi of Szu-ma Ch’ien, translated by Watson (1961). Vol. II, 275-276. See also the similar passage in Chapter 61 of the Hanshu, translated in: CICA, pp. 220-221. 

Nothing is heard of this route again until CE 69 when the Chinese established the Prefecture of Yongchang [Yung-ch’ang] across the upper Mekong, Salween, and Red Rivers, with its headquarters east of the Salween, about 100 kilometres from the present border of Burma, near modern Dali [Tali].

“Despite Han China’s annexation of its Vietnamese province near the end of the second century B.C., which brought the Middle Kingdom into close geographical proximity to Southeast Asia, China’s role in the development of the early seaborne trade of the area was relatively unimportant. This fact was attributable in some measure to the failure of the Chinese authorities to maintain the naval power needed for suppressing the pirates who infested the Fukien and Kwangtung coastal areas. The policing of the south was regarded, apparently, as being not worth the effort required. The Middle Kingdom’s cultural and political centre was located in the Yellow River Valley, so that the distant coasts constituted only a little-used back door leading to the barbarian world of the southern seas. In general, China evinced no urge to civilize its southern neighbours, even though at a later date it set no geographical bounds to the exercise of its political suzerainty in the area.
          China’s traditional outlet to the civilized world of India and the Middle East long remained the overland silk road across Central Asia. It was by this route that Buddhism reached China from India in the first century A.D. In the late fourth century it was in reverse along the same route, dotted at the time with monastic way stations, that the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hsien and others found their way back to India for the purpose of visiting Buddhist shrines and assembling Pali scriptures. When the Han Chinese undertook in the first century to develop shorter trade connections with India, they selected the previously mentioned route from the upper Yangtse basin through the gorges of the Mekong and Salween Rivers in western Yunnan to the Irrawaddy Valley of Burma and thence to the coasts of the Bay of Bengal. Proceeding westward in the winter winds, they made for the Telingana and Kalinga areas of the eastern coast of India, where the Mons also maintained their most persistent contacts. The special Chinese prefecture of Yung ch’ang, covering the area of western Yunnan, was established in A.D. 69. This route continued to be used until after the collapse of the Han dynasty in the early third century; the Yung ch’ang prefecture was not abandoned until 342.” Cady (1964), pp. 22-23.

“Near Eastern cargoes penetrating to the China market were of necessity luxury goods such as frankincense and myrrh, medicinal drugs, jewels, fine textiles and carpets, and glassware. From Southeast Asian sources, China also began to accept, as early as the second century, forest products such as pine resins, benzoin, camphor, scented woods, ebony, ivory, and condiments. The forest items in particular may have first gained entry into China as cheaper substitutes for the rare “Persian” drugs and perfumes of the Near East. This Po-ssŭ trade from Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula eventually (by the third or fourth century) gained Chinese acceptance on its own merits.” Cady (1964), pp. 26-27.

There is no evidence that the Chinese ever succeeded in opening a major overland route from Yunnan to the west, due to the difficult terrain and hostile native tribes. There was, at times, some movement of goods from Burmese ports, up the Irrawaddy River as far as Bhamo and even as far as Myitkyinā. From Bhamo, goods were taken overland into Yunnan and southern China.

“Commercial transport is maintained for about 800 miles [1,287 km]. From Henzada to Bhamo (670 miles) [1,078 km], commercial traffic is maintained throughout the year, but from Bhamo to Myitkyina (125 miles), for only seven months.” NEB: vol. 9, 899.

For extensive details on the overland routes through Yunnan and to Burma and India, see Pelliot (1904), pp. 131-413, which although it relates to conditions in the 8th century, it contains much of relevance to earlier periods.
          The Mekong River was not a viable alternative for access into Southern China, as waterfalls and rapids made navigation on the upper river impossible. The Chinese soon discovered, as the French did many years later, that the Red River provided the easiest access to Southern China – when political control of the lower river could be maintained:

“Garnier and de Lagrée led a small expedition up the [Mekong] river between 1866 and 1868; they reached Luang Prabang and, ignoring the King’s dissuasions, followed the river’s course into China as far as Tali. There Garnier was courteously turned back, but he had discovered both that the Mekong was useless as a trade route between Saigon and Yunnan, owing to the rapids of its wild upper reaches, and that the Red River (Song Koi) was a more feasible route to China from Tongking. This route was quickly tested by Dupuis, a merchant whom Garnier had met at Hangkow and who had contacts with Chinese generals in Yunnan. In 1871 Dupuis left Yunnan-fu to strike the Red River at Mang-hao, south of the provincial capital, and then came down to Hanoi with a cargo of tin and copper. He returned up the river to Yunnan with a cargo of arms, and again made the downstream journey to Hanoi.” Simkin (1968), p. 342.

          “When, more than five years earlier, the ragged and exhausted members of the Mekong mission had met Jean Dupuis in Hankow, this astute French businessman had recognized the vital commercial significance of their information about the Red River. As an arms merchant, Dupuis did not need to be told that a river route into Yunnan, such as they believed the Red River to be, offered great opportunities. Instead of having to ship weapons by the long and costly way of the Yangtze, and then overland to the Yunnanese capital at K’un-ming, the Red River could be used to transport supplies into the heart of southwestern China. After two visits to the capital of Yunnan, Dupuis had, by early 1871, a major commission to purchase arms for the imperial forces. His plan was to buy these in France, then bring them up the Red River to Yunnan.” Osborne (1975), p. 201.

          “As with so much of the history of the Mekong expedition, the debate over who first discovered the Red River’s commercial possibilities ended with a final twist of irony. Just as the Mekong was bound to be impossible for long-distance navigation by craft of any size, so eventually did the Red River prove to have little commercial value. It was, as Dupuis had found, navigable, with some difficulty from the Gulf of Tonkin into China, but his experience did not represent any general indication of the river’s possibilities. Depuis’ arms sales to the imperial forces in Yunnan had been a special case. He had, for a brief period, stood ready to supply the one commodity which the officials in Yunnan required. When, more than a decade later, France did occupy Tonkin, the last thing the new colonial administration wished to see was the use of the Red River as a conduit for arms. In later years the upper waters of the Red River were important for local commerce but little more.” Osborne (1975), p. 217.

“Decade after decade, French planners pored over maps, still convinced that it ought to be possible to use the Mekong as a link to China; if only the rapids could be conquered, this great river would offer a way to the country that had been so very much in French minds from the earliest days of their colonial presence in Vietnam. In the eighties and nineties, and even into the twentieth century, plans were made and, more rarely, put into action. All to no avail. Highly powered steam launches could master some of the rapids, but the Khone falls remained a major obstacle to passage from Cambodia into Laos. In Laos itself, navigation above Vientiane was made tortuous and slow by the rapids that had cost the French expedition so much effort. The best that could be done was to link the navigable stretches of the river by other, land-based forms of transport. When British naval intelligence produced a handbook on the Indochinese region during the Second World War, the information provided on the Mekong as a navigable route was succinct and to the point. At the end of the 1930s it still took longer to travel from Saigon to Luang Prabang than to travel from Saigon to Marseilles. The golden route to China did not lie along the Mekong.” Osborne (1975), pp. 218-219. See also Osborne (2000), pp. 102, 103, 114, 119.

The Red River was navigable as far up as Manhao [Man-hao] in Yunnan. I can report from my own personal observation that above this point navigation on the river is prevented by extensive rapids. From here a road went to Mengzi [Meng-tzu] and on, via Jian-shui [Chien-shui] and Tonghai [Tung-hai], to join the main road (the ‘Five Foot Road’), near present day Kunming, which led all the way, via Chengdu, to the capital at Changan (modern Xian).

          “The commercial highway from Chiao-chih (Tungking) to Yün-nan, or the Tunking Manhao trade route to Yün-nan. Man-hao is the landing place at the end of the Red River in the Circuit or Intendancy of Southern Yün-nan, called I-nan Tao . . . .
          The most important of all routes to Yün-nan from an economical point of view, as well as from its superior convenience, is undoubtedly the Tungking Manhao Route.
          However disagreeable it may be to Englishmen to know it the French in Tungking are in possession of the key to Yün-nan. The navigability of the Red River for junks as high up as Manhao in Yün-nan, has been proven beyond doubt.
          Manhao is a town and port at the head of navigation on the Red River. It is in the jurisdiction of the Lin-an Fu prefecture and in the county of Mêng-tzŭ Hsien. From Manhao to Yün-nan Fu, the Capital of the province, the journey occupies eleven days, and the whole of the journey from Hanoi to the Capital of Yün-nan can be accomplished within a month by junk and pony, but the introduction of steam will greatly abridge the time occupied on the journey.” Mesny (1896), p. 346.

“MENG-TZU, Pin-yin romanization MENG-ZU [now Mengzi], town in southern Yunnan Province (sheng), China. In the 19th century, Meng-tzu was a trading centre for commerce between the interior of Yunnan and the Hanoi-Haiphong area of Indochina. Communications were inconvenient: goods were brought to Ho-k’ou on the Indochinese border by junk, transferred by a small craft to Man-hao, and then brought 37 mi (60 km) by pack animal to Meng-tzu. Despite these difficulties, Meng-tzu was an important point of entry not only into Yunnan but also into western Kweichow Province and in 1889 was opened to foreign trade as a treaty port. Most of this foreign trade was in tin and opium. The importance of Meng-tzu was ended by the construction of the French railway from Haiphong to K’un-ming (provincial capital of Yunnan) in 1906-10. This railway bypassed Meng-tzu, but in 1915, a branch line was built via the town to the Ko-chiu [Gejiu] tin mines. . . . ” NEB: VI, p. 789. See also Pelliot (1904), pp. 141-142.

The Weilue makes it quite clear that it was mainly by this route foreigners and their merchandise made their way to Yongchang [Yung-ch’ang]. The routes from the south and the west included difficult overland portages that frequently crossed the territory of hostile tribes. As a result of this situation, Jiaozhi, in the delta of the Red River, near modern Hanoi, soon became China’s major port in the south:

“As the Jiutangshu (k. 41, p. 33b) says, all the kingdoms of the southern seas who came to render homage during the Han, “inevitably took the way of Jiaozhi.” Pelliot (1904), p. 133. See also Hirth (1885), pp. 47-48.

“The population statistics of Chiao-chih Commandery for A.D. 2 [92,440 households] suggest that by that time Tongking was already a flourishing trade center with large households of merchant families dealing in the exotic wares of the south and controlling the southern extreme of the Nan-hai trade routes.” Holmgren (1980), p. 71.

The story of the family of Senghui [Seng-hui], died c. 280 CE, a famous Buddhist monk and translator, gives a glimpse of this movement of foreign merchants to Jiaozhi, in the delta of the Red River:

“The ancestors of the Sogdian Seng-hui were originally from K’ang-chü (Sogdiana). They had been established in T’ien-chou (India) for several generations. His father came to Chiao-chih (Tonkin) to trade.” Translated from Chavannes (1909), pp. 199-200.  

The biography of Shi Xie [Shih Hsieh] who ruled Jiaozhi Circuit with his family from CE 189-226 gives us a fascinating glimpse of the wealth and trade of Jiaozhi in the early third century: 

“Whenever Hsieh sent couriers to Sun Ch’üan [ruler of the Wu court at Nanking CE 222-252], they brought with them varied types of incense, fine cloth and always several thousand pearls, great cowries, porcelain, blue kingfisher feathers, tortoise shells, rhinoceros horn and elephant tusk. They also brought strange animals and curiosities, coconuts, bananas and longans. Not a year went by without the arrival of a tribute mission. Once [Shih] Yi [one of Shih Hsieh’s brothers who was in charge of a commandery] sent a tribute of several hundred horses. Ch’üan invariably sent letters greatly increasing their honours in order to keep their allegiance and make them happy.” SKC 49 (Wu 4), 11b-12a. From: Holmgren (1980), p. 75.

“Entrances and exits at his (Shih Hsieh’s) court were heralded by striking of gongs and musical stones, a correct sense of decorum was adhered to, whistles and flutes were played and often there were several hu (Westerners) burning incense beside his carriage in the street.” SKC 49 (Wu 4), 10a. From: Holmgren (1980), p. 76.

“Official Chinese use of the sea route to Southeast Asia for diplomatic contact with India also occurred in the first century A.D. The Chinese envoys destined for India proceeded cautiously around the shoreline from Kwangtung past Hainan Island to Vietnam and along the coasts of Annam and Cochin-China around to a point at the northwest corner of the Gulf of Siam. Debarking here in the civilized Mon state called Tun-sun by the Chinese, the envoys proceeded overland via the Mekong Valley and the Three Pagodas Pass to the estuary of Burma’s Salween River at Martaban. From here they proceeded past the delta of the Irrawaddy and on up the coast of Arakan, whence they traversed a route to India much the same as the final stage of the commercial overland route. It was this same Tun-sun portage route from Martaban to the Gulf of Siam shore which was presumably used in 120 by a China-bound mission from the Roman Empire, which included musicians and jugglers. There is no clear indication that the water-route to India via Tun-sun, clearly known to the Chinese, was ever seriously exploited by them for commercial purposes. Occasional Chinese junks, no doubt, braved the dangers of the southern seas down to various points on the northern and eastern Malay coasts. Fragments of Han porcelains are widely scattered. Patani was an early port of call, and the Emperor Wang Mang reportedly, sent to Sumatra for rhinoceros horns. A few Chinese may have proceeded around the peninsula to the port of Trakkola (Trang), but official Chinese initiative and participation in the early Southeast Asian trade were very meagre.
          The reasons for the lack of Chinese interest in the south ocean trade can be surmised. In the first place the navigational hazards were great, and the inferior Chinese ships were obliged to sail close to shore long after Indonesian, Indian, and Arab ships had learned enough about seasonal winds and navigation to strike out across the open sea. The officials at South China ports, furthermore, did not encourage the uncontrolled activity of private traders – a policy which did characterize the urban port-centered kingdoms of India. Even after the attractive commercial possibilities of the south ocean trade became apparent in the second century, the officially acceptable trade from that area was confined for the most part to the Vietnamese port of Chiao-chi. Canton began to be widely used only in the sixth century. It was easier, and no doubt just as profitable, for port officials to control a segregated community of resident Southeast Asian traders operating on a seasonal rhythm than to encourage an expansion of Chinese shipping. The so-called Po-ssŭ trading community at Chinese ports to which Chinese accounts of the early centuries make reference was probably composed of Sumatran or isthmian merchants trading in Persian-type perfumes, scented woods, resins, and pearls produced in and collected from tropical forests and coastal waters of Southeast Asia.
          In any case the initiative in the shuttle trade between China on the north and the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra on the south came at first almost entirely from the Malays. If Chinese traders penetrated the south ocean areas, they did so as passengers of Po-ssŭ ships operated by Malays or Indonesians. . . .
          Regular trading contacts between Chinese and Southeast Asian ports were developed by the late second century on the initiative of a dozen or so partly Indianized city-states located on the shores of the Gulf of Siam. These port cities were grouped together into an empire or federation by Funan probably around the middle of the third century. Such trading operations were associated after 240 with the periodic dispatch of official tributary missions to Chinese courts with gifts advertising local wares. Commercial exchanges were made at southern Chinese ports of entry while the successive missions completed their leisurely journey to and from the various Chinese courts. . . . ” Cady (1964), pp. 23-24.

          “In 190 A.D. in the reign of the Emperor Han Hsien Ti the prefect of Jih-nan in Chiao-chih returned from that country to his native place. This man originally a native scholar of the Chinese state of Lu, the modern Shan-tung, being seized with a spirit of unrest and adventure had gone to Chiao-chih where he had distinguished himself so greatly that he, a foreigner, had been raised to the dignity of prefect.
          On his return, his fame as a traveller was noised abroad until it penetrated the precincts of the royal palace and reached the ears of the reigning potentate. Chih Hsieh was presently summoned to court and on his arrival this ancient explorer was received in audience with his sovereign who raised him to the ranks of the aristocracy as a Lung-t’ing Hou. After a short stay with his kinsmen Chih Hsieh the newly created Marquis Lung-t’ing went back to Jih-nan and quietly resumed his official duties. After the final collapse of the Han dynasty the state of Chiao-chih on receipt of the news resolved to send a special envoy to the court of the new Emperor, and the Marquis of Lung-t’ing was selected as the suitable man. The advent of the Marquis of Lung-t’ing at the court of Wu Ta Ti [r. 222-252
CE] bringing tribute from so distant a state was hailed as an event auguring well for the newly established royal house of Sun. The Emperor was highly gratified by this mark of attention and in commemoration of the occasion changed the name of Chiao-chih to Chiao-chou, whilst the ambassador was created a Lung-pien Hou and had bestowed on him the important and responsible post of Chiao-chou Chieh-tu-shih, or Commander-in-Chief of the imperial forces in the state of Chiao-chou.
          The object of the Emperor in making these changes was evidently to impress the Annanese with a sense of his great power and authority. It was a clear indication of his desire to govern An-nan directly as a Colony, rather than as a semi-independent state. It was the thin end of the political wedge intended to deprive An-nan of its autonomy, for when the Annanese government had made Chih Hsieh Prefect of Jih-nan, they did so as a signal mark of their appreciation of his abilities and services. But when the Suzerain stepped in and placed this fortunate and enterprising immigrant above all his former Annanese colleagues and superiors, then was struck the death blow of the right of An-nan to promote or demote an official without reference to the Imperial Court. On the death of the new Viceroy his son Hui did not succeed him but was merely appointed Prefect of Chiao-chou. Time soon proved Hui’s allegiance to the reigning house of Sun to be of the slenderest kind for that official headed a revolt, presumably with the intention of possessing himself of the power his father had enjoyed. But this was not to be. The Emperor Wu Ta Ti greatly incensed at the treachery of Hui despatched Wu Tai with an expeditionary force to crush the rebellion, punish the leaders and restore order in the distant Colony. Complete success attended the expedition. Wu Tai, who previous to starting had been created Chiao Chou Tzu Shih, landed without opposition and summoned the rebellious Hui to his presence. The order was obeyed for Hui together with his five brothers presented themselves at the Imperial Headquarters where they humbly acknowledged their guilt and craving pardon for their treasonable offences, offered guarantees for future good behaviour. However, the Imperial Commander remained obdurate, and, being exceeding indignant with the treason and abject cowardice of the six brothers who piteously begged for mercy, he, after treating them with contempt and contumely ordered his young men to fall on the traitors and hack them to pieces. This act of severity caused the stern Commander to be held in great awe by all classes so that the imperial authority was quickly and firmly re-established. The reigning Emperor in order to commemorate the suppression of the revolt changed the name Chiao-chou to Wu-p’ing Chün and governed it by martial law a practice maintained by succeeding dynasties.
          The Chin dynasty called it Chiu Tê Chün whilst under the Sung; Ch’i; Niang; Ch’ên and Sui dynasties it was known by the name of Sung-p’ing Chün after which time the ancient name of Chiao-chih was again revived.” Mesny (1884), VI, pp. 28-30.

“Chang-ti’s reign saw a distinct improvement in internal communications in the southern part of the empire. Hitherto, goods that were being transported from the seven commanderies of Chiao-chih had been sent by sea. The ships had been able to put in at Tung-yeh, the only known settlement at that time on the Fukien coast, but thereafter were subject to storm and shipwreck. In A.D. 83 Cheng Hung, a native of K’uai-chi commandery who was conversant with these local conditions, was appointed superintendent of agriculture (ta-ssu-nung). At his suggestion a land route was opened up across the mountains, through Ling-ling and Kuei-yang commanderies. This became the normal means of communications, which remained in use up to the time of one of the compilers of the Hou-Han shu.” Loewe (1986a), p. 297.

“There is no evidence to show that by A.D. 1 colonists from elsewhere in China had migrated to Fukien, and it is likely that only one major settlement existed at that time. This was the town or county of Tung-yeh, which may have been founded during Wu-ti’s reign or somewhat later. It was situated on the seacoast at the mouth of the Min River, and from A.D. 83 at least it served as a staging post for ocean-going ships carrying tribute from farther south. Toward the end of the second century some additional counties may have been established in the area, and these increased in number noticeably from perhaps A.D. 300; presumably some measure of colonization had taken place during the earlier decades, when China had been split into the three kingdoms of Wei, Shu-Han, and Wu.” Yü (1986), pp. 456-457. 

          “Maritime trade developed slowly but steadily from the first to the middle of the third centuries A.D., with ships Roman in name though really Graeco-Egyptian reaching all parts of India, and towards the end of this period, even penetrating as far as Kattigara, which was either Indo-China, or perhaps the coast of south China itself. Syrian and Graeco-Egyptian ‘colonies’ or ‘factories’ may have been established at Canton and Hangchow. Indian and Singhalese ships also plied the same routes, and a few Roman trading settlements were established in India, but it was not until after the third century that long-distance Chinese navigators appear on the scene.” Needham (1978), p. 65.

“According to Wan Chen, who wrote an account of the South during the Wu dynasty (A.D. 222-77), foreigners [i.e. natives of S.E. Asia] call ships po. The biggest are 20 chang or more in length, and two or three chang above the waterline. Seen from above they resemble covered galleries. They carry six to seven hundred men and a cargo of 10,000 hu’.” Christie (1957), p. 347.

During the Han 1 chang equalled 2.31 metres, so a ship this size would have been 46.2 metres (152 feet) long, and 4.6 metres (15 feet) to 6.9 metres (23 feet) above water (presumably including the “house” or living quarters).
          According to Deng (1997), p. xxiv, the chi (of which 10 equal a chang) was equal to 0.2304 meters in the early Eastern Han (25-28
CE), 0.2375 m. between 81 and 220 CE, and 0.2412 m. during the Wei (220-265 CE) and during the early Western Jin (265-273) it was 0.2412 m., while later during the Western Jin it reverted to the earlier measurement of 0.2304 m.. So the length of these ships would have been anywhere from 46.08 m (151 feet) to 48.24 m. (158 feet) long, “or more.”
          One Han hu equalled 19.968 litres – see: Loewe (1967), p. 161. Therefore, if we can accept the figure of 10,000 hu as being approximately correct, the ships could carry only about 200 tonnes of cargo. Deng (1997), p. xxv, shows the shi (which, during the Han, was the same as the hu) as varying between 24.98 kg during the Later Western Han (141
BCE to 8 CE), and 13.87 kg during the Eastern Han. This would suggest a carrying capacity of between 249.8 tonnes and 138.7 tonnes.
         However, this is likely to be a gross underestimate as ships this size could be expected to carry up to 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes. ‘10,000’ is probably used here in the common sense of ‘a myriad’, or ‘a very large number.’

“By the third century B.C.E. the Chinese had taken notice of Malay sailors approaching their shores from the “Kunlun” Islands in the southern seas, which the Chinese learned were “volcanic and invariably endowed with marvellous and potent powers”. . . . The Chinese also knew these islanders as builders and as the crews of ocean-going vessels engaged in long-distance overseas trade. The Chinese, in fact, appear to have learnt much from these sailors. The Malays independently invented a sail, made from woven mats reinforced with bamboo, at least several hundred years B.C.E., and by the time of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E. to 221 B.C.) the Chinese were using such sails (Johnstone, 1980: 191-92).
          Chinese descriptions of Malay ships, the earliest of which dates to the third century C.E., indicate that the Malay sailed jongs (a Malay word), large vessels with multilayered hulls. The English word junk, which is often used to refer to Chinese vessels, is a derivative of the Malay jong. The Chinese also recognized that their word for Kunlun ships, buo, was a foreign word that had been incorporated into Chinese (Manguin, 1980: 266-67, 274). On average, the jong could carry four to five hundred metric tons, but at least one was large enough to carry a thousand tons. The planks of the ships were joined with dowels; no metal was used in their construction. On some of the smaller vessels parts might be lashed together with vegetable fibres, but this was not typical of larger ships. The jong usually had from two to four masts plus a bowsprit, as well as two rudders mounted on its sides. Outrigger devices, designed to stabilize a vessel, were used on many ships but probably were not characteristic of ships that sailed in rough oceans (Manguin, 1980: 268-74).
          The Malays were also the first to use a balance-lug sail, an invention of global significance. Balance-lugs are square sails set fore and aft and tilted down at the end. They can be pivoted sideways, which makes it possible to sail into the oncoming wind at an angle of to tack against the wind – to sail at an angle first one way and then the other, in a zigzag pattern, so as to go in the direction from which the wind is blowing. Because of the way the sides of the sail were tilted, from a distance it looked somewhat triangular. . . . It is thus quite likely that the Malay balance-lug was the inspiration for the triangular lateen sail, which was developed by sailors living on either side of the Malays, the Polynesians to their east and the Arabs to their west.
          Precisely when the Polynesians and the Arabs began using the lateen sail remains unknown, but it would seem to have been in the last centuries B.C.E. It is known that the Arabs in the vicinity of the Indian Ocean were accomplished sailors by the first century C.E. and both they and the Polynesians apparently had the lateen sail by then (Hourani, 1951: 102). This pattern suggests that sailors who came into contact with the Malays’ balance-lug sail were inspired by it and attempted to copy its design. They might have misunderstood it to be a triangular sail or, in the process of trying to duplicate it, discovered a triangular sail would serve the same purpose.
          Arabs sailing in Mediterranean waters were using a lateen sail by the second century C.E., but it did not appear on Atlantic ships until the fifteenth century, when Portuguese mariners put both the lateen and the traditional Atlantic square sails on their vessels. It was only after they came into the possession of the lateen and learned how to tack against the wind that it became possible for them to explore the western coast of Africa, because the winds off Africa’s western coast blow the same direction all year round. Without a lateen, Atlantic sailors, including the Portuguese, could not sail south in search of West African gold, since they would have no way to return to Europe.” Shaffer (1996), pp. 12-14.

Navigation to the northern end of the Red Sea was usually difficult for sailing vessels because of the prevailing northerly winds, but at certain times of the year it was usually possible to sail some distance up the Red Sea. Ships heading for Egypt could unload their cargoes (depending on weather conditions and the ultimate destination of the cargoes) at one of the three main Egyptian ports on the Red Sea: Myos Hormos, Leukos Limen or Berenicê. Some of the cargoes were transported across difficult desert roads to the Nile and then shipped down that river to Alexandria and other delta cities. At other times cargoes may have been carried by camel caravan north along the banks of the Red Sea and then west across the delta, probably along roads built on the embankments of the canals which linked all the major delta cities.

“Myos Hormos [“Mussel Harbour”] had the advantage of offering a shorter desert crossing–six to seven days as against eleven to twelve from Berenicê. But Berenicê, in turn, had a signal advantage of its own to offer: it lay 230 nautical miles [426 km] south of Myos Hormos, and this saved homeward bound vessels that much relief from beating against consistently foul winds. Until the time of the Periplus, both ports seemed to have been used equally. . . .  Strabo’s remarks seem to indicate that in his day [he visited Egypt circa 25 or 24 BCE] Myos Hormos was the most important, whereas statements in the Periplus point to the balance having tipped in favour of Berenicê. A third port, Leukos Limên, saw some use in the course of time but apparently never attained the status of the other two.” Casson (1989), pp. 95-96.

“These troublesome northerlies may well lie behind Strabo’s remark (17.815) that Ptolemy II made Berenicê accessible by opening up a road to it “because the Red Sea is hard to sail, particularly or those who set sail from the innermost recess”; those who set sail from the innermost recess obviously had to get back there, and that, no question about it, involved hard sailing.” Casson (1989), p. 97.

During the time of Trajan [reigned 98-117 CE] the old canal joining the northern end of the Red Sea with the Nile had been, once again, cleaned out and open to navigation. However, because of the aforementioned difficulties sailing north in the upper part of the Red Sea it seems to have be mainly used for outgoing cargoes and local trade:

“Trajan had another canal dug to link Alexandria with the new port of Clysma. By this time a Roman fleet was patrolling the Red Sea in order to give protection from pirates, and its control extended to the Arab anchorage at Ocelis [near the mouth of the Red Sea], where Rome had trading rights secured through costly gifts to the local ruler.” Simkin (1968), p. 39.

“Trajan repaired his ‘river’, the Cairo to Suez canal; and before A.D. 216 the Red Sea was to be patrolled and Coptos was to be garrisoned by Palmyrene archers officered by Rome.” Stark (1966), p. 253.

Indian ships were making long-distance maritime trade a regular feature of the first few centuries CE:

          “Ancient Tamil literature and the Greek and Roman authors prove that in the first two centuries of the Christian era the ports on the Coromandel or Chola coast enjoyed the benefits of active commerce with both West and East. The Chola fleets did not confine themselves to coasting voyages, but boldly crossed the Bay of Bengal to the mouths of the Ganges and the Irrawaddy, and the Indian Ocean to the islands of the Malay Archipelago. All kinds of goods imported into Kerala or Malabar from Egypt found a ready market in the Chola territory ; while, on the other hand, the western ports drew a large part of their supplies of merchandise from the bazaars of the eastern coast, which produced great quantities of cotton goods. The principal Chola port was Kāviripaddinam, situated at the northern mouth of the Kāviri (Cauvery) river [on the southeast coast of India]. This once wealthy city, in which the king maintained a magnificent palace, and foreign merchants found residence agreeable and profitable, has vanished, and its site lies buried under deep sand-drifts.
          The first historical, or semi-historical, Chola king is Karikāla, who is represented by the early poets as having invaded Ceylon and carted off thence thousands of coolies to work on the embankments of the Kāviri river, a hundred miles in length, which he constructed. He is said to have been contemporary with Nedunj Cheliyan Pāndya, as well as with Athem I Chera, and nearly so with Gajabāhu, king of Ceylon. This last synchronism is valuable as giving an approximate date, which may be indicated as falling within the limits of the second century A.D. Karikāla, according to the poets, was succeeded by a grandson named Ched-chenni Nalank-killi, who was succeeded in his turn by Killi-vallavam. Chen-kudduva, or Imaya-varman, a cousin of Ched-chenni Nalank-killi, is said to have been contemporary, at fifty years of age, with Gajabāhu, king of Ceylon, to whom the traditional chronology assigns the period from 113 to 125 A.D. But the true date must be considerably later.2

2 The Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago, pp. 64-78 ; S. Krishnaswamy Aiyenagar, ‘Some points in Tamil Literary History,’ Malabar Quarterly Review, 1904. The dates in Mr. Kanakasabhai’s book seem to be placed too early.”

Smith (1908), pp. 415-416.

For accounts of Indian passenger ships of about this period carrying up to 1,000 passengers, and very large freight ships – up to 176 feet (53.6 metres) long, 22 feet (6.7 metres) broad and 17 feet (5.2 metres) deep, see: Prasad, (1977), pp. 128-133; Sastri (1975), pp. 115-145.  

“In comparison, the largest galleon in the world when it sank in 1638, the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, “weighed 2000 tons and measured 45 metres [148 feet] from bow to stern. Her beam was one-third that length, and the depth of her hold 6 metres [20 feet].” Mathers and Shaw (1993), p. 2.

“It can be assumed that fairly intimate trading connections existed from B.C. times between Indian ports of the Bay of Bengal and leading peoples like the Mons living on the opposite shores. But the primary direction of India’s trade until near the end of the first century A.D. was westward rather than toward Southeast Asia or China. Trade between the Mediterranean world and India’s western Malabar coast was developed originally by traders from the lower Red Sea area and by the Hellenistic Seleucids. Roman trade from Egypt to India later attained substantial proportions around 90 B.C. only to decline sharply during the ensuing sixty years of Roman civil strife. It was revived under Augustus around 30 B.C. Until the first century A.D., when both Red Sea and Roman ships began to use the monsoon passage direct from Aden to India, the shipping routes had continuously paralleled the Arabian, Persian, and Indian coasts.
          . . . . Thus the more adventurous Indian traders already familiar with the opposite shores of the Bay of Bengal began collaborating with north Sumatran and east coast Malays to bring to the ports of Ceylon [and eastern India] spices, forest resins, and scented woods from Southeast Asia and choice Chinese silks and porcelains, all of which were marketable in India and the Near East. Greek and Arab vessels seldom if ever proceeded further eastward than Ceylon, although several score families of Persian traders were allegedly resident at the Malay isthmus in the third century.” Cady (1964), pp. 25-26.

“It was during the early second century that Indian shippers gained sufficient experience and confidence to abandon early habits of sailing close to the shore. From the Bengal port of Tamralipti at the western end of the Ganges delta, sailing ships could proceed southward during the winter season, passing either to the east of the Andaman Islands or via the 100 latitude channel south of them, en route to alternative ports on the isthmus. Bengal ships might also worry their way through the becalmed Malacca Straits to points of rendezvous in lower Sumatra or on the eastern Borneo coast beyond the peninsula. Access to the same isthmian ports and to the upper reaches of the Malacca Straits might be had during the entire period of the summer monsoon by south Indian ships sailing directly across the bay. They could pass either through the 100 channel between the Andamans and Nicobars or between the Nicobars and the northern tip of Sumatra. In October seasonal winds could also carry vessels to the southwest of Sumatra and down to the Sunda Straits [between Sumatra and Java], thus avoiding the pirates and the doldrums of the Malacca passage. The lack of ports of call and the perils of the open sea obviously discouraged the use of this route.
          At the lower end of Sumatra, on the east coast of Borneo, and possibly at the western end of Java as well, safe havens were developed where China-bound ships from the ports of India, northern Sumatra, and Ceylon could await the north-blowing monsoon winds. From such points, it was fairly easy to proceed up the Malay coast past Patani, Singora, and Ligor across the Siam Gulf to Funan’s port of Go Oc Eo near the mouth of the Mekong River. The journey then ran up the coast past Champa to Chiao-chi port in Vietnam or on to Canton. Ships sailing northward from eastern Borneo would probably make a landfall at Champa, which emerged as a thoroughly Indianized state at the end of the second century. The return trip by sea was equally time consuming. It was particularly dangerous in the Malacca Straits, subject during the summer months to occasional stormy squalls (“Sumatrans”) interspersed with extended periods of paralysing calms which left stranded ships at the mercy of swarms of pirates.
          However many of the Sumatran and Indian ships may have undertaken during the early centuries to negotiate the seasonally awkward all-sea journey to the ports of China, the more feasible tactic was to synchronize the shuttle traffic to the isthmian portage terminals from the two directions. This was accomplished for the most part on the initiative of the Indian traders operating on both sides of the peninsula. The three most widely used portage routes ran between Takuapa (above the Junk Ceylon promontory) and Chaiya on the Bay of Bandon, between Trang (Takkola) and Ligor, and between Kedah and Patani (Lankasuka). The older route through the Mon state of Tun-sun (or Dvaravati) to Tavoy or Martaban on the western side was less used for the China trade than were the more convenient newly developed passageways below the Isthmus of Kra. Mergui port apparently was used very little.
          At a dozen or more points on both sides of the isthmus, Indianized city-states developed. They were apparently ruled by native chiefs allied with Indian merchant groups. The development of such states was conditioned not only on port locations and portage facilities, but also on the availability nearby of paddy land for food supplies. Except for the Perlis area around Trang, the best locations for food purposes and for political development were on the eastern shore, especially around Ligor and on the Bay of Bandon. None of these city-state enclaves was strong enough to conquer the rest of them, although several of them were grouped from time to time under single governments.
          Special reference must be made to the role of the port of Kedah, which was used for both portage purposes and as a point of rendezvous in connection with the passage through the Malacca Straits. It was most easily approached from the west via the passage between Sumatra and the Nicobar Islands during the summer monsoon. The silhouette of Mount Kedah afforded a landfall to guide approaching ships. The original port of Kedah was located up the then broad estuary of the Kual Merbok, now swamp-filled, entering the sea some distance above Penang Island. Ruins in the vicinity have been explored on the higher ground to the north, adjacent to the foothills of the peak. In the course of time the centers of settlement moved seaward. Kedah was widely used by Indian traders from the early centuries of the Christian era and probably from the eighth century by Muslim Arabs and Persians. Products available locally, besides food and water supplies, included camphor, perfumed woods, tin, and gold. The port of Patani at the eastern end of the Kedah portage route was also used by Indian traders in the early second century. Kedah may have been used by ships making the northward trip through the straits en route to Bengal, the south Indian ports, or Ceylon.
          The Mons ports of Thaton, Martaban, and Tavoy were widely used for direct trade with Ceylon and the Coromandel Coast of India, but less so in connection with the transit trade with China. It was difficult to proceed from Bengal to the Mon ports during either monsoon period partly because of treacherous tidal currents found to the east of the Irrawaddy delta. Four routes of trade and communication led inland from the Tenasserim ports of the Mons. The northernmost ran eastward to the upper Menam Valley and thence to the Mun and Mekong Rivers, coming to a dead end in the Korat plateau at Bassac, early center of power of the Chenla Khymers. Another, used early by India-bound Chinese envoys, started at modern Moulmein, proceeded by the Three Pagodas Pass southeastward into the Mekong Valley, and the Tun-sun (Dvaravati) country to the west of the lower Menam. The other two ran eastward from Tavoy and Mergui to the Gulf of Siam. Neither of the latter two rivaled the importance of the Takuapa and Trang portages.” Cady (1964), pp. 27-31.

By the ninth century, we find references to po carrying up to 1,000 men plus merchandise:

“Further information is to be found in the I-ch’ieh-ching yin-i, a dictionary compiled by Huei-lin which according to Pelliot was completed in A.D. 817. Huei-lin gives a number of instances of po and includes the following passage:

“Ssu-ma Piao, in his commentary on Chuang Tzü, says: “large ocean-going ships are called po”. According to the Kuang ya: ‘po is an ocean-going ship”. It has a draught of 60 feet (!). It is fast and carries 1000 men as well as merchandise. It is also called k’un-lun-po’.

From: Christie (1957), pp. 347-348.

“On the other [eastern] side of the [Indian] peninsula, Indians may have taken a more active part in trade and exploration. As already mentioned, they certainly had a profound influence on South-East Asia, even though no one is certain how this came about. But the South-East Asians themselves, and the Malays in particular, may have been equally active carriers. A hint about this is given in the Periplus:

“[There] are the marts of Camara and Poduce and Sopatma [on the Coromandel Coast of south-east India], where are local ships which sail along the coast as far as Limyrice, and others which are very large vessels made of single logs bound together and called sangara; those that cross over to Chryse and the Ganges are called colandiophonta and are the largest.”

Both the sangara (whose name means ‘outriggers’) and the colandiophonta were probably Malayan or Indonesian rather than Indian. Chinese sources describe the colandiophonta in more detail, under the name of K’un-lun p’o, and confirm that they were indeed exceptionally large. Some of them could be over 200 feet long, and carry six or seven hundred men and some nine hundred tons of cargo – which makes them perhaps a shade larger than those other leviathans of the Ancient World, the grain-ships that plied between Alexandria and Rome. They were also probably faster: even the largest Roman ships usually managed with a single enormous square sail, whereas a K’un-lu p’o had four sails and may even have arranged them in the fore-and-aft rig, like a schooner.” Sitwell (1984), pp. 146-147.

A major port of call for ships arriving from both west and east, would have been the ancient port of Mantai (modern Mannar) situated on a small island connected to the Sri Lankan coast by a bridge and causeway:

“Mantai is situated at the northwest tip of Sri Lanka, at the southern extremity of a string of underwater reefs known as Adam’s Bridge, which link the island to the Indian subcontinent. These reefs effectively block the passage of ships between India and Sri Lanka, and the importance of this fact can hardly be overstressed when considering the strategic significance of a major settlement in this location. Literary references to Mantai refer to the ancient port as Mahatittha (Pali), Mantottam (Tamil), and Matota (Singhalese). . . . It was determined in 1982 that the earliest phase of the site is prehistoric, when a Mesolithic campsite existed at Mantai, for which a radiocarbon date at the beginning of the second millennium B.C. has been established. From at least as early as the fifth century B.C., there appears to have been a continuous occupation of the site up to the eleventh century A.D. With a depth of up to 10 m of occupational debris over a wide area, the potential exists for a detailed analysis of the whole history of the site.
          The particular interest of the site lies in its strategic position, astride the main maritime route between the Near and Far East, while at the same time representing a major point of contact between South India and Sri Lanka. . . . Mantai’s long history as a port would argue that it played an essential role in the history of Sri Lanka; in a broader context the site is crucial for any study of Indian Ocean trade, and indeed for the economic history of Asia. Comparable sites doubtless exist in central Asia, where the history of Asian terrestrial trade might be studied; but for maritime trade, Mantai is unique. Further, Mantai was the leading port for Sri Lanka as a whole for at least fifteen hundred years. With Anuradhapura as the capital, the northern dry zone was developed with the aid of a highly sophisticated irrigation system, providing surplus wealth from agriculture sufficient to fund international commerce. It was, indeed, the collapse of the north, concomitant with the invasion by the Colas and the capture of Anuradhapura in the early tenth century, which led to Mantai’s ultimate demise.” Carswell (1991), p. 197.

“That Mantai was an important link during the classical period for Roman trade across the Indian Ocean is obvious, for parallels between rouletted ware have been found at contemporary sites such as Kantarodai on the Jaffna Peninsula, and at a number of sites on the Indian mainland, of which Arikamedu [near modern Pondicherry] is to date the most important. The classification of the potter of the Roman trade period is being undertaken at the moment, and it would be premature at this stage to note more than its presence.
          . . . . The earliest references to Sri Lanka in Greek are by Onesicritus, Megasthenes, Eratosthenes, and Hipparchus, none of whose works is preserved in full and none of whom actually visited the island. With this caveat, many of the details from these four writers’ works quoted by Pliny and Strabo are intriguingly apposite. In particular, Pliny quotes Eratosthenes (b. 276 B.C.), who tells us that the sea between India and Sri Lanka is very shallow, but that certain channels are so deep that an anchor will not reach the bottom. Because of this, the ships have two bows so they need not turn around when negotiating the narrows. This equates very well with Mantai’s known role as a point of transhipment for goods arriving from either east or west in long-distance shipping, to be unloaded and shipped on by using a narrow channel (still extant) at the point where Adam’s Bridge joins the island at Mannar.
          Further details about Sri Lanka are given in PME, which notes that the northern part of the island, called Palaisimoundou and formerly Taprobane, was civilized and produced pearls, precious stones, muslin and tortoise shell.9 However, it is Ptolemy’s Geographica, written in the second century A.D., that is of particular interest. He locates a place called Modutti Emporium on the northern side of the island on the right bank of a prominent river, the Phasis.10

9 G. W. B. Huntingford, The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea by and Unknown Author, with Some Extracts from Agatharkhides “On the Erythraean Sea” [Hakluyt Society] (London 1980), 54.

10 E. L. Stevenson ed. and trans., Geography of Claudius Ptolemy (New York 1932) 158. Stevenson’s translation of the Greek Modouttou from and apparently corrupt medieval manuscript is given as Mordugi.

Carswell (1991), p. 199; notes, p. 203.

“The elephants from Sri Lanka were found to easily adapt for war and were considered better than those from the mainland. Their excellent qualities were well known to the Greeks even as far back as the 3rd Century BC, in the time of Alexander the Great. Onescritus, who was an Admiral of the Fleet of Alexander the Great and probably the first European to describe the trained elephants of Ceylon, has stated that the elephants from Taprobane (later Ceylon and then Sri Lanka) “are bigger, more fierce and furious for war service than those of India.” Sixth Century writer Indicopleustes says that the elephant from Sri Lanka was highly priced in India for its excellence in war.
            Elephants from Sri Lanka were exported to Kalinga by special boats from about 200 BC. From the port of Mantai the present day Mannar. Such exports are also recorded by Ptolemy in 175 AD.
            By this time Sri Lanka had also earned a reputation for skilled elephant management. The Sinhala kings had special elephant trainers. They were the Kuruwe people fro Kegalle. Training elephants caught from the wild, for both traditional purposes and war, was the responsibility of these people. Evensons (mahouts) who looked after the elephants after their training were trained by the Kuruwe people. A brass model of an elephant with a number of movable joints was used in the training of mahouts.
            Records show that even though Sri Lanka was exporting a large number of elephants in the 5th and 6th centuries BC, a number of elephants were also imported into the country after the 4th century BC. This is apart from the gifts that the ruling monarchs of India and Myanmar, (then Burma) sent from time to time.” Jayewardene (2003).

“From Roman levels at Mantai only two glass beads and a bangle of western origin were uncovered. In contrast, at Arikamedu (whose loci are badly mixed) there are 56 glass beads that are likely from Roman-period levels, eleven of which are certainly of Roman date, the same centuries as Arikamedu pottery at Berenike.” Francis (1999).

“In this context [i.e. in regard to the fact that most artefacts would have been made of perishable materials and are, therefore, unavailable to the archaeologist], the evidence for Mantai as a production and manufacturing center helps to extend our comprehension of its crucial location. First of all, Mantai lies to the west of the famous pearl banks in the Gulf of Mannar; pearls were a major export until all the oysters died at the beginning of the present century. Both whole and drilled pearls have been found in the excavations. So have shell bangles, sawn from conch shells and engraved at Mantai; the shell waste and bangle wasters occur in large numbers. From the earliest literary references to Sri Lanka, the island has been renowned for the mining and export of precious and semiprecious stones. These, too, have been found in worked and unworked form at Mantai. Of particular interest is evidence for the production of polished spherical quartz beads, with many bead blanks and half-drilled specimens. Microanalysis of these beads has demonstrated that they were pierced with a double diamond bit, a technique so far only recorded in modern Gujarat.
          The beads from Mantai provide some of the most striking evidence for external contacts. Over twenty-five hundred specimens from all levels have been catalogued by Peter Francis; they furnish evidence for a wide variety of materials, manufacturing techniques, and international distribution. There is no doubt that Mantai was a major bead-manufacturing site, particularly for Indo-pacific glass beads. The fabrication of such glass beads is first recorded at Arikamedu (Phase A, 250-150 B.C.); their production at Mantai lasted for over a millennium. Distribution of such beads was worldwide, from East Africa as far as Korea.
          Among the earliest imported beads at Mantai is one which is also the most complex, a spherical bead with a sky-blue glass core overlaid with compound stripes of white and yellow, and with mosaic cane “eyes” in white, yellow, and black. A product of the Roman Empire, parallels have been found among Roman beads in Germany. Another bead of similar date is of coral, a major Western export to India and probably traded by the Romans for pearls. Imported beads include examples of lapis lazuli, the source material for which was Afghanistan, and for which striking parallels have been found at Nishapur. Many of the beads, such as those of cornelian, are linked to similar beads excavated in India.” Carswell (1991), pp. 200, 202.

          “So far the sea alone has figured in this discussion as the way by which Indian influence came into South-East Asia. It was the obvious way of travel between India and the Archipelago; indeed the voyage from the Coromandel Coast to the Straits of Malacca was a comparatively short one, and at the right time of year was easy and safe even for small vessels. . . .
          To reach the countries in the eastern parts of the indo-Chinese mainland ships had to pass through either the Malacca or the Sunda Straits.* Owing to the prevalence of piracy in these narrow waters travellers sought to avoid them by using a number of short cuts overland. Archaeological discoveries along these overland routes attest their importance, not only in the early days of Indian penetration, but later also when the empire of Śrivijaya maintained strict control over the straits and forced all ships to put in at one or other of its ports.
          The favourite short cut was across the narrow Isthmus of Kra, from Takua Pa on the western side to Ch’aiya on the eastern, or from Kedah to Singora. Farther north there was a route from Tavoy over the Three Pagodas Pass and thence by the Kanburi river to the valley of the Menam. Two ancient sites, P’ong Tuk and P’ra Pathom lie on this route. Further still to the north lay a route to the Menam region by Moulmein and the Raheng pass. . . . ”

*If, indeed, the Sunda Straits even existed at this time. See the thought-provoking book by David Keys: Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World (1999), Random House, in which he propounds the plausible theory that a massive volcanic eruption in the region of Krakatoa in the year 535 CE not only separated the islands of Sumatra and Java for the first time, but caused immense worldwide effects on human history and the development of cultures.

Hall (1968), pp. 23-24.

          “So far as the historical evidence goes, the first sign of states formed in the manner that has been described in the preceding section show that they were in existence by the end of the second century A.D. They appear in three regions: (a) that of the lower Mekong and its delta, (b) north of Hué in modern Annam, and (c) the northern part of the Malay Peninsula. They probably existed elsewhere, say in Arakan and Lower Burma, but the evidence is lacking. . . .
          Funan’s capital city was for some time Vyadhapura, ‘the city of hunters’, which lay near the hill Ba Phnom and the village of Banam in the present Cambodian province of Prei Veng. The Chinese say that it was 120 miles [193 km] from the sea. Oc Eo, its port, on the maritime fringe of the Mekong delta bordering on the Gulf of Siam some three miles from the sea has been the subject of excavations by a French archaeologist.1 It was an immense urban agglomeration of houses on piles intersected by a network of little canals, part of an irrigation system extending for over 200 kilometres, which had been constructed, with wonderful skill, to drain what had previously been ‘a cesspool of soft mud barely held together by mangrove trees’,2 and to irrigate rice fields for the support of a large population mainly concentrated in lake-cities. These were linked up with each other and with the sea by canals large enough to take sea-going ships, so that it was possible for Chinese travellers to talk about ‘sailing across Funan’ on their way to the Malay Peninsula. Oc Eo was a centre of industry and trade: its site bears evidence of maritime relations with the coast of the Gulf of Siam, Malaya, Indonesia, India, Persia and, indeed, directly or indirectly with the Mediterranean. It was situated on what was in its day the great maritime highway between China and the West. The Funanaese were of Malay3 race, and still in the tribal state at the dawn of history. The culture of Oc Eo itself is charactered by Mr. Malleret as half-indigenous, half-foreign; its foreign affinities, he says, were almost entirely with India.
          The earliest Chinese reference to the kingdom comes from the pen of K’ang T’ai, who together with Chu Ying was sent thither on a mission in the middle of the third century.”

1 Louis Malleret, ‘Les Fouilles d’Oc-Éo (1944)’, BEFEO, xvi, 1, 1951.

2 B. P. Groslier, Angkor, Art and Civilisation, p. 17.

3 The word here is used in its widest ethnic sense.

Hall (1968), pp. 24-25.

“When the first emperor of the Chin dynasty came to the throne in 280, the Governor of Tongking addressed a memorial to him complaining of the raids of Lin-yi, aided by friendly bands from Funan, upon the commandery of Je-nan. The Chin History, in recording this incident, says that the state to which the Lin-yi raiders belonged had been founded about a century earlier by a native official, Ch’u Lien, who had taken advantage of the weakness of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 221) to carve out a kingdom for himself at the expense of Je-nan in the year A.D. 192. The Chinese name for his kingdom was Hsiang-lin, which was in fact the name of their sub-prefecture in which the independence movement took place. It coincided almost exactly with the present Annamite province of Thua-thien, in which the city of Hué is situated.
          Thus does the state later to be known as Champa first appear in history. Archaeological evidence shows that the centre of its power lay just to the south of Hué region, in the modern Annamite province of Quang-nam, which is so rich in archaeological sites that it was evidently the sacred territory of Champa. But, although the famous sites of Tra-kieu, Misön and Dong-duong have yielded specimens of Amaravati art, no evidence exists, as in the case of neighbouring Funan, of the dynastic traditions of the Kings of Champa or of the coming of Indian influence.” Hall (1968), p. 28.

          “The narrow coastal strip from the Porte d’Annam to the Col des Nuages, which they [the Lin-yi] coveted, was probably at this time inhabited by wild tribes in a backward state. Their own territory stretched down the coast from the Col des Nuages to the Bay of Camranh, but they had settlements also in the Mekong valley, the valleys of the Sesan and Song-ba, and the neighbouring hills. They held the western slopes of the Annamite Chain up to the Mekong valley from Stung Treng to the river Mun. They belonged to the Indonesian group of peoples. Later the Indonesian settlements round the Bay of Nhatrang were to form their southern province of Panduranga, now Phan-rang. But this formed part of the empire of Funan when we first hear of the Lin-yi. The people of this region were related to the Funanese rather than to China. They appear to have received Indian influence as early as the beginning of the first century A.D. According to Pamentier, their earliest art and architecture is Khymer rather than Cham. Their region continued to form part of Funan until the Chenla conquest of that country in the latter part of the sixth century.” Hall (1969), p. 29.    

In recent years, much more information about the maritime routes has surfaced, although some scholars, aware of, and probably overestimating, the risks and uncertainties of sea travel in ancient times, do not accept its importance.

“Finally, the third practical way, particularly from the end of the 1st century, and of which the importance has quite recently been put forward by orientalists on the basis of recent research, left from the southern coast of China, in the region of Kuang chou [Canton] Bay, passed around the Indochinese peninsula, crossed the Malacca straits and proceeded as far as the mouth of the Ganges. This maritime route was serviced solely by Indian vessels. From the coast of the Bay of Bengal, the merchants sailed up the river as far as “the Gates of the Ganges”, then, navigability having ended, the merchandise was taken overland to the ports of the west coast, where the Persians, Arabs and, before long, the Europeans, went to acquire them. We will see, moreover, that the archaeological excavations allowed the differentiation of the products coming southern China through northeastern India, and those from northern China through Central Asia. It seems that at the end of the 1st century the majority of silk imported into the Mediterranean countries had been transported by the maritime route and not the overland route which crossed Persia. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea indicates decisively that the “seric” silks were loaded in Indian ports, as were the furs which also came from China, pepper, cinnamon, perfumes, metals, dyes and medicinal products.” Translated from: Boulnois (1992), p. 72.

“The western world reached the Chinese by water as well, although only just. Ever since Eudoxus breached the Arab monopoly of the sea trade with India, that country had become increasingly integrated into the network of Graeco-Roman trade. From the beginning of the first century A.D., fleets of ocean-going freighters, sped by the monsoons, sailed there yearly, no longer just to the Indus Valley but all along the coast down to the tip of the peninsula. Agents of Graeco-Roman trading companies made their homes in India, settling down, in time-honoured fashion, in separate little foreign quarters. They exported a variety of Indian products – cinnamon, nard, cotton, above all pepper – and also some Chinese, the most important, naturally, being silk. Although a certain amount of the silk, as we have just noted, came in overland, the largest part arrived by sea in Indian or Malay bottoms (the Chinese did not get into overseas shipping until centuries later). It was inevitable that westerners would move into this portion of the trade as well; by the end of the second century A.D. their freighters had ventured into the waters east of India, cutting across the mouth of the Bay of Bengal to trade with Malaya, Sumatra, and Java. What drew them on more than anything else was the desire to move nearer the source of silk. A Chinese account [in the Hou Hanshu] mentions that in ‘the ninth year of the Yen-hsi period, during the Emperor Huan-ti’s reign [CE 166]... the king of Ta-ts’in, An-tun, sent an embassy which, from the frontier of Jih-nan [Annam], offered ivory, rhinoceros horns, and tortoise shell. From that time dates the intercourse with this country.’ Ta-ts’in is the Chinese name for the Roman Empire, and An-tun is Antoninus, the family name of Marcus Aurelius. The account goes on to comment about the very ordinary gifts the embassy had brought for the emperor; there were, for example, no jewels. Most likely it was not an official body at all but a group of shippers who, to get one jump a head of their competitors, were trying to buy their silk directly from China instead of through middlemen.” Casson (1974), pp. 124-125.

“One way of by-passing the Parthians, the sea-route to the south of their country, has been discussed in Chapter Eight. Though a great success in some respects (it cut the costs of spices considerably), it was less important to the silk business. From China to the Roman Empire was a long way, nearly twice as long as the overland journey, and the system of monsoon-winds meant that one often had to wait some time before making a particular leg of the voyage. Besides, several stages (such as the Red Sea, the west coast of India, and the Straits of Malacca) teemed with natural and man-made dangers to navigation. Direct sea-borne contact between Roma and China was always rare.” Sitwell (1984), p. 189.

“Meanwhile the maritime route remained so risky, so long, so full of ambushes for the little sailing ships of the Westerners, succumbing to typhoons and other sorts of adversities, that trade took, as far as possible, the overland route.
          This was possible when, at the end of the 1st century, four great prosperous empires, stable, militarily powerful, absorbed a large part of Eurasia: in the West, Rome, in full Imperial flower; in the Far East, China of the second Han dynasty; in the East, the kingdom of the Great Kushans encompassing Afghanistan and Northern India, was at the peak of its existence. In the middle the Parthians, monopolising middlemen. All these empires followed a commercial strategy. From this exceptional situation came the overland silk route.” Translated from: Boulnois (1992), p. 77.

“All trade between the Persian Gulf and the Taurus, direct by sea from Indian Barygaza, or sea-borne from Hormuz through Seistan, or overland altogether, was obliged to pass through the Parthian sieve.
          But the distant Romans had a good name in China. ‘They traffic by sea with Parthia and India . . . honest in their transactions and . . . their kings always desired to send embassies to China, but the Parthians wished to carry on trade with them in Chinese silks, and it is for this reason that they were cut off from communication. This lasted till the ninth year of the Yen-hsi period (A.D. 166) when the king . . . An-tun (Marcus Aurelius) sent an embassy.’ The trade was continually thwarted, and regular only when Romans and Parthians were at peace; and about A.D. 160 – when the straits of Malacca were crossed and direct commerce with China started – the peak of the sea trade was already over. By then the strengthened Roman frontier held the South Arabian spice route at one end and the Pontic route round the Caspian at the other, the only two trading channels that could escape the Parthian dues.” Stark (1968), p. 192.

“The Arabs extended their [the Phoenicians’] trade. By 100 B.C. a line of busy ports had grown around the Persian Gulf to service caravans and ships plying between India, Egypt, east Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean. As well as pearls, Italian wine, gold, cloves, nutmeg, mace, they carried a new, extremely profitable product, slaves from east Africa. That nasty trade increased over the next 200 years. Ivory, hides and cinnamon made up the rest of the cargoes.
          The Chinese began to trade. Under orders from the Han emperor Wu (141 B.C. to 87 B.C.) sailors handpicked from what are now the provinces of Guandong and Guangxi explored the southern seas in search of precious goods. Then just before or after the birth of Christ, a great new land route opened in the north.” Rolls (1992), p. 2.

Although there are not many written accounts of early Indonesian shipping, it is generally accepted that the Indonesian settlement of Madagascar and nearby ports of southeastern Africa developed during the first few centuries CE.
          Madagascar was apparently uninhabited when the Indonesians from Southern Borneo arrived, and although there was later mixing around the coasts with Africans and Arab traders, the people of the interior are still mainly of Indonesian stock. Malagasy, the national language is closely related to languages from southern Borneo.

“During winter, Central Asia’s extreme cold causes its air mass to become dense and heavy, while air over the ocean is warmer and lighter. This differential in density now causes the heavy Central Asian air to flow out against the lighter ocean-influenced air, so that from December to March dry winds from Central Asia blow out over the continent towards the oceans. During the intervening months the winds are at their most unpredictable. Although in spring the shift in wind direction occurs rather quickly, in the month of April, the autumn transition from inward to outward is prolonged, causing variable winds from September through November. Taking advantage of this seasonal wind pattern, Malay sailors began to ride the monsoons. They departed with the wind at their back, sailing for thousands of miles to distant locations. There they waited until the winds changed direction, which allowed them to sail home with the wind still at their back.
          So far there is little consensus regarding when Malay sailors first reached the East African coast and Madagascar, more than 3,000 miles to their west, but some believe that contact occurred relatively early in the first millennium B.C.E. The uncertain date notwithstanding, in the process of sailing across thousands of miles of southern ocean, the Malay sailors evidently carried a number of plants from Asia to Africa, including bananas, coconuts, and the cocoyam. (One East African term for cocoyam is derived from a Malay word [Watson, 1983: 68].) The tuning scales of the Malayo-Polynesian xylophone also appear to have ridden with the Malays to Africa, although precisely how this instrument got from East Africa to West Africa, where it can still be heard today, remains controversial (Jones, 1971: 115–19).
            The Malay sailors may also have been riding the monsoons of the Indian Ocean to supply the Mediterranean market with cinnamon – a product of southern China – even before the development of an overland or overseas silk route. The Greek word for cinnamon was derived from a Malayo-Polynesian word, through Phoenician and Hebrew. Even though cinnamon was never grown commercially in Africa, Egyptian and Hebrew texts dated to the first millennium B.C.E. speak of cinnamon coming from Africa, leading several scholars to suggest that Malay sailors were responsible for bringing this cinnamon from the coasts of the South China Sea to East Africa. Pliny, writing in the first century C.E., describes an already well-developed trade in cinnamon. The men who brought the cinnamon “put out to sea . . . when the east winds are blowing their hardest; these winds drive them on a straight course . . . from gulf to gulf.” Pliny calls their vessels “rafts,” a plausible but mistaken description of the Malays’ double outrigger canoe (Taylor, 1976: 45). The cinnamon they provided could then have been traded north by the East Africans until it reached Ethiopia, where Mediterranean merchants purchased it.
          There is also a thirteenth-century Arab text that refers to a Malay settlement in the vicinity of Aden sometime around the Roman conquest of Egypt in 31 B.C.E. Vast fleets of Malay outrigger canoes came and went from this place, it tells us, but eventually the settlers “grew weak, lost their seafaring skills, and were overrun by neighbouring peoples.” (Taylor, 1976: 25, 39). According to the text, this happened after Egypt’s decline, and scholars have tentatively dated the settlement to the first century
          At roughly the same time Malay communities were established on the island of Madagascar, some 250 miles off the East African coast, where their descendants still constitute the majority of the island’s population and Malayo-Polynesian languages are still spoken today by almost all. Given the many clusters of islands in the Indian Ocean and the Malay use of islands for navigating, their likely route to East Africa would have been by way of such island clusters, namely, the Maldives, the Chagos, the Seychelles, and the Comores (Taylor, 1976: 30, 45–46).” Shaffer (1996), pp. 15-16.


Capt. Sedana sails ancient trade route

Features - April 08, 2004

Leony Aurora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Some people considered Navy Captain I Gusti Putu Ngurah Sedana brave for attempting a voyage from Jakarta to Ghana aboard a traditional wooden sailing ship. Others just thought he was crazy. But everyone will be amazed by the stories he has to tell.

The captain recently commanded the Borobudur Samudraraksa, a ship designed based on reliefs from the Borobudur Temple in Central Java, to retrace the cinnamon route taken by Indonesian merchants in the eighth century to sell spices to Africa.

Fourteen or 15 seafarers, half the crew foreigners and half Indonesians, were on board at all times. The Indonesian crew included three boatmakers and 10 inexperienced civilians, who took turns on the four legs of the journey.

The ship, 4.25 meters wide and 18 meters long, contained no iron or nails, with coconut fiber binding it together. Although it contained state-of-the-art equipment -- a global positioning satellite and NavTex to broadcast information on navigation routes -- the ship was at the mercy of nature, with only two sails to catch the winds, its sole driving force.

The first time the Borobudur encountered a big storm was when it passed through the Mozambique channel, going from Madagascar to Cape Town.

Putu was resting in his bunk when he heard the wind screaming between the ropes. “I knew there were big winds coming,” said Putu. “We couldn’t run from them.”

It was 11 a.m. when the wind picked up and the rain began. Thunder and lightning rent the sky as the ship was tossed about helplessly on waves six to seven meters tall.

Trapped in the eye of the storm, the crew panicked. “They just stood there, stunned,” said Putu.

At the yells of the captain some of them came back to life, put on their life jackets and tied themselves to the mast or any unmovable object. Soaked to the bone, they managed to bring the smaller sail down, but the wind was so strong that it was impossible to take down the main sail, which was eight meters-by-15 meters in size.

The ship then tipped sideways, so far that it almost capsized. “We knew we would have to rip the sail,” said Putu. But the wind, at 40 knots, was faster than them and shredded the main sail. 

“Those who worked on the sails first were the Indonesians,” said Putu, pride written all over his face. “The foreigners ran to the back, huddling near the lifeboats, while we were on the deck playing kite with the sails,” he said with a small laugh.

Later in the journey, when the Borobudur faced another big storm near the Cape of Good Hope, the crew knew what to do and was able to manage the situation. But after that first storm, two of the foreigners asked to leave the ship at the first port they saw, in Richard Bay, South Africa.

“This got to the Indonesian crew too, who started thinking about quitting,” said Putu.

He could endure the weather, the storms and the hardships, but when his crew wanted to quit, his spirit sank.

Together, the team covered some 10,000 nautical miles in more than six months, leaving Jakarta on Aug. 15, 2003, and reaching Ghana on Feb. 23, 2004.

“I was ordered to lead the voyage,” said Putu, who looks the part of a Navy officer with a well-trimmed moustache and a no-nonsense posture.

“I was disheartened at first, but an order is an order. So I just had faith.”

It was not a lack of competence that worried Putu, his abundant experience on the sea told him how dangerous the trip would be. 

Ever since he entered the military academy in 1990, the captain has been fascinated with sails. “The free air of the ocean blows away stress,” he said. And so he took up windsurfing and sailing.

In 1996, Putu sailed around the world in 14 months aboard the vessel the Arsa. “But that was different from the Borobudur. With a modern ship, one can easily turn on the engine and run from bad winds,” he said.

At that time, his wife, Diah Sriwahyuni Purnamasari, was pregnant with their first child. Putu saw his daughter for the first time when she was 10 months old.

“We named her Genova, because my husband was in Genoa when she was born,” said Diah, 30. The couple has two other children, a 6-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy. 

Putu has taken part in many competitions, including the Sydney-Hobart trip in 1998 and the Raja Muda Cup in Malaysia in 1999. In both events, Indonesia won. 

“I’m always astonished when people underestimate Indonesia. On the sea, we rule!”

In his last event, the Singapore Strait Regatta competition in 2000, Putu was the skipper and his team took third place. “We still achieved something although our ships are less modern than those from other countries.”

Diah was proud that her husband was trusted with bringing Indonesia’s name abroad, but hopes that now he will have the chance to stay on land for a while. “He has to continue his education for his career.”

It has been six years since Putu became a captain, following the first Post-Graduate Education for Officers in Surabaya. In June, he plans to take up the second course, which will last for six months, to become a major. 

In the meantime, he will take a posting on a warship.

“I don’t know where I get my love of the sea from, all I know is if I don’t see the ocean in a month, I develop a headache,” said Putu.

Well, Indonesia’s ancestors were masters of the seas.”

G. The Water Cisterns on the Route between Petra and Wadi Sirhan.

Several years ago I first began to come to the conclusion that Sifu stood for Petra and Qielan for Wadi Sirhan in the Weilue, and that the text indicated that a trade route connected the two. I contacted several specialists on the early history of the region who insisted that there were no significant sources of water in Nabataean or Roman times between the oasis of Al Jafr (to the east of Ma’an) and the first wells in the Wadi Sirhan – a distance of at least 150 km. This would seem to rule out the route for regular caravans of any size.
          During early 2002, however, I contacted Daniel Gibson, the author of The Nabataeans: Builders of Petra, and the “Webmaster” of the excellent website. He was living with his family at the time with some Bedouins not far from Petra. He wrote back that he also did not know of any water sources in the region but he was having a meeting with some of the tribal elders in a couple of days (some of whom had long ago lived in that region), and he would ask them about it. They told him that there was a large ancient water cistern about halfway along the route and Dan checked and found some reference to it on maps in Amman. He wanted to go and visit the site but, with the build-up to the last war in Iraq it was considered unsafe for him to visit the region which is close to the border of Saudi Arabia.
          So, Dan posted a request for information on his website and was thrilled to hear from a young woman, Antonia Willis, who had previously travelled in the region, taken photos and actually made some rough measurements of a cistern which was some 10 metres across the entrance! She also sent copies of photos of the cistern and has since sent me several letters and a map.
          I will quote from a couple of her email letters below as they speak for themselves [notes in square brackets are mine]. It is quite clear from her accounts that the route was not only possible for caravan traffic but was quite likely used as such:

“Just some quick thoughts about the area between Wadi Sirhan & Petra. When I’ve got time I’ll email you the grid refs but off the top of my head, there is this to say:
          Between the eastern escarpment of the Jafr depression and the Wadi Hudruj (my most easterly point of travel was the police border fort at Mshash Hudruj) are the cistern Dan mentioned AND a number of other sites where water collection probably occurred. Wadi Hudruj you know runs roughly n/e to s/w out of the Wadi Sirhan and would be a naturally through-route. The Wadi where I saw it was full of acacia and undoubtedly water collection there could have happened; unfortunately the bloody great anti-tank ditch (the scar visible on sat images) and Saudi border post there made exploration impossible.
          Not far south of the cistern is a spot marked as “Roman Pools” on a current air map [about 37o 27’ E; 30o 15’ N ]I was working off; here we saw surface signs of water collection and a fairly dense scatter of sherds. The chart I used was TPC (Tactical Pilotage Chart) series GSGS, map sheet H-5B published 1991 by our MoD. You Aussies fly everywhere, so maybe you can get hold of it over there. If not let me know, and I will send you a copy from the UK.
            If the Wadi Hudruj is a poss conduit, travellers from Wadi Sirhan to Petra would not have to be more than 2 days’ journey from water, I think.
            Also interesting is the poss route Azraq oasis - Bayir - Jafr and then east (or the same in reverse). There are very substantial remains, and heaps of Nabataean classical fineware sherds, at Bayir; then it is not too far to the cistern/”pools”/Wadi Hudruj.
          Re navigation; stellar, of course, but I was interested to see that the modern Bedu police have marked out a couple of routes across the Jafr depression and the empty stretch east of it by piling up mounds of sand/soil some 5 feet high at line-of-sight intervals - no reason why someone couldn’t have thought of that a few thousand years ago. . . . ” Email from Antonia Willis 27 July, 2003.

“I’ve asked for the scanned map to be sent to you via my old office - hope it’s got to you.
            Cistern depth; again, hard to gauge, because the precarious overhanging lip (you’ve seen the pics) and the shade cast by it meant that there was no obvious point from which to take a sounding - had we been proper and methodical about it, we would have taken several, but to tell you the truth I really thought I’d be back soon after to do a better job. HOWEVER - we slung a water bottle on string down over the lip at what looked to be the deepest (most shadowed) area we could safely access from the rim, and it was I see from my notes 18 metres approx. The other dimensions you can guess at from the photos using the human figures as scale indicators. But to repeat, this was one of TWO water collection sites between the eastern escarpment of the Jafr depression and the Wadi Hudruj as intersected by the Saudi border - and it would not surprise me in the least to find more. The mapping there has never been seriously picked up on since the 1948 Royal Engineers survey which had many white spaces on it.
          I showed pics of the deep cistern to Rupert Chapman at the PEF in London and he suggested that it was a karstic depression [limestone formation of caverns, caves, etc] lending itself to much water collection through the ages. . . . ” Email from Antonia Willis 34 August, 2003.

I will also quote here from Dan Gibson’s excellent website, which can be accessed at:

“The Nabataeans greatest accomplishment was probably their system of water management. They developed a system to collect rainwater using water channels, pipes, and underground cisterns. Added to this, they developed very strong, waterproof cement, some of which is still in existence to this day.
            They also developed sophisticated ceramic pipelines and reservoirs using gravity feeds (siphons or inverted siphons), that served the developing urban centers. Outside of the cities, dams closed off wadis to collect water during the rainy season, while stone circles or terraces retarded runoff from slopes and trapped valuable topsoil so that their irrigation lines could feed crops.
            The Nabataeans were experts at collecting water and storing it in underground cisterns. All along their caravan routes, secret water collection systems collected water and stored it for later use. The ancient historian Diodorus [Didorus Siculus 90-21
BCE] noted: “For in the waterless region, as it is called, they have dug wells at convenient intervals and have kept the knowledge of them from people of all other nations, and so they retreat in a body into this region out of danger. For since they themselves know about the places of hidden water and open them up, they have for their use drinking water in abundance.” (II.48.2)
            Diodorus also noted in another place: “They take refuge in the desert using this as a fortress; for it lacks water and cannot be crossed by others, but to them alone, since they have prepared subterranean reservoirs lined with stucco, it furnishes safety. As the earth in some places is clayey and in others is of soft stone, they make great excavations in it, the mouths of which they make very small, but by constantly increasing the width as they dig deeper, they finally make them of such size that each side has a length of about 100 feet. After filling these reservoirs with rain water, they close the openings, making them even with the rest of the ground, and they leave signs that are known to themselves but are unrecognizable to others. They water their flocks every other day, so that, if they flee, or wander through waterless places, they may not need a continuous supply of water.” (XIX.94.6-9).”

This account of the cisterns is confirmed by Alois Musil:

            “The cisterns which he mentions [i.e. Diodorus (fl. 1 cent. BCE), in his Biblioteca historica] are the wells known today as mḳûr. These are usually dug out in the rocky soil to a depth of about four meters. They are pear-shaped and have a narrow neck which is generally covered with a large stone. The rain water from the surrounding rocky areas flows into this neck and falls through the cavities beneath the stone into the cistern. A stranger not properly acquainted with the region and with the habits of the natives will ride round such a rain well without noticing it. Fragments of dry plants and sand are apt to drift up against one side of the stone, so that it looks as if it has always been lying there.” Musil (1926), pp. 309-310.

From the above accounts it is clear that there was almost certainly a well-used caravan route or routes between Petra and Wadi Sirhan from whence well-established routes led to the head of the Persian Gulf and also to the ancient trading centre of Gerrha (Angu) to the southeast. See also note 17.3.


H. The Identification of the city of Angu with Ancient Gerrha and Modern Thaj.

“Strabo provides an absolute indication of Gerrha’s location when he writes, ‘After sailing along the coast of Arabia for a distance of two thousand four hundred stadia, one comes to Gerrha, a city situated on a deep gulf’ (16. 3. 3). Strabo’s description of Androsthenes’ exploratory voyage in the Gulf, which preceded the statement just quoted, gives the impression that the calculation of the 2,400 stadia is meant to commence at the southern Babylonian town of Teredon, an impression strengthened when we consider that Pliny says: ‘those travelling by water from the kingdom of Parthia come to the village of Teredon below the confluence of the Euphrates and the Tigris’ (NH 6. 32. 145). If Teredon was located somewhere in the vicinity of modern Basra, where does a journey of 2,400 stadia arrive on the Arabian coast? Calculating at the rate of 10 stadia to the mile, as Strabo’s principal informant on Arabia, Eratosthenes, did, we reach a figure of roughly 384 km. for the distance from Teredon to Gerrha.* Measured from the Basra area, this places us somewhere in the region of the modern port of al-Jubayl in eastern Saudi Arabia.
          But both Strabo and Pliny suggest that the problem is yet more complicated. In describing the east coast of Arabia, Pliny speaks of ‘the bay of Gerrha’, sinus Gerraicus, and ‘the town of Gerrha’, oppidum Gerra (NH 6. 32. 147). Strabo says that Gerrha was ‘a city situated on a deep gulf’, but several lines later he tells us that ‘the city is two hundred stadia distant from the sea’ (16. 3. 3). A. Sprenger was perhaps the first scholar to point to a simple explanation for this apparent contradiction, when he suggested that there was both a port of Gerrha on the Gulf coast, and a town of Gerrha located inland, and one is reminded of similar cases throughout the world where an important ‘port city’ actually lies some distance from the sea, but is paired with a docking-harbour.” Potts (1990), pp. 88-89. [
A Greek stadium measured 185 metres, so 2,400 stadia was about 444 kilometres, which is just about exactly the distance by river and sea between Basra and al-Jubayl on a modern map].

“Ahead lay three mesas and a jumble of low hills, and suddenly we were over Thaj. I had seen air-photographs, and knew what to expect. But I was not prepared for the scale. Below lay a considerable city, the parallelogram of its defensive walls plainly visible. Around it stretched fields of tumuli, many of the mounds oddly ring-shaped, a circular rampart with a hollow in the middle. We flew back and forth over the site half a dozen times while I took in the scene. There were no standing walls or buildings, apart from a cluster of obviously recent stone houses. Everything was covered in sand and rubble, but the general outline was clear. And one thing was completely obvious.
          Thaj was a city on the edge of a lake. It stretched for almost a mile along the lake-shore, and half a mile or more inland. Only there was no lake . . . to the northern side of the city stretched a large salt-pan, a sabkha.
          Now, sabkhas are areas of salt mud which clearly once have been water. They are dried-up lakes. They are useless to man. There would be no reason to build a city beside a sabkha. Therefore this one-time lake had still been a lake when Thaj was built. This was going to tie up with our speculations on the prehistoric climate of Arabia, for only a higher rainfall, or at least a higher water-table, could have held water in the lake-bed. We needed to date Thaj.” Bibby (1970), p. 316.

“Before leaving the subject of the architecture at Thaj, it is important to stress that the ancient town there is constructed on a scale unmatched anywhere else in pre-modern al-Hasa. The city wall alone, with its circuit of 2,535 m. and average width of 4.5 m., represents a gigantic quantity of cut stone. Assuming a minimum height of 2 m., and leaving aside for the moment the corner towers and probable turrets, no less than 22,815 cu. m. of stone would have been required, equivalent to a cube c. 28.4 m. on a side. Nor does this begin to take into consideration the hundreds of buildings on the site as well. The question naturally arises, therefore, what the source or sources of the limestone used at Thaj may have been. It has generally been assumed that it was all local, an assumption supported by the presence of numerous large limestone jabals in the district; but none of these show any sign of quarrying on a large scale. Near Jubayl, however, is a large limestone quarry which has long been known, and in view of the fact that Thaj is connected with the coast by a route leading directly to Jubayl, it may be suggested that the building stone used there was quarried here. During the Second World War, camels used for transport by ARAMCO carried loads of between 336 and 448 lb. (between 152.72 and 203.63 kg.). This would more than accommodate some of the larger limestone ashlars noted at Thaj, making it possible to conceive of such large quantities of stone having been transported overland by camel caravans in antiquity.” Potts (1990), pp. 47-48.

“One additional point which must be borne in mind, however, is the fact that Meredat’s victories [which seem to include ‘Oman’. He issued a coin from Seleucia in 142 AD on which he refers to himself as BACIΔEΥC OMAN] were, in some measure, Parthia’s as well. As the Seleucia texts attest, Meredat was the son of a former Parthian king of kings, and as such a member of an élite Parthian family. Moreover, it is not unlikely that he was installed on the Characene throne by his uncle Osroes I, following the latter’s removal of the pro-Roman king of Characene, Attambelos, sometime after 116. Thus, to the extent that Meredat and his family were a leading element in the ruling Parthian aristocracy, his extension of influence over the central and lower Gulf must be seen as a boon to Parthia. Meredat’s ambitions and pretensions, however, must have been indeed great, for on his coins he is depicted wearing both the diadem and the crown which were the prerogative of the Parthian king of kings. To have worn the diadem alone would have been normal, but to assume the crown as well suggests that Meredat considered himself the equal of the highest ruler of Parthia.
          That the fortunes of Meredat were soon to change, however, is proved now by the new Seleucia bilingual. The Greek text is dated to 462 Sel., AD 150/1, while the Parthian version specifies that the statue bearing the inscriptions was erected on 5 July (the 17th day of Tir) of that year. These important sources recount the victory of Vologases IV over Meredat, whom he ‘expelled’ from Mesene. We are not told anything of the further fate of Meredat, but it is likely that his influence in the Gulf rapidly vanished upon his defeat. Indeed, it is not unlikely that his very power there, which must have entailed considerable commercial gain, and perhaps prompted him to assume both diadem and crown shown on his coins, was one of the reasons why Vologases was prompted to challenge him.” Potts (1990), pp. 325-326

“During the second century [BCE] changes can be detected in the direction of Gerrha’s foreign trade. Agatharchides’ report of Gerrhaeans at Petra and in Palestine shows us that at some time in the beginning or middle of the century the Gerrhaeans began trading with the Nabataeans. Juba’s remark, preserved by Pliny, that caravans from Carra, i.e. Gerrha, ‘used to’ make the journey to Syria-Palestine, may also be an echo of the circumstances described by Agatharchides, although the two need not reflect entirely similar circumstances. The problem here is to determine under what political conditions Gerrha’s western trade was carried out in the second century [BCE].
          Following the Seleucid victory at Panion in 200 BC, Syria fell to the Seleucids and remained in their grip for most of the second century. If Agatharchides’ statement reflects conditions during his own lifetime (c. 200-131 BC), then it was written at a time when Syria, as well as Palestine proper, was a Seleucid domain. Thus, trade with Syria and Palestine entailed no loss of revenue for the Seleucids, and was, in any case, a more direct route to the Mediterranean than the route via Babylonia. Concrete evidence of Gerrhaean traders in the Aegean during this period comes from Delos. . . .
          There is nothing to suggest, however, that Seleucid control in the west affected the Nabataean realm. Thus, while the Seleucids must have had no objections to seeing Gerrhaean caravans going to Syro-Palestine, trade with Petra was probably another matter. Most probably, Gerrhaean trade with the Nabataean capital was an offshoot of their trade with Seleucid Syria, but it is possible that this was done illicitly, from the Seleucid point of view. In this regard, it is interesting to reconsider a proposal put forward by Tarn in 1929. Starting out from the Agatharchides fragment cited above, Tarn tried to explain why the Gerrhaeans should have sent caravans to Petra, when Petra was itself at the head of a direct caravan route to southern Arabia. Rather than a case of sending coals to Newcastle, Tarn suggested that the Nabataeans may have been barred from receiving South Arabian products by the Ptolemies. It has been suggested that Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 BC) succeeded in 278/7 in wresting control of the Marib-Petra incense route away from the Nabataeans, seizing the route below Petra, and founding Ampelone on the coast of the Hejaz as a port to which the caravan wares coming from southern Arabia could be diverted and trans-shipped directly to Myos Hormos in Egypt, thus bypassing the Nabataeans. Given this state of affairs, it could well have been profitable for the Gerrhaeans to ship merchandise which they had already carried forty days from Hadhramaut to Gerrha (Strabo 16. 4. 4) overland to Petra. Tarn’s error, however, lay in taking Agatharchides’ report as proof that Gerrha was trading with the Nabataeans in the third century BC. On the contrary, unless it is archaistic, it reflects the situation in the second century BC.
          Finally, the rise of Charax in the late second century BC and its growing commercial importance in the late first century BC may explain why, as Juba says, the Gerrhaeans at some point made yet another reversal and began sending their wares to Charax and the Parthian empire.” Potts (1990), pp. 95-97.

“The principal reports concerning the foreign trade of Gerrha are listed below in chronological order:
            . . . the Gerrhaeans import most of their cargoes on rafts to Babylonia, and thence sail up the Euphrates with them, and then convey them by land to all parts of the country . . . (Aristobulus (contemporary of Alexander) apud Strabo 16. 3. 3)
            . . . the Gerrhaeans traffic by land, for the most part, in the Arabian merchandise and aromatics ... (Eratosthenes (c.284-202 BC) apud Strabo 16. 3. 3)  
. . . Petra and Palestine where the Gerrhaeans, the Minaeans and all the Arabs who live in the region bring incense from the highlands, it is said, and their aromatic products . . . (Agatharchides (c.200-131 BC), in C. Müller, Geographi Graeci Minores, § 87).

‘For this trade [with Elymais and Karmania] they opened the city of Carra [Gerrha] where their market was held. From here they all used to set out on the twenty-day march to Gabba and Syria-Palestine. According to Juba’s report they began later for the same reason to go to the empire of the Parthians. It seems to me that still earlier they brought their goods to the Persians rather than to Syria and Egypt, which Herodotus confirms, who says the Arabs paid 1,000 talents of incense yearly to the kings of Persia. Juba (c. 25 BCE-CE 25) and Pliny, NH (AD 77) 12. 40. 80).
          These accounts suggest that the trajectory of Gerrha’s foreign trade experienced a number of shifts through time. In the late fourth century BC, i.e. during Alexander’s lifetime, Aristobulus says Gerrha shipped merchandise to Babylonia by sea. At some point in the third century, as Eratosthenes tells us, Gerrha began to export its goods by land. This may refer to land transport in the same direction, i.e. to Babylonia. On the other hand, it may point to a shift away from Seleucid Babylonia towards Ptolemaic Egypt and Syria. . . . ” Potts (1990), pp. 90-91.

Later, the Seleucids seem to have regained control of the trade from Gerrha during the visit of Antiochus III to Gerrha in 205 BCE:

“Rostovtzeff, The Social and Economic History, 1, 458: ‘The Seleucids dealt with the Gerrhaeans in much the same way as the Ptolemies with the Nabataeans. In order to prevent the Gerrhaeans from robbing the Seleucid ships that plied between Babylonia and India, they maintained a flotilla in the Persian Gulf. At the same time they endeavoured, by diplomatic action and military intervention, to keep the Gerrhaeans more or less under control and to obtain from them a large proportion of the Arabian and Indian goods held by their merchants. In this light we are better able to understand the account given by Polybius (in the fragmentary form in which we have it) of the expedition of Antiocus III against the Gerrhaeans. It was a military demonstration on a large scale, which did not lead to the conquest of Gerrha, but was imposing enough to frighten the Gerrhaeans and make them increase the quantity of merchandise they sent to Seleucia, at the expense probably of the Nabataeans and the Ptolemies.’” Potts (1990), p. 93, n. 298. See also ibid., pp. 91-95

          “During the second century (BCE) changes can be detected in the direction of Gerrha’s foreign trade. Agatharchides’ report of Gerrhaeans at Petra and in Palestine shows us that at some time in the beginning or middle of the century the Gerrhaeans began trading with the Nabataeans. Juba’s remark, preserved by Pliny, that caravans from Carra,306 i.e. Gerrha, ‘used to’ make the journey to Syria-Palestine, may also be an echo of the circumstances described by Agatharchides, although the two need not reflect entirely similar circumstances. The problem here is to determine under what political conditions Gerrha’s western trade was carried out in the second century.” Potts (1990), p. 95

The Weilue seems to indicate that the “(walled) city of Angu, on the frontier of Anxi (Parthia)”, was under Parthian control d 2nd century CE – the period when this information was apparently gathered. This is of great interest because it supports the growing body of evidence suggesting that Gerrha also came under Parthian control during the 2nd century CE:

“The decline of Gerrha and the waning of eastern Arabia’s fortunes in general after the Seleucid era have sometimes been attributed to Characene and Parthian usurpation of the Gulf trade route between India and the west. The exact role of the Parthians in eastern Arabia itself, however, has never been clear. The archaeological evidence for contact between north-eastern Arabia and the Parthian world has been reviewed above. Early authorities were divided on the question of the nature and extent of Parthian political influence in the area. Nöldeke, for example, who emphasized the extent of contact between the Persian and Arabian sides of the Gulf, considered it unlikely that the Parthians actually controlled the region whereas Glaser was convinced that they did. O. Blau believed that the Azd Oman, in particular, put considerable pressure on the region of Mesene and Charax, and that this resulted in the establishment of a Parthian political presence in the area.
          In any case, nothing suggests that Parthian political or commercial influence extended to eastern Arabia before the reign of Meredat who, as we have seen (ch. 3 above), had a satrap on Thiloua/os (Tylos) in AD 131. It could be that, following Meredat’s expulsion from Mesene in AD 151, Vologases IV inherited his opponent’s former Gulf possessions, although this is pure speculation. If this did take place, it would help explain a much disputed tradition preserved by Tabari (838-923), al-Dinawari (c. 895), the author of the anonymous Nihāyatu’l-irab fī abāri’l-furs wa’l-’arab (c. 1000-50), and Ibn al-Atir (1160-1234), which attests to a formal Parthian political presence in the area at the end of the Parthian period. The information is contained in the accounts of Ardašir’s famous campaign against eastern Arabia c. 240....” Potts (1990), pp. 228-230.

“Leslie and Gardiner insist very strongly on identifying Āngŭ 安谷, EMC ?an kəwk or ?an juawk, with Antioch in Syria (pp. 81–84). Apart from the obvious weakness of the phonetic correspondence, which does not trouble them at all, Āngŭ is said to be on the frontier of Ānxí (Parthia) and at least some of the indications appear to correspond to a port on the Persian Gulf like that which Gan Ying must have reached. The argument that the Chinese who wrote about Āngŭ “never realized that Syria was no longer part of the Seleucid Empire, which had been replaced by the Parthian Empire, itself in turn replaced by the Persian Sassanid Empire” (p. 183) is hard to understand.” Pulleyblank (1999), p. 76, n. 4.

The derivation of the name ‘Gerrha’:

The Chinese name, 安谷 Angu (K. 146a and 1202a: ân-kuk; EMC an?- kəwk), was most probably derived from some variation of ‘Hagar,’ Arabic for ‘fort’, from which the Greek name ‘Gerrha’ derived:

“Hagar was a “kingdom” and Gerrha a “city”. At least, we have coins mentioning a king of Hagar, though, of course, that does not preclude its being a city. Unfortunately, we know very little about it, except that it was somewhere in northern Arabia, and not necessarily on the coast. Gerrha is known only from the Classical geographers who place it on the Arabian/Persian Gulf coast, but it has never been successfully identified, despite numerous attempts. Your identification of Hagar and Gerrha has been suggested by others, and is possible but there is just not enough information about either two confirm it or to rule it out, see D.T Potts “The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity” (Oxford, 1990) vol. 2: 60-62 (Hagar) and 85-97 (Gerrha). Incidentally, the “h” in Gerrha is simply a conventional transliteration of the Greek form where the letter rho is always assumed to be aspirated. Greek, of course, does not have a letter representing “h”, but Latin does and in Pliny (Naturalis Historia VI.32.147) the name is spelt “Gerra”, i.e. without an “h”. This somewhat weakens the case for Gerrha simply being a metathesised form of Hagar. It should also be remembered that Hagar in Ancient South Arabian is the normal word for “city” and forms the initial part of many site names (Hagar bin Humeid, Hagar Kohlan, etc.). We know that the South Arabians were very active in North East Arabia, both because of the frankincense trade and because the Ancient North Arabian language of the area was written in the South Arabian script (in contrast to those of North West Arabia which developed there own scripts).” Michael Macdonald, personal communication, 20/6/99.

          “A recent attempt by W. W. Müller to deduce the Semitic origin of the Greek name ‘Gerrha’ has important implications for the solution to the problem of the site’s location. Müller postulates that the ancient Hasaitic designation for ‘the city’ would have been *han-Hagar, from which an Aramaicized ‘Hagarā’ could have developed. As the use of Aramaic in this area is well-attested (see ch. 5 below), this presents no difficulties. From the form ‘Hagarā’, then, the Greek form ‘Gerrha’ can be derived. The application of the term ha—ar to a walled city with towers and bastions was stressed by H. Von Wissmann in his final, posthumously published work on Sabaean history. If a similar usage obtained in north-eastern Arabia where, as we have seen, the South Arabian alphabet was used in the indigenous Hasaitic inscriptions, then one immediately thinks of Thaj as a likely candidate for the site of ancient Gerrha. Pliny’s statement that Gerrha ‘measures five miles round and has towers made of squared blocks of salt’ is, moreover, reminiscent of the white limestone city wall at Thaj discussed above; nor are there any other sites of the period in eastern Arabia which fit such a description. Finally, if we remember the admittedly rough calculation of the distance between Gerrha and Teredon which brought us to the region of al-Jubayl, it is interesting to note that this is in fact Thaj’s traditional and indeed only outlet to the sea. Thus, there exists at least a strong possibility that Thaj and al-Jubayl are the sites of the inland town of Gerrha and its coastal port.” Potts (1990), pp. 89-90.

“On the coast, on the direct line between Hofuf and Bahrain, lay the village of Uqair, and beside it the ruins of a large walled town. It had seemed obvious to many modern theorists that Uqair must be Gerrha, and the identification seemed clinched by the fact that, in the local dialect of Arabic, the letter q is pronounce as g. Uqair is pronounced Ogair, which was close enough to the Greek name to be convincing. Admittedly it was known that a walled city had been built at Uqair in Islamic times, but this was believed to lie on the offshore island where the present Uqair village stands. In any case, we knew of other sites not so far away where Islamic cities lay beside or above cities of Seleucid or earlier date.” Bibby (1970), pp. 318-319.

The dating of Gerra.

“The figurines [found at Thaj] I could not date; we had found figurines in Bahrain in many different levels, and none exactly like these. But it was not necessary. The pottery we knew very well indeed with the first fragment of a thin bowl, red painted and radially burnished inside, I was on familiar ground. This was the pottery which we had found in the Greek town on Failaka, and in our Fifth City on Bahrain. It belonged beyond a doubt to the third century B.C. There were also numerous fragments of the square four-legged “incense-burners” characteristic of this period. The matter was clinched with the finding of eight fragments of glossy black varnished pottery, pieces of small ring-based bowls. They were Attic ware, imports from Greece itself. Some of them were even rouletted, decorated with a close pattern of semi-circles made with a toothed wheel, a characteristic which proved their Greek origin beyond a doubt.” Bibby (1970), pp. 322-323.

“The immediate archaeological problem with Thaj was straightforward, and could be answered by a single carefully placed sondage. Did the city of the time of Alexander, which surface indications showed to exist, overlie a city or several cities of earlier date?. . . .
          There was no earlier city at Thaj. Three metres down, we were below the foundations of the city wall, in a pit that had been dug before the wall was built into the sterile sand which at that time covered the site. Five metres down we came to the bottom of the pit. And the pottery was identical from first to last. Thaj had had but one period of occupation, and that had not lasted more than perhaps four hundred years. We have carbon samples from the lowest and the uppermost levels which may give us the span in time of the city. The ash layers in the upper levels are indeed so thick that it is likely that Thaj died by fire and the sword.
          The city proved even more imposing on examination than at first acquaintance. The city wall is fifteen feet thick, faced with stone both out and in, and with towers at regular intervals jutting out from the line of wall. On excavation the walls would still stand seven feet high, and would be an imposing ancient monument. It must have been even more imposing to the caravans from the Hadramaut two thousand years ago which, after forty days in the desert, saw the crenellated walls rising to their full height above the palms and gardens south of the city, with the blue waters of the lake beyond.” Bibby (1970), pp. 367-369.

“In sum, the pottery indicates that Periods I-III at Thaj date generally to the Seleucid period. Despite the fact that a very badly worn cylinder seal attributed to the Isin-Larsa period had been found on the surface of the site. . , nothing suggests that the occupation of Thaj preceded the third or late fourth century BC.” Potts (1990), p. 44.

“. . . . A terminal date in the first century AD or even slightly later can thus be suggested if, as appears likely, the rouletted wares at Thaj, obviously of local manufacture, represent copies of imported Roman or Nabataean pottery from the west. This date would be sustained, moreover, by the presence of Thaj-type pottery, coins, and figurines in small quantities at ed-Dur, most of the occupation of which dates to the first century AD.
          A number of coins from the surface of the site should also be mentioned. These include at least one Elymaean bronze, two badly effaced Sasanian bronzes (possibly Šapur II), and a denarius of Constantine the Great minted at Antioch-on-the-Orontes in 347/8. The presence of these Sasanian and Roman coins at Thaj suggests that the date for the end of the Thaj ceramic sequence indicated by the rouletted sherds discussed above may be later than currently supposed, although there is no way of knowing whether these coins reached the site during the last period of occupation recorded in the 1983 excavations, or later still.” Potts (1990), p. 203.

The wealth and importance of Gerrha

“In the time of the Roman and Parthian empires there was a large port called Gerra on the mainland somewhere opposite Bahrain. Its exact site is unknown, but was extensive (Pliny mentions that it had a wall with towers, five miles in circumference) and advantageously placed. Caravans from South Arabia, having skirted the sands of the Empty Quarter, normally stopped at Gerra rather than continue northward up the coast and through Kuwait; instead their cargoes completed the journey to Parthian territory by sea. The Gerraeans, like their opposite numbers, the Nabataeans, grew rich by means of their trans-shipment facilities. They had also a valuable resource of their own; the pearls of the Bahrain region were the second most famous in the Ancient World, outclassed only by those of Ceylon.” Sitwell (1984), pp. 93-94.

“The spectacular rise and development of the Nabataean kingdom to great wealth and power between the first centuries B.C. and A.D. may be attributed in part to the fact that it was situated on important trade routes between Arabia and Syria. Along them were carried not only the spices and incense of southern Arabia, but also goods which had been transported from Africa, India and very possibly even from China. Heavily laden caravans converged on the great trade emporium of Petra, with some of them coming from the related centers of Meda’in Saleh and Teima in Arabia. Other caravans came from as far away as Gerrha on the Persian Gulf.” Glueck (1959), pp. 195-196.

“At a much later date the same conditions of trade are noted by the geographer Artemidorus who flourished around 100 B.C. As quoted by the later geographer Strabo (died around 25 A.D.), Artemidorus describes the Sabaeans, the people of Sabaea or Sheba, as having “aromatics in such abundance that they use cinnamon and cassia and the others instead of sticks and firewood... From their trafficking both the Sabaeans and the Gerrhaeans have become the richest of all.” The town of Gerrha was the entrepot of the incense trade on the Persian Gulf in the vicinity of Bahrain whence the goods were transshipped to Iraq, but it was not a settlement of Arab camel breeders as Petra was, at least to some degree. Strabo says that Gerrha was “inhabited by Chaldaeans, exiles from Babylon.” As was the case in Solomon’s time, the major parties in the trade did not include the people who supplied the means of transport.
          Since the profits from the caravan trade were substantial and the pattern of trade favoring the retention of profits at the termini of the trade routes was well established, there is no reason to suppose that the diversion of those profits into the desert for the benefit of the carriers of the trade, a development that started with the rise of Petra and continued until the Islamic invasions of the seventh century A.D., was accomplished without resistance from those parties which had previously been in control. Once the dominance of the trade passed to the desert dwellers, the attempts of Romans, Persians, and south Arabians to regain control of it by military or diplomatic means are numerous enough to show that the change in the trading pattern was worth fighting about.” Bulliet (1975), p. 93.

“In the time of the Roman and Parthian Empires there was a large port called Gerra on the mainland somewhere opposite Bahrain. Its exact site is unknown, but was extensive (Pliny mentions that it had a wall with towers, five miles in circumference) and advantageously placed. Caravans from South Arabia, having skirted the sands of the Empty Quarter, normally stopped at Gerra rather than continue northward up the coast and through Kuwait; instead their cargoes completed the journey to Parthian territory by sea. The Gerraeans, like their opposite numbers the Nabataeans, grew rich by means of their trans-shipment facilities. They also had a valuable resource of their own; the pearls of the Bahrain region were the second most famous in the Ancient World, outclassed only by those of Ceylon.” Sitwell (1984), pp. 93-94.

I. The Spread of Ideas and Religions Along the Trade Routes

There was an incredible spread of religious and other ideas along the newly expanded trade networks. It is clear just from the number such reports that opening of pan-Eurasian networks caused a rapid flow of ideas and religions from one distant region to another on scale never seen before:

“Although firm evidence is lacking, it is not unlikely that both Iranian and Jewish merchants were active along the Silk Road from a very early time, perhaps 3,000 years ago or even more. Naturally their religious ideas would have accompanied them on their travels and therefore would have become familiar to peoples these merchants encountered along the way. There is evidence that Iranian soothsayers were employed by the Western Chou dynasty of China prior to the eighth century BCE.1
          So we can say that in ancient times certain religious ideas may have spread geographically eastward, in the sense that the possessors of those ideas physically went there: this is not to say, however, that Iranian or Jewish religious systems “grew” or won converts. The great missionary religions had not yet entered the stage of world history.
          In traditional societies religions, like people, are generally considered as being attached to a particular locality or region and, by extension, to their own local culture. From an Inner Asian or Chinese point of view, whatever religion a foreign merchant of Iranian or Israelite origin practiced was simply the home religion of the Iranians or of the Israelites; one would no more think of embracing such a religion oneself than of pretending to be from Iran or Palestine.
          Still, as Turks, Chinese, and other East Asian peoples came into contact with these merchants from the West and became familiar with their ways of thinking, subtle influences must have penetrated in both directions through everyday encounters and conversation.”

1 Victor Mair, “Old Sinitic *Myag, Old Persian Magus, and English ‘Magician,” Early China 15 (1990), pp. 27-47.

Foltz (1999), p. 35 and n. 1.

          “One of the most striking features of Rome’s eastern frontier is the movement of people and ideas across it: Christianity was no exception, and no single pattern of transit will explain it in regions which saw so many travellers, traders and movements of men with their gods. The Christians in Dura [Europos – on the upper Euphrates] with Greek names were only one of many possible types. Further south, we can already find Christians with a strong Jewish heritage who lived beyond the reach of Rome. During the second and third centuries, groups of Baptists could be found in the district between the mouths of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, where they lived under the nominal control of the Parthians. They acknowledged Christian teachings among severe beliefs which had the stamp of Jewish influence. Here, they had presumably begun as a splinter group from Jewish settlers and we have come to know only recently how they combined a respect for Jesus with a strong stamp of Jewish practice and an honour for their original leader, the prophet Elchesai, who had taught in Mesopotamia c. 100–110 A.D. Their sect, then was quite old and traced back to a heretical Christian teacher, busy in this area at an early date. It is a reminder that very varied sects and small groups could multiply in the Mesopotamian area, just out of the range of Greek and Roman historians: Christian groups, already, were not limited to the area of Roman rule.
          These Baptists’ district was frequented by traders and travellers who moved freely between the cities of Roman Syria, the Persian Gulf and India. The new religion could travel yet further eastwards and in Christian tradition there are two distinct stories that it did. The area was the setting for the fictitious [sic] “acts” of the Apostle Thomas, which were compiled in Syriac, probably at Edessa, before c. 250. They told how Thomas, a carpenter, had seen Christ in a vision and had been sold into the service of King Gundophar, the Parthian ruler whom we know to have ruled at Taxila in the Punjab during the mid-first century. The story was well-imagined. Like Thomas, goods and art objects from Roman Alexandria and Syria were reaching the Indus River and its upper reaches in the period of Gundophar’s reign. However, we do not know if there is any truth in the legend of Thomas’s mission. Possibly some settled groups of Christians did exist in the Punjab and encouraged this story of an Apostle’s visit to explain their origin. If so, they are a sad loss to history. In Taxila, during the first and second centuries, they would have lived in a society of rich household patrons, some of whose houses adjoined a large Buddhist shrine. Here we would have to imagine the two religions’ meeting, made without the intervening barrier of pagan gods.
          The second story of an Indian mission is largely true. Eusebius reports that an educated Christian, Pantaenus, left Alexandria, evidently c. 180, and went as a missionary to India, where he found Christians who already claimed to trace back to St. Bartholomew. They owned a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in “the Hebrew script” which the Apostle was supposed to have left with them. Contacts between Alexandria and the southwestern coast of India make it easy to credit this visit. Eusebius reports it as a “story,” but he seems to be expressing his own surprise at the adventure, not his doubt at its source. The Gospel “in Hebrew letters” need not disprove it: “Hebrew letters” may refer to the Syriac script, and we cannot rule out an early Syriac translation of the Gospels for use in the East.
          If Christians availed themselves of these wide horizons, they were not alone among the travellers on Rome’s eastern frontier: soon afterwards, the Christian teacher Bardaisan was able to give us the best ancient description of India’s Brahmins from his vantage point at Edessa, in Syria. In a pupil’s memoire of his teaching, he also alluded to Christians in “Bactria,” beyond the Hindu Kush Mountains, though not specifically in southern India. His silence does not refute the stories of Christians in that region: he was not giving a complete list of churches. He does, however, cast light on Christianity in his own Edessa, where it attracted something more remarkable: the patronage of a king.” Fox (1986), pp. 277-278.

          “But whatever may be our opinion of this tradition [of St. Thomas coming to India in the 1st century CE], there is not the slightest reason to doubt that there were Christians in India in the second century of our era. The documentary evidence available for this are the following notices which appear in the writings of Eusebius and Jerome, to the effect that Pantænus, the head of the famous catechetial school at Alexandria, was sent by Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, to India at the request of some ‘ambassadors’ from there.

          1. It is said that he (Pantænus) ‘displayed such zeal for the divine word that he was appointed as a herald of the Gospel of Christ to the nations of the East and was sent as far as India . . . It is reported that among persons there who knew Christ, he found the Gospel according to St. Matthew which had anticipated his own arrival. For Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them and left them with the writing of Matthew in the Hebrew language which they had preserved till that time.’ (Eusebius: Ecclesiastical History, Bk. V, Ch. 10)

          2. ‘Pantænus, a philosopher of the Stoic school, according to some old Alexandrian custom, where from the time of Mark the evangelist the ecclesiastics were always doctors, was of so great prudence and erudition both in scripture and secular literature that on the request of the legates of the nation, he was sent to India by Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, where he found that Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles, had preached the advent of the Lord Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, and on his return to Alexandria, he brought this with him in Hebrew characters.’ (Jerome : Liber de Viris Illustribus, Ch. XXXVI.)

          3. ‘Pantænus, a philosopher of the Stoic school, was on account of his great reputation for learning sent by Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, to India to preach Christ to the Brahmans and philosophers there.’ (Jerome : Epistola LXX ad Magnum oratorem urbis Romae.)

          There is no reason to doubt that the country visited by the learned Pantænus was India, because nowhere else do we find Brahmins. He laboured there for only a short time, returned to Alexandria and resumed charge of the school from Clement, who, in a well-known passage, speaks of Indian Gymnosophists and ‘other barbarian philosophers’. ‘Of these,’ he says, ‘there are two classes, some of them are called Sarmanae and other Brahmins; and those of the Sarmanae, who are called Hylobii, neither inhabit cities, nor have roofs over them, but are clothed in the bark of trees, feed on nuts, and drink water in their hands . . . They know not marriage or begetting of children.’ Clement is here clearly referring to the wandering sadhus of India, and no doubt got all his information about India from his guru Pantænus.
          The next record we have of the existence of a Church in India is that at the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 239) a prelate of the Indian Church was present and subscribed as ‘Metropolitan of Persia and of the Great India’. We then read of the visit to India of two brothers, Frumentius and Edesius, thirty years later. Frumentius obtained the good will of the king of the country, rose high in his favour and helped him in his administration. Discovering among the subjects certain who were Christians, he helped them to build churches and propagate the Gospel. Returning to Alexandria and relating the whole story to Bishop Athanasius, who had by then been elevated to that see, he entreated him to send a Bishop to India. The prelate asked Frumentius to take upon himself the Bishopric. He accepted and returned to India in the year 356 as Bishop of that country. Rufinus, an Italian who had spent twenty-six years in a monastery in Palestine, where he had become intimate with Jerome, returned to Italy in 397, wrote an Ecclesiastical History and died in 412. It is he who gives us this interesting narrative (Rufinus : Hist. Eccles. Lin. I, Cap. 9).” Paul (1952), pp. 18-19.

          “One further factor may be mentioned as not irrelevant to this inquiry. There is a Jewish colony settled in various places round the Periyar river and in Quilon, the very places which claim Christian churches founded by St. Thomas. According to their own traditions the came originally in A.D. 68 and settled in Muziris, receiving a grant of privileges on copper plates just as the Christians did in the fourth century. There are Christian copper-plate grants associated with Quilon and generally thought to be of the ninth century which are witnessed by a number of Jews, subscribing their names in Hebrew. We cannot be certain of these traditional dates, but it looks as if Jewish immigrants, perhaps driven from the West or Arabia by persecution, settled in Kēraa and became respected trading communities in the first few centuries of our era.” Brown (1956), p. 62.

“A single stone inscription from a synagogue in K’ai-feng along the lower reaches of the Yellow River offers a tantalizing suggestion regarding the earliest Jewish presence in East Asia. The inscription, which dates from 1663, reads: “The religion started in T’ien-chu [lit. ‘India,’ but probably just meaning the West], and was first transmitted to China during the Chou [the Chou dynasty, ca. 1100-221 BCE]. A tz’u (ancestral hall) was built in Ta-liang (K’ai-feng). Through the Han, T’ang, Sung, Ming, and up till now, it has undergone many vicissitudes.”45
          . . . .  Unfortunately, the K’ai-feng inscription is uncorroborated by any other piece of evidence and may just reflect the Chinese Jewish community’s boldest claim to antiquity in its own origin myth. An earlier inscription from 1512 and a slightly later one from 1679 both date the Jews’ first arrival in China to the Han period (202
BCE–221 CE). Consistent with this dating, some Chinese Jews told a Jesuit missionary in the early eighteenth century that according to their own oral tradition, their ancestors had first come from Persia during the reign of Ming-ti (58-75 CE).49 The founders of the K’ai-feng community, meanwhile, appear to have arrived by sea no earlier than the ninth century CE, separately and distinctly from the Jews who had come overland into Chinese territory much earlier.50

45 Quoted in Leslie, Survival of the Chinese Jews, p. 3.

49 Leslie, Survival, p. 4.

50 Rudolf Loewenthal, The Jews of Bukhara, (Central Asian Collectanea, no. 8). Washington, D.C., 1961, p. 6.

Foltz (1999), pp. 34-35 and nn. 45, 49, 50.

          “The Parthian Arsacid dynasty, which ruled Mesopotamia and Iran during the first two centuries of the common era, did not consider religion a particularly important political issue. As a result there is little mention of religious sects in Parthian sources, and we can only guess at the spread of Christian ideas in the East based on analysis of later materials. It would seem that in the western part of the Parthian realm Christian communities grew among various Jewish and other sects, local cults and varieties of Iranian religion.
          The earliest reference to Central Asian communities in a Christian source is the comment of Bardaisan around 196
CE: “Nor do our sisters among the Gilanians and Bactrians have any intercourse with strangers.” The apocryphal Acts of Thomas [which also mention the coming to Taxila in the first half of the 1st century CE of Thomas and Mary and Thomas’ “twin” – who is often interpreted as Jesus – thought by some to have survived the crucifixion], written around the same time, mentions the “land of the Kushans” (baith kaishan).4
          In 224 a new dynasty, the Sasanians, defeated the Parthians. By then Christians were fairly numerous in the Iranian world: an early church history states that in 225 there were twenty bishoprics throughout the Persian controlled lands.5 Following the Sasanian Emperor Shapur I’s victories over the Byzantines in 256 and 260, Greek-speaking as well as Syriac-speaking Christian captives were deported to Iran and thus added to the numbers of Christians there.”

4 See Moffett, Christianity in Asia, pp. 51-53.

5 Alphonse Mingana. The Early Spread of Christianity in Central Asia and the Far East: A New Document. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1925, pp. 7-8.

Foltz (1999), p. 65 and nn.

The following article indicates the possibility of Christian influence in China as early as the 1st century CE.


Christian Designs Found in Tomb Stones of Eastern Han Dynasty

When studying a batch of stone carvings of Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D.) stored and exhibited in the Museum of Xuzhou Han Stone Carvings, Jiangsu Province, Christian theology professor Wang Weifan was greatly surprised by some stone engravings demonstrating the Bible stories and designs of early Christian times.

Further studies showed that some of these engravings were made in 86 A.D., or the third year under the reign of “Yuanhe” of Eastern Han Dynasty, 550 years earlier than the world accepted time of Christianity's entrance into China.

The 74-year-old professor, who is also a standing member of the China Christian Council, showed reporter a pile of photos of Han stone carvings and bronze basins taken by him. He also compared the designs on them with that of the Bible, composed of fish, birds, and animals demonstrating how God created the earth.

Designs on these ancient stones displayed the artistic style of early Christian times found in Iraq and Middle East area while bearing the characteristics of China's Eastern Han times.

The stone carvings, being important funeral objects, are mainly found in four cities, and Xuzhou is one of them. It is reported that by now more than 20 intact Han tombs have been found, from which nearly 500 pieces of engraved stones were discovered.

It is globally accepted that Christianity was first carried into China by a Syrian missionary Alopen in 635 A.D. the ninth year under the reign of  “Zhenguan” of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.).

Some experts once raised doubts that Christianity may have entered China in an early time as the Eastern Han, but lack evidence. Nevertheless, professor Wang’s discovery serves to strongly back up the theory and the earlier works of his own.

By PD Online Staff Member Li Heng. People’s Daily Online. Downloaded on 26 November 2003:

J. Climate and other Changes along the Silk Routes.

The general wide-spread desiccation of Eurasia in historical times is now well attested and universally accepted. It is particularly noticeable in the Tarim Basin region, where it forced the abandonment of many communities as glacial streams retreated back towards the ranges, forcing significant changes to trade routes. See, for example, Almgren (1962), pp. 93-108; Shi and Yao (1999), pp. 91-100; Bao et al. (2004).
          The old Southern Silk Route between Dunhuang and Charklik became almost impassable over the first few centuries
CE. Travellers were obliged to take the longer route through the mountainous region to the south, which was controlled by rebellious Qiang tribes, or to abandon the Southern Route altogether, by heading from Dunhuang past Lop Nor via Shanshan to rejoin the Northern Route near Korla.
          Many communities were abandoned due to the drying up of water supplies and the inexorable advance of sand. This process continues even today with the Chinese government and local communities fighting a constant battle to keep roads open and help present communities survive.

“East of Hetian [Khotan] are some 13 rivers, which used to flow more than 40 kilometres (25 miles) further into the Taklamakan Desert than they do today. Many of the prosperous towns watered by them were abandoned to the sands between the third and sixth centuries to become buried treasure troves.” Bonavia (1988), p. 191.

          “This next stretch of highway is under threat from the desert and frequently blocked. Fences of reed-matting form sand-breaks. Quemo comprises one main street only – and no wonder, since for 145 days a year it is blasted by sands blown by Force 5 winds. Until the road was completed in the 1960s it took a month’s journey through 800 kilometres (500 miles) of desert to reach Korla.” Ibid., p. 192.

It is wise to remember, that not all the changes in routes or settlement patterns were solely due to climactic changes, they were sometimes hastened by human factors; as Sir Aurel Stein makes clear:

“According to the observations during my explorations of 1900-01, and which I have discussed at some length in my former Detailed Report, the Dandān-oilik Oasis received its water from a canal fed by one or several of the streams now irrigating the oases of Chīra, Gulakhma, and Domoko. The careful examination which Professor Huntington has since made of this ground, and the physical changes undergone by it, has fully confirmed this view. Now it is of special importance to note that Dandān-oilik lies fifty‑six miles farther north in the desert than Khādalik, and not less than sixty‑four beyond Mazār-toghrak. Were shrinkage of the water‑supply to he considered the only possible cause of abandonment, this chronological coincidence in the case of localities dependent on the identical drainage system, and yet so widely separated, would certainly be very curious.
            That such shrinkage of the available water‑supply has taken place in the Tarīm Basin during historical times, and that it must be connected with a general desiccation period affecting the whole of Central Asia and apparently most regions of the continent, if not of the whole earth, is a conclusion which a mass of steadily accumulating evidence is forcing upon the geographical student. It is Professor Huntington’s special merit that he has brought out the central fact of that shrinkage and has emphasized the importance of the proofs which systematic archaeological investigation of ancient sites in the desert and near the present oases is able to furnish. At the same time he has looked towards the results of this investigation to support a theory of his own which supposes that the general process of desiccation has been diversified during the historical period known to us by a succession of minor though important climatic changes partaking of a pulsatory nature. By a series of ingenious observations Professor Huntington has endeavoured to show that the climatic pulsations thus assumed, i.e. periods of increased dryness extending over certain centuries followed in turn by periods of a reverse tendency toward more abundant rainfall, have exercised a determining influence on history. He believes them to be reflected with particular clearness in the history of Central Asia, tend to increase the intensity of any climactic variations.
            It does not come within the scope of the present work to attempt a critical analysis in general of this theory which the distinguished American geographer has set forth, with great lucidity and captivating literary skill in his Pulse of Asia. But since many of the specific arguments there advanced are derived from observations and inferences concerning the ancient sites between Khotan and Lop‑nōr which I explored in the course of my journeys, it appears to me obviously desirable that I should indicate clearly in each case what I think systematic archaeological research can safely establish as regards the climatic changes assumed, and what lies beyond its power to prove. The distinction is particularly needful, because in the absence of direct historical information which could throw light on such changes in the Tārīm Basin, Professor Huntington has been led to deduce their chronology mainly from what antiquarian evidence he believed available, and in the reverse way to reconstruct the history of economic and cultural development in this region from the climatic pulsations determined on this basis.
            To turn now to the tract which extends along the southern edge of the Taklamakān between Chīra and Keriya, it is certain that the water brought down at the present time by its rivers would be quite insufficient to reach so distant a site as Dandān‑oilik. Nor would it be adequate to irrigate, besides the actual oases, the whole of the adjoining area which can be proved to have been cultivated during the pre‑Muhammadan epoch. But a recognition of this fact by no means justifies the assumption that, because desiccation has rendered areas once cultivated incapable of reoccupation after long centuries, their original abandonment must have been due to the same cause.
            Where man’s struggle with adverse conditions of nature is carried on by a highly civilized com­munity, such as archaeological exploration reveals to us in these ancient oases of the Buddhist epoch, human factors introduce elements of complexity which must warn the critical student to proceed warily, and to look for definite historical or antiquarian evidence before drawing his conclusions as to the circumstances and events which determined the desertion of these settlements. Where cultivation is wholly dependent upon a careful system of irrigation, and where the maintenance of the latter is possible only by the organized co‑operation of an adequate population, as in these oases adjacent to, or surrounded by, the most and of deserts, a variety of causes apart from the want of water may lead to the gradual shrinkage or complete abandonment of cultivation. Reduction of population through invasion or pestilence; maladministration and want of security arising from prolonged disturbance of political conditions; physical calamities, such as changes in river courses with which a weakened administration would not adequately cope, etc., might all individually or jointly produce the same result.
            Thus for Dandān‑oilik we have significant evidence in an official Chinese document of the year A. D.768 found there, which has been fully discussed in my former Detailed Report. This shows in most authentic form that the settlement, finally abandoned soon after A. D. 790, as other dated records prove, had already in A. D. 768 lost a part of its population which had retired to the main oasis owing to the depredations of bandits. In view of this explicit contemporary record there is every inducement for the historical student to connect the final abandonment of this outlying oasis after A. D. 790 with the great political. upheaval of the years immediately following, when Chinese authority in Eastern Turkestan after long‑drawn struggles finally succumbed to Tibetan invasion. We know from the devastations which accompanied‑Tibetan predominance elsewhere at that period, that the disappearance of organized Chinese control and protection must have resulted in prolonged political troubles throughout the Tārīm Basin. Without an effectively administered system of irrigation and an adequate population, cultivation in that and region cannot successfully maintain its constant fight with the desert, whatever the supply of water available in the rivers may be. Both conditions were likely to suffer severely during those troubled times, and in no part of the cultivated effect make itself felt so rapidly and completely as in an isolated colony like Dandān-oilik.
            It is obvious that a cause which would suffice to explain complete abandonment in the case of Dandān-oilik, might reasonably be held capable also of accounting for the shrinkage which we must assume to have taken place about the same time in the occupied area immediately to the north and east of the present Domoko. But it will be well to remember the lesson which the story of the Domoko dam. as above detailed, can teach us, and to realize that we can never be sure of correctly gauging the cause or causes which have produced the change in each particular locality, unless definite historical records come within our reach. Neither silent ruins nor scientific conjecture can replace them, and while reliable materials of that kind remain as scanty as now, we can scarcely expect the old sites to give definite answers to all the questions which arise about the physical past of this region.” Stein (1921), pp. 207-211.

K. The Identification of Jibin as Kapisha-Gandhāra.

The kingdom of Jibin 罽賓 [Chi-pin] = Gandhāra-Kapisha.

Ji – not in Karlgren; EMC: kiajh
– K. 389a: *pi̯ĕn / pi̯ĕn; EMC: pjin.

There is a discussion in CICA p. 104, n. 203, on the various phonetic interpretations of the name, none of which I find convincing. There are two main theories regarding the location of Jibin:

1. Several scholars maintain that Jibin referred to (the Valley of) Kashmir. This was partly on linguistic grounds – see, for example, Pulleyblank (1963), pp. 218-219, (1999), p. 75 and the discussion in Bailey (1985), pp. 44-46, and partly because Jibin was, in later centuries, in a few Buddhist texts, used to refer to the Kashmir Valley.
          The Vale or Valley of Kashmir was most unlikely to have been on the route used by the Chinese to reach Kandahar and points west. In ancient times, the only easy access to it was from the southwest – the Gandhāran plains – via the low Baramula Pass, with its plentiful water and fodder. This did mean that the ruler of Taxila (east of the Indus, near modern Rawalpindi), when strong enough, frequently controlled Kashmir as well, and it was commonly used as a summer residence for such rulers due to its pleasant climate and surrounds.
          Travel was very difficult from all other directions – the northwest, east and south. For practical purposes, the Vale of Kashmir formed a cul-de-sac, with only one major opening and thus was rarely used for through traffic, as the following passage from the 16th century Tarikh-i-Rashidi, chap. XCIX, makes plain:

          “There are three principal highways into Kashmir. The one leading to Khorásán [“a – country which at that time spread eastward to beyond Herat and Ghazni, and southward to Mekrán.” See Vol. I, p. *30] is such a difficult route, that it is impossible for beasts of burden with loads to be driven along it ; so the inhabitants, who are accustomed to such work, carry the loads upon their own shoulders for several days, until they reach a spot where it is possible to load a horse. The road to India offers the same difficulty. The road which leads to Tibet is easier than these two, but during several days one finds nothing but poisonous herbs, which make the transit inconvenient for travellers on horseback, since the horses perish.” Elias (1895), p. 432.

During the Han and the Tang dynasties, at least, the identification of Jibin with Kashmir is highly improbable. Most people nowadays (including many scholars) think of “Kashmir” as consisting of the mainly of Kashmir Valley itself or, at most, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir including Ladakh to the east.
          From the mid-19th century the Maharaja’s power over the princely state of Jammu-Kashmir extended at least as far as the Karakoram range to the north, but the disputed boundary beyond that was never demarcated. He also controlled Ladakh and Gilgit, until this latter was set up as a special agency by the British in 1889 for strategic reasons (which became part of Pakistan after Partition in 1947 along with the upper Indus Valley past Skardu). He controlled the territory west past Gupis to the easy Shandur Pass (3,725 metres; 12,221 feet), which is only about 20 kilometres from Mastuj.
           Mastuj, on the Yarkhun River, is the main centre in the upper reaches of the Chitral/Kunar valley, from where there is relatively easy, year-round access to the region of Jalalabad on the Kabul River. It also controls access to the strategically important Baroghil Pass (3,798 metres; 12,460 feet) to the north. See, for example, the foldout map of Kashmir in Younghusband and Molyneux (1909). It is only in this very extended sense of ‘Kashmir’ that there could be any possibility of Jibin standing for ‘Kashmir’ during the first few centuries

2. The second theory is based on the fact that the route to Kandahar, as given in both the Hanshu and the Hou Hanshu, reaches it after crossing through Xuandu (the ‘Hanging Passages’ = Hunza/ Gilgit), and then passes through Jibin.
          There is a route from Gilgit to the Kashmir Valley itself which was in use until 1947, but, political considerations aside, the shortest route from the Tarim Basin for someone headed to the north Indian plains, remain the ones over the Kilik or Mintaka Passes, and then through Hunza and Gilgit and on to the Chitral/Kunar Valley. Further east one could cross the Baroghil Pass with pack animals during summer, leading down to Mastuj and Chitral as described below.
          The only alternative routes for laden animals were much further east over the difficult Karakoram Pass and then across Ladakh to Kashmir.
          From Ladakh heading south, there are a couple of difficult alternative routes over very high passes, both converging, finally, on the unpredictable and dangerous Rohtang Pass (3,980 metres or 13,058 ft) leading into the Kulu Valley and the northern Indian plains. The Rohtang Pass is only open from June to September each year and is notorious for its deadly “icy winds and sudden blizzards at any time of the day even during the summer.” Chetwode (1972): p. 184 – which see for graphic accounts of such disasters.
            However, the route through the Kullu Valley and Manali over the Rohtang Pass to Lahaul, and then on to Ladakh and the Tarim Basin always retained a certain importance in spite of its dangers and difficulties. It was not only a conduit for the famous cottons and wools of the north Indian plains. There were important silver mines (now exhausted) past Manikaran in the Parvati River Valley which joins the Kullu Valley from the east, and also some of the finest quality charas or hashish was (and is) produced in the region, forming a major export item to the Khotan and Yarkand well into the early years of the 20th century.

Looking at the routes from the opposite direction, Sir Aurel Stein records:

          “After leaving behind Misgar, the northernmost hamlet of Hunza, the natural difficulties of the route decrease. The valley widens as we approach the watershed which separates the headwaters of the Hunza river from those of the Oxus on the one side and the Tāghdumbāsh Pāmīr on the other. Lord Curzon, in his exhaustive Memoir on the Pāmīrs, has duly emphasized the important geographical fact that the water-parting in this part of the Hindukush lies considerably to the north of the axial range and is also far lower. This helps to account for the relative ease with which the Kilik and Mintaka passes, giving final access to the Tāghdumbāsh Pāmīr, can be crossed, even with laden animals, during the greater part of the year.” Stein (1907), p. 21.

By far the easiest route, though, at least during summer (it was closed by snow in the winter), went over the Baroghil Pass to Mastuj and, from there, either east towards Gilgit, southwest down the Chitral/Kunar Valley towards Jalalabad.
          There is a viable but more difficult route south from Chitral, (presently in use because of the artificial border between Pakistan and Afghanistan), over the dangerous Lowari Pass (3,118 metres or 10,230 ft), through Dir and Malakand to the region of Peshawar.

“From Sarhad starts the well-known route which leads southwards over the Barōghil pass to the headwaters of the Mastūj river, to this day representing the easiest line of access from the Upper Oxus to Chitrăl as well as to Gilgit.” Stein (1907), p. 8.

“All details recorded of it [the passage of Ko Hsien-chih’s troops in 747 CE] agree accurately with the route which lies over the Barōghil saddle (12,460 feet above the sea [3,798 metres]) to the sources of the Mastūj river, and then, crossing south-eastwards the far higher Darkōt Pass (15,200 feet [4,633 metres]), descends along the Yasīn river to its main junction with the main river of Gilgit. Three days are by no means too large an allowance of time for a military force accompanied by baggage animals to effect the march from the Oxus to the summit of the Darkōt Pass, considering that the ascent to the latter lies partly over the moraines and ice of a great glacier. The Darkōt Pass corresponds exactly in position to the ‘Mount T’an-chü’ of the Annals and possibly preserves the modern form of the name which the Chinese transcription, with its usual phonetic imperfection, has endeavoured to reproduce. The steep southern face of the pass, where the track descends close on 6,000 feet [1,829 metres] between the summit and the hamlet of Darkōt, over a distance of five or six miles [8 to 9.7 km], manifestly represents ‘the precipices for over forty li in a straight line’ which dismayed the Chinese soldiers on looking down from the heights of Mount T’an-chü.
          From the foot of the pass at Darkōt a march of about twenty-five miles [40 km] brings us to the village of Yasīn, the political centre of the valley. . . . ” Stein (1907), pp. 9-10.

As mentioned, from Chitral one could travel either through Swat to the region of Peshawar in Gandhāra, or via Jalalabad and from there southwest to Kandahar (this latter being the easiest and most direct route to Kandahar). To travel to Kandahar via the Kashmir Valley would entail making a very long and unnecessary detour.
          In addition, the Hou Hanshu’s discussion of Gaofu (which most authorities agree referred to the region of modern Kabul, known later as Kabulistan), it is stated that Jibin, at times, controlled it – see Section 4 of this text. That alone would seem to eliminate the Kashmir Valley as a possible location.
          Any power that controlled the region of Jalalabad in the Kabul River Valley would normally have included the key strategic fortifications at Kapisha near present Begram to the north and, often, Kabul, and usually Peshawar and Pushkalāvatī or Chārsaddā (the ancient capital – some 18 miles or 29 km northeast of Peshawar), plus some of the Gandhāran plains to the east and northeast.

“. . . can only be Nagarahāra near Jalalabad, the frontier town towards India, which appears in Ptolemy as ‘Nagara, also called Dionysopolis’.4 Very few places east of the Hindu Kush have a Greek name, so the town must have been important; the form of the name Dionysopolis shows that a Greek military colony had been planted there . . , one of the usual methods of hellenising an existing Oriental town . . ; whether, like Susa, the place had become, or ever did become, a Greek polis cannot be said. The settlers were devoted in some especial way to the worship of Dionysus; hence the panther, probably the city type.

4 VII, I, 42; Foucher, Afghanistan p. 279. Ptolemy assigns it to Gandhāra, but it was the frontier town and may have been governed from either capital at different times.”

Tarn (1984), p. 159 and n. 4.

“But, unlike Taxila, Pushkalāvatī became a Greek polis (doubtless somewhat of the type of Susa, p. 27), as is shown by the Fortune of the city on kings’ coins; the solitary coin of the city itself which exists to prove that it was once for a time completely independent… shows, beside Siva’s bull, the Fortune of the ‘city of lotuses’ with her mural crown, holding in her hand the lotus of Lakshmī. Evidently Pushkalāvatī, when a Greek polis, was no less proud of her alien deities than was Ephesus of her alien Artemis, and Siva’s bull is a parallel to Artemis’ bee on the coins of the Ionian city. Pushkalāvatī stood at what was probably then the junction of the Swat and Kabul rivers, and as it and not Purushapura (Peshawur) became the Greek capital, the regular Greek line of communication westward probably did not run through the Khyber pass but by the route which Alexander had followed more to the northward; it seems unlikely that the Khyber was in regular use until the Kushans made Peshawur their capital.” Tarn (1984), p. 136.

“The Khaibar route is a late one in the route-system of the frontier regions. With the emergence of Kabul as an important town in the eighth century this route came into prominence and started functioning most frequently from the sixteenth century onwards. Hephaestion’s route went along the north bank of the Kabul river and passed through the Michni fort and Hotimardān, where a common route to Hund [a major ancient crossing of the Indus] proceeded. According to Aurel Stein, the route of Hephaestion bifurcated from that of Alexander somewhat near the eastern side of the Kunar river and far to the north of Kama. It proceeded in the southeasterly direction through Bohai, Dāg, Gandāb, Doābā, Michni Pass, Utmanzai, Chārsaddā and finally to Hund via Hotimardān. Chārsaddā or Puṣkalāvatī was the ancient capital of Gandhārā and was 18 miles [29 km] northeast of Peshawar. Aurel Stein, On Alexander’s Track to the Indus (London, 1929), p. 124 ; Olaf Caroe, Pathans, 550 BC-AD 1957 (London, 1958), p. 48.” From: Verma (1978), p. 53, n. 152.

“We are told by Alexander’s historians (M’Crindle MDCCCDVI) that while the main body of his troop moved along the most direct route to Taxila, Alexander decided to move along a northern route with the intention of subduing certain tribes in that region. Major details about this route are available in Holdich’s The Gates of India (189:96ff; also see Smith 1904). Briefly, from Kabul, Alexander went along the Kabul river on to the valley of Kunar (Choaspes) which ‘is a link in the oldest and probably the best trodden route from Kabul to the Punjab, and it has no part with the Khaibar. It links together these northern valleys of Laaghman, Kunar and Lundai (i.e., the Panjkora and Swat united) by a road north of Kabul, finally passing southwards into the plains chequered by the river network above Peshawar.’ After crossing the Panjkora (Gourajos), Alexander subdued Massaga which, M’Crindle argues, seconding Rennell, was the same as the Mashanagar mentioned in Babur’s memoirs, situated on the Swat river, two marches from Bajaur. His next objective were the cities of Ora and Bazira. Going towards the Indus, Alexander received the submission of Peukelaotis, the capital of the then Peshawar region ie., Charsada. From Charsada, Taxila was reached. After leaving behind the dominions of Porus, around the Jhelum, he went down the river, fighting tribes along the way to reach the confluence of the rivers of the Punjab with the Indus. His campaign in the Sind region is dealt with very vaguely. It is sufficient to mention that the march followed mainly the line of the river towards the sea and towards Gedrosia.” Lahiri (1992), pp. 379-380.

It was only natural for a state such as the Kushan (and later the British) Empire to wish to control the trade and possible invasion routes to the northeast, and so would extend their power up the Kunar/Chitral valley and across to the easily defended gorges of Yasin, Gilgit and Hunza, thus controlling trade while, at the same time, preventing surprise attacks from the north.
          Shughnān was famous for its good climate, water and wine. It was also the source of the widely celebrated “Balas rubies” (actually spinel, not true rubies) of the ancient world. Although, apparently no longer mined today, they were being mined at least until the 19th century:

“I have failed to find out how old the balas ruby is. The earliest I have met with are those on the Bimarān casket, which was found with coins of Azes I and is probably no earlier than c. 30 B.C.; some ruby beads from Taxila are also not earlier than Azes, ASI 1915–16 p. 5. For Roman times see Warmington, p. 249, who tells me he has not met with the balas ruby in Hellenistic or Greek times. Yet it is hard to believe that the mine was first opened by the Yueh-chi.” Tarn (1984), p. 103, n. 4.

“The ruler of Shignan claims the title of Shah. The present Shah, Eusuf Ali, rules over both Shighnan and Roshan. . . .  The country of Shignan and Roshan is sometimes called Zujan (two-lived), its climate and water being so good that a man entering it is said to have come into the possession of two lives. Bar Panja, the capital of Shignan, containing about 1500 houses, stands on the left bank, and Wamur, the capital of Roshan, on the right bank of the Oxus ; but the greater portion of both countries is on the right [i.e. the eastern] bank. . . .  Much wine is made and drunk in the country. It is a red sweet liquor produced from the cherry. There are now about 4700 houses or families in Shighnan and Roshan together, but the population is said to have been much greater in former times. Shighnan and Roshan used to receive from the Chinese, during their occupation of Eastern Turkistan, a yearly payment similar to that made to Sirikol, Kunjut, and Wakhan, for the protection of the frontier and the trade routes. The ruby mines of Gharan are now worked under the orders of Sher Ali, the Amir of Kabul. It was said that one large ruby the size of a pigeon’s egg, as well as some smaller ones, were found lately and sent to the Amir. The working of these mines appears to be attended with considerable risk and great hardship.” Gordon (1876), pp. 139-141.

The region was also rich in metals which may have been mined in Kushan times, and would have greatly increased its importance:

“Badakshan to-day produces some copper and iron, and may always have done so; but Bactria in Greek times was seemingly poor in precious metals. In Arab times there were rich mines of silver at Anderab and also mines in Wakhan, but it seems improbable that they were worked or much worked in the Greek period, for there are signs that Euthydemus was short of silver; many of his tetradrachms were struck on old coins already in circulation, and he attempted at the end of his life to import nickel from China. East of the Hindu Kush, however, the silver mines on the Panjshir river, which were to supply the mint at Alexandria–Kapisha, were doubtless working to some extent – one of the things which made that city such a desirable acquisition.” Tarn (1984), pp. 103-104.

It is possible that Shuangmi, at times, may have controlled the region of the upper Kokcha river in Badakhshān containing the important ancient lapis lazuli mines, which were usually controlled by whoever was in power in Badakhshān. Certainly, in c. 658 CE the Chinese government established a district of Shuangmi (employing exactly the same characters as in the Hou Hanshu) centred in the town of Julan or Kuran, which is at the head of the Kokcha River, near the lapis lazuli mines. See Chavannes (1900), pp. 71 n., 159, 159 n. 2, and 278. This is presumably also the place named Qulangna [Ch’ü-lang-na], which Xuanzang visited on his way back to China in 644 CE. See Watters (1904-05), II, pp. 278-279; Beal (1884), II, p. 292, and note 13.3 above. 
          It is often stated that the mines in Badhakshan were the only source of lapis lazuli in the ancient world. While it is true that they were the major source – particularly for Mesopotamia and Egypt, other sources are known which have possibly been utilised since ancient times. For example, one such source is near the town of Ghiamda (modern Gyimda), about 200 km as the crow flies northeast of Lhasa:

“The lapis lazuli, stag’s horn, and rhubarb, are also materials of a great commercial intercourse with Lha-Ssa and the neighbouring provinces. They affirm here, that it is the mountains about Ghiamda that the best rhubarb grows.” Huc (undated), p. 98.

The Da Yuezhi also conquered the fertile Swat Valley, which not only provided the main route south to the Gandhāran plains but was an ancient source of emeralds. Questions were answered recently as to whether emeralds were mined here in ancient times when an emerald from this region has been recently proven to be the gem in a Gallo-Roman earring – see Giuliani et al (2000), pp. 631-633.
          Whoever was in power in the Kapisha/Begram area would quite possibly have been exploiting the rich deposits of emeralds just to the north of Kapisha/Begram, in the lower Panjshir Valley – see Giuliani et al (2000), pp. 631–633.
          These emeralds, along with lapis lazuli from Badakshan, formed an important source of income for the famous guerrilla leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud (the ‘Lion of Panjshir’), in his campaigns against the Soviets during the 1980s. See: Kremmer (2002), pp. 24-25. It is likely they were of similar importance in antiquity.
          It seems almost certain that this is the route through Jibin that the Hou Hanshu and the Weilue refer to, especially as we know this whole section of the route was under Kushan control after they conquered it during 1st century

The Hanshu says that Jibin:

 “ flat and the climate is temperate. There is lucerne, with a variety of vegetation and rare trees. . . . [The inhabitants] grow the five field crops, grapes and various sorts of fruit, and they manure their orchards and arable land. The land is low and damp, producing rice, and fresh vegetables are eaten in winter. . . . The [state] produces humped cattle, water-buffalo, elephant, large dogs, monkeys, peacocks....” CICA, pp. 105-106.

It is difficult to imagine anywhere other than Gandhāra that would fit the information given above. However, the extent of the territory it included or controlled undoubtedly varied from time to time.

“From the climate, the geographical features, and the produce, the central area in Han times must have been in Gandhāra, including Taxila. Kaspeiria and Paropamisadae were possibly subject to Jibin, but cannot be regarded as part of the metropolitan territory of Jibin.
          . . . .  Since the metropolitan territory of Jibin lay in the middle and lower reaches of the River Kabul, “Ji-bin [kiat-pien]” was very likely a transcription of “Kophen”, an ancient name for the River Kabul.” Yu (1998), p. 149.

There are many indications that the territory along the Kabul River Valley through Jalalabad to Kapisha (modern Begram) often formed a political unit with the Gandhāran plains. The Hanshu (CICA, p. 103), mentions that Nandou (the Chitral/Kunar Valley) was also subject to Jibin at that time.

“Chitral, unlike Gilgit, is not blocked for eight months in the year by Nature. If there were no such things as states, frontiers, and feuds, Chitral could be reached with ease from Peshawar any day in the year. It could be reached via Jallalabad. For, at Jallalabad, the Kabul River is joined by the Kunar River; and Chitral is simply another name for the upper Kunar valley. Unseal the sealed frontier that cuts this valley in two like a travel-proof bulk-head, and that grim annual toll of deaths on the Lowari Pass could be remitted.” Toynbee (1961), p. 143. 

The History of the Northern Wei provides valuable additional information on Jibin; stating that it was to the southwest of Bolu (Bolor or Gilgit) and that it was 800 li west to east and 300 li north to south. This description cannot possibly be applied to Kashmir but it fits very well with the territory stretching along the Kabul River valley from Kapisha (modern Begram – north of Kabul) through Peshawar and across the Gandhāran plains to ancient Taxila:

“The History of the Northern Wei [covering the period 386-534 AD] mentions an embassy from Jibin in the 1st Zhengping year of Taiwu Di (451 AD). The notice on the Peoples of the West inserted in this history reproduces that of the Han, but adds a few precise details. The capital of Jibin is SW of Bolu, 14,200 li from the capital of the Beiwei (Northern Wei); the country is surrounded by four chains of mountains. It is 800 li [333 km] in length from west to east, 300 [125 km] from north to south.” Translated from the French version by: Lévi and Chavannes (1895), p. 374. [Note that Lévi and Chavannes put the embassy in 452 AD, but this is a mistake. The 1st Zhengping year of Nanan Wang was 452/3, and he only reigned briefly during 452. Also note that I have converted the li here according to the value of the Han li. It may not have had exactly this value during the period of the Northern Wei, but this does not affect the main thrust of my argument.]

The Chinese pilgrim Wu Kong who, after travelling through Swat to the Indus River, entered Gandhāra in 753 CE helps us make sense of the confusion between the alternative proposed locations of Jibin in Kapisha and in Gandhāra. The conditions he reports were probably typical of the political situation of Jibin for many centuries, although the eastern and western portions of the country (i.e. Gandhāra and the upper Kabul River Valley), may have been separately governed at times:

“On the 21st day of the second month of the 12th Guisi year (753)[15th March, 753], he [Wu Kong] arrived at the kingdom of Qiantuoluo (乾陀罗) ; the Sanskrit pronunciation is correctly Gandhâra (健駄邏) [Jiantuoluo]; this is the eastern capital of Jibin (罽賓).
          The king lives in winter in this place; in summer, he lives in Jibin; he seeks out the warmth or coolness to promote his health.” Translated from Lévi and Chavannes (1895), p. 349.

For three excellent and detailed studies on the location of Jibin, see Lévi and Chavannes’ essay (pp. 371-384) at the end of their article, “L’itineraire d’Ou-k’ong (751-790).” JA (1895) Sept.-Oct.; Petech’s essay at the end of his article, “Northern India according to the Shu-ching-shu” (1950), pp. 63-80; and Yu (1998), Chapter 8, “The State of Jibin”, pp. 147-166.
          Also worth checking are: Stein (1900): Vol. II, Chap. II, especially, pp. 351-362; Daffinà (1982), pp. 317-318; Molè (1970), p. 97, n. 105; Rapson, ed., (1922), p. 501; Keay (1977), pp. 130, 146, 222, 224; Toynbee (1961), pp. 1, 48, 51-52 130, 125-126; and Pugachenkova, et al., (1994), p. 356.
          Assuming the order of the conquests of Kujula Kadphises in the text is chronological, it is probable that Jibin came under Kushan rule not long after he conquered Puda (Parthuaia) in 55
CE – see notes TWR 13.10 and 13.13 above. 

“Qiujiuque [Kujula Kadphises] invaded Anxi with the result that he took the country of Gaofu, which shows he took Paropamisadae from the Gondophares family. He then destroyed Jibin, of course, in order to put an end to the rule of the family in Gandhāra and Taxila. As mentioned above, the last year of Gondophares was at latest A.D. 45 and it is generally believed that the family of Gondophares had also at least one ruler, Pocores, and their reign in the valley of the Kabul River ended in A.D. 60-65. After that, Jibin was subject to Guishuang.” Yu (1999), p. 160.

It is known that the region was still under Indo-Parthian rule until at least 44
CE when Apollonius of Tyana visited Taxila – see the account in the translation by Priaulox of Philostratus’ Apollonius of Tyana in Majumdar (1981), pp. 386-393, and the convincing discussion of its authenticity (at least in regard to Taxila), in Woodcock (1966), p. 130. However, for a recent critique of Apollonius of Tyana’s travels in the East, see Jones (2002), pp. 185-199.
          I believe there is now overwhelming evidence for the second theory: Jibin, at the time of the Later Han, probably included Gandhāra, particularly the regions of Peshawar and the Kabul River valley through to Jalalabad, and then along the Kabul River Valley to the junction with the Panjshir River, then northwest to the strategically-placed fortress at Kapisha-Kanish, near modern Begram. Tarn remarks on what he considers “Gandhāra” included:

          “Gandhāra,1 the country between the Kunar river and the Indus, comprising the modern Bajaur, Swat, Buner, the Yusufzai country, and the country south of the Kabul river about Peshawur, was to become one of the strongholds of Greek Power; it has been called a kind of new Hellas.”

1 In the Jātakas Gandhāra includes Taxila; but in this book I use the term in its strict sense. On Gandhāra see Foucher, Gandhāra; R. Grousset, Sur les traces de Bouddha, 1929, chap. VI.”

Tarn (1984), p. 135 and n. 1.

L. The Introduction of Silk Cultivation to Khotan in the 1st Century CE.

The legend of the introduction of silk to Khotan by a Chinese princess is given in some detail in Xuanzang. Aurel Stein gives a good summary of this legend according to Xuanzang:

“In old times the country knew nothing of either mulberry trees or silkworms. Hearing that China possessed them, the king of Khotan sent an envoy to procure them ; but at that time the ruler of China was determined not to let others share their possession, and he had strictly prohibited seeds of the mulberry tree or silkworms’ eggs being carried outside his frontiers. The king of Khotan then with due submission prayed for the hand of a Chinese princess. When this request had been acceded to, he dispatched an envoy to escort the princess from China, taking care to let the future queen know through him that, in order to assure to herself fine silk robes when in Khotan, she had better bring some mulberry seeds and silkworms with her.
          The princess thus advised secretly procured mulberry seeds and silkworms’ eggs, and by concealing them in the lining of her headdress, which the chief of the frontier guards did not dare to examine, managed to remove them safely to Khotan. On her first arrival and before her solemn entry into the royal palace, she stopped at the site where subsequently the Lu-shê convent was built, and there she left the silkworms and the mulberry seeds. From the latter grew up the first mulberry trees, with the leaves of which the silkworms were fed when their time had come. Then the queen issued an edict engraved on stone, prohibiting the working up of the cocoons until the moths of the silkworms had escaped. Then she founded this Sanghārāma on the spot where the first silkworms were bred; and there are about here many old mulberry tree trunks which they say are the remains of the trees first planted. From old time till now this kingdom has possessed silkworms which nobody is allowed to kill, with a view to take away the silk stealthily. Those who do so are not allowed to rear the worms for a succession of years.
          That the legend here related about the origin of one of Khotan’s most important industries enjoyed widespread popularity is proved by the painted panel (D. iv. 5) discovered by me in one of the Dandān-Uliq shrines, which presents us, as my detailed analysis will show, with a spirited picture of the Chinese princess in the act of offering protection to a basketful of unpierced cocoons. An attendant pointing to the princess’s headdress recalls her beneficent smuggling by which Khotan was supposed to have obtained its first silkworms, while another attendant engaged at a loom or silk-weaving implement symbolizes the industry which the princess’s initiative had founded. A divine figure seated in the background may represent the genius presiding over the silkworms.” Stein (1907) I, pp. 229-230. See also: Stein (1921), pp. 1278-1279; Watters (1904-1905), pp. 287, 302

The story of the Chinese princess bringing silk to Khotan is retold in the Li yul lu-bstan-pa or Prophecy of the Li Country – a Buddhist history that contains a list of the Buddhist kings of Khotan apparently in chronological order. This book has been found to be surprisingly accurate in the listing of Buddhist kings wherever it has been possible to check it against Chinese sources. However, it must be noted that the list of queens later in the document is completely out of order. See: “Notes on the Dating of Khotanese History” by Hill (1988); also TWR note 4.1.
        The legend is set in the reign of King Vijaya Jaya, who is said to have married the Chinese princess who first brought silkworms to Khotan. King Vijaya Dharma was the youngest of three sons of Vijaya Jaya and appears to be identical with a “high official” named Dumo in the Hou Hanshu, and who is mentioned later on in the text as reigning in 60
CE. (For more details on this identification, see TWR note 20.17.)
        The name of this “high official,” 
都末 – Dumo – is presumably an attempt to transcribe Dharma, the king’s name in the legend:

Du – K. 45e’: *to / tuo; EMC: to / tuo.
mo – K. 277a: *mwât / muât; EMC: mat.

Furthermore, King Vijaya Jaya is recorded as being four generations before King Vijaya Kīrti, who is said to, along with the king of Gu-zan or Kucha assisted Kanika (= Kanishka) in his conquest of So-ked (= Saketa). 
          Now, we know that this conquest apparently took place just prior to, or during the first year, of Kanishka’s era, which Harry Falk (2001) has recently identified as 127
            Although the evidence is not totally beyond question, there are now, I believe, sufficient grounds for asserting that that silk technology arrived in Khotan sometime in the first half of the 1st century
          This is supported by F. W. Thomas in his translation of “The Annals of the Li Country,” in Tibetan Literary Texts and Documents Concerning Chinese Turkestan (1935) on page 110, note 9, where he says: “The introduction of silk-culture into Khotan probably took place early, perhaps about the beginning of the Christian era.” For further information see: Emmerick (1967), pp. 33-47 and Thomas (1935), pp. 110-119.

M. The Canals and Roads from the Red Sea to the Nile.

I have already discussed in some detail the significance of the two canals – the Red Sea to the Nile, and the Butic – which, together, connected Alexandria and the other delta cities with the Red Sea. See note 11.8. Here, I propose to look at the various accounts dealing with the long history of the Red Sea to the Nile canal.

“Darius (520 B.C.) continued the work of Necho, rendering navigable the channel of the Heroopolite Gulf, which had become blocked. Up to this time there appears to have been no connexion between the waters of the Red Sea and those of the Bubastis-Heroopolis canal; vessels coming from the Mediterranean ascended the Pelusaic arm of the Nile to Bubastis and then sailed along the canal to Heroopolis, where their merchandise had to be transferred to the Red Sea ships. Ptolemy Philadelphus (285 B.C.) connected the canal with the waters of the sea, and at the spot where the junction was effected he built the town of Arsinoe. The dwindling of the Pelusaic branch of the Nile rendered this means of communication impossible by the time of Cleopatra (31 B.C.). Trajan (A.D. 98) is said to have repaired the canal, and, as the Pelusaic branch was no longer available for navigation, to have built a new canal between Bubastis and Babylon (Old Cairo), this new canal being known traditionally as Amnis Trajanaus or Amnis Augustus. According to H. R. Hall, however, it is very doubtful if any work of this kind, beyond repairs, was undertaken in the time of the Romans; and it is more probable that the new canal was the work of Amr (the Arab conqueror of Egypt in the 7th century). The canal was certainly in use in the early years of the Moslem rule in Egypt; it is said to have been closed c. A.D. 770 by order of Abu Jafar (Mansur), the second Abbasid caliph and founder of Bagdad, who wished to prevent supplies reaching his enemies in Arabia by this means.” Encyclopædia Britannica (1911). Downloaded from: http://76. on 11 Nov. 2003.

“In Egypt both land and water communications were looked after; the old canal from Memphis to the lake of Ismailia was brought back into commission by dint of so much labour that it subsequently bore Trajan’s name; as for the roads, milestones recording Trajan’s work have been found as far south as Nubia.” Garzetti (1976), p. 336.

“Now, the surveys recently made by Lieutenant-colonel Ardagh, Major Spaight, and Lieutenant Burton, of the Royal Engineers, have rendered it certain that the Wady Tûmilât was at some very distant time traversed by a branch of the Nile which discharged its waters into the Red Sea – the majority of geographers being now of the opinion that the head of the Gulf of Suez formerly extended as far northward as the modern town of Ismaïlia. Whether that branch of the Nile was ever navigable, we know not; but we do know that it was already canalized in the reign of Seti I, second Pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty, and father of Rameses II.
          This ancient canal started, like the present Sweetwater Canal, from the neighbourhood of Bubastis, the modern Zagazig; threaded the Wady Tûmilât; and emptied itself into that basin which is now known as Lake Timsah. When Mr. De Lesseps laid down the line of the Sweetwater Canal, he, in fact, followed the course of the old canal of the Pharaohs, the bed of which is still traceable. When I last saw it, several blocks of masonry of the old embankment were yet in situ, among the reeds and weeds by which that ancient water-way is now choked.” Edwards (1891), p. 280.

“Psammetichus left a son called Necos, who succeeded him upon the throne. This prince was the first to attempt the construction of the canal to the Red Sea – a work completed afterwards by Darius the Persian – the length of which is four days’ journey, and the width is such as to admit of two triremes being rowed along it abreast. The water is derived from the Nile, which the canal leaves a little above the city of Bubastis,293 near Patumus, the Arabian town,294 being continued thence until it joins the Red Sea. At first it is carried along the Arabian side of the Egyptian plain, a far as the chain of hills opposite Memphis, whereby the plain is bounded, and in which lie the great stone quarries; here it skirts the base of the hills running in a direction from west to east; after which it turns, and enters a narrow pass, trending southwards from this point, until it enters the Arabian Gulf. From the northern sea to that which is called the southern or Erythraean, the shortest and quickest passage, which is from Mount Casius, the boundary between Egypt and Syria, to the Gulf of Arabia, is a distance of exactly one thousand furlongs. But the way by the canal is very much longer, on account of the crookedness of its course. A hundred and twenty thousand of the Egyptians, employed upon the work in the reign of Necos, lost their lives in making the excavation. He at length desisted from his undertakings in consequence of an oracle which warned him ‘that he was labouring for the barbarian’.295 The Egyptians call by the name of barbarian all such as speak a language different from their own.”

293 The commencement of the Red Sea canal was in different places at various periods. In the time of Herodotus it left the Pelusiac branch a little above Bubastis.

294 Patumus was not near the Red Sea, but at the commencement of the canal, and was the Pithom mentioned in Exod. 1, 11.

295 This was owing to the increasing power of the Asiatic nations.

Herodotus (1996 edition), pp. 185, 219.

“Now the Nile, when it overflows, floods not only the Delta, but also the tracts of country on both sides of the stream which are thought to belong to Libya and Arabia, in some places reaching to the extent of two days’ journey from its banks, in some even exceeding the distance, but in others falling short of it.” Herodotus (5th cent. BCE): 124 (II.19).

“When the Nile overflows, the country is converted into a sea, and nothing appears but the cities, which look like islands in the Aegean.205 At this season boats no longer keep the course of the river, but sail right across the plain. On the voyage from Naucratis to Memphis at this season, you pass close to the pyramids, whereas the usual course is by the apex of the Delta, and the city of Cercasorus. You can sail also from the maritime town of Canobus across the flat to Naucratis, passing by the cities of Anthylla and Archandropolis.”

Note 205 by George Rawlinson; ibid., on p. 212, says: “This still happens in those years when the inundation is very high.”

Herodotus (II.97), (1996), p. 155.

“As early as the Middle Kingdom, a canal had been dug from Phacussa on the Pelusiac branch of the Nile to irrigate the fertile wadi Tumilat to the east, where later the Hebrews were to settle in Goshen. Necho vainly attempted to extend it through the Bitter Lakes to the Gulf of Suez as one phase of that policy of exploration which resulted in the Phoenician circumnavigation of Africa. After his passage across the Arabian desert in 518, Darius would have continued through the wadi Tumilat and thus would have noticed this uncompleted canal. His interest quickened by hopes of a cheaper and more direct route to India, he resolved to complete the task.
          Necho’s line of excavation had been sanded up and must first be cleared. Wells had to be dug for the workmen. When finally opened [about 497
BCE], the canal was a hundred and fifty feet wide and deep enough for merchantmen. This predecessor of the present-day Suez Canal could be traversed in four days.
          Five huge red-granite stelae to commemorate this vast project greeted the eyes of the traveler at intervals along the banks. On one side the twice-repeated Darius holds within an Egyptian cartouche his cuneiform name under the protection of the Ahuramazda symbol. In the three cuneiform languages he declares: “I am a Persian. From Parsa I seized Egypt. I commanded this canal to be dug from the river, Nile by name, which flows in Egypt, to the sea which goes from Parsa. Afterward this canal was dug as I commanded, and ships passed from Egypt through this canal to Parsa as was my will.”
        . . . .  After a reference to the city Parsa and to Cyrus, the stele tells how the building of the canal was discussed and how the task was accomplished. Tribute was forwarded by twenty-four boats to Parsa. Darius was complimented and order was given for the erection of the stelae, never had a like thing occurred.” Olmstead (1978), pp. 145–147.

“This [the canal from the Nile to the Red Sea] was begun by Necho II, and completed by Darius I, who set up stelae c. 490 [BCE].., and later restored by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Trajan and Hadrian, and Amr ibn el-‘Asi, the Muslim conqueror of Egypt. Its length from Tell el-Maskhuta to Suez was about 85 km.” Baines and Málek (1984), p. 48.

The original canal was in three sections. the first joined the head of the Gulf of Suez with the Great Bitter Lake; the second was then connected with Lake Timsah to the north by another canal. The third section ran from Lake Timsah west, along the Wadi Tumilat to an ancient branch of the Nile which flowed into the Mediterranean just west of the frontier post of Pelusium.

“The rulers of ancient Egypt saw little advantage in linking the two seas, but they considered that much could be gained if the ships plying up and down the Nile were able to sail directly into the Red Sea and so reach the markets of Arabia and the Horn of Africa. So at the beginning of the sixth century BC, the Pharaoh Necho II started to excavate a linking channel. At that time, a branch of the Lower Nile ran eastwards from where the city of Cairo now stands, to empty into the Mediterranean at the town of Pelusium at the easternmost corner of the delta. Necho’s plan was to dig a canal from half-way along this branch, due east of Lake Timsah, and then south through the Bitter Lakes to reach the most northerly tip of the Red Sea at Suez. The labour involved was immense. The Greek historian, Herodotus, stated that one hundred thousand people were killed as the work proceeded [sic. Herodotus says a hundred and twenty thousand – see above]. Eventually, the Pharaoh was warned by an oracle that the human cost was too high, and accordingly he ordered the work to be halted.
          In 520 BC, however, Darius, King of the Persians, invaded Egypt and he commanded that the work should be started again. He apparently saw it not merely as a useful trade route but also a monument to his own glory, for he set up at least four stone tablets along its course, declaring that he, as the conqueror of Egypt, had decreed that the canal should be dug. It was, certainly, a spectacular achievement. Strabo, the Greek geographer who lived at the beginning of the Christian era, described the completed waterway as being wide enough to accommodate abreast two triremes – war galleys with three tiers of oars on each side – so it was probably at least a hundred feet across. The journey from the Nile to the Red Sea took, he says, about four days. The canal was, however, very difficult to maintain. Sand continually drifted into it, silting it up. It was cleaned out and repaired several times by the Romans during their rule of the country, and again by the Arabs when they annexed Egypt in the eighth century AD. Eventually, the Arabs decided it was more trouble than it was worth, and they filled it in altogether.” Attenborough (1987), pp. 177-178. 

Ptolemy II Philadelphus (king of Egypt 285-246 BCE), again reopened the Nile-Red Sea canal. By the first century CE, all three sections of the canal had silted up and goods from the east had to be landed in the Red Sea ports of Berenice and Myos Hormos, transported overland to the Nile, and shipped down to Alexandria, adding greatly to the difficulty and cost of getting them to markets. This is the situation described so well by Pliny and the author of the Periplus, both written in the 1st century CE.

“Various public works may also have been connected with the India trade. The road from Bostra to Aila was built immediately after the annexation of Arabia to the Roman Empire. The speed with which the project was undertaken suggests an urgent strategic need rather than long term commercial considerations. A second project on a grander scale was the clearing of the silted-up Ptolemaic ‘Suez Canal’ by Trajan. It is hard to perceive of this canal in other than commercial terms. Trajan had a fondness for such projects and was certainly well aware of the economic advantages of water-borne commerce. The canal was maintained throughout the imperial period, but in the first three centuries of its existence we possess only one reference to its use in the India trade.” Raschke (1976), p. 649.

          “Later, on the other side of the Nile, Hadrian built Antinoöpolis in memory of his young friend Antinous, and laid down the Via Hadriana, the only formal Roman road in all of Egypt. An inscription found at Antinoöpolis states that by an order of Hadrian a road was built from that city on the Nile across the desert to the Red Sea and along it southward to the port-city of Berenice at 36 degrees south latitude. Berenice was the entrepot for shipping from India and by the Arabias. There are today, however, few traces of the hydreumata, stations and garrisons mentioned in the inscriptions. No milestones have been found to confirm the road. A few sections of cleared track or way have been seen, but nowhere is the surface paved. The conclusion recorded in the Tabula Imperii Romani is that the formal Via Hadriana has vanished. Yet there is evidence of its use in early Christian and Nabataean graffiti carved on rocks at Berenice, and in the remains of a Roman temple.” Von Hagen (1967), p. 109.

“On the Egyptian side [of the Red Sea], Trajan cleared out the old canal which had silted up again since Ptolemaic days, and dug a new section at its western end, to bring it to the Nile at the Egyptian Babylon, on the site of Old Cairo; this would afford a better connection with the western or Canopic arm of the Nile delta, leading to Alexandria. Where Trajan’s canal joined the Red Sea there now grew up the port of Clysma.” Hourani (1995), p. 34.

“By 31 B.C. the Pelusiac branch of the Nile had dwindled and no communication was possible. In A.D. 98 Trajan is said to have built the Amnis Trajanus, a new canal from Bubastis to Old Babylon (Cairo), though this may have been done later by ‘Amr. For the Arabians had rediscovered the old bed, silted up after centuries of neglect, and used it down to 770 when Caliph Mansur, the founder of Bagdat, closed it. The terminus of ‘Amr’s canal was near Suez (Kolzum). Parts of it were used until Mehemet Ali closed them in 1811, and were even utilized by the French in constructing the present Suez canal.” Hyde (1947), p. 193, n. 15.

“At the period of these texts (AD 183/4), the Arabian nome would appear to have covered a roughly crescent-shaped area, reaching from the eastern bank of the Bubastite (Pelusiac) branch of the Nile (at the mouth of the Wadi Tumilat in the south west, as far as Phacusae in the north) via the Wadi Tumilat (i.e. along Trajan’s Canal) to at least Thaubasthis (4067 8)as its maximum north-east extent, and then perhaps curving south to the Gulf of Suez. This is a large area for one nome and its administration must have been difficult, but much of it of course was probably only thinly populated, and in terms simply of population the whole area may not have differed so much from other nomes. Some of this area belonged to other nomes at different periods. . . .
          The capital of the Arabian nome at this time was Phacusae, ε Φακoυcιτ¢v πόλι [e phakousiton polis](4063 21-22, 4064 5), which agrees with what we know from Ptolemy, Geogr.. IV 5.24 (for other occurrences and variants of the name, see 4063 21-2n.). Despite divergent opinion going back to Naville, Goshen and the shrine of Saft el-Henneth (Mem. Eg. Expl. Fund 6: London, 1887), and still echoed in recent works, e.g. A Guide to the Zenon Archive II (= P. Lugd.-Bat. XXI/B) 500, according to which the city occupied the site of modern Saft el-Henna, Phacusae should be identifiable with modern Fâqûs, even though the identification cannot be archaeologically documented and is based on phonetic similarity combined with the difficulty of finding a satisfactory Arabic etymology (J. de Rougé, Géographie ancienne de la Basse Égypte (Paris, 1891) 131-9). If we locate Phacusae at Fâqûs, we are forced to conclude that there had been a change in the location of the metropolis of the nome. In Pharonic times and still in the Ptolemaic period, as the Edfu temple list shows (Edfou I 335), the 20th nome of Lower Egypt (I3bt, ‘the East’), i.e. Arabia, had as its capital Pr-Spdw, located with certainty by Naville’s 1885 excavations at Saft el-Henna, around 30 km south west of Fâqûs, in the plain between Zagazig (Bubastis) and the western end of the Wadi Tumilat (cf. P. Montet, Géographie 206 ff.). Besides, Strabo mentions Phacusae as a κώμη [kome] (17.I.26; C805), although one should perhaps not expect precise administrative terminology from Strabo, see P. Pédech, La géographie urbaine chez Strabon’, in Ancient Society 2 (1971) 241. Of Pr-Spdw/Saft el-Henna we know neither the Greek nor the Latin name. The identification of Saft el-Henna with Άραβία [Arabia] in A. Calderini, Diz. geogr. I 2.180 is the product of confusion. Cf. H. Kees, RE XIX.2 1611.53 ff.; S. Timm, Das christlich-koptische Ägypten in arabischer Zeit ii (Weisbaden, 1984) 924.

The greater part of Trajan’s Canal lay within the Arabian nome; thus it is not surprising that contracts for working on it (4070 below) come within the competence of the strategus of the nome. 4070 indicates that the metropolis Phacusae lay close to (περί) - [peri] the canal. Modern Fâqûs lies some 30 km from where the nearest point of the canal would have been on its route north-eastwards turning into the Adi Tumilat. We are inclined to propose that at the point where the canal bent eastwards there was a branch which continued north-eastwards, passing Phacusae [Zagazig/Bubastis] and giving access to the north-eastern Delta, and that this branch was also known as Trajan’s Canal: cf. 4070 8n. Bastianini and Coles (1994), pp. 145-146.         This proposed branch of the canal would probably have followed the old Pelusaic branch of the Nile as far Phacusae, from where it was only a short run to Tanis, which may have still bordered the sea at this period.
            From the Pelusaic branch of the Nile it was possible to travel to Tanis by the first leg of the ancient Butic canal which led on to Alexandria. See Uphill (1988), pp. 163-170; and ibid., (2000) pp. 186-187.

 “After the river to Pi-Ramses silted up in the 11th century B.C. Tanis became a national capital, attracting merchant boats and fishermen. . . .
          Memories of Ramses the Great live on, thanks to the many megaliths he built of himself, including a few stockpiled in Tanis. . . .
          In the 11th century B.C. the city of Tanis, on the eastern perimeter of the delta, grew up as a national capital and military stronghold. From here Egypt maintained a buffer zone against the rising powers of Assyria and Babylonia.
          “It’s the highest point in the delta,” Phillippe Brissaud, an archaeologist, said as he pointed to a gentle slope rising over a plain scattered with broken statues, a decapitated obelisk, and the deserted temples of once grand Tanis.
          “Look at this half statue of Ramses II,” my guide Yahya Emaara said as we walked down an avenue strewn with diorite and granite remnants. “Have you ever seen more beautiful shins or kneecaps?” Aswan provided the granite for these dimpled royal knees, via a now extinct branch of the Nile. The statue itself was hauled here from the former delta capital of Pi-Ramses. . . .
          The walls of Tanis were almost 50 feet thick!” Theroux (1977), pp. 14, 18, 20.

“It was, then, in 1884 that Mr. Petrie worked for the Egypt Exploration Fund on the site of that famous city called in Egyptian Ta-an, or Tsàn; transcribed as “Tanis” by the Greeks, and rendered in Hebrew as “Zoan.” It yet preserves an echo of these ancient names as the Arab village of “Sàn.” This site, historically and Biblically the most interesting in Egypt, is the least known to visitors. It enjoys an evil reputation for rain, east winds, and fever; it is very difficult of access; and it is entirely without resources for the accommodation of travellers. Not many tourists care to encounter a dreary railway trip followed by eight or ten hours in a small row-boat, with no inn and no prospect of anything but salt fish to eat at the end of the journey. The daring few take tents and provisions with them ; and those few are mostly sportsmen, attracted less by the antiquities of Sân-el-Hagar than by the aquatic birds which frequent the adjacent lake.” Edwards (1891), pp. 50-51.

It was thus possible to sail from Daphnae in the east, right across the delta to Marea in the west, near Alexandria, via the Butic canal:

“This artificial waterway had an estimated length of 180 kilometres, and starting from Tell Defenneh [Daphnae], connected eleven Lower Egyptian nomes on or near its route [including Tanis]. Inscriptional evidence suggests it was created by, or else completed under King Psamtek I (664-610 BCE). Among its varied uses, it could have served to transport grain and commodities by boat, and help irrigate lands on either side of it. In addition it could also have been used for moving troops as was done by the Emperor Titus. At a time of military threat by the world power Assyria, a major canal protected by and communicating with Greek and Egyptian troops at Marea in the west [near Alexandria] and Daphnae in the east would also clearly serve as a first line of defence for the Saitie rulers.” Uphill (2000), p. 186.

The junction of the two canals – the one joining the Red Sea and the Nile, and the Butic canal linking up with Alexandria, meant that goods could be transported all the way from Alexandria to the Red Sea. It was likely that most of this traffic would have been one-way, as it was, due to the prevailing winds, notoriously difficult to sail northwards in the upper part of the Red Sea. Significant cargoes from the East destined for Alexandria were normally unloaded at one of the Red Sea ports, such as Berenice or Myos Hormos, transported overland to the Nile and then taken via the Nile and the Butic canal to Alexandria. However, it would have been cheaper and easier to use the waterways for the return voyage. Quite possibly cargoes were taken by smaller vessels from Alexandria to a port such as Myos Hormos, and then loaded on to one of the large merchant ships that made the long journeys to India or beyond.
          This route involved crossing two major branches of the Nile, the ‘Sebannitus’ and the ‘Canopis’ which are probably the two river crossings mentioned in the Weilue.

“... the Nile divides Egypt in two from the Cataracts to the sea, running as far as the city of Cercasorus in a single stream, but at that point separating into three branches, whereof the one which bends eastward is called the Pelusiac mouth, and that which slants to the west, the Canobic. Meanwhile the straight course of the stream, which comes down from the upper country and meets the apex of the Delta [a little above modern Bubastis], continues on, dividing the Delta down the middle, and empties itself into the sea by a mouth, which is as celebrated, and carries as large a body of water, as most of the others, the mouth called Sebennytic. Besides these there are two other mouths which run out of the Sebennytic called respectively the Saitic and the Mendesian. The Bolbitine mouth, and the Bucolic, are not natural branches, but channels made by excavation” Herodotus, (1996 edition), pp. 123-124 (II.17).

“Two branches of the Nile divide to the right and left, forming the boundaries of Lower Egypt: the Canopic mouth separates it from Africa, and the Pelusiac mouth separates it from Asia, with a space of 170 miles [252 km] between the two.” Pliny the Elder, NH V.47-8; (1991), p. 58.

N. Kanishka’s hostage in History and Legend.

The Hou Hanshu says:

“During the Yuanchu period [114-120 CE] in the reign of Emperor An, Anguo, the king of Shule (Kashgar), exiled his maternal uncle Chenpan to the Yuezhi (Kushans) for some offence. The king of the Yuezhi became very fond of him. Later, Anguo died without leaving a son. His mother directed the government of the kingdom. She agreed with the people of the country to put Yifu (lit. ‘Posthumous Child’), who was the son of a full younger brother of Chenpan on the throne as king of Shule (Kashgar). Chenpan heard of this and appealed to the Yuezhi (Kushan) king, saying:

“Anguo had no son. The men of his mother’s family are young and weak. I am Yifu’s paternal uncle; it is I who should be king.”

The Yuezhi (Kushans) then sent soldiers to escort him back to Shule (Kashgar). The people had previously respected and been fond of Chenpan. Besides, they dreaded the Yuezhi (Kushans). They immediately took the seal and ribbon from Yifu and went to Chenpan, and made him king. Yifu was given the title of Marquis of the town of Pangao [90 li or 37 km from Shule].
            Then Suoju (Yarkand) continued to resist (Khotan), and put themselves under Shule (Kashgar). Thus Shule (Kashgar), because of its power, became a rival to Qiuci (Kucha) and Yutian (Khotan).” From TWR, Section 20.

This all fits very well with story that a Kushan king (according to Xuanzang, Kanishka himself) received a prince as a hostage during the Yuanchu period (114-120 CE) of whom he became very fond and ultimately sent troops to install him on the throne of Kashgar. See TWR, Section 21.

In addition, a story in the 8th century Khotanese Buddhist history, the Li yul lung-btsan-pa, says:

“Afterwards King Vijaya Kīrti, for whom a manifestation of the Ārya Mañjuśrī, the Arhat called Spyi-pri who was propagating the religion (dharma) in Kam-śen was acting as pious friend, through being inspired by faith, built the vihāra of Sru-ño. Originally, King Kanika and the king of Gu-zan and the Li [Khotan] ruler, King Vijaya Kīrti, and others led an army into India, and when they captured the city called So-ked, King Vijaya Kīrti obtained many relics and put them in the stūpa of Sru-ño.” Emmerick (1967), p. 47.

The Tibetan name So-ked has been identified with Śāketa, and King Kanika with Kanishka. See: Thomas (1935-1963), Vol. I, (1935), p. 119, n. 2.
          Thus, the Buddhist ‘Prophecy of the Li Country’ which includes the legend of the Khotanese King helping Kanishka conquer Sāketa finds much support from the information given above. A Khotanese king called Vijaya Simha, defeats the king of the Ga-hjag (the name of a people living in the region of Kashgar and Yarkand). He was presumably the king called Guangde in the Chinese accounts who captured the King of Yarkand in 86
CE. The king following Vijaya Simha in the Buddhist account is King Vijaya Kīrti (who, as we have seen above, was the Khotanese king who, along with the king of Kucha, is said to have helped Kanishka in his attack on Sāketa).
            The Hou Hanshu provides some dates and information which help support this theory:

“When (the Khotanese king) Xiumoba died, Guangde, son of his elder brother, assumed power and subsequently destroyed Suoju (Yarkand, in CE 61). His kingdom then became very prosperous. From Jingjue (Niya) northwest, as far as Sulei (Kashgar), thirteen kingdoms were subject to him.” Hou Hanshu, “Chapter on the Western Regions.”

The Hou Hanshu says that in 73 CE, the king of Khotan, Guangde, submitted to Ban Chao, the famous Chinese general:

“Previously the Yuezhi (Kushans) had helped the Chinese attack Jushi (Turfan/Jimasa) and had carried out some important services (for the Chinese). In this year (88 CE) they offered precious jewels, fuba [bubal antelope], and lions in tribute. They took this occasion to ask for a Han princess. Ban Chao stopped their envoy and sent him back. From this moment there was hatred and resentment (between the Kushans and the Chinese).” Translated from Chavannes (1906), p. 232.

This quote does not give a date for when the Yuezhi helped the Chinese against Jushi (Turfan/ Jimasa), but we know the Chinese attacked and defeated Jushi in CE 74. Chavannes (1905), p. 222, and again in CE 76 (Ibid, p. 230). Presumably, it was one of these occasions that is referred to in the text.
          In 84
CE Ban Chao, the Chinese general, sent an envoy with gifts and lengths of silk to the king of the Yuezhi to encourage him to pressure the king of Kangju to stop hostilities against the Chinese, and to pressure on the King of Kashgar who was in league with Yarkand against the Chinese. The Kangju ceased hostilities and seized Zhong, the king of Kashgar and took him to Kangju. Three years later in 86 CE [Chavannes says 87, but the Hou Hanshu says 86 CE], King Zhong convinced the Kangju to help him and plotted with the king of Kucha to pretend to submit to the Chinese. However, Ban Chao arrested him and had him beheaded. See Chavannes (1906), p. 230.
          In 86
CE Guangde, the king of Khotan, attacked Yarkand, and put the son of the previous king, Qili, on the throne – Chavannes (1907), p. 204. In 87 CE the “king of Khotan” (presumably Guangde) helped Ban Chao attack and defeat Yarkand once again. See Chavannes (1906), p. 231. [Note that Chavannes mistakenly places this event in CE 88]
          In 90
CE the Yuezhi sent their Viceroy Xian, with an army of 70,000 soldiers, across the mountains to attack Ban Chao. Using a ‘scorched earth’ policy, Ban Chao forced them to retreat without fighting.
          King Vijaya Kīrti, who is said to have assisted Kanishka in this conquest, is listed in the ‘Prophecy of the Li Country’ as the king who took the throne immediately following Vijaya Simha. I have identified King Vijaya Simha with King Guangde who reigned until at least 86
CE, according to the Chinese accounts. This makes it quite possible that Vijaya Kīrti could have accompanied Kanishka circa 127.
          In addition, Kīrti is listed in the Li yul lung-btsan-pa as being 30 generations before King Vijaya Sangrāma IV, identified with King Fudu Xiong [Fu-tu Hsiung] who fled to China with his family and followers in 674
CE. The average reign was slightly less than 15 years (counting from 127 CE), which seems very reasonable. Hill (1988), pp. 179-190.
          We also have archaeological and numismatic evidence pointing to strong Kushan influence, if not control, of both Kashgar and Khotan during the period of 107-127
CE, when the Chinese were cut off from these regions:


In 107 Khotan and the other cities of Turkestan threw off the yoke of Chinese rule. There is no reference to events in Khotan during this period in the Chinese records, but archaeological evidence suggests that for most of this period the Kushans exercised political control over the city. None of the names of the kings of Khotan during this period are known. No coins were issued locally, but the coins of the Kushans were current.


In 127 the Chinese army led by Ban Chao’s son Ban Yong re-entered the area and Khotan placed itself under Chinese rule again. The name of the king of Khotan, Fang Qian [= Vijaya Kīrti of the “Prophecy of Khotan”], is noted in the Chinese sources, but he is unlikely to have issued coins while under Chinese control.


In 129 Fang Qian rebelled against the Chinese and attacked a neighbouring state. His coinage probably dates from this period. In 131 he attempted to re-subject himself to Chinese rule, but without success. In 132 he was conquered by Kashgar at the request of the Chinese.


After 132 Khotan was again under Chinese control, and no local coins have been found which can be shown to have been issued after that date. ” Cribb (1985), p. 143.

Christopher Beckwith identifies the king of Gu-zan of the Li yul lung-btsan-pa or ‘Prophecy of the Li Country’ who went on campaign with Kanishka in the company of the king of Kucha (= Kūči, Kūčā, Kushâ, Kūsān, Kučina, Küsän, Kūšān, Cucia). See Beckwith (1987), p. 50, and n. 66 (where he refers to this identification being made by P. Pelliot in “À propos des Comans” (1920) 181; cf. also Moriyasu, 1984: 17, 65 (n. 84); Ts’en (1981), pp. 576, 578. Pelliot says:

“Here again, the Yuanshi is not very detailed; at least it supplies us with several precise references (chap. 1, fol. 5b): “Yilaha (that is Sanggum [son of Ong Khan and contemporary of Genghis Khan]) fled to the 西夏 Xi Xia. There he daily raided to provide for his needs. Finally, he was attacked by the [people of] Xi Xia and fled into the country of 龜玆 Qiuci. The chief of the kingdom of Qiuci followed him with troops and killed him.” The countries of Xi Xia and Qiuci are well known. Thus, Sanggum, having crossed the Gobi towards the south, arrived in the north of Gansu, where the Xi Xia was, and from there was flung westward to be killed on the territory of Qiuci, that is, Kucha.
          We have thus simultaneously a certain identification of the country of which Rashid-ud-Din speaks and of which Mr. Marquart has read the names Kūshān and Kusaqu-Chār-Kusha. For the reasons that until now have escaped us, the country known today as Kucha (Kūchā, locally pronounced Kuchar), and for which the ancient transcriptions of the Han or the Tang infer an original form *Küchï, had been called during the Mongol period and under the Ming Kǖsǟn, generally transcribed
曲先 Quxian(1).. The form Kūsān (=Kǖsǟn) is also attested by the Tarikh-i-Rashidi(2). It is evident that this is the کژﺷﺎﻦ Kūshān of Rashid-ud-Din, which is unconvincingly to be corrected to کژﺳﺎﻦ Kūsān. On the other hand, this very name of Kusan should form in some manner the beginning of the mysterious Kusaqu-Chār-Kusha”.

(1) Cf. for example BRETSCHNEIDER, Med. Res., I, 163; II, 315, 330. And add to it Yuanshi, chap. 12, fol 5a, 7a. One has 古先 Guxian (= Güsän; corr. 苦先 Kuxian = Küsän?) in the § 263 of the Yuanzhaobishi. The Chinese transcription is explicitly in favour of Küsän and not Küshän or Kushan.

(2) Cf. ELIAS and ROSS, Tarikh-i-Rashidi, in the index, s. v. Kuchar and Kusan.

Pelliot (1920), p. 181 and nn. 1-2.

“Tibetan troops were also frequently reported in the lands to the north and west. Tun-huang annals note that in 675 and 676 a Tibetan minister had gone to lTang-yo in Dru-gu-yul, the Western Turkish lands. These visits were apparently connected to efforts by the T’ang empire to regain the Silk Route. The T’ang annals remark in an entry of 676 that a battle was waged with the Tibetan-Turkish alliance for the four garrisons along the Silk Route. Again between 687 and 689 the minister mGar Khri-’bring led troops to Dru-gu Gu-zan, which may be the Kucha region or perhaps old Kuāa lands.
          Exactly how far west beyond Kucha and Khotan Tibetan troops reached is not clear, for lTang-yo and Gu-zan have not been identified with certainty. It seems possible that Tibetan armies entered Sogdia, for the Tun-huang annals note that in 694 the Tibetan minister mGar sTag-bu was captured by the Sogdians. But nothing else is known of this event, which may have taken place in Sogdia or in one of the many Sogdian merchant outposts along the Silk Route.
          Sogdia lay to the west of Khotan and was inhabited by peoples who spoke an Indo-European language related to Khotanese. As early as 627 the Sogdians had begun building the four great cities of Lop Nor north of Tibet between Tun-huang and Khotan. Eventually they spread east into Ordos under the large loop of the Huang Ho east of Koko Nor. Later Sogdian inscriptions, probably from the ninth century, have been found at Drang-tse near Pang-gong, and Sogdian texts have been found at Tun-huang. But the extent of the contact between Sogdia and Tibet will require further research.” AT, p. 234.

There can be no doubt that Ban Chao, and the Chinese Emperor, were familiar with the name of the Kushan ruler at this period. They had intensive diplomatic relations with him over a number of years, and even a request from him for marriage with a Han princess in 84 CE. After the request was refused, he sent his Viceroy Xian to attack Ban Chao in 90 CE.
          The fact that his name is not mentioned in the Han histories may have been a deliberate omission because he had insulted the Chinese Emperor by asking to marry a Chinese princess, and afterwards attacked the Chinese when they refused. It might be due to a simple omission by a copyist.
          At this point we do not know. Nor does it add weight either for or against any theory of dating for Kanishka. It does not make it any less likely that the unnamed king was Kanishka!
          The “Ta chuang-yen lun ching (or – ching lun), Kalpanāla
ktikā, Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā traditionally ascribed to Aśvaghoa but very probably by Kumāralāta; translated by Kumārajīva in the early fifth century. . . . ”, says:

“Formerly I have heard that among the Chü-sha (Kushan?) race there was a king named Chen-t’an Chia-ni-cha who (once) made a punitive expedition against eastern India (T’ien-chu). When (that country) had been pacified, his majestic power made (the world) tremble and his success was complete, and he returned to his native country. . . .” Zürcher (1968), p. 385.

In addition, the Fufazangyin zhuan, translated into Chinese by Jijiaye and Tanyao about CE 470, gives an account of the defeat of Pātaliputra by ‘Zhendan Jinizha’ (Devaputra Kanishka), and subsequently gives an account of his defeat of the king of Anxi (Parthia). See: Lévi and Chavannes (1895), p. 475-476, 479.