Section 11 – Da Qin (Roman territory/Rome)

11.1. The kingdom of Da Qin 大秦 [Ta Ch’in] = Roman territory. The use of the exalted name “Da Qin” (literally, ‘Great Ch’in’ = ‘Great China’) for a foreign state is unexpected.

The Hou Hanshu states:

“The people of this country are all tall and honest. They resemble the people of the Middle Kingdom and that is why this kingdom is called Da Qin.”

While the Weilue claims:

“The common people are tall and virtuous like the Chinese, but wear hu (‘Western’) clothes. They say they originally came from China, but left it.”

This folk etymology, charming as it is, does little to really explain the origin of the rather surprising name, Da Qin. It is reminiscent of the rather similar names for Ferghana – Dayuan = ‘Great Yuan,’ and for Bactria – Daxia = ‘Great Xia’? Graf (1996), pp. 199-200 says:

“For Hirth and the initial interpreters of the HHS and WL accounts, the country designated as Ta-ch’in (“Greater Ch’in”) was to be identified with the Roman East. Although the term Ch’in referred to the Chinese as early as the second century A.D., the name Ta-ch’in perhaps is best understood as simply a reflection of Ch’in as the western region of China, i.e. Ta-ch’in represents the country beyond and comparable to Ch’in. It has also been observed, first by Shiratori and later by others, that the accounts of Ta-ch’in bear a deep resemblance to the Taoist Utopia and are therefore not to be completely understood literally, i.e. they present a fictitious religious world, not a real one. As will become obvious later, this fact did not prevent Shiratori from respecting the essential historical framework of the Chinese accounts of Ta-ch’in. For the most part, such mythological elements are so strikingly evident that they represent only a minimal problem.”

“In the Roman world stories, some based on fact though often much distorted in transmission, others completely fanciful, began to circulate about the Seres, that is, the Silk People. A little later the name Sinae based, like Sanskrit Cīna and our present China, on Qín , the name of the short-lived dynasty that preceded Han and united China in 221 B.C.E., also appears in western sources. At the same time the Chinese began to hear about a country in the far west which they called Dà Qín, Great Qín, apparently thinking of it as a kind of counter-China at the other end of the world.” Pulleyblank (1999), p. 71.

“Moreover, as their geographical knowledge of the world grew with time, the Han Chinese even came to the realization that China was not necessarily the only civilized country in the world. This is clearly shown in the fact that the Later Han Chinese gave the Roman Empire (or, rather, the Roman Orient) the name of Great Ch’in (Ta Ch’in). According to the Hou-Han shu, the Roman Empire was so named precisely because its people and civilization were comparable to those of China.” Yü (1986), p. 379.

These place-names which begin with Da may originally have been formed as attempts to transcribe foreign names into Chinese. Yu (1998) believes Daxia [dat-hea] stands for the Tochari (pp. 22, 35). and thinks it possible (ibid. p. 68) that Dayuan [dat-iuan] may have likewise represented the Tochari. It is just possible that Da Qin represents some similar process though, if this is the case, it is difficult to imagine what name it was originally intended to represent.
          Hirth, and many other scholars who followed him, have taken Da Qin to refer to the ‘Roman Orient.’ I think that the term is often clearly used in a broader sense than this to mean the Roman Empire, or any territory subservient to Rome. It is true that all the dependencies mentioned in the Weilue are probably found in the ‘Roman Orient,’ but it specifically mentions that it only lists a few of the dependencies of Da Qin, presumably the ones visited by the Chinese, or those reported on to the Chinese, because of their importance for east-west trade. These are, quite naturally, territories in the ‘Roman Orient.’
          Sometimes, the name is used more specifically: the Weilue gives directions across a ‘Great Sea’ (the Mediterranean) to “that country” (i.e. Da Qin) from Wuzhisan in Haixi, which is undoubtedly Alexandria in Egypt – see notes 11.5, 11.7 and Appendix C.
          This is rather similar to the situation today when it is commonly said that one is “entering China,” when one enters territory inhabited by other people, but controlled by the Chinese, such as Tibet, or Chinese Turkestan (Sinjiang). Similarly, ‘Mexico’ may be used to refer to either the city or the country.
          Therefore I have translated Da Qin as either ‘Rome’ the city, ‘Roman territory,’ or the ‘Roman Empire,’ as the context demands. The reader should remember, meanwhile, that in each case the Chinese text will have only ‘Da Qin’.

11.2. 黎靬 Lijian [Li-chien] – another name for Da Qin. Lijian [Li-chien – sometimes written Li-kan] is given here as another name for Da Qin or the Roman Empire.

“The pronunciation jian (鉅連反 or 鉅言反) [for the second syllable of Lijian] is indicated by Yan Shigu (Qian Hanshu, chap. XCVI, a, p. 6a).” Translated from Chavannes (1905), p. 556, n. 4.

“It becomes clear that, as first proposed by Brosset (1828) and accepted by a number of other scholars, including Markwart, De Groot, and Herrmann (1941), Líjiān is actually a transcription of Hyrcania, Old Persian Wrkāna, a country that existed in the second century B.C.E. on the southwest [sic – should read southeast] corner of the Caspian Sea; and that, surprisingly, it is Tiaozhi that is a good transcription of Seleukia. The difficulty with identifying Líjiān with Hyrcania is that, although it fits perfectly with the earliest account in the Shĭjì, the name was displaced when the passage was copied into the Hànshū and in later texts it reemerges as another name for Dà Qín. The latter identification led Pelliot to propose that it transcribed the name of Alexandria in Egypt, of which more will be said below.” Pulleyblank (1999), p. 73.

          “As for Líjiān, Hulsewé and Loewe, using Karlgren’s Old Chinese reconstruction, remarked that “although Liɘr-g’iän [for which they cite Yán Shīgǔ’s gloss to in the Hànshū which I believe is of doubtful authority in this case] could be said to resemble ‘Hyrcania’, it is a far cry to the original ‘Vehrkāna [i.e., Old Persian Wrkāna]” (1979: 118). In fact the sequence –rkan is common to both the Greek and the Old Persian and fits well with EMC lεj/li xɨan/kɨan, with Chinese l- <*r-. What is apparently missing is anything to correspond to Old Persian initial w-, represented in Greek by the syllable Hy- (the letter upsilon with spiritus asper). Note, however, that EMC lih ‘sharp, profitable’, the phonetic in and , is composed of dāo ‘knife’ + EMC γwaa̭ < *wál ‘grain’, presumably as a phonetic indicator. A full discussion cannot be given here but, assuming that this analysis of the graph is correct, one may tentatively reconstruct as Old Chinese *wrǝ́l > EMC *wríj > EMC lεj. We find a similar alternation in initials in the xiéshēng derivatives of EMC lip ‘stand’ which include the etymologically related word wèi EMC wih ‘position’.
          The earliest occurrence of the name Líjiān (in the variant reading Líxuān
黎軒) is in Shĭjì 123 in what purports to be Zhāng Qiān’s report on the countries of the far west after his return to China ca. 125 B.C.E. It comes at the end of his account of Ānxí (Parthia) and reads:

. . .。其西則條枝。北有奄蔡黎軒。條枝安息西數千里 , 臨西海。

. . . To the west [of Ānxí] lies Tiáozhī and to the north Yăncài and Líxuān. Tiáozhī is situated several thousand li west of Ānxí and borders on the Western Sea. . . .

This is the standard and most natural pronunciation found, for example, in the Takigawa edition and the recent Zhónghuá shūjū edition. That is, the section on Ānxí ends with mention of three other more distant countries, after which a new section begins on one of these, namely Tiáozhī. Yăncài, already mentioned in the text as a country northwest of Kāngjū (at that time in the region of Tashkend), has long been identified with the Aorsoi of western sources, a nomadic people out of whom the well-known Alans later emerged (Pulleyblank [1962: 99, 220; 1968:252]). On the assumption that Líxuān (that is, Líjiān) was in roughly the same direction, the equation with Hyrcania on the southeastern side of the Caspian Sea fits perfectly.
          There are two other references to Líxuān in Shĭjì 123, neither of which contradicts this. In the first, which has a parallel in Hànshū 61 but is not referred to by Leslie and Gardiner, it is said that after Zhāng Qiān’s death “more envoys were sent to Ānxí, Yăncài, Líxuān, Tiáozhī and Shēndú (India)” 
因益發使安息, 有奄, 黎軒, 條枝, 身毒 (Zhonghua ed., p. 3170). Though Líxuān again comes in juxtaposition to Tiáozhī, it also again comes immediately after Yăncài.” Pulleyblank (1999), pp. 74-75. [Note that Pulleyblank has considerably more detail on the name Líjiān in this article, if you wish to check it further].

GR No. 1611, gives discusses several possibilities for the derivation of the name Lijian in its various forms:


(Etymological) Skin of a dried animal

1. Piece of copper from the harness of a horse. 2. From 梨靬 or 犛靬 or黎靬 li2 jian1 [li2 chien1] (Historical geography – phonetic transcription of the ancient Greek Seleukidai) Li-chien: a. The Persian Hellenistic Empire of the Seleucides (365-64 BCE), of modern Afghanistan to the Aegean Sea; plus particularly : The Hellenistic Syria of the Seleucid kings (c. 358-93 BCE). At this period (dynasty: 西漢 Western Han 206 BCE – 8 CE) beginning, after the conquest of Bactria by the 月氏 Yuezhi, about 100 BCE, the exchanges, across the Pamir, between China and the West. B. All lands and kingdoms to the west of China; by extension : The Roman Empire (dynasty: 東漢 Eastern Han 25-220). – Cf. 大秦 da4 qin2 [ta2 ch’in2].

[b] QIAN2 [CH’IEN2]

From 麗靬 or 驪靬 li4 qian2 [li4 ch’ien2] (Historical geography) Liqian (Li-ch’ien) : ancient sub-prefecture situated in modern 甘肅 Gansu (Kan-su), instituted under the 東漢 Eastern Han dynasty to settle prisoners originally from territories designated under the name of 梨靬, 犛靬黎靬 “Lijian [Li-chien]” (Cf. supra), and abolished during the 北魏 Northern Wei dynasty (南北朝 period of the Dynasties of the South and the North, 420-589).” Translated and adapted from the French.

The character li is another form of ; both translated as ‘pear’ (although Karlgren gives ‘to plough’ for the first character and ‘pear’ for the second, and GR No. 6842, while giving ‘pear’ as the primary meaning, also gives, ‘old’, ‘aged’, ‘to divide’, and ‘dismember,’ as alternate meanings). All three forms of li show similar reconstructed pronunciations.

– K. 519g * liər / liei; EMC lεj

– K. 519h *li̯ər / lji; EMC li

– K. 979j * li̯əg / lji; EMC lɨ / li

Hirth (1885), p. 159 ff., and 170, n. 1, suggested it represented Rekem, an old name for Petra – both meaning ‘rock.’

          Several scholars have suggested that it must have been originally derived from ‘Alexandria’ or ‘Alexander.’ See, for example: Dubs (1957), pp. 2-3, and Sitwell (1984), p. 213, n. 22. Leslie and Gardiner (1996), pp. XVIII-XXVI and 253-254 argue that Li-kan (Lijian) referred originally to the Seleucid Empire. Also – see quote from GR above and under GR, No. 6864. For detailed reviews of the many theories about the origin and various forms of the name, see CICA: 117, n. 275, and Dubs (1957), pp. 24-26.

“[Li-jien was also] used by the Chinese for Rome and the Roman empire. Their later name for the Roman empire was Da4H-ts’in2TU, the use of which begins in the Later Han period, when, in A.D. 166, a man came to the border of China, stating that he was an envoy from “the King of Da4H-ts’in2TU, An1JZ-dun1WA [Marcus Aurelius Antoninus].” Da-ts’in was used for the Roman empire until the Middle Ages, when the name Fu25DZ-lin3TS came to be used instead (for the Eastern Roman Empire). Prefacing the account of Da-ts’in in the History of the Later Han Dynasty, there is the statement, “The country of Da4H-ts’in2TU is also called Li2MGDZ- jien1MGG.” This statement is repeated in other Chinese accounts of foreign countries, so that there can be no reason for doubting it.

The name Li-jien was almost surely a Chinese transcription of the Greek word “Alexandria” and originally denoted the Alexandria in Egypt. We may even perhaps be able to tell how this word came into use in China.

          “Between 110 and 100 B.C., there arrived at the Chinese capital an embassy from the King of Parthia. Among the presents to the Chinese Emperor are stated to have been fine jugglers from Li-jien. The jugglers and dancers, male and female, from Alexandria in Egypt were famous and were exported to foreign countries. Since the King of Parthia obviously esteemed highly the Emperor of China, he naturally sent the best jugglers he could secure. When these persons were asked whence they came, they of course replied “from Alexandria,” which word the Chinese who disliked polysyllables and initial vowels and could not pronounce certain Greek sounds, shortened into “Li-jien.”. When they also learned that this place was different from Parthia, the Chinese naturally used its name for the country of these jugglers. No Chinese had been to the Roman empire, so they had no reason to distinguish a prominent place in it from the country itself. The Romans moreover had no name for their empire other than orbis terrarum, i.e., “the world,” so that these jugglers would have found it difficult to explain the name of the Roman empire! In such a fashion there probably arose the Chinese name Li-jien which, for them, denoted the Roman empire in general.” Dubs (1957), pp. 2-3. See also Dubs’ detailed discussion of the various forms of this name, ibid., pp. 24 n. 6.

“It is possible that Li-jien originally meant ‘the land of Alexander’, just as An-hsi meant ‘the land of the Arsaces’; and that, having first been applied to the Seleucid kingdom, it was then extended to cover the nations (including Rome) whose rulers regarded themselves as the heirs of Alexander. It was a convenient coincidence that one of the largest cities of the West also bore this man’s name; but, pace Dubs, it seems most unlikely that Roman soldiers would ever have described themselves as ‘Alexandrians’.” Sitwell (1984), p. 213, n. 22.

11.3. Dahai 大海 [Ta Hai] – ‘a great sea.’ I believe this must refer to what we now know as the Indian Ocean including the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. For details refer to Appendix C.

11.4. The city of Angu 安谷 [An-ku] = Gerrha or modern Thaj.
          It seems probable that the ‘Angu’ of the Weilue refers to the ancient trading city of Gerrha, and its port on the Arabian coast of the Persian Gulf. We are told that to travel by boat from Angu to Haixi [= Egypt] with favourable winds took two months and with slow winds half a year. In Section 16 of the text it says that that, from Zesan, “can take half a year to cross the water, but with fast winds it takes a month” (to reach Lüfen, which is only a short distance by land and “across the sea” by a very long bridge from Haixi or Egypt). So, it is reasonable to deduce that Zesan was approximately half way between Angu to Egypt, and the northern part of Azania fits this description remarkably well.
          Gerrha admirably fits the statements in the Weilue that Angu is, “on the frontier of Anxi (Parthia)” and is in close communication with Zesan [= Azania].”

“There was more about Gerrha [in the Greek and Roman writers] than about any other place in Arabia, but even so it was not more than could be committed to a small piece of paper. Oddly enough, in Arrian’s description of Alexander’s preparation for a campaign against Arabia, including the coastal explorations of 323 B.C., there was not the slightest mention of Gerrha. But Eratosthenes, writing about a hundred years after Alexander, tells of the merchants of Gerrha carrying their spices and incense overland to Mesopotamia. This is contradicted by Aristobulus, says Strabo, who tells that the merchants travelled by raft to Babylonia. Strabo, who wrote in the last two decades B.C., quotes Artemidorus, of the previous century, as saying: “By the incense trade . . . the Gerrhaei have become the richest of all tribes, and possess a great quantity of wrought articles in gold and silver, such as couches, tripods, basins, drinking vessels; to which we must add the costly magnificence of their houses; for the doors, walls, and roof are variegated with inlaid ivory, gold, silver, and precious stones.”
          The historian Polybius about the same time tells of a campaign of the Seleucid king, Antiochus III, who took a fleet along the Arabian coast in 205 B.C., with the intention of conquering Gerrha; but he was persuaded by large presents of silver and precious stones, to leave the city unharmed.
          There was thus little doubt that in the first, second, and third centuries B.C. Gerrha was an exceedingly wealthy city, trading overland and by sea in aromatics, presumably the frankincense of the Hadramaut. Strabo even tells us where Gerrha lay, but his account is difficult to interpret. Gerrha, he says, is “a city situated on a deep gulf; it is inhabited by the Chaldeans, exiles from Babylon; the soil contains salt and the people live in houses made of salt. . . . The city is about 200 stadia” – about 60 miles [actually only about 37 km – as 1 Greek stadium = 185 metres] – “distant from the sea.” And you sail “onward,” he says, from Gerrha to Tylos and Arados, which are the Bahrain islands.
          The elder Pliny, writing in the middle of the first century A.D., is more explicit, and I knew the description by heart. Describing the Arabian shore of the Gulf he comes to the island of Ichara, which must be our Ikaros, and then the Gulf of Capeus, and then the Gulf of Gerrha. “Here we find the city of Gerrha, five miles [five Roman miles = 7.41 km] in circumference, with towers built of square blocks of salt. Fifty miles [74.1 km] from the coast, lying in the interior, is the region of Attene, and opposite to Gerrha is the island of Tylos, an equal number of miles distant from the coast; it is famous for the vast numbers of its pearls . . .”
          Tylos, we knew, was Bahrain, and the region of Attene fifty miles inland was normally believed to be the Hofuf oasis. . . .” Bibby (1970), pp. 317-318.

D.T. Potts has, I believe, convincingly identified the town of Gerrha with modern Thaj, and located the port of Gerrha near the modern port of al-Jubayl:

          “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.

“As we have seen, Androsthenes’ information on Tylos [modern Bahrain], and by extension that of Theophrastus, can be dated to the lifetime of Alexander. Some of Pliny’s material, such as the parts drawn from Juba, can be dated roughly to the time of Christ, around the middle of the Parthian period. When we move into the second century AD, an altogether different perspective on Bahrain is afforded by an important inscription discovered during the 1939-40 season of excavations at Palmyra. The text belongs to a group of Palmyrene texts known as ‘caravan inscriptions’, in which a prominent citizen was honoured by his compatriots for services rendered in the caravan trade between Palmyra and Babylonia. In this case, the text records that in AD 131 the Palmyrene merchants of Spasinou Charax erected a statue at Palmyra in honour of Iarhai, son of Nebozabad. What makes this text so important, however, is the added fact that Iarhai is said to have served as ‘satrap of the Thilouanoi for Meredat, king of Spasinou Charax’. Spasinou Charax, a city located near modern Basra in the southernmost Babylonian province of Mesene, was the capital of the small but important kingdom of Characene. Situated in the shadow of Parthia, this kingdom enjoyed commercial success and attendant fame out of all proportion to its size, since Spasinou Charax was the most important Babylonian port of call for ships arriving laden with luxury goods from the East during the first century BC and the first two centuries AD. Palmyrene traders, as purveyors of these Eastern goods to Roman Syria and ultimately to the wider Mediterranean world, had established permanent colonies at Babylon, Vologesias, and, most importantly, at Spasinou Charax.
          The Palmyrene caravan inscriptions leave us in no doubt that Palmyrene commerce with the kingdom of Characene was a great success. Given the close commercial ties between Charax and the Palmyrene community, therefore, it is hardly surprising that the king of Charax should have employed a citizen of Palmyra in a political capacity, as satrap of the Thilouanoi. For many years, however, scholars did not recognise the significance of the satrapal name implied here. It was not until 1968, when a collection of notes completed by E. Herzfeld in 1948 was published posthumously, that the meaning became clear. The Thilouanoi were the inhabitants of Thiloua or Thilouos, which name is clearly an Aramaicised form of ‘Tylos’ [modern Bahrain]. Thus, by the early second century AD Bahrain was a satrapy of the kingdom of Characene.
          Meredat will be dealt with in greater detail in Chapter 6 below, but it is important to note that, as we now know from a Graeco-Parthian inscription recently discovered at Seleucia-on-Tigris, he was a member of a high-ranking Parthian family. Thus, as a Parthian on the Characene throne, his rule represented an extension of Parthian influence over Charax and the Gulf. That he came into conflict with other branches of the Parthian nobility, however, is likely, and twenty years after he was mentioned in the inscription from Palmyra, he was driven off the Characene throne by the Parthian king Vologases IV and heard of no more. From this time on, a more purely Parthian political presence was established in the central Arabian Gulf. . . . ” Potts (1990), pp. 145-146.

Although modern Thaj is situated well inland, there are some recent indications that the town may, during historical times, have actually been at the edge of a large inlet that joined with the Persian Gulf itself (thus averting the need for a separate port), as the following abstract indicates:

Holocene sedimentation processes at the Saudi Arabian Gulf coast”

Projekte unter Leitung von PD Dr. Hans-Jörg Barth

Funding: Deutsche Forschungs Gemeinschaft (DFG), National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD), Riyadh


Eustatic fluctuations of sea level during Pleistocene and Holocene times resulted in remarkable shifts of the shoreline along the Arabian Gulf. But even after the establishment of the present sea level around 1000 years ago, the coastal geography experienced significant alterations. Satellite data indicate that a large territory west of Jubail might once have been part of the Arabian Gulf. Concerning the location of the lost city of Gerrha, which Alexander the Great was planning to invade shortly before his death, archaeological sources mention a large inlet east of the city. The ruins of Thaj 90 km west of Jubail in the middle of the desert are located directly at the western shore of the assumed inlet. That leads to the assumption that Thaj is the “lost city of Gerrha”. Recent accumulation in the Jubail area at the Saudi Arabian Gulf coast is dominated by terrestrial aeolian processes. Cyanobacteria which is abundant in the intertidal flats, were discovered below about 70 cm of terrestrial and marine sediments in a sabkha environment. This sabkha is located in a distance of more than two kilometers from the actual intertidal. 14C dating of the cyanobacteria provided an age of not more than 700 years. Sedimentation characteristics indicate a significant change in sedimentation processes from marine to aeolian accumulation of terrestrial dune sand some time after the cyanobacterial growth 700 years ago. Progradation at rates of more than three meters per year implies a considerable sand source as well as intensive sand movement. Therefore a reduction in vegetation cover seems most probable to have caused this development. Strong winds moved sandy substrate in southern to southeastern directions where it finally accumulated in the intertidal. Whether a climatic change or human impact or even both led to this reduction in the vegetation cover, is presently unknown.” Downloaded on 10 November 2003, from:

For more details on these identifications refer to Appendix H.

11.5. Haixi 海西 – literally: ‘West of the Sea’ = Egypt. Refer to Appendix B, especially subsection (a) “Haixi 海西 – literally: ‘West of the Sea’ = Egypt.”

11.6. “With favourable winds it takes two months; if the winds are slow, perhaps a year; if there is no wind, perhaps three years.” This account from the Weilue gives a somewhat different account of the time it can take to reach Da Qin from the Persian Gulf, than the story told to Gan Ying recounted in the Hou Hanshu:

“In the ninth Yangyuan year [97 CE], during the reign of Emperor He, the Protector General Ban Chao sent Gan Ying to Da Qin (the Roman Empire). He reached Tiaozhi (Characene and Susiana) next to a large sea. He wanted to cross it, but the sailors of the western frontier of Anxi (Parthia) said to him:

“The ocean is huge. Those making the round trip can do it in three months if the winds are favourable. However, if you encounter winds that delay you, it can take two years. That is why all the men who go by sea take stores for three years. The vast ocean urges men to think of their country, and get homesick, and some of them die. When (Gan) Ying heard this, he gave up his plan.” TWR.

The shorter time of 2 months to make the round trip from the Persian Gulf to Da Qin in the Weilue compared to the 3 months mentioned in the Hou Hanshu can be explained by the expansion of Parthia to include the port of Gerra, which was considerably closer to the Red Sea ports than Charax Spasinu, the port Gan Ying reached in 97 CE.

11.7. The city of (Wu) Chisan () 遲散 [(Wu) Ch’ih-san] = Alexandria.

          “On the name of Alexandria in Indian literature, cf. in the first place S. Lévi’s paper of 1934, reprinted in Mémorial Sylvain Lévi (Paris, 1937, 413-423). Lévi concurs with the opinion I first upheld in 1914 (JA, 1914, II, 413-417) that the Alasanda of the Questions of King Menander was the Egyptian Alexandria. Moreover, ālisadaga, the name of a bean, and ālakandaka, a name of the coral, must be nouns derived from Alexandria.
          In Chinese Buddhist texts, the Chinese version of the Questions of King Menander gives a form
阿茘散 A-li-san (* •Â-ljie̯-sân), nearer to the Greek original for the vowel of the second syllable than Pâli Alasanda. Lévi (loc. cit. 418) also thought he had found the name of Alexandria in the Chinese version of Nāgārjuna’s commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā; but he elicited it through a correction which I hold as very doubtful.
          Apart from Buddhist texts, I proposed in TP, 1915, 690-691, to identify with Alexandria of Egypt the name
黎軒 Li-hsüan (*Liei-χi̯ɐn), Li-kan 犂靬 (* Liei-kân), etc., known in China from the end of the 2nd cent. B. C. Although others entertain different views, I still think that the equivalence is substantially correct. It remains doubtful whether, in the first half of the 3rd cent. A. D., the name of Alexandria underlies the transcriptions 遲散 Ch’ih-san (* D´’i-sân) and 烏遲散 Wu-ch’ih-san (*·Uo-d´’i-sân) of the Wei lio; cf. HIRTH, China and the Roman Orient, 181-182 (but the equivalence has gained in probability now that we know for certain that 烏弋山離 Wu-i-shan-li [*·Uo-i̯ək-ǎn-ljie̯, still more anciently ·O-di̯ək-sǎn-ljia], certainly renders the name of another Alexandria; cf. ZDMG, 1937, 252; TP, 1938, 148). Chao Ju-kua, writing in 1225, has a whole paragraph on 遏根陀 O-ken-t’o (*·Ât-kən-d’â), and describes its Pharos with the wonderful mirror (HR, 146-147; cf. LE STRANGE, Nuzhat-al-Qulūb, transl., 239-241); this last transcription is made the Arabic form Iskandariya.” Pelliot (1959), p. 29.

          “A better phonetic correspondence to Alexandria in a western context [than Lijian] is provided by Chísăn 遲散 or Wūchísăn 烏遲散 EMC ?ɔ dr̮i san’ (or sanh), said in the Wèilüè to be the first place one reaches in Dà Qín and identified by Hirth as Alexandria. The first syllable (truncated in the first case) is the regular equivalent in Han times for a foreign initial a-, replaced by ā EMC ?a, in the new-style transcriptions that appear in the early Buddhist texts. The few xiéshēng connections of chí , which appears to have xi EMC sεj as phonetic, do not give the kind of clear-cut evidence for *l- as the source of the Middle Chinese retroflexed stop, dr̮, that we find in the cases of EMC d < *l cited above; but neither do they support a connection with Old Chinese dental stops. It is relevant that, as Hirth noted, Middle Chinese dr̮- was sometimes used in transcriptions of Sanskrit to represent the voiced retroflex stop , a sound that is rather close to [l].” Pulleyblank (1999), p. 76.

“Ancient Alexandria stood about twelve miles from the Canoptic branch of the Nile, with which it was united by a canal. The lake Mareotis bathed its walls on the south, and the Mediterranean on the north. It was divided into straight parallel streets, cutting one another at right angles. One great street, two thousand feet wide, ran through the whole length of the city, beginning at the gate of the sea, and terminating at the gate of Canopus. It was intersected by another of the same breadth, which formed a square at their junction half a league in circumference. From the centre of this great place, the two gates were to be seen at once, and vessels arriving under full sail from both the north and the south. In these two principal streets, the noblest in the universe, stood their most magnificent palaces, temples, and public buildings, in which the eye was never tired with admiring the marble, the porphyry, and the obelisks, which were destined at some future day to embellish the metropolis of the world. The chief glory of Alexandria was its harbor. It was a deep and secure bay in the Mediterranean, formed by the shore on the one side, and the island of Pharos on the other, and where numerous fleets might lie in complete safety. Without the walls of Alexandria, and stretching along the shores of the Mediterranean, near to the promontory of Lectreos, was situated the palace and gardens of the Ptolemies. They contained within their inclosure the museum, an asylum for learned men, groves and buildings worthy of royal majesty, and a temple where the body of Alexander was deposited in a golden coffin. It were endless to enumerate the many palaces, temples, theatres, and other buildings with which Alexandria and its suburbs were adorned.” Edwards and Brown (1835), p. 57.

“This position [as: “the most important commercial city of the Mediterranean world”] Alexandria owed to its natural advantages. There were two magnificent harbours, the Great Harbour to the east and the Eunostus (Harbour of Fortunate Return), with a smaller, artificially excavated harbour at its rear, to the west. The harbours were separated by an artificial dyke, the Heptastadium, linking the mainland to the island of Pharos on which the famous lighthouse stood. These accommodated an immense volume of maritime trade with the Mediterranean world and also made Alexandria an important centre of the shipbuilding industry. To the south of the city, Lake Mareotis, which itself had a harbour on its northern shore, was linked by canals to the Canopic branch of the Nile delta, giving access to the river valley. Not only did this make available to Alexandria as much of Egypt’s domestic produce as she required – the large-scale transport of grain from the valley was, of course, absolutely essential to feed the city’s populace – but it also linked her through the important entrepôt of Coptos to the ports of the Red Sea coast and a network of trading relations with India and Arabia, which reached its apogee in the Roman period. Great though the volume of imports through this route was, it was outweighed, as Strabo noted, by the volume of exports which Alexandria despatched to the south.” Bowman (1996), pp. 218-219.

“But to form an estimate of the number of Jews that statedly resided in Alexandria, it may be sufficient to mention that about the year of Christ 67, while the quarrel was going on between that people and the Romans, which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, the subversion of their ecclesiastical polity and their ruin as a nation, fifty thousand of them were put to death at one time in the city of Alexandria! It is said that at the time this terrible event took place, there were not less than a million of Jews dispersed through the whole province of Egypt, in which they had a vast number of synagogues, and oratories which were either demolished or consumed by fire, for refusing to set up the statues of the Roman emperor, Caius Caligula.” Edwards and Brown (1835), p. 58.

For a discussion of the various Chinese transcriptions of Alexandria see: Pelliot (1959), p. 29.

11.8. The city of Wudan 烏丹 [Wu-tan] = Tanis? I believe that Wudan, Egyptian Ta-an, or Tsàn, refers to the Egyptian city of Tanis, capital of the Eastern Nile Delta.

K. 61a *•o / uo; EMC ?ɔ 

K. 150a *tân / tân; EMC tan

“The Ancient Egyptian name of that place was “D’n.t”, in egypto-speak rendered Djanet. I suppose it rather sounded like *Dja’ane, for the Greeks heard it as Tanis (-is Greek ending), but the Hebrews heard it as Zoan, and the Assyrians heard it as Saanu. Perhaps someone else can give you the Coptic, which would be the most relevant for you.” Email correspondence from Aayko Eyma, 24/12/98.

It appears from the Weilue that one could sail all the way from Zesan to the city of Wudan. Assuming this identification of Wudan and Tanis is correct, then reaching Tanis via the ancient Nile canal to the Red Sea was possible. The canal had been recently re-dredged by Trajan and Hadrian. For more details, see Appendix M.

11.9. This text appears to refer to crossing the Sebannitus and then the Canopis branches of the Nile. For details see Appendix M.

11.10. fayudadusan 凡有大都三. “There are, in all, three major cities.” I understand this text to mean that there are three major cities that you meet with on the journey from the Pelusic branch of the Nile to Alexandria. These would have been, at the time, Daphnae, Tanis and Alexandria. In the Chinese text accompanying the translation by Hirth (1885), p. 111, end of line 12, he has the character xi – ‘interval,’ ‘gap.’ but he doesn’t include this word in his translation – “There are three great divisions of the country [perhaps : three great cities].” It is clear that it must be mistaken for the commonly confused character, que = ‘now,’ ‘meanwhile,’ etc.
          In fact, the use of the character xi does not make sense here and it was obviously intended to be attached to the beginning of the next sentence, as is made clear in the punctuation of the New China Library 1975 Edition. The translation then reads smoothly, with the following sentence beginning: “Now (or, ‘meanwhile’), if you leave the city of Angu. . . . ” 
          Also, Hirth’s suggestion that du
might represent a division of the country cannot be supported. The character at this period had the meaning of a large walled town, city, or a provincial capital; although much later – during the Song and Qing dynasties – it sometimes had the meaning of a small territorial unit. See GR, No. 11668.

11.11. The territory called 海北 Haibei ‘North of the Sea’ here must refer to the lands between Babylonia and what is now Jordan and/or Syria. Refer to Appendix B, especially under the subheading: (b) Haibei 海北 ‘North of the Sea.’

11.12. This text seems to imply that there was a journey of more than a day from Alexandria along the coast before actually sailing for Rome. This gives a total time of seven or more days from Alexandria to Ostia. Six days would seem to be about right for the sailing time from the neighbourhood of Appollonia in Cyrene (west of Egypt) to Ostia, the port for Rome.
          The total sailing times between Alexandria and Puteoli, to the south of Rome, are given in The Times Atlas of World History (1978), p. 91, as “15-20 days (fastest 9 days)”.

“Egypt sent 150,000 tons of annual grain tribute to Rome in the 1st – 3rd centuries CE. Sailing to Puzzuoli or Ostia took a month or more, and the return voyage 10-20 days.” Baines and Málek (1984), p. 54.

However, these figures relate to the ordinary voyages of merchantmen. If the winds were right, a fast ship could make it from Italy to Alexandria in less than six days as Priscus of Panium (5th century CE) reported – refer to Appendix B, subsection (a) Haixi 海西 – literally: ‘West of the Sea’ = Egypt.

11.13. The overall description of the Roman Empire is self-explanatory and quite accurate: “This country (the Roman Empire) has more than four hundred smaller cities and towns. It extends several thousand li in all directions.”

11.14. wangchi 王治 [wang-chih] = ‘the king’s seat of government’ must undoubtedly refer here to the city of Rome, which is situated on the Tiber River some 24 km (15 miles) inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea.

11.15. song = pine trees, bai = cypress (a generic name for cypresses, thujas, etc), huai = Sophora japonica L., zi = catalpa (Catalpa ovata G. Don.), zhu = bamboo, wei = reeds, yang = poplars, liu = willows, 梧桐 wutong = the “Chinese parasol” or “phoenix” tree (Firmiana simplex = Sterculia platanifolia). See: Schafer (1963), p. 186.
          While the name, Wutong [Wu-t’ung], was used to denote other species of trees (especially outside of China), it is of interest to examine some of the significance this name would have had for the Chinese reader:

“The desert poplar (Populus diversifolia), which is also called the unequal-leaved poplar, bears two kinds of leaves at one time; those on the new growth are narrow and lancet-shaped like the willow, while those on the older branches are broad and tooth-edged. The Chinese name for this strange tree is wutung. Hardy as it is, and able to endure both cold and dryness, it is yet the very first tree to feel the touch of autumn, change colour and cast its leaves. For this reason the Chinese have chosen to make the wutung symbolic of sadness, and the eldest son of a family should lean on a staff cut from the wutung when he follows his father’s coffin in the funeral procession. The bark of the tree carries masses of spongy growth called “tears of the wutung,” doubtless because of this association with sorrow. These trees rise to a height of seventy-five feet, and the branches, meeting overhead, form dignified arched alleys. The patches of woodland are as symmetrical as though they had been planted by hand, and the edge is a clear-cut line with no straggling growth.” Cable and French (1943), p. 280.

“Near the camp we reached that night was a clump of wu-t’ung trees, the first I had seen closely, though we had passed a few in the dark on one of the marches through Kuai-tze Hu – their most easterly range, so far as I know it. The caravan men call them “false” wu-t’ung for some reason of their own. The true wu-t’ung is the Dryandra of the upper Yang-tze, the tree from which is obtained wood oil, one of the most valuable exports of Hankow.1 The Dryandra may have been originally a sacred tree of the aborigines of the Yang-tze valley, judging from the legends with which the later-coming Chinese adorned it. They say that the first fall of its leaf is the undeniable beginning of autumn – a fitting symbolism for a holy tree. It is yet more venerable because it is the only tree on which the phoenix will alight when it visits the earth. I have never seen the true wu-t’ung, nor do I know how the “false” wu-t’ung got its name, since I have heard Chinese say that it has not much resemblance to the Dryandra; the caravan men explain very simply that it is false because no phoenixes ever perch on it. The masquerading wu-t’ung is the toghraq or wild poplar of the Tarim desert. It is found throughout the half-deserts and desert fringes of Chinese Turkestan and Zungaria, and also, I am told, in India. One of its peculiarities is that parasitic willow shoots are often found growing in the notches of old trees; another is the great variation in the form of the leaf. On the Edsin Gol the leaf is fairly uniform, but in the Tarim basin it is sometimes very nearly round, with slightly serrated edges, and sometimes almost as deeply indented as a maple leaf, The wood is of no use for any carpentry, and burns rather weakly without giving an intense heat. It is impregnated, apparently, with salts of the deserts where it grows. A plentiful sap or pitch oozes out of it when burning, which is used like soda or yeast to raise bread; the camel men call it “wu-t’ung soda.

1I now find that, according to Giles (Dictionary), the wu-t’ung associated with the phoenix is not the Dryandra but Sterculia platanifolia, while the oil-producing tree also is not Dryandra but Aleurites cordata (t’ung-yu-sha).”

Lattimore (1929), pp. 195 and n. 1; 196.

11.16. sangcan 桑蠶 [sang-ts’an].

“This passage can hardly be translated as anything other than, “The customs of the inhabitants are the following: they practice agriculture and plant the five types of cereals; as for domestic animals they have horses, donkeys and camels; they cultivate the mulberry tree and raise silkworms.” But it is evident that Yu Huan, the author of the Weilue, may have come under the influence, unconsciously perhaps, of the more ancient texts which he compiled.” Translated from Chavannes (1907), p. 180, n. 1.

The term 桑蠶 sangcan [sang-ts’an] is not really as clear-cut as Chavannes states, and the text certainly does not state that they: “cultivate the mulberry tree and raise silkworms” – only that they raise sangcan. The term sangcan is listed by itself immediately after the word 駱驼 luoduo – the normal term for camels.
          On its own like this, sangcan may indeed have meant ‘silkworms,’ but this is not certain – and may not have been the intention here. In the entry under GR No. 9430 we find three definitions: 1. (Entomological) another name for the larvae of the Capricorn beetle, which were used as a medical material. 2. mulberries and silkworms. 3. To feed silkworms with mulberry leaves.
          Additionally, the similar-looking Black Mulberry (Morus nigra L.) tree was native to the Mediterranean region, and may be what is referred to here. They could well have been confused unless they were fruiting, when the large black fruits of the Black Mulberry would have clearly distinguished it from the White Mulberry (Morus alba L.), the leaves of which are used to raise the cultivated silkworm, as it bears white fruits. See the discussion in Hirth (1885), p. 256.

11.17. See the quotes in note 11.2 by Dubs (1957), pp. 2-3, and the translated quote from Saint-Denys (1876), pp. 268-269, in Appendix B, subsection (a) “Haixi 海西 – literally: ‘West of the Sea’ = Egypt.”
          The Shiji chapter 123 – written about 91
BCE – records that when the first envoys from China reached Anxi [Parthia]; “the king sent some of the eggs of the great birds which live in the region [ostriches], and skilled tricksters of Li-hsüan, to the Han court as gifts.” Dubs (1944), p. 277. See also this same event recorded in the Hou Hanshu, Chap. 96A, translated in CICA, p. 117-118.

11.18. This appears to be nothing more than a fabulous story told of an ideal country far-away and is reminiscent of many such stories told by early European travellers to distant lands.

11.19. For an account of these extravagant descriptions of the Roman Empire and its people, see note 11.1.

11.20. This sounds like a sober description of the Parthians’ desire to keep control of and raise taxes on the lucrative trade between China and the Roman Empire. The net result of this policy was, predictably, the development of alternative routes, particularly the route that headed north around the Aral and Caspian Seas to the country of the Alans who had contact with the Romans via Black Sea ports, and the long maritime route from southern Chinese territory (in what is now northern Vietnam) to East Africa and Egypt. Some of this maritime trade could have taken place through the intermediaries of the Roman trading stations or “factories” set up around the Indian coasts and at Oc Eo near the mouth of the Mekong.

11.21. This may well record Chinese surprise at the number of ordinary people who were literate in the Roman Empire. In China, at this time, it was only the privileged elite and government bureaucrats who were able to read and write. This was partly due to the fact that it is easier and quicker to learn an alphabetically-based phonetic form of writing. In addition, Jews (and some of the early Christian groups), insisted that every male learn how to read and write – so they could study the holy scriptures themselves in the original. There was the long Greek tradition of teaching men, in particular, to read and write and this heavily influenced the later Romans to value literacy as well:

“Literacy in Greece was never a craft skill, possessed only by experts, from the start writing was used for a great range of activities, from composing poetry to cursing enemies, from displaying laws to voting, from inscribing tombstones or dedications to writing shopping lists. To be completely illiterate was to be ignorant, uncultured: but our evidence shows that there existed all levels of skill in writing, spelling, and grammar: only a society in which literacy is widespread can offer such a range of evidence from semi-literacy to illiteracy. There is of course no sign that women were expected or encouraged to read, although many of them could. To be cautious, we may say that in a city like Athens well over half the male population could read and write, and that levels of literacy in the Greek cities of the classical and Hellenistic periods were higher that at any period in western culture before this century.” Boardman, Griffin and Murray (1986), pp. 227-228.

After the rise of the Roman Empire, it was common for Greek slaves to act as tutors to the sons of well-to-do Roman families.

11.22. Haibei 海北 [Hai-pei], literally: ‘North of the Sea,’ must refer to the lands between Babylonia and what is now Jordan and/or Syria. Refer to Appendix B for details.

11.23. This passage has caused some confusion to modern scholars. A ting [t'ing] in China was basically a shed or simple lodge for travellers to stop at, which I have called a ‘stage,’ and a zhi [chih] was a ‘postal station’ or inn that could provide shelter, fresh horses, food and supplies.
          The Roman and Parthian systems of postal relays were further developments of the famous Achaemenid system initiated by Darius I circa 515
BCE. The road from Sardis to Susa was 2,475 km in length, and had 111 postal stations [i.e. on average, one every 4 parsangs, or about one every 22 km]. At normal rates of travel, the whole could be covered in 90 days (average speed = 27.5 km/day). However, by changing mounts and couriers, over 350 km could be covered in a day, and messages could be taken the whole length of the route, from Sardis to Susa, in just seven days. From: Ciolek (2000). See also: Dandamayev (1994), p. 52.
            In fact, the Chinese, Parthians, and the Romans all had well-developed systems of postal stations and relays which were quite similar to each other:

“The voyager, having picked a conveyance or riding and pack animals, having loaded up and got under way, next faced the problem of where to stop for the night, and, if he was travelling with hired gear, where to find a change of animals and equipment. As it happened, his choices were often determined by the network of inns and hostels that belonged to the cursus publicus, the government post.
            Rome’s cursus publicus was created by Augustus, but the idea of such a service was hardly original with him; it is an essential tool for any government that rules extended areas. The earliest examples we know of go back to the third millennium B.C., when the city-states of Mesopotamia first began to build miniature empires. . . .  By the third century B.C., China’s Han dynasty and the super-centralized administration that the Ptolemies had set up in Egypt were running the nearest thing to a modern postal system that the ancient world was to know. The carriers were all mounted. In China the post-stations were some eleven miles apart, with two or more substations in between. In Egypt they were sparser, at intervals of six hours by horseback or roughly thirty miles apart. Some records of one of these Egyptian post offices have been dug up by the archaeologists, so we have a fair idea of the way they worked. Thanks to Egypt’s geography, mail had to go only north and south, along the ribbon of inhabited land bordering the Nile. The offices handled at least four deliveries daily, two from each direction. For packages and other heavier matter there was an auxiliary camel-back service.
          When Augustus conquered and annexed Egypt in 30 B.C., the system was right at hand to serve as a model. He, however, was interested neither in speed nor regular delivery. What he sought was a facility which would forward dispatches when necessary and permit him to interrogate the carriers as well as read the papers they brought. So he fashioned a service in which there were no relays: each messenger went himself the whole route, and since time was not of the essence, travelled in carriages rather than on horseback. As the system developed, the couriers were more and more drawn from the army, especially from the elite unit called speculatores ‘scouts’; instead of scouting the situation of an enemy, they scouted, as it were, the situation at the headquarters they were delivering to. . . .
          In Egypt the Romans may well have maintained the Ptolemies’ mail service, since it was so feasible a system there. But everywhere else the Roman post operated as Augustus had designed it, making sporadic deliveries according to need – or rather the emperor’s need, since officially only men carrying dispatches from him or for him were entitled to the privileges of the cursus publicus. Every user had to have a diploma, as a post warrant was called, signed by the emperor or, in his absence, his authorized agent; governors of provinces could also issue them, but they disposed of a limited number only, rationed out by the emperor. A diploma, entitling one to travel with the use of government maintained facilities, was a prized possession, and inevitably some fell into hands which did not deserve them. . . .
          . . . .  All along the routes at strategic intervals were more or less well-equipped inns called mansiones or stationes; the first term originally applied to places with the facilities to handle an imperial party, the second to posts maintained by the road police, but by this time the two had gradually merged. In between the mansiones or stationes were very simple hostels, mutationes ‘changing places’ as they were sometimes called, which could supply the minimum of a traveller’s needs – a bite to eat, a bed, and, as the name implies, a change of beasts or vehicle. The distance from one mansio to the next depended on the terrain and how thickly an area was populated, but in general an effort was made to keep them twenty-five to thirty-five miles apart, that is, the length of an average day’s travel. In densely settled districts, such as around the capital, they tended to be a good deal closer. There might be one or two hostels between a pair of mansiones, again depending on the terrain. . . .
          The inns and hostels of the cursus publicus were not built specifically for it, nor did they service only those travelling on official business, although these had an ironclad priority. The post, despite the fact that it was run wholly for the benefit of the central government, was largely maintained by the communities along the routes. The emperors simply selected given existing inns of the required quality and incorporated them into the system, requiring them to put up without charge any holder of a diploma who came along. Only in remote areas, as on mountain passes or along lonely tracts of road, did they have to build from scratch. . . ; such places, too, to help meet expenses put up all voyagers, private as well as official. Vehicles, animals, drivers, stablehands – all were requisitioned, wherever possible, from local citizens.” Casson (1974), pp. 182-186.

“As it happens, the Romans were not the only skilled road-builders of antiquity. On the other side of the world the powerful lords of the Han dynasty of China (c. 200 B.C. – A.D. 200) ruled an equally farflung empire, which they too knit together by means of a comprehensive system of highways. Their engineers, like Rome’s, laid the tracks as straight as possible, cutting through forests and bridging streams, and even outdid Rome’s when it came to hacking out roads in dizzying heights. They went in for greater width than Rome; fifty feet is mentioned for major routes, wide enough for nine chariots abreast. We cannot confirm the figure since the Chinese never used paving – gravel surfaces satisfied their needs – and accordingly hardly a trace of their ancient roads has survived. We have only contemporary or near contemporary descriptions to go on, and these cannot always be taken as gospel truth.” Casson, (1974), p. 174.

11.24. The report that there were no bandits or thieves along the roads in the Roman Empire is probably an accurate reflection of the effectiveness of Roman policing and severe application of the law within their territories. However, dangerous wild animals were common – to a degree it is hard to imagine these days.
          Herodotus (5th century
BCE) informs us that in the time of Xerxes’ invasion of Greece in 480 BCE, lions were still a danger to caravans in the eastern parts of Greece:

“This road which led him [Xerxes] through Paeonia and Crestonia to the river Echeidorus, which rising in the country of the Crestonians, flows through Mydonia, and reaches the sea near the marsh upon the Axius.
          Upon this march the camels that carried the provisions of the army were set upon by lions, which left their lairs and came down by night, but spared the men and sumpter-beasts, while they made the camels their prey. I marvel what may have been the cause which compelled the lions to leave the other animals untouched and attack the camels, when they had never seen that beast before, nor had any experience of it.
          That whole region is full of lions, and wild bulls with gigantic horns which are brought into Greece. The lions are confined within the tract lying between the river Nestus (which flows through Abdera) on the one side, and the Acheloüs (which waters Acarnania) on the other. No one ever sees a lion in the fore part of Europe east of the Nestus [which divides Greek Macedonia and Thrace], nor through the entire continent west of the Acheloüs [which empties into the Ionian Sea near the southwest corner of mainland Greece]; but in the space between these bounds lions are found.” Herodotus (VII, 124-126), 1996 edition, p. 556.

“Game was plentiful: lions existed in the Euphrates valley until the middle of the nineteenth century. . . . ” Fedden (1955), p. 134.

“From the writings of the ancient historians it appears very clear that Lions were at one time found in Europe, but they have long since totally disappeared. They are also no longer seen in Egypt, Palestine or Syria, where they once were evidently far from uncommon ; and, as Cuvier remarks, even in Asia generally, with the exception of some countries between India and Persia, and some districts of Arabia, they have become comparatively rare. . . .  How different it was in the time of the Romans! Struck with the magnificent appearance of these animals, they imported them in vast numbers from Africa, for their public spectacles.” Maunder (1878), p. 382.

11.25. For the translation of wangsuozhi cheng 王所治城 as ‘the king’s administrative capital’ – refer to the section titled: “About Measurements and Administrative Divisions,” at the end of the Introduction.
          For the circumference of Rome to have equalled 42 km, outlying suburbs must have been included. The greatest extent of the walled area of Rome was enclosed by the brick-faced concrete walls built by Aurelian in 270
CE. These were almost 12 miles (19 km) around and enclose an area of approximately 60 sq. kms. Many suburbs were, however, outside the walls.
          The population of Rome by the late 1st to early 2nd centuries has been estimated to be over a million people. The population began to decline rapidly during the plagues of the second century:

“Forty years later [after the ‘plague of Orosius in 125] there followed the plague of Antoninus, sometimes known as the plague of the physician Galen. The story is better documented than that of previous outbreaks. Disease started among the troops of the co-emperor Lucius Verus on the eastern borders of the empire. It was confined to the east for the two years 164-6 and caused great mortality among the legions under the command of Avidius Claudius, who had been sent to repress a revolt in Syria. The plague accompanied this army homewards, spreading throughout the countryside and reaching Rome in A.D. 166. It rapidly extended into all parts of the known world, causing so many deaths that loads of corpses were carried away from Rome and other cities in carts and wagons.
          The plague of Antoninus or Galen, is notable because it caused the first crack in the Roman defence lines. Until A.D.161 the empire continually expanded and maintained its frontiers. In that year a Germanic barbarian horde, the Marcomanni from Bohemia and the Quadi from Moravia, forced the north-eastern barrier of Italy. Owing to the fear and disorganization produced by the plague, full-scale retaliation could not be undertaken; not until A.D.169 was the whole weight of Roman arms thrown against the Marcomanni. Possibly the failure of this invasion was as much due to the legions carrying plague with them as to their fighting prowess, for many Germans were found lying dead on the battlefield without sign of wounding. The pestilence raged until A.D. 180; one of the last victims was the noblest of Roman emperors, Marcus Aurelius. He died on the seventh day of his illness and is said to have refused to see his son at the last, fearing lest he, too, should succumb. After A.D.180 there came a short respite followed by a return in 189. The spread of this second epidemic seems to have been less wide, but mortality in Rome was ghastly; as many as 2,000 sometimes died in a single day.
          The name of the physician Galen is attached to the plague of A.D. 164-89 not only because he fled from it, but because he left a description of the disease. Initial symptoms were high fever, inflammation of the mouth and throat, parching thirst and diarrhoea. Galen described a skin eruption, appearing about the ninth day, sometimes dry and sometimes pustular. He implies that many patients died before the eruption appeared. There is some resemblance to the Athenian plague, but the undoubted Eastern origin and the mention of pustules have led many historians to assert that this was the first instance of a smallpox epidemic. One theory holds that the westward movement of the Huns started because of virulent smallpox in Mongolia; the disease travelled with them, was communicated to the Germanic tribes upon whom the Huns were pressing and, in turn, infected the Romans who were in contact with the Germans. Against this theory must be set the fact that the later history of the Roman outbreak in no way resembles the later history of European smallpox in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. But, as we shall see in some of the following chapters, the first appearance of a disease often takes a form and a course which is quite different from that of the disease once established.
          After A.D. 189, plague is not again mentioned until the year 250. . . . ” Cartwright and Biddiss (1972), pp. 12-14.

11.26. The title used here is jiang [chiang], which is commonly translated as ‘general.’ However, it sometimes had a less militaristic meaning. Hucker, No. 690 includes: “(3) HAN: Leader of the expectant and unassigned officials who attended the Emperor as courtiers with the title Court Gentleman (lang).”
          Here, the mention of the “thirty-six leaders” seems probably to be a reference to the consuls:

          “Lastly, though Augustus did not form a Privy Council after the pattern of the Hellenistic monarchies, he laid the foundations of such a body. In 27 B.C. he instituted a committee of the Senate, consisting of the two consuls, of one representative apiece from each of the other colleges of magistrates, and of fifteen private members selected by lot, for a period of six months, to prepare the agenda and expedite the business of the whole House. In A.D.13 he reinforced this committee with members of the imperial family and additional nominated members of the equestrian order, and he carried out its recommendations without submitting them to the Senate for confirmation. In addition to this regularly constituted committee, Augustus also convened from time to time informal consilia of assessors in judicial cases, according to the ordinary custom of the republican magistrates. From these two sources the formal Consilium Principis was eventually derived.” Cary (1954), pp. 481-482.

          “The reign of Hadrian also marks an important stage in the history of Roman law. Under this emperor the annual edicts of the Praetors charged with civil jurisdiction at Rome, and presumably also the edicts of the provincial governors, were cast into final shape by a distinguished jurist named Salvius Iulianus. Henceforward the function of interpreting and expanding Roman law devolved mainly upon the Consilium Principis, to which the chief jurists of the day were regularly invited for consultation on judicial matters.” Cary (1954), p. 634.

I have not been able to confirm the existence of any body that had exactly thirty-six members or, if it did, at what time. It seems the largest number of consuls (25) existed under Commodus’ rule about 190 CE. They may have be joined by the consilium princeps, a council of usually five (but, perhaps, at times, more) men who advised the consul on civic improvements and laws that affected the Empire.

11.27. This seems to be another example of exaggerated travellers’ tales – an idealistic account of an exotic foreign civilisation. It may also be an embellished reference to the appeal process under the law afforded to Roman citizens. 

11.28. The Romans were justly famous for their magnificent glassware. The term used here is shui-ching (crystal or clear glass). The Chinese at this period apparently did not know how to make transparent glass so rock crystal and clear glass were often confused. Glass must be what is meant here. See also note 12.12 (30). Furthermore, the idea that the pillars of the palaces were made of glass is not as fanciful as it first sounds:

“Fused mosaic glass of marble-like or figural patterns was employed, for instance, to adorn the surfaces of walls and furniture. When Pliny describes the Theatre of Scaurus, built in 58 B.C. – where the second story of the stage building was faced with glass – he is probably alluding to mosaic glass made to imitate the swirling grains of marble (Natural History XXXV.24). Mosaic glass in bold patterns seems to have been used throughout the Empire period to decorate walls. Figural inlays of mosaic glass also decorated walls and furnishings.
            Colorful opaque inlays for opus sectile mosaic were created from pre-formed shapes fitted together. Glass also came to be used in place of marble for tessera mosaics laid on floors, walls, and vaulted ceilings. The advantage of glass tesserae over marble one rested primarily with their consistently glittery quality and their range of colors, which could be produced on demand. According to Pliny, glass mosaic for walls and ceilings was introduced at Rome in the late first century B.C.    The myriad uses made of opaque and colorful glass notwithstanding, clear glass was the most frequently admired in the world of Rome. In Pliny’s words:

. . . there is no other material nowadays that is more pliable or more adaptable, even to painting. However, the most highly valued glass is colorless and transparent. . . (Pliny, d. CE 79, Natural History XXXVI.66).”

From: Root, et al. (1982).

“Thanks to the discovery of glass-blowing in the Syro-Palestinian region during the first century B.C., glass vessels became commonplace throughout the empire by the first century A.D. and from time to time were exported to places as far afield as Scandinavia and the Far East.
          . . . .  Augustan Rome was a rich city with a population that probably approached one million. Italy had other large cities, too, and the demand for manufactured items, including glass, was enormous. Glassmaking quickly became established, and blowing came into its own as the only technique that made large-scale glass production practicable.
          At the same time, glass became fashionable. Although lacking the intrinsic value of rock crystal and precious metal, it is attractive and, while some looked down on glass because it was cheap, others admired it. . . .  The Romans’ ambivalence about glass is neatly summed up in Petronius’ Satyricon, where Trimalchio, the quintessential parvenu, remarks to his guests at dinner, “You will excuse me for what I am about to say: I prefer glass vessels. Certainly, they don’t smell and, if they weren’t so fragile, I would prefer them to gold. These days, however, they are cheap.” As Timalchio observed, glass vessels do not impart a taste or smell to substances they contain, and for this reason they were frequently used for food, perfumes, and medicines; indeed, the physician Scribonius Largus (active about A.D. 50) insisted that certain medical preparations should only be kept in glass containers.
          Glass was used at all stages in the preparation and consumption of food. Although the very rich would eat from gold and silver plates, many more used glass vessels for serving food, for drinking, and for washing hands between courses. Indeed, Propertius (died ca. 2 B.C.) reported that glass services were used instead of metal ones for drinking or dining in summer, and Seneca (died ca. A.D. 65) maintained that fruit appears more beautiful when it is in a glass vessel. At his absurdly lavish dinner party, Trimalchio served rare, vintage wines in glass amphorae. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, various foods and condiments, such as garum, a popular fish sauce, were stored in glass bottles and jars. In his treatise on agriculture (written ca. A.D. 60-65), Columella recommended using glass jars for preserving pickles. The jars should have vertical sides, he wrote, so that the contents can be compressed. Glass containers not only preserved the flavor, but also had the advantage (in a society with a high level of illiteracy) of allowing one to see the contents without removing the cover.” Whitehouse (1997), pp. 79-81.

          “The Sanskrit word vaiūra, which means lapis lazuli, beryl or cat’s-eye gem, is the origin of liu-li. Before Buddhism spread to China, the Chinese name for lapis lazuli, a precious stone from the north-west, was miu-lan. From the Han to the Northern dynasties miu-lan and liu-li came to be interchangeable terms for a few kinds of precious stones. . . .
          The word po-li underwent the same kind of transition [as liu-li]. The Sanskrit word sphā
ika, phalika in Pali, meaning crystal or quartz, is related to po-li. In the early Chinese context po-li and crystal (shui-ching) were synonyms (Chang Hung-chao 1921: 43). However, imported fake crystal enabled a few Chinese to realize that both po-li and the so-called crystal were man-made materials. Ke Hung (AD 284-386) pointed out that the imported ‘crystal vessels’ were actually made by mixing five kinds of minerals. He also ridiculed the ‘ignorant people’ who believed that the ‘crystal’ was a kind of natural precious stone like jade (Pao-p’u-tsu Nei-p’ien: II, 21). Because, by the third and the fourth centuries, most buyers did not distinguish between po-li and crystal, the two terms came to mean either rock crystal or transparent glass.
          During the period when the ancient Chinese imported po-li or liu-li they also continued to make their own glass, probably in order to imitate jade. The Later Han scholar Wang Ch’ung describes man-made jade thus: ‘The jade made out of melted jade-like stones is as brilliant as real jade’ (Yang Po-ta 1979: 77). The major characteristic of Chinese glass, as analysed by P. D. Ritchie, is the high proportion of lead, and in some samples, barium (1937). It contains much less silicon, the major element of modern glass, than does the glass from Egypt and other ancient countries. The high lead content resulted in a lower melting point and the greater fragility of the glass. Barium and other elements made it opaque. Wang Ch’ung made his comments in the period when the Chinese continued to make this opaque fragile glass long after they had seen the transparent glass vessels from foreign countries, they apparently did not understand that both their opaque material and the transparent glass shared similar chemical components and thus belonged to the same category of glass, at least as classified by modern glass experts. When the author of the history of the Northern Wei records that a merchant from the Yüeh-chih taught the Chinese how to make liu-li (WS: CII, 2275), he does not consider the jade-like materials long produced in China to be liu-li.
          The distinction between liu-li and po-li is not always clear outside Buddhist literature. The category liu-li includes transparent or translucent glass, which was a treasure for the emperors and other élite. In the legends about the Former Han Emperor Wu, liu-li was one of the treasures in his ‘Exotic Jewels Palace’, and the screen of another palace was made of ‘white liu-li’ – which can mean either white or transparent glass (Lu Hsün 1939: 347-9). In the Chin period, a minister, Wang Chi, who was considered extremely generous and extravagant, entertained Emperor Wu with po-li utensils (CS: XLII, 1206). An anecdote of Chin times records a comment on a liu-li vessel: ‘Why is this empty vessel a jewel? Because it is clear and transparent’ (Shih-shuo-hsin-yü: XXV, 595). What the owners actually treasured was the transparency of a glass vessel, be it called po-li, liu-li or crystal [shui-ching].
          Chinese élites were not alone in yearning for the transparent material. Pliny complains that crystal was a ‘crazy addition as a symbol of wealth and prestige’ in Rome (XXXVII 10). He says that Indian crystal was the most preferred (XXXVII 9). When the Indians exported crystal to the Roman empire some genuine crystal was probably also transported to China. Pliny’s time also saw a rapid development of glass-making in the West. He says that the glass-ware of his days closely resembles rock-crystal (XXXVII 10, XXXVI, 67). A few centuries later in China, the most extravagant prince Yüan Chen in the Northern Wei boasted of a few dozen crystal plates and bowls, glass (liu-li) vessels and red-jade cups. All of these vessels came from the Western Region (YHC: IV, 207). These ‘crystal plates and bowls’ were very likely transparent glass, as Ke Hung had pointed out two centuries earlier. . . .
          From the Han period on the Chinese viewed both the Roman empire and India as producers of liu-li. The official history of the Former Han described liu-li as a product of Chi-pin in the Kashmir region [sic – refer to Appendix K](HS: XCVI, 3885). At that time liu-li still mainly denoted lapis lazuli, whose origin was not far from Kashmir. By the time that the Later Han history identified the Roman empire as the origin of liu-li (HS: LXXXVIII, 2917) the word liu-li had come to mean glass. Later historians followed this tradition of viewing liu-li as of Roman origin until the Northern Wei History, when Yüeh-chih merchants, probably citizens of the small state surviving from the Kushan empire, are credited with the introduction of glass-making techniques.
          Like China, India began to produce glass much later than Egypt and Mesopotamia, but unlike China it produced good-quality glass very early. Very few samples from Taxila, Nalanda, Ahicchatra, Arikamedu and other sites show traces of lead, and none of them show any barium (B. B. Lal 1952). This feature enabled Indian workers to make transparent and clear glassware. Pliny referred to glass from India as being of good quality (XXXVI, 66; Schoff 1912: 220). Moreover, Roman traders brought flint glass to Barygaza (Periplus: 49). Indian workers must have been familiar with the technology of processing glass. The early Christian era witnessed the best period of glass production in ancient Indian history (Dikshit 1969: 25). However, Indian workers in the Kushan period do not seem to have been familiar with glass-blowing techniques. Most glass vessels found in Taxila were foreign imports, the local products being limited to moulded objects such as seals and beads (Dikshit 1969: 81ff.) Glass tiles in Taxila reveal that Indians were skilful at moulding large pieces of glass (B. B. Lal 1952: 22).” Liu (1988), pp. 58-62. See also: Stern (1991), pp. 113-124.

“Among the products of Nature, the most expensive... on the earth’s surface, it is rock-crystal...” Pliny NH (a), p. 377 (bk. XXXVII, chap. 204).

11.29. 澤散 Zesan [Tse-san] – Azania in East Africa. See note 15.1.

11.30. 驢分 Lüfen [Lü-fen] = Al Wajh on the east coast of the Red Sea? See note 16.1.

11.31. 且蘭 Qielan [Ch’ieh-lan] = Wadi Sirhan. See note 17.1.

11.32. 賢督 Xiandu [Hsien-tu] = Leuke Kome. See note 18.1.

11.33. The king of Sifu 汜復 [Szu-fu] = Petra. See note 19.1.

11.34. The king of Yuluo 于籮 [Yü-lo] = Karak. See note 20.1.

Section 12 – Products of Da Qin (Roman territory) 

12.1. Fine linen – xichi 細絺 [hsi ch’ih] – fine linen. The term can refer to any ‘linen’ but in China usually referred to dolichos or hemp cloth. Here, in the Roman context, though, it undoubtedly referred to linen from flax – a major product of the Empire.

“Egypt, which had long been a big supplier of wheat, linen, and building stones, and the sole provider of papyrus and mosaic glass, now became [under the Julian-Claudian emperors, AD 14-68] the great entrepôt for Rome’s African and Asian trade. This hinged upon Alexandria, a city of about 500,000 inhabitants [the second largest in the Roman Empire], and a great processing as well as a great trading centre. Its linen industry made special cloths for the Asian trade, and its weavers also worked on Indian cottons and Chinese silks.” Simkin (1968), p. 38.

“Chinese silk, moreover, is mentioned only twice [in Diocletian’s famous Edict of 301 CE]; white silk at 12,000 denarii a pound, against 1,200 for the best linen yarn. . . . ” Simkin (1968), p. 47.

“The ancient world’s writing paper was either papyrus or parchment; papyrus was cheaper, practically all of it came [during the time of the Ptolemies] from Egypt, and its manufacture and sale belonged to the crown. So too did the textile industry, which, using native flax, produced for export not only fine fabrics but very likely much of the linen that went into sailcloth.” Casson (1959), p. 159.

“Originally a pleated robe was the mark of haute couture. Then the robe with a spotted pattern became démodé. Fenestella writes that the togas of Phyrgian wool with a smooth surface began to be in vogue in the last years of the late Emperor Augustus. Togas closely woven with poppy fibres go back further, and are already alluded to by the poet Lucilius in the case of Torquatus. The toga with a purple border had its origin in Etruria. I understand that kings used robes of state. Embroidered robes were already in existence in Homer’s time and are the origin of those worn at triumphs.” Pliny the Elder (1991), pp. 125-126 (NH VIII.195).

12.2. The Roman exchange rate in the 3rd century Weilue of gold to silver at 1 : 10 is very close to the 1 : 11 ratio of Pliny’s time (c. 77 CE):

“Pliny, a well-informed adviser of Vespasian (A.D. 69-79), reckoned that each year Indian trade drained Rome of 12,500,000 denarii and that the Arabian and Chinese trade together of at least another 12,500,000 denarii. The denarius was a silver coin – perhaps it was helpful that Rome preferred silver to gold while India had the opposite preference – and in Pliny’s day had a content of 3.1-3.3 grams. The aureus had a gold content of 7.3 grams so that, as an aureus was worth 25 denarii [and, therefore, Rome was exporting the equivalent of 7,300 kg of gold each year], the two metals had an exchange ratio of 1 :11. . . .
          By modern standards this is not a large drain for a great empire, but it was substantial for the Ancient World as a few comparisons may indicate. It has been estimated that, between 200 and 150 B.C., the Roman Republic obtained 261,000,000 denarii as booty or indemnities from the Mediterranean conquests, Gaul, Asia, and Spain’s gold mines, the chief western source. This works out at 50,000,000 denarii a year, twice Pliny’s estimate of the annual loss to Asia. The Emperor Tiberius, moreover, a frugal man, left his successor only 750,000 denarii. In China, the usurping Emperor Wang Mang, by A.D. 23, had accumulated a gold treasure of 156,200 kilograms and so equivalent to 540,000,000 denarii, or about twenty-two times Pliny’s estimate.
          The crucial question, of course, is the relation of Rome’s gold drain to its Asian imports. Rostovtzeff held that ‘the goods of the east were paid for, without doubt, partly with silver and gold coins, as Pliny says, but mostly by goods produced in the empire, especially in Alexandria’. No evidence is adduced for this view but it is, perhaps, supported by the apparent success Vespasian had in halting the outflow of coins to India. Although, too, the Periplus refers to ‘a great quantity of coin’ being sent to South India, and a profitable exchange for gold and silver at Barygaza, it does not mention significant exports of coin to other ports of the Erythraean Sea and lists many exports from Rome or Egypt. . . . ” Simkin (1968), pp. 45-46.

“It was later decided to strike denarii at 40 to the pound of gold and the emperors gradually reduced the weight of the gold denarius; most recently Nero devalued it to 45 denarii to the pound.” Pliny NH (a), p. 293 (bk. XXXII, chap. 47).

To follow these quotes it should be pointed out that 25 silver denarii equalled one gold denarius. Also, one Roman pound equalled 327.25 grams.
          Thus, from the latter quote of Pliny’s it can be calculated that the Roman gold to silver standard had been 10 : 1 and was gradually reduced. By the time of Nero it was about 1 : 11. However, it may have been raised again after Nero’s time. According to Prasad (1977), p. 174:

“in Plato’s and Xenophon’s time and more than 100 years after the death of Alexander 10 : 1.” This, apparently, continued for some time, probably into the period covered by the Weilue: “The relative value of silver and gold was 10 : 1 which continued for a long time. It was an international relative value. Ancient India by establishing the Mana standard of exchange currency internationalised the relative value at 10 : 1.”

For the trade of Roman coins to India see also: Lebedeva (1988); Sherkova (1990); Nagaswami (1995), pp. 21-27; Ray (2003), esp. pp. 181, 210-213.

12.3. ‘Sea wool’ or ‘silk’. There are two early references to shuiyang 水羊 – literally, ‘water-sheep,’ in Chinese literature that have caused considerable confusion for many years. It appears that it referred to the very rare byssus or thread like filaments produced by the large Pinna nobilis shell found in the Mediterranean. These shells produced an extremely fine, yet strong and beautiful silky fibre. Refer to Appendix D.

12.4. ye jiansi 野繭絲 – “silk from wild cocoons.” For a full description of the use of wild silks in the Roman Empire, refer to Appendix E.         

12.5. Haidong – ‘East of the Sea’ = Persis, and other lands to the east of the Persian Gulf. Refer to Appendix B.

12.6. The Chinese terms for the silks in this passage are: szu – silk thread; a general word for silks; and ling – damask or twilled silk = Sogdian parang (pr’ynk, pryng) – Kageyama (2003). See note 12.12 (46).

          “It has been supposed that the Greeks learned of silk through Alexander’s expedition, but it probably reached them previously through Persia. Aristotle (Hist. Anim., V, xix, 11) [4th century BCE] gives a reasonably correct account: “It is a great worm which has horns and so differs from others. At its first metamorphosis it produces a caterpillar, then a bombylius, and lastly a chrysalis – all these changes taking place within six months. From this animal women separate and reel off the cocoons and afterwards spin them. It is said that this was first spun in the island of Cos by Pamphile, daughter of Plates.” This indicates a steady importation of raw silk on bobbins before Aristotle’s time. The fabric he mentions was the famous Cos vestis, or transparent gauze (woven also at Tyre and elsewhere in Syria), which came into favour in the time of Cæsar and Augustus. Pliny mentions Pamphile of Cos, “who discovered the art of unwinding the silk” (from the bobbins, not from the cocoons) “and spinning a tissue therefrom; indeed, she ought not to be deprived of the glory of having discovered the art of making garments which, while they cover a woman, at the same time reveal her naked charms.” (XI, 26). He refers to the same fabric again in VI, 20, “the Seres, so famous for the wool [= silk floss. See: Casson (1989), pp. 238-239] that is found in their forests. After steeping it in water, they comb off a soft down that adheres to the leaves; and then to the females of our part of the world they give the twofold task of unravelling their textures, and of weaving the threads afresh. So manifold is the labor, and so distant are the regions which are thus ransacked to supply a dress through which our ladies may in public display their charms.” Compare Lucan, Pharsalia, X, 141, who describes Cleopatra, “her white breasts resplendent through the Sidonian fabric, which, wrought in close texture by the skill of the Seres, the needle of the workman of the Nile has separated, and has loosened the warp by stretching out the web.”
            Silk fabrics of this kind were much affected by men also during the reign of Augustus, but this fashion was considered effeminate, and early in the reign of Tiberius the Roman Senate enacted a law “that men should not defile themselves by wearing garments of silk.” (Tacitus, Annals, II, 33) the cost was enormously high; from an account of the Emperor Aurelian we learn that silk was worth its weight in gold, and that he neither used it himself nor allowed his wife to possess a garment of it, thereby setting an example against the luxurious tastes that were draining the empire of its resources.” Schoff (1912), pp. 264-265.

It seems that quite early in the silk trade from China to the Mediterranean, the silks were taken to Sidon and Tyre to be dyed and a method was found to reweave the thick Chinese cloths into transparent gauzes. It is of great interest to find descriptions of this process corroborated in both the Roman and the Chinese sources. These dyed silk gauzes soon became fashionable.
          Ma Duanlin [Ma Tuan-lin] in his Wenxiantongkao [Wên-hsien-t’ung-k’ao], ch. 330 has a rather similar passage to the one in the Weilue but gives more details:

“They [people from Ta Ch’in] make all kinds of rugs [Chü-sou, T’a-têng, Chi-chang, etc.]; their colours are still more brilliant than are those manufactured in the countries on the east of the sea. They always made profit by obtaining the thick plain silk stuffs of China, which they split in order to make foreign ling kan wên [lingganwen 綾绀紋 = ‘purple patterned damask’], and they entertained a lively trade with the foreign states of An-hsi [Parthia] by sea.” Ma Duanlin [Ma Tuan-lin], quoted in: Hirth (1885), pp. 80-81. 

Procopius, writing about 500 CE said:

“The manufacture of silken garments had for many generations been a staple industry of Beirut and Tyre, two cities of Phoenicia. The merchants who handled these and the skilled and semi-skilled workmen who produced them had lived there from time immemorial, and their wares were carried from there into every land.” Williamson (1966), pp. 115-116.

“In Parthian times, some of the high officials of both Palestinian and Babylonian Jewry participated in the international silk trade. The Babylonians included iyya the Elder, Abba the father of Samuel, Judah b. Bathyra of Nisibis, and others; the first named was probably related to, and a Palestinian representative of, the Babylonian exilarch (see below). Among the Palestinians was R. Simeon the son of R. Judah. Babylonia was the western entrepôt of silk from China; the thread was woven and manufactured into clothing for the Roman market in Palestine and Syria. Jews, represented on both sides of the frontier, were in a favourable position to profit from the trade. So, in particular, were the representatives of the Jewish administrations established by the respective imperial régimes. Since the silk trade was closely supervised by the Parthian government, it stands to reason that the Jewish participants were encouraged by the government, which found them an efficient means of carrying on the international exchange.” Neusner (1983), pp. 912-913.  

“The Chinese trade differed from the Indian trade mainly in that the bulk of its material consisted in silk textures which, before they were thrown on the Roman market, had to undergo the process of dyeing, chiefly purple dyeing, at Tyre or Sidon, or that of being woven (rewoven?) at Berytus or Tyre. The next route from the Red Sea to the manufacturing towns of the Phœnician coast, however, did not lead through Egypt, but through the country of the Nabataeans.” Hirth (1885), pp. 158-159.

“Towards the other extremity of the line of commerce, at Palmyra, some woolen cloths and Chinese silks found in tombs and having, perhaps, served as shrouds, present similarities of style and technique with fragments of material from Lou-lan, in the eastern region of Lop-nor, likewise found by Aurel Stein. An exchange of professional knowledge had been able to take place between the two races of weavers. Fabrics of monochrome silk with a damask weave have been found at Palmyra which Mr. Pfister calls the Han weave. It produces a thick material, as it has two faces; on one side it shows the pattern of damask; on the other it has the appearance of a taffeta, which serves to stiffen it (the specialists pronounce taffeta or linen cloth the simplest fabric to weave, the warp and the weft are mixed together like in darning; this is the most rudimentary technique). The combination of these two weaves into one represents quite an advanced art of weaving, which is attributed to the Chinese. These materials, damasked according to the Han weave, had a scintillating appearance. The Parthian standards of the battle of Carrhae [53 B.C.], to which history has definitely attributed a heavy responsibility, were probably made of Chinese damask.
          It was the taste for light weaves which caused the abandonment of these heavy silks, even though in the 2nd and 3rd centuries Chinese silk had become abundant. A Palmyrene material has been found from the 2nd century – it has a woolen weft dyed with cochineal, an expensive dye (yet less than the prohibitively priced purple) on a weft of Chinese silk, almost invisible, dyed with madder, which colours cheaply. The silk served only as a base like the coarse canvas of a beautiful tapestry, and it was the damask wool that was shown.” Translated from: Boulnois (1992), pp. 147-148.

“A piece of crimson damask with a rhombic design was recovered from one of the 2nd century B.C. tombs excavated at Mawangtui, Changsha, Hunan Province: A Damask is a monochrome fabric made by the use of the drawloom. The background is woven by plain weave, while the decorative patterns appear as twill weave with warp threads three up and one down. . . . ” Anonymous, 1976: note 56.

            “Similarly, the use of other prohibited textiles [for the Buddhist clergy] such as silk obtained from the silk-worm (koseyya) is also associated with the Chhabbagiyas [“or ‘Group of Six,’ who were prone to the emulation of an elite lifestyle”], as is the use of silk-mixed woollen rugs and wrappers. The Buddha is shown as reluctantly accepting gifts of expensive silk and woollen shawls imported from the Sibi country in the north-west (Vinaya Piṭaka I: 281). This association of expensive and fine textiles with elite status is evident in descriptions of the nāgaraka or urban elite in Sanskrit literature. The Mandasor inscription refers to women wearing two garments of silk on special occasions, while Kalidasa describes weddings where both the bride and the groom were attired in expensive fabrics termed dukūla and identified as silk (Kumārasambhava VII: 7, 26, 73; Raghuvaṁśa VII: 18, 19).” Ray (2003), p. 221.

            “Another use of textiles was as a medium of exchange. The Kharoshthi inscriptions from Central Asia dated to around the fourth century indicate that silk was used as a payment in transactions, and even render the price of a woman as equivalent to forty-one bolts of silk (Burrow 1940: 27,95). Similarly, there is mention of Buddhist monasteries fining monks in silk.” Ray (2003), p. 227.


12.7. These “nine-coloured jewels” are almost certainly fluorite (calcium fluoride - also known as fluorspar). It not only comes in more colour varieties than any gem other than quartz, but it also exhibits fluorescence, phosphorescence and thermoluminescence.
          The reference to them being of “inferior” or “second-rate” quality stems, I would imagine from the fact that fluorite is relatively soft and is easy to scratch or damage (unlike jade).
          Interestingly, the colours attributed to it in our text (blue, carnation red, yellow, white, black, green, purple, red, dark blue) closely approximate the following modern description (which also lists nine distinct colours):

“Fluorite is a mineral with a veritable bouquet of colors. Fluorite is well known and prized for its glassy lustre and rich varieties of colors. The range of common colors for fluorite starting from the hallmark color purple, then blue, green, yellow, colorless, brown, pink, black and reddish orange is amazing and only rivaled in color range by quartz. Intermediate pastels between the previously mentioned colors are also possible. It is easy to see why fluorite earns the reputation as “The Most Colorful Mineral in the World”. . . .
          Most specimens of fluorite have a single color, but a significant percentage of fluorites have multiple colors and the colors are arranged in bands or zones that correspond to the shapes of the fluorite’s crystals. In other words, the typical habit of fluorite is a cube and the color zones are often in a cubic arrangement. The effect is similar to phantomed crystals that appear to have crystals within crystals that are of differing colors. A fluorite crystal could have a clear outer zone allowing a cube of purple fluorite to be seen inside. Sometimes the less common habits such as a colored octahedron are seen inside of a colorless cube. One crystal of fluorite could potentially have four or five different color zones or bands.
          To top it all off, fluorite is frequently fluorescent and, like its normal light colors, its fluorescent colors are extremely variable. Typically it fluoresces blue but other fluorescent colors include yellow, green, red, white and purple. Some specimens have the added effect of simultaneously having a different color under longwave UV light from its color under shortwave UV light. And some will even demonstrate phosphorescence in a third color! . . . .
          Another unique luminescent property of fluorite is thermoluminescence. Thermoluminescence is the ability to glow when heated. Not all fluorites do this, in fact it is quite a rare phenomenon. A variety of fluorite known as “chlorophane” can demonstrate this property very well and will even thermoluminesce while the specimen is being held in a person’s hand activated by the person’s own body heat (of course in a dark room, as it is not bright enough to be seen in daylight). The thermoluminescence is green to blue-green and can be produced on the coils of a heater or electric stove top. Once seen, the glow will fade away and can no longer be seen in the same specimen again.” Amethyst Galleries Inc. (2000).

Fluorite was considered a luxury item in the Roman Empire as this account from Pliny makes clear:

“That same victory [over Mithradates IV of Pontus, in eastern Anatolia in 63 BCE] first brought myrrhine ware to Rome. Pompey was the first to dedicate fluorspar bowls and cups from his triumph to Capitoline Jupiter. Vessels of fluorspar immediately passed into everyday use, and even display stands and tableware were eagerly sought. This kind of extravagance increases daily. An ex-consul drank from a fluorspar cup for which he had paid 70,000 sesterces, although it only held 3 pints. He was so enamoured of it that he used to chew the rim. Yet this damage increased its value, and no item of fluorspar today bears a higher price-tag on it. . . .
          When the ex-consul Titus Petronius was at the point of death, he broke a fluorspar ladle for which he had paid 300,000 sesterces, thus depriving the emperor’s dining-room table of this legacy. Nero, however, as was fitting for an emperor, outdid everyone by paying a million sesterces for a single bowl. That a commander-in-chief and Father of his Country paid so much to drink is a matter worthy of record.
          The East exports fluorspar vessels. There the mineral is found in many otherwise unremarkable places, especially in the kingdom of Parthia. The best specimens of fluorspar, however, occur in Carmania. The actual mineral is thought to be a liquid that is solidified underground by heat. Pieces of fluorspar are never larger than a small display stand, and usually seldom even the size of the drinking vessels to which I have alluded. They shine, but not intensely – indeed, they can more accurately be said to glisten. Their value lies in their variegated colours. As the veins swirl round they vary repeatedly from purple to white to a mixture of the two, the purple becoming fiery, and the milk-white, red, as though the new colour was passing through the vein.
          Some people reserve special admiration for pieces whose edges reflect colours as we see them in the inner part of a rainbow. The smell of fluorspar is also one of its attractions.” Pliny NH, XXXVII, 18, 20-21; (1991), pp. 366-367.

12.8. This probably refers to a mountain near the important oasis of Hami (I-wu 伊吾 – modern Kumul). Alternatively, it could possibly be a reference to the Yiwulu [I-wu-lü] Mountains to the west of Shenyang (Mukden) in Manchuria (modern Liaoning Province), where an unusual stone, called xunyuqi [sün-yü-k’i or hsün-yü-ch’i], which was classed as a type of jade is found. A piece of it was obtained by Da Cheng [Ta-Ch’êng], an Imperial Commissioner when he passed through the region circa 1884, who said:

“I obtained a piece of jade produced in the I-wu-lü mountains. It was cut and polished into the shape of a girdle pendant, in size not exceeding an inch. I confess I have not yet seen such big ones. The common name is ‘stone of Kin chou.’ It is not very expensive or esteemed. The jade substance in the ring under consideration is similar to the Kin chou stone. There are especially differences between the old and the modern ones: if it has lain underground for a long time, the color receives a moist gloss and reflects under the light. Truly it is an unusual kind of jade.” Laufer (1912), p. 109.

12.9. Chapter 118 of the Hou Hanshu provides interesting details of Chen Pan’s career:

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

“An Guo had no son. The men of his mother’s family are young and weak. I am Yi Fu’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 Chen Pan. Besides, they dreaded the Yuezhi (Kushans). They immediately took the seal and ribbon from Yi Fu and went to Chen Pan, and made him king.” See CWR Section 21.

In the section on the Kingdom of Jumi or Keriya the Hou Hanshu (CWR Section 3) adds:

“In the first Yangjia year [132 CE], Xu You sent the king of Shule (Kashgar), Chen Pan, who with 20,000 men, attacked and defeated Yutian (Khotan). He beheaded several hundred people, and released his soldiers to plunder freely. He replaced the king [of Jumi] by installing Cheng Guo from the family of [the previous king] Xing, and then he returned.”

These accounts involving the Kashgari prince, Chen Pan, being held hostage by the Kushan king (who “became very fond of him”) almost certainly form the basis of the story that Xuan Zang, the famous Chinese pilgrim monk, heard when he was travelling through the Punjab in 633 CE. Of interest is the fact that the Kushan king, who remains unnamed in the Hou Hanshu, is named as Kanishka in Xuan Zang’s account:

“When Kanishka was reigning the fear of his name spread to many regions so far even as to the outlying vassals of China to the west of the Yellow River. One of these vassal states being in fear sent a hostage to the court of king Kanishka, (the hostage being apparently a son of the ruler of the state). The king treated the hostage with great kindness and consideration, allowing him a separate residence for each of the three seasons and providing him with a guard of the four kinds of soldiers. This district was assigned as the winter residence of the hostage and hence it was called Chinabhukti. The pilgrim proceeds to relate how Peaches and Pears were unknown in this district and the parts of India beyond until they were introduced by the “China hostage.” Hence, he tells us, peaches were called “Chināni” and pears were called “China-rājaputra.” Watters (1904-1905); reprint 1973, I, pp. 292-293 and p. 194. See also: Beal (1884), pp. 56-58; Wriggins (1996), pp. 48, 229, n. 22.

If the recent dating of the beginning of Kanishka’s era in 127 CE – see Falk (2001) – is accepted, it becomes necessary to explain the traditional association of Kanishka with Chen Pan – as the text says that he was sent as a hostage to the Kushan king “during the Yuanchu period [114-120 CE] in the reign of Emperor An.” [Note: a number of writers have repeated the mistake (made first, I believe, by Sten Konow in his work of 1929) of claiming that the Yuanchu period ran from 114-116. In fact, the Yuanchu period ran 114 to 120 CE – see Tung (1960)].
          The involvement of Kanishka several years before the beginning of his era, could be explained in any of several ways: Chen Pan could have been sent to the Kushans while Kanishka was still a prince; Kanishka could have ruled jointly for a period with his father, Wima Kadphises; or Kanishka might have been ruling for some time before 127
CE. It is, in fact, likely that the inauguration of this new era celebrated Kanishka’s conquests in northeastern India, rather than the beginning of his reign, as is usually assumed. 
          In addition, the first character of Chen Pan
臣槃 was possibly not intended to represent a part of the king’s name but was, rather, a title that meant something like a ‘subject,’ ‘vassal,’ or ‘minister.’ See Williams, p. 44, also GR No. 649.

12.10. jingshi 青石 [ching shih] is not specific. The term often referred to lapis-lazuli, but could have been any other blue or green stone. As it came from Haixi (Egypt), and was presumably considered rare and valuable, it could have been emerald or peridot from the Egyptian mines. It is impossible to decide definitively. GR No. 2136, lists under ching shih: Chlorothionite; granite; freestone; diorite; and ultramarine and lapis lazuli. See also: Pelliot (1959), pp. 58-61; Williams (1909), p. 158; Schafer (1963), pp. 230-234 and nn.
          Hirth (1875), p. 72, translates this phrase:
疏勒王臣磐獻海西靑石金帶口各一 as: “… the king and minister of Su-lê presented to the court each a golden girdle beset with blue stones from Hai-hsi. . . .”.
各一, the last two words in the phrase, mean “one of each,” so that the gift from the Chen Pan was not “a golden girdle beset with blue stones” but, rather, “a blue (or green) gem and a golden girdle.” See GR 5909, p. 685.
          This king, Chen Pan
臣磐, was surely the same Chen Pan 臣磐 mentioned in the Hou Hanshu who was made a hostage of the Yuezhi during the Yuanchu period [114-120 CE], and was later placed on the throne of Kashgar by the king of the Yuezhi.
          In 132
CE, Chen Pan defeated Khotan and: “In the second Yangjia year [133 CE], Chen Pan again made offerings (including) a lion and zebu cattle.”
          Chen Pan seems to have had a very long reign because the next paragraph from the Hou Hanshu tells us: “Then, during Emperor Ling’s reign, in the first Jianning year [168
CE], the king of Shule (Kashgar) and Commandant-in-Chief for the Han (= Chen Pan?), was shot while hunting by the youngest of his paternal uncles, He De. He De named himself king. (see TWR Sections 3 and 21).         

12.11. 卽次玉石也. This could be read literally as either: ‘approaching the quality of jade’ or, possibly, ‘approaching second-class jade.’

“Chinese sources refer to the production of jade in the prefecture of Kue-lin, Kuang-si Province (G. DEVÉRIA, Histoire des Relations de la Chine avec l’Annam, p. 95, Paris, 1880). But this remains somewhat doubtful, as the designation in this case is yü shih, “jade-stone” (instead of ) which may refer and usually refers to only jade-like stones.” Laufer (1912), p. 25.

12.12. Roman Product List

12.12 (1) gold – jin.

“I must not pass over the fact that gold, with which all mankind is madly obsessed, is scarcely tenth in the list of valuable commodities, while silver, with which gold is bought, is almost twentieth.” Ibid. p. 377 (bk. XXXVII, chap. 204).

“According to some sources, Asturia, Gallaecia and Lusitania produce 20,000 pounds of gold in a year; Asturia supplies the largest amount. Spain has long been the main gold-producing area in the world.” Pliny NH (a), p. 299 (bk. XXXIII, chap. 78).

“All gold contains a varying proportion of silver – some a tenth, some an eighth. In one mine only – Albucrara in Gallaecia – the proportion of silver found is a thirty-sixth, which makes this gold more valuable than the rest. Where the proportion of silver is at least one-fifth, the ore is called electrum; grains of this are found in ‘channelled’ gold. An artificial electrum alloy is also made by adding silver to gold. If the proportion of silver exceeds one-fifth, the electrum offers no resistance to the anvil.” Ibid. pp. 299-300 (bk. XXXIII, chap. 80).

“If we wish to speak of an area where Roman coins had no currency this is the territory east of Mesopotamia. There are not sufficient grounds, therefore, to suppose (as Lebedeva does, p. 52) that Roman coins penetrated the Afghano-Pakistan area along caravan routes and not across the sea. This suggestion used to be made, it is true, concerning the Central Asian finds of Roman coins. However, Zeimal links them to the “steppe” section of the continental trade route and not with the main route that ran across the Iranian plateau from Egypt and the Near East.
          A different solution may be offered concerning the Indian finds as a whole, and not just those of coins: that Roman coins penetrated India through the ancient ports of Barigaza and Barbarikon. Here the author of the Periplus made a very relevant comment. Gold and silver coins were imported into Barigaza, he said, because it was profitable to exchange them for local coinage. This remark is also interesting in terms of the economic bases of Egypto-Roman trade with India through this port. In any case, this passage alone provides quite direct testimony of the monetary basis of Roman trade with India. . . . ” Sherkova (1990), pp. 108-109.

For an interesting account of the role played in international trade at the time between China, Rome, and other countries, see Dubs (1958), Appendix II, “Wang Mang’s Economic Reforms,” especially pp. 506-516.

12.12 (2) silver – yin. Silver has always been in rather short supply in most of China requiring imports from the south (modern Yunnan) or overseas.

“But the eight provinces mentioned above combined cannot produce half as much silver as Yunnan. The mining and refining of this metal, therefore, can be carried on continuously only in the latter province.” Sung (1637), p. 238.

12.12 (3) copper – tong.

“In China there was a customary ratio between gold and [copper] cash (10,000 cash to 1 catty of gold, 130 to 1).” Dubs (1958), p. 515. [Note: One Han “catty” or jin equalled 244 grams or 7.85 troy ounces.]

          “According to the Shan-hai ching [Geographic Classic] there were 437 copper producing mountains in China. This is an estimate probably based on fact. Among the present sources of supply in China, Szechuan and Kweichow are foremost in the west while in the southeast there are imports from overseas. There are, in addition, many copper mines at Wuchang in Hukuang and Kuang-hsin in Kiangsi.” Sung (1637), p. 242.

For the nationalisation of copper production and its use in currency see Dubs (1958), pp. 526-527.

“Gold, silver and copper were the main metals traded and exchanged in antiquity both as currency and as bullion. Though sources of copper, lead and some tin are available in the subcontinent, the Periplus refers to the import of copper, tin and lead to Kane (section 28), Barygaza (section 49) and Muziris (section 56).” Ray (2003), p. 233.

12.12 (4) iron – tie. Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) makes a brief reference (Natural History, bk. XXXIV, chap. 144) to the production of iron with a high carbon content (nucleus ferri, or steel) to provide hard edges for blades. In the next section (145) he pointed out that the Chinese (‘Seres’ – who may have been the Central Asiatic tribes in contact with the Chinese) produced the best iron and that it was imported into the Roman Empire:

“There is also a great difference in the way furnaces are used: by one special process the iron is smelted to give hardness to a blade; by another, to give solidity to anvils and hammer-heads. But the chief difference is the water into which the red-hot metal is at intervals plunged. . . .
          Of all the various kinds of iron Chinese takes first prize: it is exported to us along with fabrics and skins. The second prize goes to Parthia. These are the only kinds of iron forged from pure metal, all others being alloyed with a softer metal. . . . ” Pliny NH (a), p. 320 (bk. XXXIV, chaps. 144-145).

12.12 (5) lead – qian. China possessed good supplies of lead and had no need to import any:

          “There are more lead-producing mines than there are copper or tin. . . . The price of lead is low, yet it is an amazingly versatile metal.” Sung (1637), p. 252.

          “Lead offers what at first sight seems to be a problem. The Periplus’s lists of objects of trade reveal that the sole market for Western lead was India: shippers delivered it to Barygaza (49:16.21) on the northwest coast and to Muziris/Nelkynda on the southwest (56:18.19). Conformably, Pliny states categorically (34.163) that India has no lead. This is not so: she has ample deposits of it; as an authority cited by Watt (iv 602) puts it, “there is probably no metal of which the ores have been worked to so large an extent in ancient times, excepting those of iron.” But there is a plausible explanation why Pliny thought otherwise and why we find India importing lead: the commonest lead-bearing ore there is galena, and, as Watt suggests, it may well have been worked solely for the silver it contained.” Casson (1989), p. 28. See note 12.12 (6) for the recent discovery of ancient Muziris, just south of the mouth of the Periyar river mouth in Kerala State, southwestern India.

Lead. – Pliny ( XXXIV, 47-50 ) distinguishes between black lead and white lead; the former being our lead, the latter tin. . . . White lead he says came from Lusitania and Galicia, doubting its reported origin in “islands of the Atlantic,” and its transportation in “boats made of osiers, covered with hides.”

          Black lead, he says, came from Cantabria in Spain, and his description suggests galena, or sulphide of lead and silver. It came also from Britain and Lusitania – where the Santarensian mine was farmed at an annual rental of 250,000 denarii.
          Lead was used in the form of pipes and sheets, and had many medicinal uses, being used in calcined form, made into tablets in the same way as antimony…, or mixed with grease and wine. It was used as an astringent and repressive, and for cicatrization; in the treatment of ulcers, burns, etc., and in eye preparations; while thin plates of lead worn next to the body were supposed to have a cooling and beneficial effect.
          As an import at Barygaza lead was required largely for the coinage of the Saka dominions.” Schoff (1912), p. 190.

12.12 (6) tin – xi. Tin has always been in high demand for making bronze and is far less common (and therefore expensive) than the other ingredient, copper.

          “Tin is produced in many places in southeastern China, but in very few in the northeastern parts of the country. Tin is called ho in ancient books, because it was produced most abundantly in Lin-ho Commandery [in modern Kwang-si], Eight-tenth’s of today’s tin supply comes from Nan-tan and Ho-ch’ih in Kwangsi, followed by Heng-chou and Yung-chou [both in Hunan]; large quantities are also produced in Ta-li and Ch’u-hsiung [in Yunnan], but these places are too remote and not easily accessible.” Sung (1637), p. 251

Recent research shows that tin was being exported long distances at a very early date. The following abstract from the 33rd International Symposium on Archaeometry, 22-26 April 2002 Amsterdam. The evidence shows that tin from East Africa was being brought to the Mediterranean by about 1000 BCE.

163 Central Africa as a Source of Phoenician Tin

John E. Dayton

University College London, The Institute of Archaeology, 78 Dean Street, London W 1V 6BE, UK

Recent lead isotope analyses of tin ingots found in Haifa in 1982 have thrown new light on possible sources of Bronze Age tin. The writer analysed Central African leads in 1971, 1978 and 1986, and found that they had a very young and unmistakable signal. The analyses of Begernanli show that some of the Haifa tin came from the extensive tin fields of Central Africa. These are not from mythical locations with ppm’s of tin but from areas with large tin mines exist producing thousands of tons a year.
          The ancient Egyptians made voyages from about: 2500 BC to “The Land of Punt” whose location has been the subject of much speculation. Tin bronzes are late in appearing in Egypt, with the arrival of foreign rulers known as the Hyksos c. 1650 BC (In the writer’s opinion the true bronzes of Ur dated c. 2400 BC are an anachronism).
          Now we have firm evidence of the Phoenicians, great sea-faring traders obtaining tin from Uganda at about 1000 BC. The mineral deposits of Central Africa and other load isotopes analyses will be discussed. showing that long distance trade in metals existed from early in the 2nd millennium B.C. More lead isotopes analyses are needed to clear up this mystery, and the route to Punt.” [
Downloaded from: on 9/12/03. Some minor typing errors have been corrected]

It would seem likely that this trade would have been continued into Roman times, although we have no direct proof of it yet.

          “Tin presents a somewhat similar problem [to lead, in that it was imported into India], but in this case there is no ready explanation. Tin was a commodity much in demand in ancient times for, alloyed with copper, it forms bronze. Western tin found a market in Avalitês (7:3.18) and the “far-side” ports (presumably included under the term “the aforementioned” in 8:3.26-27 and the passages noted above), in Kanê (28:9.15), and in two places in India, Barygaza (49:16.21) and Muziris/Nelkynda (56:18.19). It so happens that just across the Bay of Bengal, there are rich deposits in Burma, Thailand, and Malay (Watt vi 4 57-60), some of which recent archaeological discoveries indicate were exploited in very early times.36 The Periplus makes it clear that India had trade contacts with these places (see under 63:21.1), and perhaps she did fill part of her requirements from them; if so, one wonders why she did not fill all her needs from so convenient a source.”

36. See R. Smith and W. Watson eds., Early South East Asia (New York, 1979), 25, where D. Bayard affirms that current evidence supports a date prior to 2000 B. C. for the first appearance of bronze in mainland Southeast Asia, and 37-38, where I. Selikhanov argues not only for the use of local tin but for its exportation to the Near East. On India’s scanty tin resources, cf. J. Muhly in AJA 89 (1985): 283.

Casson (1989), p. 28.

Tin was imported from the West into India, as the Periplus mentions it was imported to Barygaza and Muziris/Nelkynda, ports on the western coast of India (see news item about the rediscovery of Muziris below). This was probably because it was cheaper to import it from the West rather than ship it from Southeast Asia, land it on the east coast of India and then transport it overland, or ship it all the way around Sri Lanka. Alternatively, political problems at the time might have interrupted the supplies of tin from the East.

          “Tin. – Hebrew, bedil; Greek, kassiteros; Sanscrit, kasthira; Latin, stannum. This metal, the product of Gallicia and Cornwall, was utilized industrially at a comparatively late period, having been introduced after gold, silver, copper, lead, and mercury. It made its appearance in the Mediterranean world soon after the migration of the Phœnicians to Syria. The Phœnician traders may have found it first on the Black Sea coast, coming overland from tribe to tribe; and finally that of Cornwall. The value of tin in hardening copper was soon understood, and the trade was monopolized for centuries by the Phœnicians and their descendants, the Carthaginians. How carefully they guarded the secret of its production appears in Strabo’s story ( III, V, 11 ) of the Phœnician captain who, finding himself followed by a Roman vessel on the Atlantic coast of Spain, ran his ship ashore rather than divulge his destination, and collected the damage from his government on returning home.
          There is much confusion in the early references to this metal, because the Hebrew bedil ( meaning “the departed” ) was also applied to the metallic residue from silver-smelting – a mixture of silver, lead, and occasionally copper and mercury. The same comparison applies to kassiteros and stannum. Pliny, for example, distinguishes plumbum nigrum, lead, and plumbum candidum, stannum. Without any definite basis for determining metals, appearance was often the only guide.
          Suetonius ( Vitell. VI, 192 ) says that the Emperor Vitellius took away all the gold and silver from the temples, ( 69 A. D. ) and substituted aurichalcum and stannum. This stannum could not have been pure tin, but rather an alloy of lead, like pewter.
          The letters from the King of Alashia ( Cyprus ), in the Tell-el-Amarna tablets, indicate the possibility of the use of tin there in the 15th century B. C., and of the shipment of the resultant bronze to Egypt; and tin, as a separate metal, is thrice mentioned in the Papyrus Harris, under Rameses III ( 1198-1167 B.C. ). This confirms the mention of tin in Numbers XXXI, 22. By the time of Ezekiel ( XXVII, 12 ) it was, of course, well known; here it appears with silver, iron, and lead, as coming from Spain. The stela of Tanutamon describes a hall for the god Amon, build [sic] by the Pharaoh Taharka at Napata (688-663 B. C. ), of stone ornamented with gold, with a tablet of cedar incensed with myrrh of Punt, and double doors of electrum with bolts of tin. (Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol. IV ).
          By the Greeks the true tin was understood and extensively used, and the establishment of their colony of Massilia was largely due to the discovery of the British metal coming overland to the mouth of the Rhône. The Romans ultimately conquered both Galicia and Cornwall, and then controlled the trade; but to judge from Pliny’s account, their understanding of it was vague.
          According to the Periplus, tin was shipped from Egypt to both Somaliland and India.
          Lassen ( Indische Alterthumskunde, I, 249 ) and Oppert, arguing from the similarity between the Sanscrit kas
hira and the Greek kassiteros, would transfer the earliest tin trade to India and Malacca; but it seems probable that the Sanscrit word was a late addition to the language, borrowed from the Greek with the metal itself; which, as stated by the Periplus in §§ 49 and 56, came to India from the west.” Schoff (1912), pp. 77-79. [Recent archaeological information showing the very early development of bronze manufacture in the East would seem to put in question Schoff’s assertion here].

It now appears that the site of ancient Muziris has finally been discovered south of the present mouth of the Periyar River in Kerala State, southwestern India:

Archaeologists stumble upon Muziris

By M. Harish Govind

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, MARCH 22. Striking archaeological evidence suggests that the legendary seaport of Muziris, which was a bustling Indo-Roman centre of trade during the early historic period between the first century BC and the fifth century AD, could have been located at Pattanam, near Paravur on the south of the Periyar rivermouth.

K.P. Shajan, geoarchaeologist, who has put forward the hypothesis, says that despite its legendary status, researchers had not so far been able to identify the actual physical location of Muziris. The search for the legendary town on the Malabar coast had been focussed on the northern banks of the Periyar, on the basis of literary evidence from Sangam literature and "Periplus of the Erythrean Sea", among others.

However, the remains unearthed from the area belonged to the 12th century AD, whereas Muziris had been a bustling urban settlement more than 1,000 years earlier. Nothing had been found from the area with a clear Roman connection, a fact which baffled both Indian and foreign researchers. All that they knew was that it was located near the mouth of the Periyar.

Among other things, what led Dr. Shajan and his team to Pattanam was clear geological evidence which suggested that the river Periyar had shifted its course from the south to the north over the millennia. A branch of the Periyar, called the Periyar Thodu, runs close to Pattanam and satellite imagery indicates that the Periyar delta lies on the southern side and the river could have flowed close to Pattanam about 2,000 years ago. This would place the ancient site alongside the Periyar in keeping with the descriptions in literary sources.

The residents of the Pattanam site, which is known by the names of ‘Neeleswaram’ and ‘Ithilparambu’ at present, regularly used to come across a large amount of broken pottery shards and ancient fired bricks while digging the ground. In fact, the ancient bricks were commonly being used along with laterite blocks for construction purposes, Dr. Shajan said.

The site covers an area of about 1.5 sq km and the deposit is about two metres thick. It has produced fragments of imported Roman amphora, mainly used for transporting wine and olive oil, Yemenese and West Asian pottery, besides Indian rouletted ware common on the East Coast of India and also found in Berenike in Egypt. Bricks, tiles, pottery shards, beads and other artefacts found at Pattanam are very similar to those found at Arikamedu and other early historic sites in India.

The most striking finds from Pattanam are the rim and handle of a classic Italian wine amphora from Naples which was common between the late first century BC and 79 AD, when pottery production in the region was disrupted by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Islamic glazed ware from West Asia indicate that the site remained active beyond the early historic period. The finds from Pattanam were displayed at the Vyloppilli Samskrithi Bhavan today.

The director of the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), P.J. Cherian, said etymological evidence supplemented the other evidence gathered from Pattanam. “The word ‘pattanam’ is derived from Prakrit and Pali and means coastal town in almost all Indian languages. Oral traditions in the area too suggest that Pattanam was inhabited by foreigners in the distant past and was a well-known marketplace with wealthy people.”

© Copyright 2000 - 2003 The Hindu. Downloaded on 29 March 2004 from:

Archaeologist Confirms Ancient Indo-Roman Site in Kerala
Francis C. Assisi

Southampton, April 21: A historical mystery surrounding Indo-Roman trade routes may have been solved, says a report by Southampton University archaeology research fellow Roberta Tomber.

Armed with an Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) grant to investigate Indo-Roman trade, and with the guidance of David Peacock who heads Archaeology at the University of Southampton, Tomber worked with local archaeologists in Kerala where she identified the first fragments of Roman wine amphorae found on the south-west coast of India.

The striking archaeological evidence suggests that the legendary seaport of Muziris, which was a bustling Indo-Roman trading center during the early historic period between the first century BC and the fifth century AD, could have been located at Pattanam, near Paravur on the south of the Periyar river delta.

“These were found in Pattanam, north of Paravoor. The whole area is strewn with pottery samples. Though many of them are of Indian origin, a few pieces of Indo-Roman era were also found. A detail exploration of the area will alone help establish this fact,” said Dr K. P. Shajan, who chanced upon the evidence during a geological survey.

What led Shajan, geoarchaeologist, and his team to Pattanam was clear geological evidence which suggested that the river Periyar had shifted its course from the south to the north over the millennia. A branch of the Periyar, called the Periyar Thodu, runs close to Pattanam and satellite imagery indicates that the Periyar delta lies on the southern side and the river could have flowed close to Pattanam about 2,000 years ago. This would place the ancient site alongside the Periyar in keeping with the descriptions in literary sources.

The site covers an area of about 1.5 sq km and the deposit is about two metres thick. It has produced fragments of imported Roman amphora, mainly used for transporting wine and olive oil, Yemenese and West Asian pottery, besides Indian ware common on the East Coast of India and also found in Berenike in Egypt. Bricks, tiles, pottery shards, beads and other artefacts found at Pattanam are very similar to those found at Arikamedu and other early historic sites in India.

According to the University of Southampton report, the most striking finds from Pattanam are the rim and handle of a classic Italian wine amphora from Naples which was common between the late first century BC and 79 AD, when pottery production in the region was disrupted by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Islamic glazed ware from West Asia indicate that the site remained active beyond the early historic period

Archaeologists have long believed in the existence of the ancient port of Muziris in this area, where Romans traded for pepper and other spices from India and even further East, but its location was still unknown. 'We now have for the first time archaeological evidence of where Muziris was located,' she said. 'It was a very important port for the Romans and would repay careful excavation. I hope to be involved in this work in the future.'

Tomber claims that the pottery pieces found by Shajan, a marine geologist, from Pattanam near Paravoor, are parts of Roman wine amphora, Mesopotamian torpedo jar and Yemenite storage jar. “It is the first time that we have found evidence in Malabar coast. The clay is very different from what was used in India during the same period. A lot of black minerals are present,” she says.

If this claim is true, then the pieces are the first evidence of Roman pottery to be found in Kerala. It also strengthens the theory that the port of Muziris was in the belt of Kodungallur-Chettuva.

Tomber suggests there are several factors that strengthen the belief that these are remnants of first century Roman trade. “Pottery is considered a very important evidence to solve an archaeological enigma. Here we work on typology. Such examples have also been found during excavations in Egypt,” says Tomber.

Tomber has extensive experience of working on Roman sites at the Red Sea ports of Quseir al-Qadim (ancient Myos Hormos) and at Berenike, both in Egypt, with Professor David Peacock. Now, with David Peacock, she has an Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) grant to investigate Indo-Roman trade.” Downloaded on 26 April, 2004 from:

12.12 (7) ‘divine tortoises’ – shengui 神龜 [shen-kuei]. Literally “divine tortoises (or turtles)” – tortoises suitable for divination. 

“Another object deserving attention is named in the same list [the Weilue’s list] Shên-kuei神龜 (‘ divine tortoises ‘). Tortoises might be found in any country, but the idea of divine tortoises was purely Chinese. According to ancient folklore, some tortoises were naturally inspired with a magical virtue, and whoever happened to obtain one of such a kind was sure to make an enormous fortune, while men might foresee the future by burning its shell and auguring from the cracks thus produced thereon. The Shih-chih, in its Kuei-t’sê-lieh-chuan 龜策列傳, expatiates on the nature, variety, and treatment of these mysterious creatures, suggesting at the same time that they might be caught about the Yang-tzŭ-chiang.” Shiratori (1956b), p. 64.

“[The Yüeh-shang were] Southern tribes settled to the south of Chiao-chih 校趾 (Tonking) by others identified with Nan-chang 南掌 (Laos) on the border between Yunnan, Burma and Annam.
          They are recorded in Chinese sources for their very special tributes consisting in the time of Yao of a fabulous divine tortoise with a history of the world from the creation downward carved on its shell, of a white pheasant at the beginning of the Chou dynasty, and of another white pheasant in the year 1 A.D., etc.” Molè (1970), p. 132, n. 272.

“Buddhists sell turtles for the devout to release at temples.” Parry-Jones and Vincent, (1998), p. 29.

The Hanshu records that Wang Mang in 10 CE set the values of the various kinds of monies then in use in China: “gold, silver, tortoise-[shells], cowries, cash, and spade-money. . . . ”:

“Sovereign’s tortoise-[shells], the edges of whose carapaces reached a foot and two inches were [declared to be] worth 2160 [cash] and were [made the equivalent of] ten pairs of large cowries. Duke’s tortoise-[shells, the edges of which reached] nine inches [or more], were [declared to be] worth five hundred [cash] and were [made the equivalent of] ten pairs of big cowries. Marquises’ tortoise-[shells, the edges of which reached] seven inches or more, were [declared to be] worth three hundred [cash] and were [made the equivalent of] ten pairs of small cowries. Viscount’s tortoise-[shells], the edges of which reached] five inches or more, were [declared to be] worth a hundred [cash] and were [made the equivalent of] ten pairs of little cowries. The [foregoing] were the four denominations of tortoise-[shell] currency.
          Of large cowries (ta-pei), four inches eight fen or more 9.25 cm or 3.6 English inches [in length], two made one pair (p’eng), and were [declared to be] worth 216 [cash]. . . . ” Dubs (1958), pp. 487-488. [
Note on sizes: “one foot two inches” = 27.7 cm or 10.9 English inches; “nine inches” = 20.8 cm or 8.2 English inches; “seven inches” = 16.2 cm or 6.4 English inches; “five inches” = 11.55 cm or 4.5 English inches.]

“Tortoise-shell receives more mention in first-century Greek texts than any other object of trade. It was available in several regions of the Indian Ocean littoral: the Red Sea, the Horn and east coast of Africa, the southern coast of Arabia, India, Sri Lanka and the Indonesian archipelago. Commercial tortoise-shell today comes from a single source, the hawksbill turtle, and is used for objects of personal adornment. The Greeks and Romans used shell of several large varieties, terrestrial as well as aquatic, but above all they used it for large objects such as for veneering beds, sideboards, doors and so on. According to the Periplus Maris Erythraei, the fishing communities or Ichthyophagoi were involved in the trade of tortoise-shell, which they collected from the islands just off Massawa on the west coast of the Red Sea (section 4) (Casson 1989: 101-2).” Ray (2003), p. 27.

It is of interest that popular Chinese culture still shows special veneration for turtles and tortoises, although this does not stop people from eating them or their eggs. See Mesny (1899), 335, 352.

12.12 (8) white horses with red manes: 白馬朱髦 baima zhumao. White horses with red manes are mentioned in ancient Chinese accounts as being very desirable, costly, and fit for the use of the emperor. ‘White horses with red manes’ were probably a particular breed and it is interesting to find them mentioned here in the list of products that, “Da Qin (the Roman Empire) has plenty of.”

Shuo-wen 10A: 2a, sub wen (Chin Shao quotes this passage in a summary form) says, “A horse with a red mane, a white body, and eyes like actual gold is named wen. It is auspicious for the chariot of the emperor. In the time of King Wen of the Chou [dynasty], the Dog Jung presented one. . . .  The comment on the Spring and Autumn [Tso-chuan, Dk. Hsüan, II, (Legge, p. 289b)], says, ‘The hundred quadrigae of wen horses’, which are horses with more than one color 畫馬. The Chief of the West, [later King Wen], presented Chou with one in order to save himself.”
          The Yi-wen Lei-chü (compiled by Ou-yang Hsün, 557-641), 93: 3b, quotes the Grand Duke’s Liu-t’ao (prob. iv or v cent. B.C. or later) as saying (this passage is not found in the present Liu-t’ao), “When the King of Shang arrested the Chief of Chou, [Chi] Ch’ang, [later known as King Wen], at Yu-li, the [Forseen] Grand Duke, [Lü Shang], with San Yi-sheng, took a thousand yi of gold and sought for the [most] precious things in the world to ransom the crime of their lord. Thereupon they obtained from the clans of the Dog Jung wen horses with fine hair, red manes, and eyes like actual gold, and named [the chariot drawn by them], “The quadriga with chi-szu [sic – should be written chih-sheng]
斯雞之乘 [the name of a supernatural variety of horse...”] and presented it to the King of Shang.” Dubs (1958), p. 290, n. 9.14.

“Horses for imperial cavalries [during the Tang dynasty] were imported by the thousands from Fergana in central Asia. More necessity than luxury, these strong, swift creatures were essential for China’s ongoing struggles with the northern nomadic tribes. The Chinese bred the horses for such special color combinations as white horses with black manes or yellow horses with red manes, and military units prided themselves on having matched pairs.” Levathes (1994), p. 37.


12.12 (9) Fighting cocks: 駭雞 haiji [hai-chih] = fighting cocks according to a personal communication (2nd July, 1998) from Dr. Edmund Ryden, Fujen Catholic University, Taiwan. Dr. Ryden also kindly pointed out that: “Zhuangzi knew of fighting cocks”.

12.12 (10) Rhinoceroses: xi.

“Another commodity which was fed into the trade of the Indian Ocean from the Barbarā coast was rhinoceros horn, possibly the single most valuable item in the Chinese pharmacopoeia, a veritable apotropaion of apotropaia, which could also afford raw material for the jeweler. The Chinese could, of course, obtain horns from their own southern provinces and from South and Southeast Asia, but the market was so elastic that from time to time Arab merchants found it worth their while to bring to China the horn of the African rhinoceros.” Wheatley (1975), p. 106.

“Contrary to a universally held Western misconception, the rhino’s horn is not widely considered to be an aphrodisiac. Only the Romans (and, nowadays, a few Indians) believed it to have this property, presumably either because it is long, hard and pointed upwards or because the rhino itself is so generously endowed by the size of its penis and takes over an hour to complete its copulation. This is the only time that rhino’s horn has been given a medicinal value in Europe, although its value as a wondrous object associated with the unicorn existed for hundreds of years. . . .
          In the Far East, however, it is another story and rhino horn has been on the books of traditional herbalists and exponents of folk-medicine since well before the time of Christ. . . .
          Depending upon where one looks in the Far East, rhino horn has a variety of wonderful properties. In India, it is still – though very infrequently – offered as an aphrodisiac when mixed with herbs and swallowed in milk or honey: it was from the East that the Romans heard of this supposed property. Similarly taken, it is also said to cure arthritis, muscular pains and spasms and paralysis: fat and stomach lining are also said to cure polio and skin diseases. In the past, the horn was burnt under the anus of hæmorrhoid sufferers to alleviate their condition and to counteract constipation. . . .
          It has been the horn of the Asian rhinoceroses which has been considered the most effective medicine but, with the decline of the Asian rhinos in the last two centuries, the Chinese have turned to the African rhinos for their supplies, dosages being increased because the African rhinos do not apparently have the concentrations of power of the Asian ones. . . .
          Rhino horn shavings are given as a treatment for the lowering of fever such as typhus and malaria. The idea, as is so often the case with such traditional brews, is that the liquid cleanses the body of poisons. Additionally, it is regarded as a cure for laryngitis, bronchitis, tuberculosis and poor eyesight. Dried and powdered rhino’s blood is sold as a tonic for sufferers of anæmia which it probably does help to cure being, like snake’s blood, rich in iron.” Booth (1988), pp. 156-159.

The kingdom of Huang-zhi [Huang-chih] (which was probably the kingdom at the mouth of the Ganges – Colless (1980), pp. 164-172), sent a rhinoceros to the court of Wang Mang in 2 CE, and perhaps also in 5 CE. Dubs (1958), pp. 71, 214-215. The Hou Hanshu has this interesting passage:

“In the ninth Yanxi year [166 CE], during the reign of Emperor Huan, the king of Da Qin (the Roman Empire), Andun (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus), sent envoys through Rinan (Commandery on the central Vietnamese coast), beyond the frontiers, to offer elephant tusks, rhinoceros horn, and turtle shell. This was the very first time there was (direct) communication (between the two countries. The tribute brought was neither precious nor rare, raising suspicion that the accounts (of the ‘envoys’) might be exaggerated.” TWR,Section 12.

“The rhinoceros, like the elephant, was a familiar animal in north China in prehistoric and perhaps early historic times, but was already a rarity by the time of the ages illuminated by books. It is likely that two of the three Asian species of rhinoceroses were familiar to the archaic Chinese: we have small sculptures of both a one – and a two-horned kind surviving from Shang, Chou, and Han times; these must represent the Javanese (or Sunda) rhinoceros and the Sumatran rhinoceros respectively, both once widespread on the mainland and in the islands, but now restricted to remote parts of Indonesia, and on the verge of extinction.” Schafer (1963), p. 83.

“The horn of the rhinoceros played a role in the minor arts of T’ang very similar to that of ivory, and indeed the two substances were regularly linked in language, particularly in parallel verse. The demand for rhinoceros horn was very great, so that, although many rhinoceroses still lived in Hunan, as we have seen, and their horns were submitted to the court as tribute, it was also necessary to import them. From close at hand, they were obtained in Nan-chao and Annam; more remotely, they came to the port of Canton from the Indies, and in such quantities that the near extinction of the Indochinese rhinoceroses in modern times can in large part be attributed to the China trade of the T’ang. . . .
          Rhinoceros horn was important in medieval Chinese medicine, especially as an antidote for all kinds of poison. Belief in its efficacy goes back to the fourth century, and may have originated in China, to spread to Western Asia and the Roman empire.” Schafer (1963), p. 241.

“Similarly, medicinal use of rhinoceros horn has accounted for much of the animal’s decline in numbers. Between 1970 and 1993, 95 per cent of the world’s population of black rhinoceros disappeared, and Javan and Sumatran rhinos hover on the brink of extinction. . . .
          . . . . One repeated fallacy is that rhinoceros horn is used as an aphrodisiac in TCM [‘traditional Chinese medicine’]. It is, in fact, prescribed for life-threatening fevers and convulsions and has been clinically shown to have fever reducing properties.” Parry-Jones and Vincent (1998), pp. 27, 29.

“Despite the fabled creature’s existence in ancient legend, the real rhino was certainly known to the Greeks and Romans. Both Agatharcides and Strabo wrote about it in recognisable detail, and the Roman poet, Martial, wrote of its ability to ‘toss bears into the stars’: Pliny states that the rhino was the sworn enemy of the elephant which it attacked by gouging its horn into the soft under-belly of the larger animal. These accounts were most probably inspired by the writers having seen animal contests between rhinos and bears or elephants: exotic animal fights were frequently staged for public entertainment in Rome. That Pliny writes of a single horn suggests that he had not seen an African two-horned rhino, but an Indian one. And yet other contemporary sources clearly distinguish between the one-horned and two-horned varieties.” Booth (1988), p. 32.

“The skin of the Rhinoceros is an article in great demand in several countries of Asia and Africa. It is manufactured into the best and hardest leather that can be imagined; and targets and shields are made of it, that are proof against even the stroke of a scimitar. When polished, the skin is very similar in appearance to tortoise shell. Their horns are manufactured into drinking cups, the hilts of swords, and snuff-boxes, by several oriental nations ; and in the palmy days of ancient Rome, we are told, the ladies of fashion used them in their baths, to hold their essence bottles and oils.” Maunder, (1878), p. 574.

“A wide range of personal items were made from rhino horn: I have seen cutlery and manicure sets with rhino horn handles, snuff boxes carved out of blocks of horn, brass document seals mounted on horn and even rhino horn combs for holding hair in place, inlaid with silver, gold or ivory. These items are today very scarce on the antique market and consequently valuable.” Booth (1988), p. 154.

12.12 (11) Sea turtle shell: 玳瑁 daimei. Tortoise shell – “especially the precious sort from the hawk’s bill tortoise (Chelonia imbricata).” Williams, p. 747. Also see: GR No. 10278 where it is said to mean: Sea turtle. Shell from the carapace of the sea turtle used to make luxury items.

“The men of T’ang got tortoise shell,247 for making ladies’ hairpins and headdress ornaments and inlays in expensive household objects, from Lu-chou in Annam.” 

247From the “hawk-billed turtle” (Chelonia imbricata), Chinese tai-mei.

Schafer (1963), pp. 245, 337, n. 247.

“Tortoise shell receives more mention in the Periplus than any other object of trade. It was exported by, or available at, ports in all the regions the author mentions. . . .  Commercial tortoise shell today comes from a single source, the handsome shields of the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), a large sea turtle, and is used mostly for smaller objects: combs, brushes, and personal adornments such as rings, brooches, and the like. The Greeks and the Romans, as is clear from this passage and others... as well as from other authors (Pliny 9.39, 33. 146; Martial 9.59.9), used the shell of several varieties, terrestrial as well as aquatic, and used it above all for large objects, for veneering beds, sideboards, dining couches, doors, etc. . . .  The “genuine” tortoise shell is no doubt that of the hawksbill turtle, which is found in many waters, including the Red Sea. . . . ” Casson (1989), pp. 101-102.

“From those animals that breathe, the most expensive produce found on land is ivory; in the sea, the turtle’s shell.” Pliny NH (a), p. 377 (bk. XXXVII, chap. 204).

12.12 (12) Black bears 玄熊 xuanxiong. This is undoubtedly a reference to the Eurasian Brown Bear (also known as “Black Bear”) that produced the gall and bile still highly valued today in Chinese medicine.

“For over a thousand years, the bear has been an important part of traditional Oriental medicine as well. During the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, the Korean government imported thirty live Asiatic black bears from Thailand to feed to its country’s athletes in the belief that the bear meat would enhance the athletes’ performance.
          Most people have heard about bear paw soup. Today a small bowl of the watery broth, which is reputed to confer health, costs wealthy Japanese and Korean diners eight hundred dollars a bowl.
          In the Oriental medical pharmacopoeia, the most important part of a bear is the animal’s gall bladder. A freshly removed gall bladder looks like a plastic bag, 10 to 12 centimetres (4 to 5 inches) long, filled with thick, greenish fluid. The gall bladder and its contents of bile are dried and then crushed. Once the powdered ingredients reach a consumer in the Orient, they may sell for $50 a gram ($1764 an ounce). The powdered gall bladders are prescribed to treat heart disease, headaches, abdominal pain and even hemorrhoids. . . .
          The bile of bears was first mentioned in a pharmaceutical report written in China in the fifth century. By A.D. 1000 in China, the ingestion of bear bile was the treatment of choice for jaundice, abdominal pain and distention – all complications known to be caused by liver and bile duct disease, and in particular, gallstones. It was not until the early decades of this century that western scientists finally investigated the composition of bear bile, and when they did they identified a new bile acid and coined the scientific name ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), the “Aurso” prefix in recognition of the origin of the compound.
          In subsequent research, it was learned that administration of UDCA could dissolve gallstones in humans and thus alleviate the symptoms, namely, the pain, jaundice and abdominal distention, without producing any substantial side effects. Today, after extensive clinical testing, UDCA is the medical treatment of choice in many hospitals in North America for the dissolution of certain kinds of gallstones. It appears that the Chinese were right two thousand years ago. . . . ” Lynch (1993), pp. 213-214.

“Demand for bear bile still threatens Asian bears, even though there are now regulations on international trade in all species.
          . . . .  Bear farming in China is particularly controversial. Around 7600 captive bears have their bile “milked” through tubes inserted into their gall bladders. According to Chinese officials, 10,000 wild bears would be needed to be killed each year to produce as much bile. But many Westerners argue that bear farming is cruel.
          . . . .  Tauro ursodeoxycholic acid, the active ingredient of bear bile, can be synthesised and is used by some Western doctors to treat gallstones, but many TCM [‘traditional Chinese medicine’] consumers reject it as being inferior to the natural substance from wild animals.” Parry-Jones and Vincent (1998), pp. 27-29.

          “BEAR-GALL:– Hsiung-tan 熊膽. The bear is met with in Manchuria, Shensi, Kansuh, and perhaps other provinces. Fêng-t’ien Fu Sheng-king is said to be the source of the animals which supply the drug-market with sundry articles, which are just of that degree of scarcity which serves to place any very nauseous substance in the very fore-front of Chinese estimation. Mr. Swinhoe reports that one species only of the bear, the Helarctos formosanus, is met with in Formosa. “It is black with a white crescent on the breast, and is allied to the Sun-bear of Japan.” Ho-nan, Shan-si and Shan-tung formerly supplied this animal, whose paw, called Hsiung-fan 熊蹯, is a great delicacy, and is supposed to strengthen and harden the constitution. Bear’s grease is credited with much the same power of nourishing the hair in China as in the west. Bear-gall is a very expensive substance, sold in the form of a soft, black, sticky bolus, having a bitter aromatic flavour. It is seldom genuine. If it be drawn across a pool of ink, the ink (Chinese) should retreat from the track. Cooling, alterative, astringent, anthelmintic, and neurotic properties are supposed to reside in this substance, which is given homoeopathically in hepatic and abdominal affections. It is probably useful as a laxative and stomachic to the same extent as Ox-gall.” Mesny (1895), p. 150.

12.12 (13) chichi 赤螭 [ch’ih-ch’ih] – Red hornless dragon(s).

          GR No. 1918 says that chi, “red”, refers particularly to the colour of cinnabar, or of fire. It is true that cinnabar was considered to be the “Blood of the Red Dragon” – especially among Taoist alchemists (see Shafer (1957), p. 133), but this always referred to the chilong  赤龍long being the ‘normal’, or ‘common’ variety of dragon, whereas chi is an unusual form. It is sometimes described as a ‘hornless’ variety, and sometimes as a baby long. In either case, it seems likely here that that an unusual form of ‘dragon’ was chosen to distinguish its product or ‘blood’ from real cinnabar.
          I have not found any other reference to chichi. It seems most likely that that the term refers to the red resin, known in the Roman world as “dragon’s blood,” or, rather, to the dragons that were supposed to produce it.
          “Dragon’s blood” is a cinnabar-coloured gum exuded from a various species of Dracæna tree grown on the island of Socotra, and the neighbouring areas of Arabia and Africa. It was used as a dye and medicine in the Mediterranean. It was also used for ceremonial purposes in India.
          The “dragon’s blood” known to the Romans was mostly collected from the base of the leaves of Dracaena cinnabari which is native to the island of Socotra and is mentioned in the Periplus (30:10. 17) as one of the products of Socotra:

          “This [“Indian cinnabar”] is dragon’s blood, the resin secreted at the base of the leaves of Dracaena cinnabari (see Western Arabia [op. cit. under 24:8. 10] 208, Watt, ii 18), which was used as a pigment and a drug. The tree is native to Socotra, and the islanders have exported its product for centuries (Watt ii 18, Wellsted [op. cit. under 27:9] ii 286–88). Pliny (33.115–16) refers to cinnabar as the name given to dragon’s blood by the Indians. It would appear that the term “Indian cinnabar” was used of the vegetable pigment as against the mineral (red mercuric sulphide). Perhaps this was because another form of dragon’s blood, very similar to that from Dracaena, did come, if not from India at least by way of India, namely, the resin of a palm, Calamus draco Wild., which grows in Malay and the East Indies and is the source of the dragon’s blood of modern commerce (Watt ii 17). This could well have been called “Indian” in the West because it arrived there through Indian merchants or on Indian ships.” Casson (1989), pp. 169-170.

Socotra had been an important trading centre since at least the time of the Ptolemies, and was strategically placed 126 nautical miles east of Cape Guardafui on the Horn of Africa, near the entrance to the Gulf of Aden. There was great confusion in the Roman world between the resin, “true” dragon’s blood, and the mineral cinnabar:

“Cinnabar, that called Indian – (Dragon’s blood). The confusion between dragon’s blood (the exudation of a dracæna) and our cinnabar (red sulphide of mercury) is of long standing, but less absurd than it seems at first sight. The story is given by Pliny (XXXIII, 38, and VIII, 12). The word kinnabari, he says, is properly the name given to the thick matter which issues from the dragon when crushed beneath the weight of the dying elephant, mixed with the blood of either animal. The occasions were the continual combats which were believed to take place between the two. The dragon was said to have a passion for elephant’s blood; he twined himself around the elephant’s trunk, fixed his teeth behind the ear, and drained all the blood at a draught; when the elephant fell dead to the ground, in his fall crushing the now intoxicated dragon. Any thick red earth was thus attributed to such combats, and given the name kinnabari. Originally red ochre (peroxide of iron), was probably the principal earth so named. Later the Spanish quicksilver earth (red sulphide of mercury), was given the same name and preferred as a pigment to the iron. Later, again, the exudations of Dracæna cinnibari in Socotra and Dracæna schizantha in Somaliland and Hadramaut (order Dracænae), and Calamus draco in India (order Palmeæ), were given the name kinnabari. Being of similar texture and appearance, the confusion is not surprising, as the Romans had no knowledge of chemistry.
          Pliny noted the errors made by physicians in his day, of prescribing the poisonous Spanish cinnabar instead of the Indian; and proposed a solution of the problem by calling the mercury earth minium, the ochre miltos, and the vegetable product kinnabari, but usage did not follow him. We now give the mercury earth the old Greek name for dragon’s blood, and the dried juice we give the same name in English.” Schoff (1912), p. 137.

“Legend has it that the tree sprung up from the congealed blood shed by a dragon and an elephant as they fought to the death. Cinnabar, the crimson red resin from the tree’s leaves and bark, was highly prized in the ancient world. It was used as a pigment in paint, for treating dysentery and burns, fastening loose teeth, enhancing the colour of precious stones and staining glass, marble and the wood for Italian violins. Although it no longer has a commercial value, cinnabar is an important resource for the 40 000 people who live on Soqotra. They use it to cure stomach problems, dye wool, glue pottery, freshen breath, decorate pottery and houses and even as lipstick.” Downloaded from on 10/10/01, the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh site.

Shiratori (1956b), p. 65, n. 99, quotes in Chinese from the Yunmengfu in the Sima Lie zhuan which I translate and adapt as follows:

“According to the Zhengyi: ‘The Wen-ying says that chi is the offspring of a long dragon. The Zhengyi, moreover, says it is a female long dragon. Both are wrong. The Guanya [name of a dictionary based on the Erya, and compiled about 230 CE] says if it has a horn it is called jiu ; if it doesn’t have a horn it is called chi. According to it, jiu and chi are different species of long [dragon] and not [true] long.”

The confusion between the resinous ‘dragons’ blood’ and true cinnabar in the Roman world seems to be echoed by the Chinese. Chinese alchemists called the mineral cinnabar chilong 赤龍, which literally means, ‘red dragon.’ GR No. 1918, p. 1012. For: “Blood of the Red Dragon,” see Shafer (1957), p. 133. [Note, however, that long refers to the ‘true’ or common dragon and is not identical with chi , the hornless dragon.]
          In later centuries ‘Dragons’ blood’ from the various species of Dracæna trees was replaced to a great extent by a similar red resin produced by one of the rotang or rattan palms of the genus Daemonorops, found in the Indonesian islands and known there as jerang or djerang, which is used in China to give a red surface to writing paper.  

“The effusion of the lac insect was in turn confused with the blood of a mythical or semi-mythical animal, the Chinese “unicorn.” One of the red kinos which was traded about the Old World under the name of “dragon’s blood” was in China styled “unicorn gutta” and was thought of as desiccated blood. It was the product of the fruit of an Indonesian rattan palm, but trade in it was confused with Socotran dragon’s blood, the resin of an entirely different plant, and with a different Indonesian kino, and also with lac. In T’ang it was used as an astringent drug and prescribed for hemorrhages, partly at least on the principal of imitative magic, because of its bloodlike color. It cannot be said with certainty that it was also used as a dye, but it was commonly employed in this way in its Malayan homeland, and the Chinese pharmacologists emphasize that it was used in just the same way as lac.” Schafer (1963), p. 211.

Another, less likely possibility, is that “red dragons” may have been seen as the origin of (red) amber:

“But Tuan Ch’eng-shih, our T’ang bibliophile and collector of curiosa, has this to say:

“Some say that when the blood of a dragon goes into the ground it becomes amber. But the Record of the Southern Man has it that in the sand at Ning-chou there are snap-waist wasps, and when the bank collapses the wasps come out; the men of that land work on them by burning, and so make amber of them.” Schafer (1963), p. 247.

12.12 (14) bidushu 辟毒鼠 [pi tu shu] – poison-evading rats’ = mongooses? The Chinese use the character shu, usually translated ‘rat,’ to also designate mustelids, a family of small animals, often sought for their furs, including the weasel, the ermine or stoat, the mink, the otter, martens, and the like. The mongoose looks very similar to weasels, and many species are famed for their ability to fight and kill poisonous snakes – a favourite entertainment at village fairs in India. They are not immune to snake poison but, are very quick and agile, usually striking at the snake’s head and cracking its skull.
          They are easily tamed and are frequently kept around households for their ability to rid the area of rats, snakes and cockroaches. They readily perform their snake-killing abilities if placed together with a cobra or similar poisonous snake, and this is a common stunt performed at India fairs. In fact, they are only really effective against snakes such as the cobra which is relatively slow-moving and the mongoose can get too close for the snake to strike effectively.

“There may be a similarity to the description of the *noudyi rat (mongoose, according to Schafer), sent by Kapisa (Chi-pin, ancient Gandhâra), in 642. This is more likely than a ferret or a weasel, well-known to the west, which Schafer also mentions as sent to China by the Persians.” Leslie and Gardiner (1996), p. 203.

          “A number of mongooses, including those of the genus Herpestes, will attack and kill poisonous snakes. They depend on speed and agility, darting upon the head of the snake and cracking the skull with a powerful bite. They are not immune to venom, as popularly believed, nor do they seek and eat an herbal remedy, if bitten.” NEB VI, p. 996.

For some interesting early references to mongooses, see Yule and Burnell (1886), pp. 596-597, under “Mungoose.”

12.12 (15) dabei大貝 [ta pei] – large cowries. See also note 12.12 (7).  

          Couvrier, p. 876, defines ta pei [= da bei] as “large and precious tortoise carapace.” However, the period when the term had this meaning is uncertain. It seems unlikely that we have a second reference to tortoise shell after the specific reference in item No. 12.12. (11) above.
          The word bei usually has the meaning of shellfish, particularly cowries, which were used as money in China up until the Han period and so the term could well mean here “large cowries” or “large shells.” I have, chosen the latter on the basis of its use in the edict of Wang Mang in 10
CE as discussed by Dubs – see item (7) above.
          For information on the use of cowries as money in China and neighbouring regions see: Ke and Zhu (1995). Cowries have been used as a form of money from East Africa to inland northern Asia.
          These shells were still used as money until recent times. This use has proved to be widespread and remarkably persistent. A young lady in her twenties from a village on the north coast of New Guinea told me several years ago that, when she was a child, her grandfather’s house had many strings of cowries hanging from the rafters. Sometimes she was sent to the local store with several strings of them to buy small items.
          Shiratori (1956b), p. 64, refers to ‘tai-pei
大貝 as “large conches,” but I have not found any evidence to support his identification.

“The cowrie is the shell of the gastropod Cypaea moneta gathered in the shallow waters of the Maldive islands off the coast of India. Some other species are native to East Asia and hence the issue of the source of cowries found extensively in South and Southeast Asia remains problematic. In the second millennium BCE, these occur as far apart as Harrapan sites in north-west India and prehistoric sites in north China (Wicks 1992: 308-10).
            Cowries were widely used in the historical period, sometimes together with coins. In the middle Ganga valley, excavations at Masaon (Ghazipur district, IAR 1964) brought to light a hoard of 3,000 cowries in a pot in levels dated between 600 and 200 BCE. Cowries were also recovered from the iron Age horizon at the site of Khajuri (Allahabad district, IAR 1985-6). The Mahasthan inscription from eastern India of the third to second centuries BCE refers to aid in the form of kākaṇīs and gaṇḍakas, i.e. low-denomination coins and perhaps cowries respectively. The Harśacarita refers to heaps of black and white cowries sent to Bhaskarvarman of Assam, while the Tezpur inscription of the seventh century CE refers to a fine of 100 cowries for failing to obey the Brahmaputra shipping regulations (Singh 1991).” Ray (2003), pp. 30-31.

“. . . . It [the cowrie shell] was used as a currency in Africa until recent times, though it does not figure in the historical record of island Southeast Asia [however, see my note on their recent use in Papua New Guinea above]. Cowries have been found at archaeological sites in the Indian subcontinent, mainland Southeast Asia and north China dated to the second millennium BCE. The question of provenance, however, has no simple answers since some species of the cowrie are native to East Asia as well. Cowries, referred to as gaṇḍaka in the inscriptions from Bengal and Assam, are frequently mentioned in the historical records and epigraphs of mainland Southeast Asia (Wicks 1992: 308-9).” Ray (2003), pp. 208-209.

“Burial goods sets 2 and 3 [from Dian burials in Yunnan] are cowrie containers and marine shells respectively. some of the container lids are decorated with anthropomorphic figurines depicting various activities . . . . Archaeologists call them cowrie containers simply because thousands of cowries shells were held in them. Earlier cowrie containers were made from used bronze drums by cutting open the top surfaces of the drums. Later cowrie containers were specifically designed as receptacles. The frequency distribution of cowries illustrates that they were exclusively distributed in the high elite graves. Traditionally, cowries are believed to have been used as a currency (Wang Ningsheng 1981). Nevertheless, the differential distribution of cowries suggests that they were reserved for the elites only. The majority of the Dian cowries that have been identified as marine cowries (Cypraea annulus L.) originated mostly from the Indian Ocean (Pirazzoli-t’Serstevens 1992). It seems that the Dian elite group was in control of the cowrie source through an exchange network with mainland Southeast Asia. Therefore, cowries were more likely to be used as status markers and for intergroup exchanges between elites (Pirazzoli-t’Serstevens 1992). If cowries were used as a currency in the market, it is difficult to explain the distribution patter that they were restricted only to the high-ranking elite graves, in spite of hundreds and thousands of cowries having been recovered from the Dian burials.” Lee (2002), pp. 116 and 118.

12.12 (16) chequ 車渠 [ch’e-ch’ü] – mother of pearl.  

         The ABC, p. 113 defines chequ as 1. giant clam; tridacna 2. mother of pearl. The GR No. 558, defines chequ [ch’e-ch’ü] as a variant of 硨渠 chequ, meaning tridacne (= giant clam) or, alternatively, a ‘basin,’ the large shells of which are still use in many tropical countries. It produces a nacre used by jewellers.
          It seems to me that ‘mother-of-pearl’ is what is meant here and (due to the several different kinds of pearls mentioned later in the list), it probably came from the various types of pearl oysters. The other meaning of chequ – ‘giant clam,’ may possibly have been what was indicated here:

“The giant clam called Neptune’s cradle252 lends the stuff of its glossy white, deeply furrowed shell to the uses of lapidary. In ancient China this “mother-of-pearl” (and perhaps others) was regarded as a stone, its source being unknown, and it was polished like jade. It was especially popular in early medieval times for making wine cups and other drinking vessels. Under the T’ang emperors nacre was reputed to be a product of Rome,253 and it was known to be one of the Seven Precious substances, the Saptaratna, of Indian tradition.254 The chances are that the shell of this great scallop was still being imported in T’ang times, but the available texts are not conclusive.”

252 “Tridacna gigas. Chinese * ki̯wwo-g‘i̯wo. See Wheatley (1961), 91-92.”

253 ATS, 221b, 4155c.”

254 Li Hsün, in PTKM, 46, 38a. Its Indian name was musāragalva, but the lexicographers disagree as to the meaning of this word; some say “coral”; some say “mother-of-pearl.”

Schafer (1963), p. 245.

“The shells of some of the Tridacna gigas weigh 500lbs [227 kg], and are used in some Catholic countries as receptacles for the holy water used in churches. The animal is correspondingly large.” Maunder (1978), p. 700.

“Although the translators consistently translated the Sanskrit word musāragalva as ch’e-ch’ü, the meaning of the Chinese word is as obscure as that of its Sanskrit counterpart. Chinese dictionaries define it either as a kind of sea-shell or as a kind of precious stone.” Liu (1988), p. 161.

          ‘Mother of pearl’ or the lustrous nacre which is found in many shells, is frequently used in jewellery. Its position in the list between large cowries and carnelian makes this choice particularly likely. In recent centuries most commercial mother of pearl has been produced from trochus shells which have beautifully nacreous shells (family Trochidae – particularly T. niloticus. The family is widespread throughout the tropical regions of the Indian and Pacific oceans).
          Sheikk (1987), pp. 73, 85, states that Mother of Pearl is found at Indus sites from earliest Neolithic times. It was traded from its source in the Persian Gulf.

12.12 (17) manao 瑪瑙 [ma-nao] – carnelian.

          Carnelian is a form of reddish chalcedony which is hard and polishes well. It was, and is, commonly used for impressing seals as wax does not stick to it:

“By “carnelian” we mean a reddish variety of chalcedony, that is, of translucent cryptocrystalline silica. Here the word is used to translate Chinese ma-nao (etymologized as “horse brain”), a word which has more often been Englished as “agate.” “Agate” is a name given to banded chalcedony, the bands being in contrasting colors – say, bluish gray and white. But ma-nao is (in T’ang at least) usually some shade of red, and if we say that ma-nao is “agate” it is necessary to explain that we mean an agate in which that color is prominent. But it is simpler to say “carnelian.”
          Carnelian was imported in some quantity from the West, and all of it was used to make small utensils. We have specific instances of carnelian (including a vase of that material) sent to the court from Samarkand and from Tukhāra. The latter nation offered the raw mineral as a worthy gift, and it must be assumed that this was turned over to the T’ang court lapidaries. . . . ” Schafer (1963), pp. 228-229, 233.

Carnelian intaglios have been found at two major archaeological sites rich in Roman artefacts in India and southern Vietnam:

          “Meanwhile, there remains for us a curious trace of the passage of the Romans through Indochina: in 1944, at Oc-Eo, in the province of Iranbassac [in southern Vietnam] about twenty kilometres from the Gulf of Thailand, French scholar Louis Malleret’s party discovered in an archaeological site, alongside Chinese and Indian objects, a certain number of jewels set in gold and silver, intaglios of local or Roman inspirations, mostly in carnelian, some medallions from the period of the Antonines [138-192 CE], and several other objects. According to all the latest interpretations by the specialists, these objects “furnish the proof that during the first two or three centuries of the Christian era, the site of Oc-Eo produced artists who created intaglios of the purest Roman style and were capable of reproducing the skilful technique. These are not the flotsam of a distant current carried from the Western world that have grounded on the furthest shores of a peninsula of the Asiatic world. These are the creations of an art incorporated into the domestic and social life of the populations of this country...”
          What can be concluded from this? Has an important Roman mission stayed in this place; has it taught the western techniques to the local artisans? Was a real Roman colony founded here? It has been ignored. . . .
          This lucky find of Indian and Roman objects in the same site is comparable to the discoveries of Virapatnam (without doubt the ancient Pouduke or “New town of Ptolemy”). There, near Pondicherry, on this [east] coast [of India] which was believed to be less visited than the other [western coast] by Mediterranean navigators, have been found glass pearls, cornelian, agate, jasper, garnets and coloured quartz, a ring bezel of carnelian, engraved with [what is], perhaps, the effigy of Augustus, typical Italian pottery from the celebrated works of Arezzo (Arretium) in Tuscany, all dating from the first century of our era. In the same spot were discovered some lapidary tools: grindstones, stones to crush and polish, precious stones in the process of cleavage, or unpolished. Lapidary art is very ancient in India. It is assumed, therefore, that these pieces have not been imported from Rome and that they are, mostly, local imitations. It could be that here, as at Oc-Eo, there was a community of artisans where Indian workers, directed by Roman agents, created objects with the intention of exporting them in the style determined by Mediterranean purchasers – or simply of the spontaneous appearance of an imitative industry, undoubtedly profitable – , for the stones were cheaper, and the workmanship at least capable enough. It could also be that we are in the presence of a real Roman colony, perhaps of groups of Western merchants, tempted by the hope of a better life, married to local women; or even of artisans who had rebelled against their lot as slaves, and had taken advantage of a landing to escape?” Translated from: Boulnois (1992), pp. 95-97.

People living along the Central Asian trade routes used various forms of chalcedony, including carnelian, to carve intaglios, ring bezels (the upper faceted portion of a gem projecting from the ring setting), and beads that show strong Graeco-Roman influence. Fine examples of first century objects made from chalcedony, possibly Kushan, were found in recent years at Tillya-tepe in north-western Afghanistan. See Sarianidi (1985), pp. 45-46, 129, 244, 253-254; also: Sarianidi (1989), pp. 124-134.

          “By sardonyx, as the name itself implies, was formerly meant a sarda [‘sard’ – a deep orange red type of chalcedony, sometimes classed as a carnelian, but darker in colour] with a whiteness in it, like the flesh under a human finger-nail, the white part being transparent like the rest of the stone;3 and that this was the character of the Indian sardonyx is stated by Ismenias, Demostratus, Zenothemis, and Sotacus. The last two give the name of blind sardonyx to all the other stones of this class which are not transparent, and which have now monopolised the name. . . . Zenothemis writes that these stones were not held in esteem by the Indians, and that some were so large that the hilts of swords were made of them. It is well known that in that country they are laid bare to view by the mountain streams, and that in our part of the world they were at the outset prized from the fact that they were almost the only ones1 among engraved precious stones that do not take away the wax with them from an impression. We have in consequence taught the Indians themselves by the force of our example to value these stones, and the lower classes more particularly pierce them and wear them round the neck ; and this is now a proof that a sardonyx is of Indian origin. Those of Arabia are distinguished above others by a broad belt of brilliant white which does not glitter in hollow fissures or in the depressions of the stone, but sparkles in the projections at the surface above an underlying ground of intense black. In the stones of India this ground is like wax2 or cornel [cherry] in colour, with a belt of white also around it. In some of these stones there is a play of colours as in the rainbow, while the surface is even redder than the shells of the sea-locust. C. 6 (24). Zenothemis says there are numerous varieties of the Indian onyx,3 the fiery-coloured, the black, the cornel with white veins encircling them like an eye, and in some cases running across them obliquely. Sotaeus mentions that there is also an Arabian onyx, which differs from that of India in that the latter exhibits small flames each encircled with one or more belts of white in a different way from the Indian sardonyx, which is speckled but not marked with circular veins like the onyx. According to this writer onyxes are found in Arabia of a black colour with belts of white. Satyrus says that there is an onyx in India of a flesh colour,4 partly resembling the carbuncle and partly the chrysolite and the amethyst, and he condemns the whole of this class. The real onyx, he points out, has numerous veins of varying colours, along with streaks of a milk-white hue, and as these colours harmoniously shade into each other they produce, by their combinations, a tint of a beauty which is inexpressibly charming.”

3 Ktêsias informs us that in India there are certain high mountains with mines which yield the sardine-stone and onyxes and other seal stones. He gives no indication of the locality of these mountains, but Dr. v. Ball says that possibly Oujein, in Malwa, or some of the other places where mines of Chalcedonic minerals occur, was intended. The word sardonyx is compounded of the Greek words σάρδιov, ‘sard,’ and Śvυξ, ‘a finger-nail.’

1 He probably intends to include the sarda or cornelian here. – Bohn’s Trans. of Pliny.

2 A variety, probably, of common chalcedony.”

3 The onyx is an agate formed of alternating white or black or dark brown stripes of chalcedony. The finest specimens are brought from India. The word means finger-nail.

4 It is somewhat doubtful whether this kind of onyx (carnelian or cornelian) derives its name from caro, carnis, ‘flesh,’ or from cornus, ‘the cornel.’

McGrindle (1901), pp. 130-132 and nn.

“Some precious stones found at Chinese archaeological sites may have been of foreign origin, but it is impossible to determine their provenance. For example, the Chinese word for agate or carnelian, ma-naô, derives from the Sanskrit word aśmagarbha and was introduced by Buddhist literature in the Later Han (Chang Hung-chao 1921: 36). Some of the agate and carnelian ornaments found in China might have been imported from Central Asia and India under the inspiration of Buddhism. However, since agate was indigenous to China one cannot tell which artifacts are foreign.” Liu (1988), p. 64.

Carnelian is found at Mehgarh-III, an early Indus site, by about the early 4th millennium B.C. Possible sources include Rajasthan and Kathiawar, the Helmund River in Seistan, and the Lyari hills, Porali basin, Kohistan and Hab River valley. Sheikk (1987), pp. 72, 85).

12.12 (18) nanjin 南金 [nan-chin] – literally, ‘southern gold’. The identification of this product is not at all clear. David R. Knechtges (2003) discusses its poetic references but then (ibid., pp. 39-40), adds that it was a precious product sent from the southeast as a tribute item:

“Southern Gold” is an old phrase that first occurs in the Classic of songs in one of the praise songs for a ruler of Lu (Mao shi 299), who by virtue of his moral example obtained the allegiance of the southeastern tribes. The last stanza of the song reads:

Fluttering are those soaring owls,

They land in the grove by the circular pool,

They eat the mulberry fruit,

And present us with fine songs.

Awakened are the Huai River tribes,

Who come and offer their treasures:

Large turtles and ivory tusks,

And large gifts of southern gold.

I should point out that what I have translated as “gold” is more correctly “metal.” More specifically it probably should be understood as copper, which was the ore of which the Wu area had a rich supply. I have translated it as “gold” here better to fit the poetic line. Somehow “southern metal” does not resonate well in English. The phrase ‘southern gold” as Lu Ji uses it has several meanings. First, it represents a valuable resource of the southeast. Second it is an ancient tribute item that was presented at the royal court in the Zhou. Like “southern gold,” Lu Ji is one of the great treasures of the southeast. Indeed, in a letter attributed to Lu Ji’s contemporary Zhang Hua, Lu Ji and his brother are specifically referred to as “gold of the south.” And like southern gold, he has been presented as tribute from his fallen Wu kingdom to the Western Jin court.”

It is hard to believe that copper would ever have been so highly valued as to be included with “large turtles and ivory tusks” as a tribute item. Copper was commonly and widely available in many parts of China. The ancient, and still standard, word for copper is: tong, and this list in the Weilue makes specific mention of copper as its third item. It seems unlikely to me that copper would have been .
          I suggest that ‘southern gold’ was more likely to refer to bronze
青铜 qingtong, for which the southeast has been famous from ancient times; or it could have been brass. Both these metal alloys (copper plus tin or, sometimes lead, for bronze – copper plus zinc for brass) were considered far more valuable than copper, and both had a striking “golden” hue. Both metals were imported into China from the southeast.
          Bronze was particularly important to early Chinese culture and is stronger than iron if properly alloyed (1 part tin to 8 parts copper). It also expands slightly on cooling making it an ideal material for moulding, as it faithfully reproduces the details of the mould. In fact, it was only after the technology for making true steels rather than iron were developed, that bronze was surpassed as a material for weapons such as swords and spear points.
          The rapid spread of iron use around the end of the Zhou and beginning of the Han dynasty may be attributed more to the ready availability of iron ore compared to tin rather than to any inherent advantage of iron over bronze. With a higher proportion of tin, bronze also makes excellent sonorous chimes.
          Yunnan (to the southeast of “China proper”) was an important source of tin and had ample supplies of copper ore plus a very ancient tradition of superb bronze working. It seems probable that superior bronze implements were traded into China from an early age, and possibly given the name, nanjin or “southern gold.”         

Brass also may be considered a candidate for “southern gold”:

          “1684. HUANG TUNG黄銅: – Yellow copper. Brass generally, a wonderful alloy of copper and other metals, any alloy of copper and zinc is called brass in English and Huang-tung in Chinese.
          When the alloy is hard and sonorous for gongs an musical instruments it is called Hsiang-tung
響銅 [‘sonorous copper’]. In such cases the alloy may possibly be wholly or in part tin. Six parts copper and four parts zinc make a fine soft brass like Muntz’s metal called lailon in French. This can be polished almost as bright as gold when warm. . . .” Mesny (1899), p. 350.

Brass. – The Greek word is oreichalos, “mountain-copper,” which Pliny ( op. cit. XXXIV, 2 ) makes into a hybrid, as aurichalcum, golden copper; brass, a yellow alloy, as distinguished from pure copper or the darker alloys. Pliny describes it as an ore of copper long in high request, but says that none had been found for a long time, the earth having been quite exhausted. It was used for the sestertium and double as, the Cyprian copper being thought good enough for the as.
          Oreichalch seems to have been a native brass obtained by smelting ores abundant in zinc; the Roman metallurgy did not distinguish zinc as a separate metal.
          Mines yielding such ores were held in the highest estimation, and their exhaustion was deeply regretted, as in the case of the “Corinthian brass.” But later it was found by accident that the native earth, calamine, an impure oxide of zinc, added to molten copper, would imitate the true oreichalch; and this the Romans did without understanding what the earth was, just as they used native oxide of cobalt in coloring glass without knowing the metal cobalt.” Schoff (1912), p. 69.

Oreichalkos (the variant spelling in the text [of the Periplus] also occurs in the Greek papyri from Egypt; cf. P. Giss. 47.6 and Frisk 41-42), literally “mountain copper,” originally referred to some kind of copper but by the end of the first century A.D. was used of brass. Brass was produced by alloying copper with zinc-bearing ore (zinc as a metal was unknown in ancient times); see R. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology 8 (Leiden, 1964), 265-75 and, on the nomenclature, 275-76.” Casson (1989), p. 112.

For details on the sources, production and uses of copper, bronze, brass and tin in China in the 17th century, see: Sung (1637), pp. 197, 242, 247, 251-252.
            Alternatively, the name, nanjin or “southern gold,” could possibly refer to the striking golden colour of certain wild silks; although this is by no means certain. See item 12.12 (3) in this list.
          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, as seen above, 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.

12.12 (19) cuiqueyuhe 翠爵羽翮 [ts’ui-ch’üeh yu-he] – kingfisher feathers.         

This term has caused some confusion among previous scholars:

“22. Tsui-chüeh yü-ke 翠爵羽翮 (WL, Sung-shu)69. Hirth and Needham suggest that this must be a jewel or mineral, “green nephrites”, not kingfisher feathers. Others punctuate as two items, perhaps a jewel and feathers?

69 HIRTH, p. 46, NEEDHAM, vol. 3, p. 665, SCHAFER, pp. 110-111, H/R, pp. 235-236, FANG HAO, p. 184. See also KCTSCC 28, 46.  

Leslie and Gardiner (1966), p. 212 and n. 69; also ibid, p. 73, n. 78.

The division of the phrase is, I believe, unjustified and unnecessary. Nor is there any indication or reference to a gem or other mineral product.
          I have identified this phrase as “kingfisher feathers” on the basis that kingfisher feathers were an important and valuable import into China at this period. Furthermore, the actual meanings attached to the Chinese characters are clear and unambiguous. Here are the definitions of the following entries according to Le Grand dictionnaire Ricci de la langue chinoise:  

(GR 11530) – 1. (Ornith.) Kingfisher : Alcedo atthis. 2. The blue-green plumes of the kingfisher (used as ornaments).

(GR 3080) – [b] ch’üeh [= Pinyin: que] – generic name for little birds (e.g. sparrows)

羽翮 (GR 13156 + 3879; Vol. VI, p. 1050) – “羽翮 3 he2 (Ornith.) Quill of a bird feather. b. (by extension) Plume, plume of the wing.

Kingfisher feathers had been an important luxury trade item since early times in China. During the Han they were particularly sought after for wall hangings and bedcovers – in later centuries they became fashionable as headdress decorations and bridal adornments. The Hanshu gives an interesting account of their early use in the Chinese court:

“In the time of Emperors Wen [170-157 BCE] and Ching [156-141 BCE] [the mood] had been one of silent contemplation [rather than one of positive action]: for five reigns the people had been nurtured; the lands below the skies were prosperous and rich; there was wealth and strength in plenty, and military horses in full abundance. It was therefore possible [to accumulate manifold resources]. Having beheld rhinoceros horn, ivory and tortoise shell, [the men of those days] founded seven commanderies, including Chu-ai; allured by betel-nuts and bamboo staves, they opened up the commanderies of Tsang-k’o and Yüeh-sui; and learning of the horses of Heaven and of the grape they started communicating with Ta Yüan [Ferghana] and An-hsi [Parthia]. From then on rarities such as luminous pearls, striped shells, lined rhinoceros horn and kingfisher feathers [were seen] in plenty in the empress’ palace; the p’u-shao, dragon-stipes, fish-eye and blood-sweating horses filled the Yellow Gate; groups of great elephants, lions, ferocious beasts and ostriches were reared in the outer parks; and wonderful goods of diverse climes were brought from the four quarters of the world.
          Thereupon [the emperor] had the Shang-lin [Park] enlarged and the K’un-ming Lake dug out; he laid out the palace with its thousand gates and myriad doors, and erected the [two] eminences, [the one] where the spirits dwell and [the other] which leads to Heaven; he hung aloft the curtains in their different series, fastened together with Sui pearls and Ho jades. The Son of Heaven took his place within, with his back against a screen figured in black and white; he was decked in a coverlet of kingfisher plumes and reclined on an armrest decorated with jade. Wine was set out [sufficient to fill] a lake, and meats [in plenty like] a forest, to entertain the guests of the four barbarian peoples; and as spectacle for them to admire, there were exhibited [the dancers] of Pa-yü, [the perch-climbers] of Tu-lu, the pole springing up from an [artificial] sea, with [the ballets] of the Man-yen [monster] and of the fishes and dragons, and [the performance] of the bull game.” CICA: 198-201.

          “Fairy feathers, plumes to satisfy the heart, had to be beautifully colored. So, like the royal artisans of Hawaii, who plundered the nectar-eating drepanids, the royal artisans in Ch’ang-an desired such feathers as the as the glorious yellow ones of the oriole, and the iridescent turquoise ones of the kingfisher. Kingfisher feathers were by far the most important, and had been used since the earliest times in jewelry and the richest kind of decoration, whether of the human body or of dwelling places. T’ang literature abounds in references to objects as large as tents or canopies and as small as finger rings and other ladies’ trinkets embellished with pieces of kingfisher plumes:

Mud stuck to her pearl-sewn shoes;

Rain wet her halcyon-plume hairpins.

Some of the highly prized feathers of this enameled bird came from a remote part of Lingnan, but most were a product of Annam, where an uneasy T’ang protectorate still ruled.” Schafer, (1963), p. 110.

“The ancients attributed to the Kingfisher innumerable habits and properties equally improbable. They supposed that it built its nest upon the ocean; but as this floating cradle would be likely to be destroyed by storms, they endowed the bird with powers to lull the raging of the waves during the period of incubation: hence those tranquil days near the solstice were termed halcyon days: and that the feathered voyager might want no accomplishment, they attributed to it the charm of song. They also kept the dead body of the bird as a safeguard against thunder, and as a relic by which the peace of families would be preserved. But it is not to the fanciful genius of the ancients alone that this bird is indebted for wonderful attributes. The Tartars and Ostiaks preserve the skin about their persons as an amulet against every ill; and they consider that the feathers have magic influence, when properly used, in securing a female’s love: nor are such superstitions entirely confined to barbarous nations; for there are persons, it is said, who believe that if the body of a Kingfisher be suspended by a thread, its breast, by some magnetic influence, will invariably turn to the north.” Maunder (1878), pp. 359-360.

12.12 (20) xiangya 象牙 [hsiang-ya] – ivory.

“From those animals that breathe, the most expensive produce found on land is ivory; in the sea, the turtle’s shell.” Pliny NH (a), p. 377 (bk. XXXVII, chap. 204).

“The other product of Barbarā [the coast to the north of Tse-san / Azania, from the port of Opone, around the Guardafui Peninsula to the entrance of the Red Sea] mentioned by Tuan Ch’eng-shih [in his Yu-yang Tsa-tsu, ‘Assorted dishes from Yu-yang’, written “soon after the middle of the ninth century A.D.”] was ivory, but he offered no further comment, and we have to wait until Sung times for details of the African trade. The primary sources of ivory available to the Chinese in Sung times were South and Southeast Asia, both lying within the natural range of the Indian elephant, but there were also supplementary supplies to be obtained through Arab intermediaries from the coasts of Zangibār and Barbarā, where the African elephant was laid under tribute. It is symbolic of the Arabo-Persian monopoly of trade in the Arabian and Azanian Seas that the ivory staple seems not to have been on the African continent at all, but at Murbāt on the Hadramaut coast. According to Chao Ju-kua, African ivory, with its delicate streaking on a white ground, was considered superior to that from any part of Asia.” Wheatley (1975), p. 106.

“Ivory was a valuable commodity in the maritime network. The Muziris papyrus indicates that it made up 7.4 per cent of the cargo for transport between Muziris and Alexandria. Assuming a talent weight of 31.5 kilograms, the full shipment before collection of the quarter tax would have included 105 talents 13 minas of tusks, that is 3,314 kilograms and 17 talents 33 minas of ivory fragments, that is 553 kilograms. Thus the extremely valuable nature of the cargo in the western Indian Ocean trade is evident (Rathbone 2001:461). . . .
            The finds of ivory objects have, however, been few and include figurines from Pompeii, Ter and Bhokardhan and comb, bangles, mirror handles, dice and other objects from Taxila. Two sites stand out for their hoards, Begram in Afghanistan and the Jetavana treasure from Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. The fame of the site of Begram rests on the 1937 and 1939 discoveries by J. Hackin’s team of a large number of extraordinary artefacts in two sealed-off rooms in that part of the ‘New Royal City’ referred to by the excavators as the palace, dated to the first century CE. The Sasanians are said to have destroyed this structure in the third century. These objects consisted of glassware, bronzes, plaster medallions, porphyry and alabaster objects from the Graeco-Roman world, fragments of Chinese lacquer boxes and bowls and ivories and bone objects.
            The extraordinary collection of ivory and bone carvings from Begram is unparalleled by any other single find from anywhere in South or Central Asia. More than a thousand individual pieces were discovered in the two excavated rooms and can be roughly divided into two categories: plaques and bands, either engraved or in relief, and sculptures in high relief. The ivories vary in thickness from approximately 2 millimetres thick to between 8 and 12 millimetres thick (Mehendale 1997: 46). On some ivory and bone objects traces of red and black paint were also found. While red appeared predominantly on floral and zoomorphic decoration, black was sometimes used to accentuate the contours of the bodies, strands of hair or the eyes of human figures. . . .
            A somewhat different use may be indicated for the 400 objects of bone and ivory, which formed part of the foundation treasure buried at the second-century BCE to third century CE Buddhist stupa at Jetavana, Anuradhapura, in Sri Lanka. The Jetavana treasure comprises a very large collection of local and imported objects including ceramics, intaglio seals, Roman, Indian and foreign coins, more than 600,000 beads, ivory, bronze ornaments, jewellery in a range of materials, sculptures, seven gold sheets with assorted pages of the text of the Prajñāpāramitā and so on (Ratnayake 1990: 45). The ivory and bone objects include nearly thirty types of artefacts, but it is significant that some of these are stylistically similar to the ivories from Begram. Another significant find of an ivory figurine was from a relic casket from the Ruvanvali dagaba in Sri Lanka dated to the second century CE. The nude female figurine wears a girdle of beads around the waist (Ray 1993/1959: 266-7).” Ray (2003), pp. 231 and 233.


12.12 (21) fucaiyu 符采玉 [fu ts’ai-yu]. Coloured, veined jade.

 It is not exactly clear what is meant here, but GR Vol. II under No. 3631, , p. 718, gives: “符彩 fu2 ts’ai3  1. Veins and colours (of a jade).” The ABC dictionary gives (p. 270): “fūcăi 符采N. markings on jade.” And, of course, yu means jade (or other precious gemstones). So, I have translated the term as, “coloured veined jade.”

12.12 (22) mingyuezhu 明月珠 [ming-yüeh-chu] – ‘Bright moon’ pearls.

“The large pearls range from 0.5 to 1.5 inch across. There is a variety known as “pendant pearl,” which is slightly oval in shape, somewhat resembling an inverted cooking pot, with one side highly lustrous suggesting gold plating. One of these is worth as much as a thousand taels of silver. This pearl since ancient days, has been labelled “bright moon” or “light at night.” Actually, these beautiful names have been accorded to the pearls because they glimmer with a thread of light if held against the sun on a fair day, not because there are pearls that really shine in the dark of night.” Sung (1637), p. 298.

“Ming-yüeh-chu are pearls produced in the southern seas, and if compared with those produced in the fresh water inside China, they are bigger in size and of a superior quality. Since the ancient times, pearls are produced mainly from the southern seas such as the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Persia, the Red Sea, and so on. In the Han period, pearls produced in the Red Sea were imported through the eastern territory of the Roman Empire. . . . ” Harada (1971), p. 72.

“The Indian Ocean is our main source of pearls, the most prized of all jewels. To get pearls men – including the Indians – go to the islands, which are very few in number. The most productive are Taprobane [Sri Lanka] and Stoidis, together with the Indian promontory of Perimula. Special praised are the pearls from the islands around Arabia and in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.” NH (b), IX, 106 (p. 135).

          “Ranking first among Oriental pearls for superior form, lustre, and orient are those produced by the mohar, a variety of the Pinctada martensii species of saltwater mollusk. Found in the Persian Gulf with the richest harvest taken from the waters of the great bight that curves from the peninsula of Oman to that of Qatar, the pearls come from depths of 8 to 20 fathoms (48 to 10 feet). Pearls of fine quality are also fished near Bahrain.
          Another important source of Oriental pearls produced by Pinctada martensii is the neighbourhood of Sri Lanka, particularly the Gulf of Mannar between South India and Sri Lanka. These pearls are marketed in Madras, India, together with African pearls, taken chiefly from the banks that lie in the coastal waters of East Africa.” NEB Vol. VII, p. 821.

          “Sung shu 29.1509b. “Luminous pearls”f, according to later scholiasts, are “night-shining pearls”g. a variant expression is “luminous-moon pearls”h, a term current before the Han dynasty. Actually the two latter terms are synonymous, since yeh-kuangi “light of the night” is a metaphor for “moon.” Conrady has observed the use of both of these expressions in reference to precious gems in texts of the Chou Dynasty, ming-yüeh chi chuj being first observed in Chan-kuo ts’e. He suggests an Indian origin for them, with analogues in candrakânta “moon-beloved” (a gem created by rays of moonlight, and shining only in the moonlight) and harinmai “moon-jewel” (used for emerald”). See A. Conrady, Das Älteste Dokument zur Chinesischen Kunstgeschichte, T’ien-wen, Die “Himmelsfragen” des K’üh Yüan (Leipzig, 1931), pp. 168-169.”

f 明珠

g 夜光珠

h 明月珠



Schafer (1952), p. 155, n. 8.

“The “pearl as clear as the moon”, etymologically, gives the sense of the “astrion” of Pliny, perhaps, according to Laufer, our asteria [probably the star sapphire].” Translated from: Boulnois (1992), p 171.

The following lines taken from the charming Han ballad, “Mulberry on the Bank” in Birrell, (1988), p. 169, gives us a picture of a beautiful woman wearing ‘bright moon pearl’ earrings:

“Lo-fu loves the silkworm mulberry,

She picks mulberry at the wall’s south corner,

Of green silk her basket strap,

Of cassia her basket and pole.

On her head a twisting-fall hairdo,

At her ears bright moon pearls.

Of apricot silk her lower skirt,

Of purple silk her upper blouse.

Passersby see Lo-fu,

They drop their load, stroke their beard.”

12.12 (23) yeguangzhu 夜光珠 [yeh-kuang chu], literally – ‘Night-shining pearls,’ or, rather, ‘night-shining (pearl-like) jewels or beads.” These are probably identical to the yeguangbi 夜光壁 [yeh-kuan-pi] – literally: ‘night-shining bi’ that are mentioned in the Hou Hanshu – see TWR Section 12 and note 12.1.

The identification of these “night-shining” gems has been a matter of extensive debate both in China and the West for many years. Recently, balls of fluorite have been claimed to be the famous “night-shining” gems of Chinese history. Specimens have been sold recently in the antique markets of China and Taiwan for truly astronomical sums. Apparently, a 6 kilogram ball of fluorite was sold for 6 billion H.K. dollars in Guangzhou, and a 700 kilogram fluorite ball fetched 80 billion Taiwan dollars in Taiwan.

The claims that the “night-shining” gems were fluorite are almost undoubtedly false, and are based on the well-known ability of certain types of fluorite to glow in various colours (fluoresce) under ultraviolet light and continues to glow (phosphoresce) for some time after the light has been removed. However, it is most unlikely that the ancients were able to produce artificial sources of ultraviolet light and, although some forms of fluorite will also glow when heated (thermoluminescence) or crushed (triboluminescence) – but specimens will only show these qualities once. Although often beautiful and showing a wide range of colours, fluorite is a very common mineral both in China and in other parts of the world and is, therefore, unlikely to have been a much sought-after trade item, or seen as a rarity.

Recently, Dr. WANG Chunyun of the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou, has made, I believe, a very strong case that the yeguangzhu (sometimes called yemingzhu) of the ancient texts actually referred to large diamonds of roughly spherical shape which were capable of concentrating the light from weak sources at night and producing a relatively brilliant sparkle or beam of light. He also documents the fact that these very rare and unusually large diamonds were, in fact, found in ancient China as well as India, and convincingly demolishes the theories put forward by previous scholars favouring a number of other minerals, such as fluorite. I am inclined to accept his proposals and refer interested readers to his three recent papers (each with an English abstract): Wang (2004a, b, and c – see Bibliography).

“Then the index system was applied to the discrimination of diamond in ancient literature and records, and it was recognized that at least ten different historical names such as night-shining jewel, precious jewel, white jewel, etc. actually referred to diamond. From the ancient literature covering the nearly 4000 years history lasting from the Five-Emperor Period to the Song Dynasty, about 58 diamond-related items of literature records were initially deciphered, and at least 198 historically famous diamonds thus recorded were discovered, among which there are at least 26 giant grained diamonds with per grain weight exceeding 100 carats [= 200 grams].” From the English Abstract to Wang (2004c).

 “The lustre of the diamond is adamantine, a hard brilliant lustre, which is the result of the high reflective index and the strong dispersion ( prismatic effect ) of the mineral. The term is derived from the Greek name adamas (“invincible”) for the diamond. . . .
            Since the beauty of the colourless, relatively small diamond is dependent on the fire that it displays, great care must be taken in cutting. It was for this gem that the brilliant cut was designed, and the angle between the crown and pavilion facets is cultivated so that the maximum of white light entering the crown will be reflected back from the pavilion facets and be as widely separated into its spectral colours as possible. If the diamond is large enough, such cutting is not required, because the white light travels far enough in traversing the stone so that its spectrum is well developed. Such is the case with large Indian diamonds that still retain their rather crude pre-18th century cutting.” NEB, 7, p. 971.     

For the sake of completeness I include here a couple of quotes on some of the more plausible alternative theories:

Both the Romans and the Chinese apparently had quite sophisticated crystal lenses at this early period and the Egyptians had glass globes filled with water which were used to magnify as well as to start fires by focussing the sun’s rays circa 3000 BCE and they were “extremely common in the Roman Empire – See Temple (2000), pp. 57-59, 89-90, 92. Conceivably, either the lenses or the water-filled globes could have been used to concentrate weak sources of light at night and were, therefore, called “night-shining” gems, although they never seem to be described as such in Chinese literature:

“A 4-cm biconvex rock-crystal lens was excavated in 1992 from a tomb at Jiangling in Hubei Province. The date of the tomb was the so-called Spring and Autumn Period (722-480 BC); at that time the tomb was in the ancient State of Chu. I have been unable to inspect this lens in person. I believe it is in a small museum in that area, but I was prevented from getting there by floods on the occasion that I tried. The philosopher Wang Chong (Wang Ch’ung in old style) 王充 who was born in 27 AD (in the later Han period) wrote a famous work called the Lun-Heng 论衡. In it he mentions burning lenses. Much of the work was translated by Alfred Forke (Forke, Alfred, Lun-Heng, 2 vols, 2nd edition, reprinted by Paragon Book Gallery, New York, 1962). He says: ‘by burning-glasses . . . one may obtain fire from the sun . . .’ (Vol. II, p. 132) and ‘With a burning-glass one draws fire from Heaven’ (Vol. II, p. 351). And Forke points out that James Legge had found evidence that burning-mirrors were very common during the Zhou Dynasty (1030-221 BC), for which see Forke, Vol. II, p. 497 and the reference he gives to Legge, James, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXVII, p. 449. An enormous survey of optical lenses in China and India was written by the indefatigable Berthold Laufer in 1915: Laufer, Berthold, ‘Optical Lenses’, T’oung Pao, Leiden, Vol. XVI, 1915: pp. 169-228 and 562-3. I have not the space to discuss it. Chinese optics is also discussed by Jin Quipeng in an essay published in English in 1986: Jin Quipeng, ‘Optics’, in Ancient China’s Technology and Science, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1986, pp. 166-75. In his essay, Jin quotes Zhang Hua of the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD) in his book Record of the Investigations of Things: ‘Cut a piece of ice into a sphere, lift it in the sun and let its shadow fall on a piece of moxa [tinder made from an Artemisia related to wormwood]; the moxa will be set alight’ (p. 174). This is the earliest surviving record which I have found of ice being cut to make a burning-lens; later in the book we encounter a Frenchman who did the same thing in the 18th century.” Temple (2000), pp. 124-125, n. 13.

 “The Chinese lore of “luminous pearls” (or “beads”) and “night-shining pearls” and “luminous moon pearls” . . . goes back to Chou times, and may be ultimately of Indian origin. It has parallels and analogues in many cultures. . . .
          Actually, the luminescent “gems” seen in China were often the eyes of whales, which, like the body parts of many marine creatures, were naturally phosphorescent. . . .
          But there were also luminescent gems of mineral origin; some stones have this quality continually, others only when rubbed or heated. During Hsüan Tsung’s first reign an embassy from Māimargh presented the monarch with a gem called simply * pi̯
ɒk. This was the name of an archaic flat stone ring, a symbol of the heavenly kingship in Chou times; but it was also a word used interchangeably with *pi̯äk, “dark blue-green stone” and sometimes “luminescent blue-green stone.” If not a ceremonial jade ring, then, this gift was probably made of chlorophane, the thermoluminescent variety of fluorite, which was undoubtedly the material of the phosphorescent “emeralds” of classical antiquity, such as the green eyes of the marble lion on the tomb of King Hermias of Cyprus, though the Hellenistic alchemists had methods, seemingly magical, of making night-shining gems by the application of phosphorescent paints to stones, the most famous being their “emeralds” and “carbuncles.” Schafer (1963), pp. 237-238. See also the notes under item No. (22) above from Schafer (1952), p. 155, n. 8.

“Allow us to add that, according to Berthelot [Berthelot (M.). Introduction à l’étude de la chimie des anciens et du Moyen Age. Paris, 1893 et Paris, Libraire des sciences et des arts, 1938], the Romans knew how to make gems phosphorescent by rubbing them with tortoise bile. This “trick” had perhaps impressed the Easterners.” Translated from: Boulnois (1992), pp. 170-171.

12.12 (24) zhenbazhu 白珠珠 [chen-pa chu] – genuine white pearls.

“In ancient times the Chinese had obtained some pearls from the waters off their central coast, but with the establishment of the Han dynasty the old province of Ho-p’u, in what is now southwestern Kwangtung, then a savage outpost, became the chief source of pearls. These, along with ivory, rhinoceros horn, silver, copper, and fruits, came to typify the luxury-providing south to the well-to-do northerners. The pearl fisheries of Ho-p’u were worked so intensively that the supply was exhausted. The Grand Protector of the region in Later Han, Men Ch’ang, was able to restore the people’s livelihood by wise methods of control and conservation. He was deified and became the spiritual patron of the fisheries, and the theme of the “return of the pearls” to Ho-p’u was celebrated even in T’ang times in many ‘rhapsodies” (fu) illustrating the bad economic effects of avarice and unrestrained exploitation. . . .
          But the pearls brought in merchant vessels from the South Seas were esteemed above all Chinese pearls for their color and lustre.” Schafer (1963), pp. 243, 244.

          “As a result of the destruction of the Kingdom of Yüeh, which had been founded by the hero Chao T’o in the wilderness about Canton, by the troops of the Warlike Emperor in 111 B.C., the natural wealth of the South and its adjacent waters became available to the monarchs of the Han. Among the new administrative areas set up by the central government for the control and exploitation of this land was Ho-p’u chün – the Province of the Estuary of the Ho River. The province comprised a considerable territory in what is now largely western Kuang-tung, including the Lei-chou Peninsula. The official census states that the province included five counties (hsien), 15,398 (taxable) families, and 78,980 adult persons. The seat of the provincial administration was established at Hsü-wen County near the southwest corner of Lei-chou Peninsula, but was subsequently moved to Ho-p’u County, close to the modern town of that name just east of the Ho River, and north of Pakhoi. The region represented a virtually untouched source of luxury goods for the Chinese court and aristocracy. In the words of the Book of Han: “It is situated by the sea, and abounds in rhinoceros and elephant [i.e. horn and ivory], tortoise-shell, pearls, silver, copper, fruit, and stuffs. Many merchants going from the Central States obtain riches there.” The text goes on to describe Hsü-wen and Ho-p’u Counties as important ports-of-call for ships trading in the South Seas.
          Henceforth pearl-gathering was an important industry in southern China.” Schafer (1952), p. 155.

          “With the partition of the Empire at the close of Later Han, Ho-p’u became the portion of the maritime state of Wu. This southernmost of the Three Kingdoms changed the name of the province from “Estuary of the Ho” to “Pearl Officer”aa. The renaming was restored before the end of the dynasty.”

aa 珠官 [zhuguan]

Schafer (1952), p. 157.

“Pearls, like coral, were highly valued in ancient China. In Pan Ku’s poems praising the Han palace, pearls figure as importantly as coral. Unlike coral, pearls originated in south India and Ceylon. Pearls were one of India’s important exports to the West during the early centuries AD (Periplus: 56, 59, 61). Fa-hsien [beginning of the 5th century AD] also remarked on the advanced organization of the Ceylon pearl fishery. The king controlled the sources and took three-tenths of all the pearls that were harvested (864c). It was more convenient to ship these pearls to south China via the sea than overland to the north through Central Asia.
          However, the Periplus mentions that pearls from Persia, although of lower quality than those of south India, were also exported to Barygaza (36). . . .
          It is difficult to determine whether pearls found in north China came by sea or via Central Asia. A Japanese team found pearls in a site along the Amu Darya in Afghanistan (CAKP: I, 179). The fact that pearls were among the jewels found in the tomb of Chang Chün in Liang-chou (CS: CXXII, 3067) proves that at least part of those in China came from India through Central Asia. The following anecdote in the Northern dynasties also suggests that pearls travelled the Northern Route: after the Northern Wei, when north China was again divided into two parts, the Northern Ch’i (AD 550-77) in the east tried to purchase pearls from their neighbours to the west, the Northern Chou. The Northern Chou controlled the route to the Western Region. The fact that the Northern Ch’i sought pearls from a hostile neighbour – and not from the South – suggests that pearls were more easily available in north than in south China.” Liu (1988), pp. 57-58.

“The Indian Ocean is our main source of pearls, the most prized of all jewels. To get pearls men – including the Indians – go to the islands, which are very few in number. The most productive are Taprobane [Sri Lanka] and Stoidis, together with the Indian promontory of Perimula. Specially praised are the pearls from the islands around Arabia and in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. . . .
          There is a great variation in their brilliance. Pearls found in the Red Sea are bright, while those in the Indian Ocean are like flakes of mica and exceed others in size. The longer ones have their own intrinsic charm. The greatest praise is for pearls to be called alum-coloured.” Pliny NH (a), pp. 135, 136 (IX, 106, 112).

“Among the products of Nature, the most expensive derived from the sea is the pearl. . . . ” Pliny NH (a), p. 377 (bk. XXXVII, chap. 204).

12.12 (25) hupo 虎珀 [hu-p’o] – yellow amber – see GR No. 4870.

“... the most expensive products. . . from trees or shrubs, [are] amber, balsam, myrrh and frankincense. . . . ” Pliny (a), p. 377 (XXXVII, 204).

Hu-po 虎珀, GSR: 57b and 782o : χo / χuo – pak / pɐk. Pulleyblank (1963), p. 124, reconstructs as the “Old Chinese” pronunciation of hu-po *ha̲-•phlak, and thinks – contrary to Laufer (1919), p. 523 – that this may represent Greek ρπαξ, [‘arpax’] “amber”.” CICA: 107, n. 226.

          “AMBER :– Hu-po 琥珀, abounds in Yun-nan especially the clouded variety bright or clear Ming-p’o 明珀, Clouded Yün-p’o , flowery ‘Hua-p’o 花珀, stony Shih-p’o 石珀, variegated dark, Chüeh-p’o 碏珀 q.q.v. Dr. F. P. Smith says. The first Chinese name Hu-po is founded upon the legend that the soul P’o of the tiger is changed after death into this substance. It is supposed to be the resin of a Pinus or liquid amber, buried for some thousand years, or, perhaps some altered fungus. Small pieces of an indifferent colour are brought from Li-chiang Fu and Yung-chang Fu in Yun-nan, but the market is supplied from Annam, the islands of the Indian archipelago, and according to Dr. Williams, from Africa. O-shih-mo Chüeh-p’o, 阿濕摩掲婆, is given as its Sanscrit name. Cambodia, Korea, and Japan are said to have yielded this substance, whose electrical and chemical and chemical properties are tolerably well described in the Pen-ts’ao. Retinite is probably included under this head. Pieces containing insects &c., are held in great repute. The best pieces are all made into courtbeads and ornaments. Much of what is attempted to be sold is fictitious, being made from colophony and copal. Lenitive, diuretic, sedative, tonic, nervine, astringent and many other fanciful properties are attributed to this inert substance. A dark, jade-like kind of amber called Hsi-p’o 璽珀 said to come from Tangut, yields succinic fumes, and is supposed to be an older fossil than amber.” Mesny (1896), pp. 90-91.

“The ‘Baltic’ Balts are first mentioned by Tacitus, under the name of Aestii; he praises their skill at growing crops, ‘with a patience quite unusual among the lazy Germans’. Of more general importance was that the land of the Aestii produced (and still does produce) most of the world’s supply of amber. Beads of this substance made their appearance in Greece as early as 1500 BC, and were also exported to many other parts of the world. The Roman Empire, as usual, operated on a larger scale than anything done before. From Pliny, for example, we hear that in Nero’s reign (AD 54-68) a Roman businessman visited the amber country and brought back enough amber to decorate all the equipment for a large gladiatorial show. The biggest piece weighed thirteen pounds.” Sitwell (1984), p. 41.

“In Europe the biggest and most important supplies of amber traded in early times were found at Samland on the Baltic coast and in smaller quantities on the North Sea. The chief mining area was near Kaliningrad (formerly Konigsberg). . . .  An important eastern route ran from the Baltic coast along the Vistula and through the territory of Kiev southeastwards to the Black Sea. Here this Eastern amber route linked up with the long and ancient overland connections to the Near East, central and east Asia and India. . . .  Some of the amber sold in Asia came from Burma.” Raunig (1984), pp. 14-15.

“Of the extreme tracts of Europe towards the west I cannot speak with any certainty; for I do not allow that there is any river, to which the barbarians give the name of Eridanus, emptying itself into the northern sea, whence (as the tale goes) amber is procured;123. . . . ” Herodotus, 5th cent. BC, 1996 edition: 274 (III.115). [“Here Herodotus is over-cautious and rejects as fable what we can see to be truth. The amber district upon the northern sea is the coast of the Baltic about the Gulf of Dantzig, and the mouths of the Vistula and Niemen, which is still one of the best amber regions in the world. The very name, Eridanus, lingers there in the Rhodaune, the small stream which washes the west side of the town of Dantzig. The word Eridanus (Rhodanus) seems to have been applied, by the early inhabitants of Europe, especially to great and strong-running rivers.” Ibid, note 123 on page 301 by George Rawlinson. See also: Miller (1959), pp. 15 and 41, n. 26.

12.12 (26) shanhu 珊瑚 [shan-hu] – (red) coral.

“Since the period of the Former Han dynasty coral had been an extremely valuable commodity. . . .
          From where and on what route did coral – so highly valued by the Chinese – come to China? Red coral from the western Mediterranean and the Red Sea was one of the major items shipped to the East from the time of the Periplus (28, 39, 49). The histories of the Later Han (HHS: LXXXVIII, 2919), the Three Kingdoms (SKC: XXX, 861) and the Chin (CS: XCVII, 2544) mention coral as a product of Ta-ch’in, i.e. the Roman empire. A later Chinese account gives a detailed description of how coral was collected from the sea in Ta-ch’in: the Romans dropped iron nets on the coral reefs so that the yellowish young coral would grow on them. Three years later they came back to collect the coral once it had turned red (Hsin T’ang-shu: CCXXI, 6261).
          Those records definitely refer to Mediterranean red coral. There were three possible routes to ship the coral to China. The most frequented route was the Southern Route to India. In the time of the Periplus the primary destination of coral in Roman cargo ships was India. Pliny mentions that coral was as highly treasured in India as pearls were in Rome (XXXII, 11). Coral beads along with beads of other precious materials have been found in north-Indian sites, for example at Rajghat in the level of the pre-Kushan period (Narain 1976-8: II, 12). . . .
          The second possible route was through the Northern Route of Central Asia. The Wei history describes coral as originating in Persia, probably because some coral was transported through Persia and the Northern Route into Central Asia. Ferghana’s gift to the Chao state in 331 AD included coral (Wang Chung-lo 1979: 704).
          The sea route from the Red Sea to south China was the third, and the most unlikely, way. Although there are some vague references to coral imported from southern ports during Han times (Shu-i-chi: 1/3a-b), most other Chinese sources call coral one of the commodities from the Western Region. . . .  No matter where the coral originated, north India was probably the main supplier of trans-shipped coral to China before the T’ang dynasty.” Liu (1988), pp. 54-57

“The author lists coral as an import at Barygaza (49:16.21) and at Muzuris and Nelkynda (56:18.19) as well as here [at Barbarikon, near the mouth of the Indus]. According to Pliny (32.21), the Indians prized coral as highly as the Romans did pearls. They have continued to prize it. Watt (ii 532) reports that fine pieces of red coral from the Mediterranean were worth twenty times their weight in gold. The coral exported to India in ancient times must have come from the Mediterranean (cf. under 28:9.16). Indeed, so much was exported from there that by Pliny’s day supplies had become scarce (Pliny 32.23 and cf. Warmington 263-64).” Casson (1989), p. 191.

“Coral is as highly valued among the Indians as Indian pearls. It is also found in the Red Sea, but there it is darker in colour. The most prized is found in the Gallic Gulf around the Stoechades Islands, in the Sicilian Gulf around the Aeolian Islands, and around Drepanum. . . .
          Coral-berries are no less valued by Indian men than specimen Indian pearls by Roman ladies. Indian soothsayers and seers believe that coral is potent as a charm for warding off dangers. Accordingly they delight in its beauty and religious power. Before this became known, the Gauls used to decorate their swords, shields and helmets with coral. Now it is very scarce because of the price it commands, and is rarely seen in its natural habitat.” Pliny (a), p. 281 (XXXII, 21, 23).

“CORALS. The name commonly given to the stony skeletons of polypes, which in warm seas build up the well-known and dangerous reefs. The term is also applied to the skeletons of another group of polypes, which produce the red and pink coral so much used for personal ornaments. The Coral Fishery, to be noticed presently, is only for the latter kind, as the white coral – that which is best known by the beautiful arborescent or massive specimens in our museums – has little commercial value. . . .
          A few words in this place regarding the CORAL FISHERY may not be inappropriate. . . .  Red Coral is found in the Mediterranean, on the shores of Provence, about the isles of Majorca and Minorea, on the south of Sicily ; on the coast of Africa ; and, lastly, in the Ethiopic Ocean, and about Cape Negro. The divers say that the little branches are found only in the caverns whose situation is parallel to the earth’s surface, and open to the south.” Maunder (1878), pp. 148, 149.

“The red coral of the Mediterranean, which is not of great value today, was appreciated in Antiquity, in the Orient and the West, in various grades. Some unusual qualities were attributed to it: that of fading on the skin of those who were seriously ill (replacing diagnosis!); and that of protection from dangers. They were put into certain charms of the Middle Ages, and something of its magical character survives in the present practice of wearing it against the “evil eye” in certain superstitious quarters of the Mediterranean. It is always very sought after in Central Asia and in Tibet, and in China it has been made part of medicinal substances for a long time.” Translated from: Boulnois (1992), p. 74.

“Coral was exported [from Egypt] to India as well as to Arabia. . . .  Red Sea coral, to be had all along the western coast of Arabia, hardly required importation via shippers from Egypt; moreover, it was considered of inferior quality (Pliny 32.21). The coral referred to here [in the Periplus] must have come from the Mediterranean, which produced prized varieties. . . . ” Casson (1989), p. 163.

12.12 (27) Ten varieties of glass: red, white, black, green, yellow, blue-green, dark blue, light blue, fiery red, purple: 赤白黑綠黃青紺縹紅紫十種流離.

Glass = liuli 流離 [liu-li]. There has been much discussion about whether liuli in these early texts referred to glass or to some natural gemstone. See, for example, Leslie and Gardiner (1996), p. 213.
          By the first century
CE glass in all its forms had become one of the major exports of the Roman Empire. This was due to three main factors:

a. Rome had recently acquired the main glass-producing centres of the ancient world which were mainly centred in Syria and Egypt. Rome not only controlled their production and exports but imported the latest technologies (and top craftsmen) to Italy itself where a huge new industry was established.

b. The Syrians, in particular, had not only developed techniques for producing clear glass wares (which, until foreigners became aware of the scam) could be passed off as valuable rock crystal wares, but were able to produce transparent glass in a very wide range of colours. It seems that it was several centuries before transparent (rather than merely translucent or opaque) varieties of glass were produced in China – see below. 

c. The development of glass-blowing in the second half of the first century BCE – probably in Syria – meant that, for the first time, glass vessels could be cheaply and quickly mass-produced. The industry expanded rapidly and by the end of the first century CE free-blown and mould-blown glassware formed the bulk of glass objects produced in the Roman Empire.

It is generally accepted that only opaque glass was produced in China until superior manufacturing technology was introduced by Yuezhi merchants in the fifth century. The following account of this technology transfer also makes it clear that the liuli previously imported from the west was indeed glass:

“According to the Pei-shih . . . it was during the time of T’ai-wu of the northern Wei dynasty (A.D. 424-452) that traders came to the capital of Wei from the country of the Ta-yüeh-chih . . . , bordering on the north-west of India1 who said that, by fusing certain minerals, they could make all colours of liu-li. They then gathered and digged in the hills, and fused the minerals at the capital (near the present Ta-t’ung-fu in Shan-hsi). When ready, the material so obtained was of even greater brilliancy than the liu-li imported from the west. The Pei-shih specially states that, after this event, articles made of glass became considerably cheaper in China than they had been before. . . .  

1. According to the Wei-shu, quoted in the Yüan-chien-lei-han, ch. 364, p. 31, they came from India . . .”

Hirth, pp. 230-231 and n. 1. [Note that Hirth quotes another story from Grosier’s Description de la Chine, edition of 1787, Vol II, p. 464, which relates this event to an “Emperor Tai-tsu” of the Sung, which Hirth maintains was another name for emperor Wen-ti of the Sung (A.D. 424 to 454). Doubt has, however, been cast on the authenticity of this latter story – see Leslie and Gardiner, p. 214 and n. 75. Also: Boulnois (1992), pp. 178-179.]

          “Tracing the history of glass as a commodity in Chinese foreign trade poses several problems. Previously, scholars thought that China did not develop glass-making techniques until the fifth century AD. But since the 1930s, many glass samples have been found in tombs dating from the fifth century BC. Doris Dohrenwend recently summarized the history of Chinese glass comprehensively. She divides Chinese glass into two categories. The small opaque items pre-dating the third century AD are liu-li, and the transparent vessels from the T’ang dynasty onwards are po-li. Between the two phases during the Northern and Southern dynasties there was a ‘glass mini-boom,’ as indicated by a series of glass vessels of doubtful provenance (Dohrenwend 1980: 426-46).
          Today no one doubts that the Chinese made glass long before the Christian era. There is also clear evidence that China imported glass from foreign countries even up to the Ch’ing dynasty. The real question is: did the Chinese regard the ancient opaque items made by them or their ancestors as being the same thing as the transparent or colourful glass they imported at the same time? Obviously not. Both terms, liu-li and po-li, appeared in the Chinese vocabulary after contact with the Western Region, and both have Sanskrit origins.” Liu (1988), pp. 58-59. See also ibid. pp. 60-63, 80, 160-161.

“Glass had been familiar to the Chinese for centuries, and had been manufactured by them since late Chou times. Their language distinguished two kinds of glass, liu-li and po-li. Liu-li was colored glass, either opaque or only dully translucent, or even a colored ceramic glaze; it was akin to the lead glass which we call “paste,” and like paste was thought of as a substitute for natural gemstones, especially for green and blue ones. Indeed, it was sometimes confused with real minerals, such as lapis lazuli, beryl, and, no doubt, turquoise. Po-li, on the other hand, was transparent, either colorless, like rock crystal, and compared with water and ice, or else palely tinted. Liu-li was already old in China, but blown vessels of po-li were a novelty in T’ang.
          Little need be said of the false gem liu-li. It was familiar in both life and literature, and was doubly exotic in that it came occasionally with embassies from the West, and was also reported of distant cultures, such as Pyü in Burma. . . . ” Laufer (1912), pp. 235-236.

“The Chinese word liu-li apparently transcribes Pali veḻuriyam (Sanskrit vaiḏūrya) and in the Buddhist literature continues to have the same referent, that is, “beryl” or some other green gem. For this reason, Laufer (1946), 111-112, did not accept the meaning “glass” for it, and, though he admitted that certain colored glazes were sometimes called liu-li, he considered po-li the only usual word for glass in China. Po-li transcribes a form close to Sanskrit sphaṯika, “crystal.” Cf. Needham (1962), 105-106.” Schafer (1963), p. 335, n. 137.

“One of the products that Rome exported further and further afield, was glass objects, particularly coloured glasses, containers of all sorts, cut glass, glass beads for necklaces from the workshops of Syria or those of Puteoli. These necklace beads have been found from the shores of England to those of the Annam Sea, in Central Asia and the Ukraine. They were made round or oval, pear-shaped and cylindrical, in the shape of disks and amphora, in opaque and translucent glass. There were blues and greens, and whimsical beads made of alternating layers of blue glass, bronze, and white pottery.” Translated from Boulnois (1992), p. 75.

“Glass, for example, initially imported from Hellenistic nations, was first introduced in China during the Warring States period [481-221
BCE], as the fragments discovered at Jincun near Luoyang, or at Changsha have confirmed. Apart from being prized for its beauty, glass, which was as uncommon in China as jade and served as a substitute for jade, was considered priceless by the rulers of that era on account of its rarity. Under the Han dynasty, glass was imported from Syria which filled specific orders for the Chinese market. Indeed, glass was used to produce jewels and inlaid work for belt plates or bronze mirrors. Sometimes it was substituted for jade in the form of small plates that were inserted in the mouths of corpses. Authors even wrote admiring poems to praise this extraordinary substance.” Elisseeff (1983), pp. 163-164.

“The evidence for Roman trade in glass with the cities along the east coast of South India is exactly the opposite of that on the west coast. There is no written evidence, but finds from excavations are abundant. A Chinese record from the end of the second century B.C. says that, among other goods, the Chinese got glass from Kanchipuram.30 No published archaeological evidence for glass trade at Kanchipuram is known to me, nor for glass trade from its ports at Vasavasmudram and Mahabalipuram. However, the chance find of a large fragment of a Mediterranean amphora at Vasavasmudram indicates that Mediterranean wares reached this port. Therefore, the possibility cannot be excluded that glass exported from the West to Kanchipuram was destined for transit trade with China.”

30. J. Duyvendak, China’s Discovery of Africa (London 1949) 9-10. See also Stern (infra n. 37) [E. M. Stern, Ancient Glass at the Fondation Custodia (Collection Frits Lugt) Paris (Groningen 1977) 25-30.]

Stern (1991), p. 117 and nn. 30, 37. See this article for a detailed discussion of the types of glass manufactured in the Roman Empire and exported to India and Africa and which are probably indicative of the types of glass and glass wares exported to China as well. Also see the excellent chapter on the development of glass technology in Uberti (1988), pp. 536-561.

12.12 (28) qiulin 璆琳 [ch’iu lin] – a magnificent form of jade. The oldest reference I can find to qiulin and langgan are in the Guanzi 管子 which says that they originated:

“. . . from the mountains nearby the Yuzhi [Yuezhi];” specifically the Kunlun mountains.
          Now, the compilation of the Guanzi “was probably begun by the scholars of the Chi-hsia Academy founded c. 302 B.C. in Ch’i State, that most of the chapters belong to the third century, while some may still be earlier, and others were added in the second or even the first century B.C. Thus the book was mostly written before the Han period, even though some of its ideas are of a later date. . . .” Pokora (1973), pp. 31-32.

“In the “Qingzhong Jiapian 蜻重甲篇 of the same book [the Guanzi] it is also recorded:

If what is valued at no less than one thousand pieces of gold are white jade discs, then we should be able to persuade the Yuezhi, who are at a distance of 8,000 li, to present tribute. If clasps and earrings worth no less than one thousand pieces of gold are made from qiulin 璆琳 (a kind of beautiful jade) or langgan 琅玕 (a kind of white carnelian), then we should be able to cause the Kunlun Hills 昆侖之虚, which are at a distance of 8,000 li, to present tribute.

The “Qingzhong Yipian” records also: “Jade originates from the mountains nearby the Yuzhi [Yuezhi], which are at a distance of 7,000 li from Zhou .” Yu (1998), p. 48.

Yu believes these “Kunlun” Mountains “may have referred to the Altai Mountains,” but I prefer the more usual definition of them as the high chain of mountains separating the Tarim Basin from the Tibetan Plateau and, in particular, the famous jade-bearing regions south of Khotan and Yarkand. Other definitions of qiulin are listed below:

璆琳 is defined in GR No. 2199 as a “beautiful precious stone”; magnificent jade.”

ch’iu is listed in Williams, p. 171 as: “a hard jaspery kind of stone hung up to tinkle in the wind; the ringing of jade ornaments.”

The character ch’iu is listed in Couvrier, p. 386 as a “beautiful stone…” and the equivalent of ch’iu: “Name of a beautiful stone, which was offered by Yungchou”. Yungchou was one of the nine divisions of the empire made by Yü the Great.

Williams (p. 526) defines lin as: “A valuable stone mentioned among the articles of tribute with the [ch’iu] in the Shu King; it was brought from the west, and was probably a variety of veined jade.”

12.12 (29) langgan 琅玕 [lang- kan] – probably a whitish chalcedony. There have been many definitions of langgan and, perhaps, it has meant different things at different times. For example, it has frequently been described as a kind of branching coral or “coral tree.”

          The Qingzhong Jiapian of the Guanzi (quoted under 12.12 (28) above), which was probably written around the time of the Early Han, describes langgan being traded into China from Central Asia by the Yuezhi. Probably the Weilue’s account refers to a type of precious stone rather than some form of coral. Yu’s identification of it as a “kind of white carnelian” undoubtedly indicates the whitish form of chalcedony. Carnelian, a form of chalcedony is, by definition, a reddish colour, but it is found in a variety of other colours, including bluish-white, grey, yellow, or brown. It is a waxy, fine-grained form of silica much favoured by gem engravers.
          On the other hand, the GR No. 6687, gives, among its definitions: “balas-ruby : a precious stone of yellow or red from the Indies; a stone in the form of a pearl; name of a tree : a tree of pearl.

          Williams (1909), p. 498 says: “[lang kan:] white coral of a firm texture, branched like a Gorgonia, but not susceptible of polish.” 

Lang-kan 琅玕is a stone variously said to resemble pearl and jade; the term occurs in the Shu-ching (6.21a; Couvreur, p. 79; Legge, III, 127). Legge suggests that it is lapis lazuli. Schafer describes lang-kan as a fairy gem, the stuff or fruit of a tree of paradise, or of an axial world-tree” (“The Origin of an Era,” p. 545; cf. his The Golden Peaches of Samarkand, p. 246, and The Vermilion Bird, p. 159).” Rogers (1968), p. 257, n. 486.

“Since the period of the Former Han dynasty coral had been an extremely valuable commodity. In eulogies describing the court’s brilliance in Former Han time, Later Han writers such as Pan Ku mentioned ‘coral trees’, i.e. branch coral (Liang-tu-fu, 4a). In fiction written in a later period coral trees symbolize the extravagance of the Former Han court. It is said of Emperor Wu of the Former Han built a shrine with ‘coral window lattice’, and with ‘coral trees’ planted around it, where he searched for immortality in vain (Lu Hsün 1939: 347). This tradition of using coral continued after the Han.1 It seems that coral was the most precious and, hence, the ideal item of tribute. More specific records about the use of coral appear after the Han. . . . ”

1 “Even as late as the T’ang. In the famous picture by the T’ang artist Yen Li-pen: ‘Foreign envoys coming with their tributes’ (Schafer 1963), many envoys carry a piece of ‘coral tree’.”

Liu (1988), p. 54, and n. 1. On these “tree corals” see also, for example: Maunder (1878), p. 398 under “Madrepore”.

          “Related to the trees of red coral in P’eng-lai were trees of the mysterious mineral lang-kan in P’eng-lai’s continental counterpart, K’un-lun, where the peaches of immortality grew. These trees of fairy gems, colored blue or green or blue-green, were well known in ancient days, and were reported in the classical books of Chou and early Han. Though the lang-kan tree of the West was, for the medieval Chinese, another fable, like the coral tree of the East, and as Aladdin’s jewelled tree is to us, nonetheless a substance called lang-kan was imported in T’ang times from the barbarians of the Southwest and from Khotan. Some said it was a kind of glass, that is, related to the colored paste called liu-li, but others told of a stony lang-kan, which was a species of coral fished from the sea, red when fresh but gradually turning blue. Perhaps some lang-kan was blue or green coral, and some a glassy blue-green mineral; in any case, it was related to “dark-blue kan,” from which were made miniature mountains brought to China in the tenth century from Yünnan. . . .” Schafer (1963), p. 246.

12.12 (30) shuijing 水精 [shui-ch’ing] – rock crystal or transparent glass – see GR 9942. The Chinese at this period apparently did not know how to make transparent glass so rock crystal and clear glass were often confused but, glass must be what is meant here. See note 11.28.

12.12 (31) meigui 玫瑰 [mei kuei] – various semi-precious gems. The GR, under No. 7682, says that mei kuei referred in ancient times to black mica or biotite. It seems probable that the term meigui 玫瑰originally referred to a bright red sparkling gem, possibly garnet, from whence the word mei derived its other meaning of ‘a (red) rose.’ Dictionaries and other sources turn up a wide variety of definitions of meigui ranging from red garnets to black mica.
          The reason for this confusion is made clear in the 17th century T’ien-kung K’ai-wu, which states that meigui refers to uncut (though possibly polished) semi-precious stones in a wide variety of colours:

“As for the mei kuei or “round” gems [probably garnet or mica] of the sizes of beans or green lentils, they are of all colors – red, green, blue, and yellow. The mei kuei gems occupy the same rank among gem stones as that of chi among pearls.” Sung (1637), pp. 299-300. Of interest here is the fact that the chi are defined as the lowest grade of pearls: “. . . .  and the odd-shaped and fragmentary pearls are called chi.” Ibid, 298).

I have accepted this broader interpretation of mei kuei as uncut semi-precious stones here as the most likely, although I must note that it is not certain the term had this connotation during the Han period.

12.12 (32) xionghuang 雄黃 [hsiung-huang] – realgar – literally, ‘Masculine Yellow.’

          “HSIUNG HUANG 雄黃 :– Red Orpiment of Realgar, also supposed to be allied to Hartal, if not the identical substance.
          Hsiung Huang however abounds in Kuei-chou, and is found in other parts of China. It runs in veins in the mountains whence it is extracted much the same way as cinnabar which it somewhat resembles in appearance.
          The Prefectures of Hsing-yi Fu, Tsun-yi Fu, Ssū-nan Fu, and the Sub-prefecure of Lang-tai Ting, are known to have produced it for ages. It is of a bright red colour with nodules of yellow stuff, and is said to be a natural combination of sulphur and arsenic in equal parts.
          The price in Kuei-chou for the best is about a shilling a pound, 30 cents a catty. See Red Orpiment.
          The semi-transparent substance known in Kuei-chou as Ming Huang
明黃 and found at Chê-hêng in the Prefecture of Hsing-yi, in that Province, is I believe a superior kind of orpiment or realgar and sells in Kuei-chou where it is found at one tael a catty, say one dollar a pound. Its use is, I believe, confined to medicine, whilst Hsiung Huang 雄黃, the subject of this paper, is made up into household ornaments, such as wine pots, wine cups, images, paperweights, and various other kinds of ornaments and charms, to be kept near at hand in use, or worn about the person, with a view of warding off disease.” Mesny (1899), p. 251.

          “HSIUN-HUANG 雄黃, Hsiung , which means the Masculine Yellow, or an equivalent to Superior in quality of colour or effect, and which I believe ought most properly be applied to the mineral when prepared for use as medicine or colouring.” Mesny (1905), p. 425.

          “Realgar (AsS) is a soft, sectile mineral, often powdery. It has a resinous luster, and varies in color from aurora-red to orange-yellow. It occurs commonly in association with orpiment and other arsenic minerals, with stibnite, and with lead, silver and gold ores. It is frequently encountered as a sublimation from volcanoes and hot springs. . . .
          As to the location of realgar mines outside of China, Pliny [Nat. Hist. 35, 22] tells of one on the island of Topazus in the Red Sea, but he says that the mineral was not imported thence. He adds elsewhere [Ibid, 33, 22] that it could be found in gold and silver mines. . . .
          There is little to say about the use of realgar as a pigment in China. Li Shih-chen mentions it, saying it yields a yellow color when ground fine. So say also the writings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but ancient references are lacking, and nowhere is there any indication that it was regarded as at all comparable to orpiment for painting, as indeed it is not.
          On the other hand, realgar has been important in Chinese medicine since antiquity. Its virtues are basically of three sorts, and all three of these are mentioned in the Shen-nung pen-ts’ao ching. The are: (1) as a general restorative and rejuvenator ; for lightening the body to the condition of a deity or Taoist sylph ; (2) for specific diseases, notably chills and fever, scrofula, ulcers, abscesses, and necrosis ; (3) against insect and reptile poisons. These applications of the drug are mentioned again and again, with some variations, in all of the Chinese medical writings down to the time of Li Shih-chen himself.” Schafer (1955), pp. 78, 79, 80, 83.

“Like orpiment, realgar is a compound of sulphur and arsenic, and (also like orpiment) it was thought to be a “seed of gold,” all the more so because it was found near gold deposits. In alchemical lore it was believed to have the power of transforming copper into gold, and even to become gold itself. . . .
          Realgar also had an important place in the materia medica being recommended as a cure for skin diseases, as an antiseptic for poisoned wounds, as a rejuvenator, and as an apotropaion [an amulet to ward off evil]; a prepared realgar egg in the Shōsōin collection of old medicines may be supposed to have the last-named role. In particular, the drug was effective against the incubi which haunted mad women; the sufferer was relieved by fumigating her genitals with a burning ball of realgar and pitch.
          Realgar has been mined, with orpiment, in several parts of China in early times, but in T’ang the best was imported from unnamed countries in the West. There were important deposits of the arsenic sulphides south of Ta-li in the country of Nan-chao; possibly some came into T’ang as well.” Schafer (1963), pp. 219-220.

12.12 (33) cihuang 雌黃 [tz’u-huang] – orpiment; literally,’ Feminine Yellow.’

“TZ’U HUANG 雌黃 :– Feminine Yellow. The female of Hsiung Huang 雄黃, which is Realgar.
          The name Tz’u-huang, I believe ought to be applied to the artificial variety of Realgar, which is equivalent with our orpiment or sulphuret of arsenic, called in India Hartal. Asz Sz.
          According to Thomson’s Chemistry “Orpiment when artificially prepared is in the form of a fine yellow coloured powder, but it is found indigenous in many parts of the world, particularly in Bohemia, Turkey, China and Ava. It is exported from the last two in considerable quantities, and is known in the East by the name of hartal. Native orpiment is composed of thin plates of a lively gold colour intermixed with pieces of a vermillion red, of a shattery foliaceous texture, flexible, soft to the touch like talc, and sparkling when broken. Specific gravity 3.45. The inferior kinds are of a dead yellow, inclining to green, and want the bright appearance of the best specimens. Its principal use is as a colouring drug among painters, bookbinders, etc.”
          In China it is used as a medicine, but is highly poisonous, and deadly, to flies. It is sometimes used to poison arrows and other weapons, and is used for some purpose in the Arsenals at Nanking and other places.” Mesny (1899), p. 251.

          “Orpiment (As2S3) is a beautiful yellow mineral, frequently with a lustrous golden color. Sometimes it is found in association with other ores of arsenic and antimony. It is soft, sectile, and markedly cleavable. . . .
          It cannot be told whether orpiment was clearly distinguished from other yellow pigments before the beginning of the Han dynasty. In the second century B. C., the name which became standard for all time appears in the literature of China. . . .
          Since realgar has generally been regarded in China as a more valuable product than orpiment, mines where both of these minerals occurred are usually first referred to as sources of realgar. . . .
          It seems likely that the Chinese would have used orpiment as a pigment in prehistoric times, but the presence of the mineral has not been verified on any object made before the beginning of the Christian era. . . .” Schafer (1955), pp. 73, 75,76,77.         

“The beautiful yellow arsenic sulphide named orpiment (from auripigmentum), also called “king’s yellow” by Western painters, was in China “hen yellow” because it was found associated with realgar, which was “cock yellow.” The alchemists called it, in their cabalistic jargon, “blood of the divine woman” or “blood of the yellow dragon,” and they claimed that the kind like “spat blood” brought up by ship was superior to the native mineral mined in Hunan. It was also named “sperm of gold,” because of supposed mineralogical relation with gold, as azurite was “sperm of copper.” This fine color had been imported from Champa and Cambodia at least as early as the fifth century, and was therefore also called “Kurung yellow.” Accordingly we are not surprised to find it as the golden yellow of the paintings on silk brought back from Tun-huang. The vicinity of Mastūj was reputed in T’ang times to be rich in orpiment and grapes, but we don’t know if either of these products was exported thence to China.” Schafer (1963), pp. 213-214. 

“Tz’u-huang. . . Orpiment (represents the yin principle in the pair of substances, orpiment – realgar).” Translated from: Glossaire de l’alchimie chinoise. By Pregadio (undated).

“There is a method of making gold from orpiment which is mined in Syria for painters; it is found on the surface and has the colour of gold, but is brittle and like selenite. Its potential attracted the Emperor Gaius Caligula who was obsessed with gold. He ordered a great weight of orpiment to be melted; and certainly it produced excellent gold, but the yield was very low and so, although orpiment sold for 4 denarii a pound, he lost out by the experiment which his greed had led him to initiate. The experiment was not subsequently repeated by anyone else.” Pliny NH (a), p. 299 (bk. XXXIII, chap. 79).

12.12 (34) bi [pi] – a precious stone – sometimes green – sometimes blue. Perhaps a form of nephrite or chalcedony.

GR No. 8810, gives: “1. name of a greenish-blue stone, resembling jade; nephrite; jasper. 2. Blue-green; green jade; jade blue; sky blue. Azure.”

Pi (pyĕk), on the other hand, though a respectably old word, was less brilliant [than lang-kan] and not exotic at all. In early post-Han times, it had still been the name of a mineral (prase?).64 By T’ang, it had been reduced to the status of a color word (except in archaic allusions), apparently a blue or green of high saturation and low brilliance – I have sometimes translated it “cyan” or “indigo.” Apparently Liu Yü-hsi used it as the name of a Nam-Viet gemstone only artificially and allusively.”

64 TPYL, 809, 2a, quoting a book called Chin T’ai k’ang ti chi, gives it as a product of Yunnan. Kuang ya quoted in the same place states that some pi is blue and some is green, and that it is produced in Yüeh and Yunnan.

Schafer (1967), pp. 159 and 296, n. 64.

12.12 (35) wuseyu 五色玉 [wu se yü] – multicoloured (literally, ‘five coloured’) jade or gemstone.

          “Dr. BUSHELL informs us that the first sovereign of the Han Dynasty, the Emperor Kao-tsu (B. C. 206-195), announced his accession to the throne by sacrificing to Heaven on a jade tablet engraved with one hundred and seventy characters. The jade was of a bright white color spotted with moss-markings, shining in colors of red, blue, vermilion, and black. The writing was in the li shu of the Han, and the style was clear and strong.
          The question of varicolored jade was brought on the tapis when the Emperor Kuang-wu (25-57 A. D.) made his preparations for the sacrifices on the T’ai-shan and gave instructions to search for a blue stone without blemish, but it should not be necessary to have varicolored stones.” Laufer (1912), 117.

“The perennial demand for beautiful jade, the most magnificent of minerals, underlies the following story: Hsüan Tsung, midway in his reign, marvelled that there was no artifact made from the almost legendary five-colored jade among the gifts recently received from the West, though he had in his treasury a belt decorated with plaques of this handsome stone, and a cup carved from it, both submitted long before. He commanded his generals in charge of the “Security of the West” to reprimand the negligent (but anonymous) barbarians who were responsible. The delinquent savages may have been natives of Khotan, the inexhaustible source of jade, and savages they seemed to the Chinese, despite the refinement of their music and the charm of their women. Whoever they were, they did not fail to start a shipment of the pretty polychrome stuff on its way to Ch’ang-an. Alas, the caravan was attacked and robbed of its cargo by the people of Lesser Balūr, turban-wearing lice-eating marauders from the frigid and narrow valleys on the fringes of the snowy Pamirs. When the bad news reached the sacred palace, the Son of Heaven, in his wrath, sent an army of forty thousand Chinese and innumerable dependent barbarians to lay siege to the capital of the marauders and recover his jade. The king of Lesser Balūr quickly surrendered his booty and humbly sought the privilege of sending annual tribute to T’ang. This was refused, and his unhappy city of Gilgit was pillaged. The victorious Chinese general, leading three thousand survivors of the sack, set out for home. He was followed by a prediction of doom, pronounced by a barbarian soothsayer. And indeed the whole multitude was destroyed in a great storm, except for a lone Chinese and a single barbarian ally. The unfortunate Hsüan Tsung, thus finally deprived of his treasure, sent a party to search for the remains of his host. They found an army of transparent bodies, refrigerated prisoners and soldiers of ice, which melted immediately, and were never seen again.” Schafer (1963), p. 36.

“There are only two colors in jade, white and green; the latter known as “vegetable jade” in China. As for the so-called red jade or yellow jade, they are varieties of unusual stones, spinel and the like, which are not jade even though they cost no less than the latter. . . .  Besides the above, the only unusual jade is produced in So-li in the Western Ocean. Under ordinary light, this jade appears white in color, but under the sun red color is reflected from it, and on rainy days it turns blue. We may call this “uncanny jade.” It is part of the Imperial Palace treasures.” Sung (1637), p. 303.

12.12 (36) qushu 黃白黑綠紫紅絳紺金黃縹留黃十種氍毹 [ch’ü-shu] – ten types of wool rugs – yellow, white, black, green, purple, fiery red, deep red, dark blue, golden yellow, light blue and back to yellow.

“Pan Ch’ao’s elder brother, the historian Pan Ku, asked Ch’ao to buy him some wool blankets and rugs. He also mentioned that Tou Hsien, an influential minister in the court, had purchased wool blankets, horses and styrax from the Western Region. They all paid with bolts of white silk (Ch’üan Hou-Han Wen: 25/4a). That the border markets continued to function even during the war suggests that there was regular trade with Central Asians along the border (SC: CX, 2905).” Liu (1988), p. 16.

This account of the qushu in the Weilue seems to find support with some interesting extra details in a number of other 3rd and 4th century (and later) texts. These texts, however, refer to qusou rather than the qushu 氍毹 of the Weilue, although they are usually taken to be identical. Unfortunately, Leslie and Gardiner (1996), mistakenly give the character shu in their note 30 on page 87:

“9.29 In the country of Ta-Ch’in they weave Ch’ü-sou cloth from wild silkworms, and by means of wool of different colours taken from all kinds of beasts, they weave into them (patterns of) birds, beasts, human figures, and other objects; grass, trees, clouds and numerous oddities. On these rugs they represent parrots flying gaily at a distance30. The cloth shows the following ten colours: carnation, white, black, green, red, crimson, gold, azure, jade colour, and yellow. (KCCY 54, quoting I-wu-chih; TPYL 708, quoting Nan-chou i-wu-chih; PTSC 134, K’ang-hsi tz’u-tien, quoting I-wu-chih).”

29. KCCY 54, p. 14; TPYL 708, p. 3288, which is shorter, and does not mention Ta-Ch’in; PTSC 134 (no. 30), p. 14b; KHTT, vol. 4b, p. 70a. This passage was noted by HIRTH, p. 255, PARKER, 1884-5, vol. 14, p. 42, no. 403, and by CHANG SHU, p. 11b. For wild silkworms, see our discussion in 17.5. Ch’ü-shu cloth was listed in WL, and also mentioned in HHS account of Ta-Ch’in, see our 16.8. We have here a little extra.

30. The reference to parrots is new, but it is unlikely that they are supposed to have come from Ta-Ch’in. The characters for parrots 鸚鵡 [ying-wu] might be considered similar to those for Ch’ü-sou 氍毹 [sic] cloth. Parrots of course have a multitude of bright colours. The colours written here are probably rewritten from those of the WL, with ch’ü-sou in place of ch’ü-shu. See also Hirth (1885), pp. 80; 115, line 27; and 255.
            Additionally, carpets were woven from wild silk patterned with coloured wools. In later times, silk was commonly used for the warp material in knotted wool carpets as it is far stronger than wool in relation to its thickness. We probably have here the earliest reference to this technique.

“In 726, the king of Bukhāra sent envoys to T’ang, asking help against Arab raiders. These emissaries brought with them a number of valuable gifts, such as saffron and “stone honey,” and also a “Roman embroidered carpet.”21 the king’s wife, the “Qatun,” sent the Chinese empress two large rugs and one “embroidered carpet.”22

21 Here “carpet” is *g’i̯u -g’ i̯əu [sic – probably should read *g’i̯u-g’ i̯e̯u = quqiu 氍毬 – see p. 378 and note 22 below]. Compare the * g’i̯u-i̯u [= qushu 氍毹] of other texts. The latter is equated with Sanskrit varakambala, “colored woolen blanket”; see Pelliot (1959), 484.” Schafer (1963), p. 325, n. 21.

22 Here both “rug” and “carpet” are *g’i̯u-g’i̯ə̯u [see note 21], but the former is qualified by *tś i̯a-p’iek [柘辟] , which Laufer takes to be akin to Persian tāftan, “to spin,” and our “taffeta.” See Laufer (1919), 493. Among the gifts from Turgäch, Chāch, and other places, to be mentioned presently, we find *t’âp-təng [], which is plainly from the Persian root. All these forms refer to woollen carpets.”

Schafer (1963), pp. 198; 325, nn. 21, 22.  

12.12 (37) wuse tadeng 五色毾 [wu se t’a-teng] – finely patterned multicoloured wool carpets. The characters, wuse 五色, literally mean ‘five-coloured,’ but are commonly employed to denote ‘multicoloured.’ GR No. 10241, gives:

t’a4 teng1 Rug (manufactured in India, finely made and closely-woven); carpet.” Williams (1909), p. 745 gives: “A kind of coarse woolen serge, first called. . . .” The online “Chinese Character Dictionary” gives: “a course woollen serge” for ta4 , and “[1] woollen blanket with decorative design or pattern. . . .” for deng1

A multicoloured knotted wool rug attributed to the 2nd century CE was found some years ago in a tomb at Saiyiwake, to the east of Khotan. Interestingly, it contains wool dyed in five colours, as in the description in the Weiue:

“It had been placed over the saddle of a horse buried in this tomb and was discovered nearly intact, complete with corner tassels. The central black field is covered with a diamond grid in red containing leaf-like forms, also in red, with perhaps some yellow. The central field is bordered with four narrow red, yellow, buff and black lines. The wide outer border has a design in bright blue-green, each panel containing a tree in buff and yellow. The tassels are red. Believed to date from the second century A.D., it is the earliest extant example of a type of carpet design generally associated with later Central Asian cultures.” Laing (1995).

There were also two multicoloured fragments of wool tunics found at Saiyiwake and Loulan. The latter has a border which “is a running, mirror-image wave pattern of a type common in third-century Western Asiatic fabrics found, for example, at Dura Europos and Palmyra.”

12.12 (38) wusejiuse shouxia tadeng 五色九色首下毾 [wu sechiu se shou hsia t’a-teng] – ‘multicoloured, lesser quality wool carpets.’ Nine colours of multicoloured (literally: ‘five colours, nine colours’) lower quality wool carpets (shouxia can be translated as: ‘of inferior appearance’). This was, perhaps an indication that these were woven kilms or felt numdah rugs, rather than knotted pile carpets.

12.12 (39) jinlu xiu 金縷繡 [chin lü hsiu] – gold-threaded embroidery.

          “Embroidered robes were already in existence in Homer’s time and are the origin of those worn at triumphs.
          The Phyrgians introduced embroidery with the needle, and for this reason embroidered robes are called ‘Phrygian’. Also in Asia Minor, King Attalus invented weaving with gold, the origin of the term ‘Attalic’ robes. Babylon in particular made famous the weaving of different colours, and gave this process its name. Alexandria introduced damask, a material woven from very many threads, and Gaul invented check patterns. Metellus Scipio includes among the charges laid against Capito that Babylonian throw-over covers for couches were sold for 800,000 sesterces, when not long ago in Nero’s principate these cost 4 million.” Pliny the Elder (VIII.195-196) (1991), pp. 125-126.

The following note from the China Daily dated 17th May 1999, details archaeological evidence which backs up the Weilue’s listing of gold embroidered cloth:

“URUMQI (Xinhua) - A garment made of fabrics with dazzling gold foil sewn on applique work, dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 24), was recently unearthed from a tomb in Lop Nur, a desolate area in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
          Chinese archaeologists believe this is the earliest woven material with gold patterns ever found in China.
          The discovery pushes the history of fabric-making with gold back 1,000 years earlier than previously believed,” said Li Wenying, an archaeologist participating in the excavation.
          The gold foils were sewn by two different methods. One was to cut coloured silk in the shape of flower buds, petals, stamen and fruits, which were then pinned to the collar, sleeves, lower hem, and back of the garment. Then gold foils were pasted on the silk designs. The other way was to spread gold powder onto the design.
          One archaeologist, Zhou Jinling, described the embroidery as distinctive, dazzling and harmonious in colour.”
          This garment was one of the 200-plus rare cultural relics unearthed from 32 tombs built in the period between the Han and Jin dynasties (206 BC- AD 420) at the Yingpan Ruins in Lop Nur.
            The site lies 200 kilometres east of Loulan, one of the busiest commercial cities on the ancient Silk Road which served as a transportation artery for the flow of goods from China to the West more than 2,000 years ago. The flourishing trade route began to decline in the fourth century.
          The recent excavation, which lasted for more than a month, was the continuation of a protective excavation begun in 1995. During the three-year period, Chinese archaeologists opened 32 ancient tombs and cleared more than 100 robbed tombs over a large area.
          One-third of the unearthed objects were burial accessories, including garments, wooden, bronze, and lacquer wares, gold and silver ornaments, and pearls.
          The most significant finding was three woolen robes with designs of flying men, eagles, and snakes woven with a jacquard technique.”

12.12 (40) zaseling 雜色綾 [tsa se ling] – polychrome (warp twill) fine silk or chiffon.

“Mutlicoloured textiles” are listed in the Periplus (39.8) among the products traded by the Romans at Barbaricon at the mouth of the Indus River. These were probably similar to the ones traded to China. Casson says in his notes on paragraph 39:

“These were a specialty of Egypt: cf. Pliny 8, 196 (where he claims the art of weaving them was invented at Alexandria), Martial 14.150. They were used for garments as well as hangings, carpets, and the like; see H. Blümner, Die römischen Privataltertümer, Müllers Handbuch der klassischen Alterumswissenschaft 4.2.2 (Munich, 19113), 253. Apparently they were much in demand in India, since Muziris and Nelkynda imported them (56:18.19) as well as Barbarikon, while Barygaza imported one particular type (49:16.22-23).” Casson (1989), p. 190.

“Cf. Gloss. 5.524.34: polimatus est textus multorum colorum; 5.524.32: polimita multicoloria, i.e. any textile, such as brocade, woven with threads of different colors (not “damask,” as in LSJ).” Casson (1989), p. 259.

Schoff says of this same passage:

Figured linens. – The text is polymita. Pliny ( VIII, 74 ) says: “Babylon was very famous for making embroidery in different colors, and hence stuffs of this kind have obtained the name of Babylonian. The method of weaving cloth with more than two threads was invented at Alexandria; these cloths are called polymita; it was in Gaul that they were first divided into chequers.”
          Martial’s epigram, “Cubicularia polymita” ( XIV, 150 ) indicates that the Egyptian tissue was formed in a loom, like tapestry, and that the Babylonian was embroidered with the needle.” Schoff (1912), p. 167.

“In ancient China, twills had not been much used, though the warp twill was known.” Schafer (1963), p. 196.

“The polychrome damasks of Han had been warp reps. “Brocade” customarily translates Chinese chin.” Schafer (1963), p. 325, n. 4.

“There were fragments of very fine silk [discovered in the Han tombs excavated at Mancheng, Hopei Province in 1968] in plain weave (200 warp and 90 weft threads per square centimetre), embroidery and silk damask. . . . ” “Archaeological Work During the Cultural Revolution” by Hsia Nai, in: Anonymous (1974), p. 9.

A fragment of dark-red embroidered silk was found in a 2nd century BC tomb at Mawangtui, Changsha, Hunan Province in which: “Vermillion, golden yellow, dark yellow and dark-green silk threads are used in the chain stitch to form this design.” Anonymous (1976), note 54.

“The practice of emperors in the Later Han who granted their ministers and tribal chiefs tens and hundreds of thousands of bolts of silk reveal China’s enormous capacity for silk production (Fang Hao 1963: 134). During the periods of division after the Han the region producing the best silk, Shu, was separated from the north. Rulers in the north nevertheless made up for this loss by encouraging silk production. . . . silk weaving in the north certainly developed rapidly in this period. . . . ” Liu (1988), p. 70

          “From Han to T’ang a dramatic change took place in the technique of silk weaving. Weft-faced weaving, the wool weaving technique in the west of Central Asia, replaced the typical warp-faced Han weaving in producing polychrome silk. A group of textile samples of ‘Sassanian design’ is associated with the new technique. The representative design in a pearl roundel – a ring formed by a string of small circles – enclosing animal motifs. The animal motifs of Persian design could be boars, deer or a pair of horses facing each other, with or without riders. They are stiff in style in contrast to the lively horses, birds or other animals on Han textiles. Having studied these samples carefully Hsia Nai attributes the technical change to influence from Central Asia and to a change in style to suit the Persian market (1963).
          Falling between the typical Han silk and weft-faced silk of T’ang, some samples dated to the Northern dynasties and the Sui dynasty show a transitional technique, the ‘twill’ technique. ‘Twill’ means a basic warp-faced textile using weft to cross two (or more) warps, thus forming some design. Pattern design also differs from both that of the Han and the T’ang silks. Chinese scholars who have studied those samples consider silk of this period as a technical and stylistic extension of the Han. However, just as the twill marked a transition to a new weaving technique, the motifs also changed substantially from the Han style. . . .
          Having examined a series of Chinese damasks and brocades Michael Meister points out that roundel designs using twill technique existed on damask as early as the Han; the roundel was a popular design on Gupta sculpture, especially the pearl roundel with the lotus inside (1970). Indeed this kind of roundel even appears in Kushan sculpture in Mathura, as in a decorative plaque (Rosenfield 1967: Text of Figure 3). . . .
          Another interesting pattern the silk of the Northern dynasties incorporates is a striped or chess-board design. The weaver used different-coloured warps to form narrow or wide stripes which provided a background for stylistic motifs. The entire textile was divided into coloured stripes. The use of different coloured wefts regularly spaced forms a chess-board design. Because this is the simplest method of making a textiles design it is still used in hand weaving in many regions. But, as polychrome patterned silk was an expensive textile, the design must have been produced to suit consumers’ tastes rather than to accommodate a simple technique. Actually, many samples of this design show a complicated weaving technique.
          Han silk did not adopt this simple design. Elaborate motifs are displayed on a one-colour background.” Liu (1988), pp. 72-74. 

12.12 (41) jintu bu 金塗布 [chin-t’u pu] – woven gold cloth. The word bu, translated as “cloth” here (and in the notes below): “specifically refers to hemp or linen cloth (later to cotton), never to silk.” Cammann (1958), p. 6, n. 24.

12.12 (42) feichi bu 緋持布 [fei-ch’ih pu] – purple chi cloth. Hirth (1885), p. 74, n. 1, records that it is: “Called Fei-ch’ih-chu-pu (緋持竹布) in a quotation of the corresponding passage in the Yüan-chien-lei-han, ch. 366, p. 7.”

 GR 3441 gives for fei: “1. (Imp. Admin.) Cloth of red silk (under the T’ang dyn., dark red for functionaries, light for functionaries of the fifth rank). 2. Red; purple.

 GR 2455 gives for chu-pu [zhubu]: “1. (anc.) Material woven from bamboo fibre in 廣州 Kuang-chou (Guangzhou) or Canton. 2. (present) Cloth of light blue or white cotton.”

The colour fei mentioned here and in note 12.12 (42), refers to either a rich red or a purple and most probably refers to one or more shades of the famous dyes made from murex shells in the eastern Mediterranean which varied in colour from rich deep reds to Imperial purple:

“From amphibious creatures the most expensive products are scarlet and purple dyes made from shellfish.” Pliny the Elder (bk. XXXVII, chap. 204), p. 377.

“The only other extant price list [other than Pliny’s] is from Diocletian’s famous Edict (A.D. 301), issued in an unsuccessful attempt to halt inflation. As it puts the wage of unskilled labour at 25 denarii per day, and that of skilled labour at 50, prices must have risen twenty-five times since Pliny’s day. The text has survived only in fragmentary form so that, although we have prices for about nine hundred items, many prices are missing. This, however, does not explain the surprising omission of Indian cottons among related references to linens and woollens. Chinese silk, moreover, is mentioned only twice; white silk at 12,000 denarii a pound, against 1,200 for the best linen yarn, and purple-dyed raw silk at 150,000 a pound, three times the price for purple-dyed wool. The famous purple from the shellfish of Tyre was an even more expensive commodity than silk.” Simkin (1968), p. 47.

“At any rate, by 1000 B.C. Tyre and Sidon had become the centres for dyed wool and silk of a quality unsurpassed throughout the ancient world.
          The dye came from a small gland in the body of the murex, which had to be removed from a living snail if the brightest hues were to develop properly. Each gland yielded only a drop or two of a yellowish liquid that darkened when it was exposed to sun and air. Processing required constant slow simmering in an outdoor pan for almost two weeks, during which time the precious liquid boiled down to about one sixteenth of its original volume. At this rate it took the glands of some 60,000 snails to produce only one pound of dye, which explains why the essence was so fantastically expensive. One expert has calculated that a single pound of fine quality silk dyed according to the highest Tyrian standards could have fetched as much as $28,000 in modern currency.
          The best dyers did all their processing in lead or tin pans, knowing that brass or iron would discolor the essence. Mainly they used two species of murex . . . [Murex trunculus and Murex brandaris]. Brandaris alone produced a heavy dark tint in cloth, and needed just the right admixture of trunculus plus a carefully controlled double-soaking with added dye from a third snail – not a murex at all – to achieve the lustrous royal purple that was so avidly sought. Other tints – shading down to a pale pink... were achieved by varying the mixture and the amount of exposure to light. All Tyrian purple dyes were colorfast – that is, they did not fade, which contributed as much to their value as their beauty did.
          There was a time, as Rome’s power and prestige began to grow, when any rich citizen could “wear the purple,” a narrow band on his toga. Later this privilege was reserved for senators and, finally, for the emperor alone. Antony and Cleopatra are reputed to have had a warship notorious for its ostentation; its mainsail was colored with Tyrian purple dye.
          Murex dyeing was practiced in several places in the Mediterranean area, including the islands of Malta and Motya, but nowhere was it done with a skill that matched that of Tyrian and Sidonian dyers. Their immense productivity is attested to by the mounds of shells – literally millions of them – that still lie piled around the ruins of the old dye works. In both Tyre and Sidon the works were located to the south, just out of town and downwind, because of the dreadful stench that emanated from the rotting bodies of the mollusks.
          Throughout many ups and downs the dyeing industry continued, surviving even the fall of Tyre and struggling on to 800 A.D., when Charlemagne was importing Tyrian-dyed cloth. It languished thereafter because of its prohibitive cost. Cheap, colorfast aniline dyes ensure that it will never again be revived.” Edey, et al. (1974), p. 61.

Purple. – A dye derived from various species of Murex, family Muridicidæ, and Purpura, and family Buccinidæ. Pliny ( IX, 60-63 ) tells of its use at the time of our author [of the Periplus]: “The purple has that exquisite juice which is so greatly sought after for the purpose of dyeing cloth. . . . This secretion consists of a tiny drop contained in a white vein, from which the precious liquid used for dyeing is distilled, being of the tint of a rose somewhat inclining to black. The rest of the body is entirely destitute of this juice. It is a great point to take the fish alive; for when it dies it spits out this juice. From the larger ones it is extracted after taking off the shell; but the smaller fish are crushed alive, together with the shells, upon which they eject this secretion.

          “In Asia the best purple is that of Tyre, in Africa that of Meninx and Gætulia, and in Europe that of Laconia. . . .

          “After it is taken the vein is extracted and salt is added. They are left to steep for three days, and are then boiled in vessels of tin, by moderate heat; while thus boiling the liquor is skimmed from time to time. About the tenth day the whole contents of the cauldron are in a liquid state; but until the color satisfies the liquor is still kept on the boil. The tint that inclines to red is looked upon as inferior to that which is of a blackish hue.
          The wool is left to lie in soak for five hours, and then, after carding it, it is thrown in again, until it has fully imbibed the color. The proper proportions for mixing are, for fifty pounds of wool, two hundred pounds of the juice of the buccinum and one hundred and eleven of the juice of the pelagiæ. From this combination is produced the admirable tint known as amethyst color. To produce the Tyrian hue the wool is soaked in the juice of the pelagiæ while the mixture is in an uncooked and raw state; after which its tint is changed by being dipped in the juice of the buccinum. It is considered of the best quality when it has exactly the color of clotted blood, and is of a blackish hue to the sight, but of a shining appearance when held up to the light; hence it is that we find Homer speaking of purple blood. (Iliad, E. 83; P, 360 )

          “Cornelius Nepos, who died in the reign of the late emperor Augustus, has left us the following remarks: ‘In the days of my youth the violet purple was in favor, a pound of which used to sell at 100 denarii; and not long after the Tarentine red was all the fashion. This last was succeeded by the Tyrian dibapha ( double dyed ) which could not be bought for even 1000 denarii per pound. Nowadays who is there who does not have purple hangings and coverings to his banqueting couches even?’ ” Schoff (1912), pp. 156-157.

Hirth notes (1885), p. 74, n. 1, that this cloth is:

“Called Fei-ch’ih-chu-pu (緋持竹布) in a quotation of the corresponding passage in the Yüan-chien-lei-han, ch. 366, p. 7.”
GR Vol. II, p. 89 gives for chu-pu (zhubu): “
竹布 chu2 pu4 (Text.) 1. (anc.) Material of bamboo fibre, woven in 廣州 Kuang-chou (Guangzhou) or Canton. 2. (pres.) Cloth of light blue or white cotton.

12.12 (43) falu bu
發陸布 [ fa-lu pu] – falu cloth. Hirth (1885), p. 74, n. 1, records that it is given as: “Fa-lung-pu (發隆)” in a quotation of the corresponding passage in the Yüan-chien-lei-han, ch. 366, p. 7.”

12.12 (44) fei chiqu bu 緋持渠布 [fei ch’ih-ch’ü pu] – purple chiqu cloth. See note 12.12 (42).

12.12 (45) huohuan bu 火浣布 [huo-huan pu] – asbestos cloth.

“The wonderful quality of asbestos was familiar to both Romans and Chinese from about the beginning of the Christian era. The men of Han regarded it as a Roman product, quite properly since this mineral fiber was very well known to the Romans, who also understood that it came from a rock. Here is Apollonius Dyscolus [2nd century CE] on asbestos napkins:

When these napkins are soiled, their cleansing is performed not by means of washing in water, but brush-wood is burn, the napkin in question is placed over this fire, and the squalor flows off; while the cloth itself comes forth from the fire brilliant and pure.

This natural but somewhat ostentatious display is said to have had its counterpart in China in the second century, when a man purposely soiled his asbestos robe, and hurled it into a fire with simulated anger, only to bring it out fresh and clean. These anecdotes make the Chinese name for the mineral fabric understandable – it was “fire-washed linen.” But asbestos was also called “fire hair,” which illustrates another (and false) theory of the origin of the stuff. In the Hellenistic Orient it was sometimes thought to be of vegetable origin, like cotton, but among the Chinese, until the sixth century, and after that among the Arabs, the most popular theory was that it was the fur of the salamander-rat (but sometimes the phoenix) which was cleansed and renewed by fire.” Schafer (1963), p. 199.

12.12 (46) eluode bu 阿羅得布 [e-lo-te pu] – fine silk gauze cloth. One of the definitions of the character (a, e, or he) under GR 3, is: “ [f] E1 . . . 10. Delicate silk.” GR 7232 gives for lo [Pinyin – luo] : “1. Bird net. To net. 2. silk gauze; silk chiffon . . .”

          The character te [de] can have the meaning of ‘excellent’ or ‘special’ – see GR 10573; Williams, p. 766.

From this one gets the picture of a very fine silk cloth – perhaps some of the Chinese silks that were unplucked and rewoven into a transparent material that had become so popular in the Roman Empire (and attracted much criticism by various writers. See note 12.6 for the accounts of Chinese silks being unravelled and rewoven in the Roman Empire, especially to produce see-through garments.

          “It has been supposed that the Greeks learned of silk through Alexander’s expedition, but it probably reached them previously through Persia. Aristotle ( Hist. Anim., V, xix, 11) gives a reasonably correct account: “It is a great worm which has horns and so differs from others. At its first metamorphosis it produces a caterpillar, then a bombylius, and lastly a chrysalis – all these changes taking place within six months. From this animal women separate and reel off the cocoons and afterwards spin them. It is said that this was first spun in the island of Cos by Pamphile, daughter of Plates.” This indicates a steady importation of raw silk on bobbins before Aristotle’s time [384-322 BCE]. The fabric he mentions was the famous Cos vestis, or transparent gauze ( woven also at Tyre and elsewhere in Syria ), which came into favor in the time of Cæsar and Augustus. Pliny mentions Pamphile of Cos, “who discovered the art of unwinding the silk” ( from the bobbins, not from the cocoons ) “and spinning a tissue therefrom: indeed, she ought not to be deprived of the glory of having discovered the art of making garments which, while they cover a woman, at the same time reveal her naked charms.” ( XI, 26 ). He refers to the same fabric in VI, 20, where he speaks of “the Seres, so famous for the wool that is found in their forests. After steeping it in water, they comb off a soft down that adheres to the leaves; and then to the females of our part of the world they give the twofold task of unraveling their textures, and of weaving the threads afresh. So manifold is this labor, and so distant are the regions which are thus ransacked to supply a dress through which our ladies may in public display their charms.” Compare Lucan, Pharsalia, X, 141, who describes Cleopatra, “her white breasts resplendent through the Sidonian fabric, which, wrought in close texture by the skill of the Seres, the needle of the workman of the Nile has separated, and has loosened the warp by stretching out the web.” Schoff (1912), pp. 264-265.  

The characters luode are used (at least in modern times) to transcribe foreign rhode as in Rhode Island, Cecil Rhodes, and Rhodesia. Luode could have been a transcription for the Aegean island of Rhodes.

12.12 (47) ‘clinging cloth’ or ‘cloth with swirling patterns’ – baze bu 巴則布 [pa-tse pu].

ba – a large mythical serpent capable of eating an elephant; to cling, stick. GR 8377.

ze – ‘imitate,’ ‘do,’ ‘make,’ ‘rule,’ ‘model.’ See GR 11308.

It is impossible to know what this term really meant here, but there are several possibilities. One is that it refers to the shimmering colours and clinging qualities of shot silk, alternatively the name baze might be a phonetic representation of a placename, presumably of the place of origin:

ba – K. 39a *på / pa; EMC paɨ / pεː

ze – K. 906a * tsək / tsək; EMC tsək

The character ba is frequently used to represent foreign ba sounds, as in some representations of the name Bactria, Bactra – see Ts’en (1981), p. 574. Moreover, ze is sometimes used for foreign se.

12.12 (48) dudaibu 度代布 [tu-tai pu] cloth. Hirth (1885), p. 74, n. 1, records that it is given as: “Lu-tai-pu (鹿代) in a quotation of the corresponding passage in the Yüan-chien-lei-han, ch. 366, p. 7.” It is possible that this is a matter of a scribal error here as the characters lu 鹿 and du are quite similar in appearance.

12.12 (49) wense bu 溫色布 [wen-se pu] – cotton-wool cloth?

          Wen means: ‘warm,’ ‘mild,’ ‘tepid,’ ‘sweet.’ Wense 溫色 [wen-se] is translated in GR 12241, p. 598 as “sweet manner” or “affable.” As se means ‘colour,’ it could also mean ‘warm coloured cloth.’
          Hirth (1885), p. 74, n. 1, records that the name of this cloth is given as: “Wên-su-pu (
宿) in a quotation of the corresponding passage in the Yüan-chien-lei-han, ch. 366, p. 7.” Now, this wen (GR No. 12240) is merely an alternate form of the character wen examined above. The su 宿 means ‘resting-spot,’ ‘night,’ or old.
          I suspect that wense
溫色 [wen-se] may represent a faulty early form of wenxu 縕絮 [wen-hsü], literally: ‘brown or orangey-yellow silk or cotton waste,’ which Pelliot (1959), p. 460, translates as ‘cotton-wool.’ I base this solely on the obviously close phonetic connections between the various characters and it should not, therefore, be taken as a definite identification:

wen : K. 426c *·wən / ·uən; EMC ?wən

wen : [Not listed in Karlgren or Pulleyblank but presumably identical to above character]

wen : K. 426f *·i̯wən / ·i̯uən; EMC ?wən

se : K. 927a *i̯ək / i̯ək; EMC ßic

su 宿 : K. 1029a *si̯ôk / si̯uk; EMC suwk

xu : K. 94u *sni̯o / si̯wo; EMC sɨə̆

12.12 (50) multicoloured tao [t’ao] cloth 五色桃布.

Hirth (1885), p. 74, n. 1, records that it is given as: “Five colours Chên-pu ( ) in a quotation of the corresponding passage in the Yüan-chien-lei-han, ch. 366, p. 7.”

Tao means ‘peach’ or the colour of it’s flowers, ‘rose’ (GR 10548) – which seems unlikely here as it is clearly qualified as: ‘five-coloured’ or ‘multicoloured.’

[chên] which means [GR 568] ‘pillow,’ ‘cushion,’ ‘cross-bar,’ or ‘bolster,’ seems hardly more informative unless a cloth for making cushions is intended.

I suspect that tao = ‘peach’ was mistaken for the similarly-pronounced tao = ‘(silk) cord or ribbon.’ The reconstructed pronunciations = tao – K. 1145u *d’og / d’âu; EMC daw; and tao (which is not in Karlgren); EMC thaw.
          The word could have been easily confused when transcribed or copied. If correct, this item should be read as ‘multicoloured (silk) cords or ribbons.’

12.12 (51) jiang dijin zhizhang 絳地金織帳 [chiang ti chin chih chang] – crimson curtains woven with gold.

12.12 (52) wuse douzhang 五色斗帳 [wu-se tou-chang] – multicoloured ‘spiral curtains’?

12.12 (53) yiwei [i-wei]. Unidentified name of an incense or perfume. Probably a transcription of a foreign term.

yi: – K.394a * ·i̯ĕt / ·i̯ĕt; EMC jit?

wei or mei: – K. 584d *mi̯wər / mjwe̯i; EMC muj

12.12 (54) muer 木二 [mu-erh] – myrrh. I have made this tentative identification purely on the phonetic resemblance of the words and its place in the list along with other fragrances.

mu – K. 1212a *muk / muk; EMC məwk. This character was also used to represent foreign mu sounds.

er – K. 564a *ni̯ər / ńźi; EMC ŋih (but notice that Pulleyblank’s Late Middle Chinese reconstruction for this character is: ri` – I suspect it may well have had an earlier ‘r’ or ‘rh’ value as well as the ones given here.

Myrrh: ME myrre, mirre (influenced by OF mirre) : L myrrha : Gr murrha :  of Sem origin ;  cf H mör, myrrh, and mōr, bitter, and also Ar murr, Aram mūrā, bitter. Perh cf Eg kher, myrrh.” Partridge (1983), p. 423.

“In China, as contrasted with usage elsewhere, some aromatic imports, such as myrrh, were regarded more as medicines than as incenses and perfumes. See Yamada (1957), 25.” Schafer (1963), p. 315, n. 25.

Mesny (1905), p. 106, refers to myrrh as “Mu Yao” – a “gum resin with a duty of Tls. per picul, while Yang Mu Yao 洋沒藥 or “Foreign Myrrh,” which also attracted a duty of Tls. per picul.
          The modern term, moyao
沒藥, is probably not, however, like the name in the Weilue, an attempt to reconstruct the sound of a foreign term. Rather, it is descriptive and translates as something like, ‘coveted medicinal plant.’

  mo4yao4 (Chin. pharm.) Myrrh from Commiphora myrrha Engl. and Balsamodendron ehrenbergianum Berg. It reduces swelling, regenerates tissues and stops pain.” Translated from GR No. 7674, vol. IV, p. 370.

“On myrrh in the ancient world, see A. Steier, RE s. v.myrrha (1935). The Egyptians used it in embalming, the Greeks and the Romans as incense and deodorant and spice, in pomades and perfumes, and in medicines (Steier 1142–45; for the evidence of the Greek papyri, see I. Andorlini in Atti e memorie dell’Accademia Toscana di Scienze e Lettere 46 [1981]: 61-65). As a medicine it was particularly used for treating wounds (modern experiments confirm its effectiveness; see G. Majno, The Healing Hand [Cambridge, Mass., 1975], 215-19) and as an ingredient in prescriptions for eye trouble (Andorlini 64). According to Pliny (12.70), on the Roman market myrrh cost between 11 and 16½ denarii a Roman pound; this makes it expensive–over twice the price of the finest frankincense (6 denarii; see under 27:9.8–9) and four times that of bdellium (3 denarii; see under 37:12.20)–but far less expensive than the aromatics imported from India, such as cinnamon (see Casson 1984.230), nard (see under 39:13.10b), or malabathron (see under 65:21.21–22.6). Myrrh comes from Commiphora myrrha Nees, a scraggly, thorny tree found in Somalia and South Arabia. In Somalia it grows in the northwestern parts (see R. Drake-Brockman, British Somaliland [London, 1912], 302–5; G. Van Beck, “Frankincense and Myrrh in Ancient South Arabia,” JAOS 78 [1958]: 141-52 at 143-44 [both of these writers use the older name for the tree, Balsamodendron myrrha]; N. Groom, Frankincense and Myrrh [London, 1981], 118-19) and has remained an important export right up to this century (see R. Pankhurst, “The Trade of the Gulf of Aden Ports of Africa in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 3.1 [1965]: 36-81 at 40-41 [Zeila], 45, 51, 56 [Berbera]). Since Avalitês was on the western edge of where the myrrh trees grew (Map 6), it handled only a “minimal amount”; cf. under 10:4.13. The ancients considered “Trogodytic myrrh,” i.e., the myrrh from this area (cf. under 2:1.7-10), the very best (Pliny 12.69, Diosc. 1.64.1); this may explain why Arabia, which produced myrrh of its own (cf. 24:8.9-10), also imported from Somalia.” Casson (1989), pp. 118, 120.

“The myrrh of Arabia comes from the same tree as the Somalian (see under 7:3.20), Commiphora myrrha Nees, although Arabia has other myrrh-bearing trees as well (cf. Van Beek [op. cit. under 7:3.20] 143, Groom [op. cit. under 7:3.20] 118-20, Schwartz [op. cit. under 8:3.31a] 128-29). They all grow only in Yemen and the westernmost part of the Hadramaut, in other words, west of the area that produces frankincense (Map 6). Pliny (12.69) states that Minaean myrrh, i.e. from northeastern Yemen (see under 24:8.10a) is inferior to Trogodytic, i.e., the myrrh of northwestern Somalia (see under 2:1.7–10, 7:3.20). This is strikingly confirmed by a schedule of tariffs found at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt (WChrest 273, 2d–3d century A.D.; cf. ESAR ii 607), which lists Minaean “unguent” at one-third the tariff for Trogodytic; the “unguent” must be myrrh, the only plant common to both regions that produced an unguent worth exporting (cf. W. Wilcken in Archiv für Papyrusforschung 3 [1906]: 187-88).” Casson (1989), pp. 154-155.

Myrrh, – a gum exuded from the bark of a small tree, native in South Arabia, and to some extent in Oman, and the Somali coast of Africa; classified as Balsamodendron Myrrha (Nees), or Commiphora Abyssinica (Engl.), order Burseraceæ. It forms the underwood of forests of acacia, moringa, and euphorbia. From earliest times it has been, together with frankincense, a constituent of incense, perfumes, and ointments. It was an ingredient of the Hebrew anointing oil (Exod. XXX), and was also one of the numerous components of the celebrated kyphi of the Egyptians, a preparation used in fumigations, medicine, and embalming. It was the object of numerous trading expeditions of the Egyptian kings to the “Land of Punt.” A monument of Sahure, 28th century B. C., records receipts of 80,000 measures of myrrh from Punt. The expedition of Hatshepsut (15th century B. C.) again records myrrh as the most important cargo; its list of the “marvels of the country of Punt” was as follows: All goodly fragrant woods of God’s Land, heaps of myrrh-resin, fresh myrrh trees, ebony, pure ivory, green gold of Emu, cinnamon wood, khesyt wood, ihmut incense, sonter incense, eye cosmetic, apes, monkeys, dogs, skins of southern panther, natives and their children. The inscription adds: “Never was brought the like of this, for any king who has been since the beginning.” (Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, II, 109; Flücker and Hanbury, op. cit., 140-6.)

          “. . . .  And he [Pliny (XII, 35)] continues: “They give no tithes of myrrh to the god, because it is the produce of other countries as well; but the growers pay the fourth part of it to the king of the Gebanitæ. Myrrh is brought up indiscriminately by the common people and then packed into bags; but our perfumers separate it without any difficulty, the principal tests of its goodness being its unctuousness and its aromatic smell.
          There are several kinds of myrrh: the first among the wild myrrhs is the Troglodytic; and the next are the Minæan, which includes the aromatic, and that of the Ausaritis, in the kingdom of the Gebanitæ. A third kind is the Dianitic, and a fourth is the mixed myrrh, or colatoria . . . a fifth again is the Sambracenian, which is brought from a city in the kingdom of the Sabæi, near the sea; and a sixth is known by the name of Ausaritic. There is a white myrrh also which is produced in only one spot, and is carried for sale to the city of Messalum.” (This is the same as the port of Masala or Muza. See Glaser, Skizze, 138.)
          The name myrrh is from Hebrew and Arabic mur, meaning “bitter.” The ancient Egyptian word was bala or bal, and the Sanscrit was vola. The modern Persian and Indian call it bol or bola.” Schoff (1912), pp. 112-114.

“. . . the Japanese word for “mummy” is MIIRA – a transcription of “myrrh.” It was one of the ingredients used in the recipe for preserving mummies in the Near East, and this lore (well, at least the fact that myrrh was one of the ingredients) was transmitted to East Asia along with ground up mummies which were used for medicinal purposes.” Email from Professor Victor Mair, 27 February 2004.

12.12 (55) suhe 蘇合 [su-he] – storax.

“The classical storax [Storax officinalis] imported to China long ago from Rome and Parthia had been dark purple in color, and some said it was lion’s dung – a fearful drug. This scented resin was, it seems, popular and well-known in pre-T’ang times. . . .
          The place of this Western resin in China can be compared with that of another, myrrh, but unlike it, myrrh was the least noted of the exotic resins.” Schafer (1963), pp. 168-169.

“Storax is made by mixing and boiling the juice of various fragrant trees; it is not a natural product. It is further said that the inhabitants of Ta-ts’in gather the storax [plant, or parts of it], squeeze its juice out, and thus make a balsam [hsiang-kao]; they then sell its dregs to the traders of other countries; it thus goes through many hands before it reaches China, and, when arriving here is not so very fragrant.” 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. 46-47.

12.12 (56) diti 狄提 [ti-t’i]. Probably a transcription of staktê [Greek: στακτή, fem. of στακός distilling in drops; Latin: stacta, stactae] – the oil of myrrh, which was vastly more expensive than myrrh itself, and is listed as a separate product in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.

di [ti]. K. 856a: *d’iek / d’iek; EMC dεjk. Ti barbarians; barbarian.           

Although I have not been able to find di used to transcribe ancient Sanskrit terms, Chinese does not have an st sound and the character would have been about as close a transcription as one could have made to represent the sound stac in stacte in Han period Chinese. It is used to transcribe foreign di, de, te, the (as in Theodore) in modern Chinese. GR Vol V, No. 10651, p. 938.

– tí [t’i]. K. 866n: *d’ieg / d’iei; EMC dεj – lift, raise, propose. Also – dī – EMC tεj – dam, dike; dĭ – EMC tεj’ throw, hit with a stone; and shí – EMC dʑiə̆ / dʑi – shíshí in a flock (of birds); at ease, calmly. Commonly used as a transliteration of Sanskrit d; ; dhri; di or ti – see, for example, Eitel (1888), pp. 42-43, 48, 50, 55. 

Stactê is oil of myrrh produced by crushing and pressing (Theophrastus, de Odor. 29, Diosc. 1.60, 1.64.1) which is rich and thick enough to serve as an unguent by itself (Diosc. 1.60, Pliny 13.17). It was a very choice form (Pliny 12.68) and costly (Diosc. 1.60); on the Roman market its price ranged from 13 to 40 denarii a Roman pound as against 11 to 16 for all other types (Pliny 12.70). Pliny (12.68) wrongly took stactê to be the natural exudation from the tree as against the exudation caused by gashing the bark; see Steier (op. cit. under 7:3.20) 1136.” Casson (1989), p. 155.

Stacte, he [Pliny (XII, 35)] says, sold as high as 40 denarii the pound; cultivated myrrh, at a maximum of 11 denarii; Erythræan at 16, and odoraria at 14.” Schoff (1912), p. 113.

12.12 (57) mimi 迷迷 [mi-mi] – an error for 迷迭 midie = Rosemary – Rosemarinus officianalis L. or its perfume. See, for example, GR IV, p. 424. No. 7812.

“This paragraph of the Fayuanzhulin permits the interpretation of a passage of the Weilue on Da Qin quoted in the Sanguozhi and studied by Mr. Hirth (China and the Roman Orient, p. 74): Mr. Hirth speaks of a perfume 狄提迷迷兜納; but the edition of the Sanguozhi published by the library of Tushujicheng writes 迷迭 midie and not mimi; this reading is confirmed by the Fayuanzhulin and as the Fayuanzhulin gives some independent citations on the perfumes midie and douna, we also see that the six words should be cut two by two. Douna is perhaps Sanskrit dhūnaka; cf, also Watters, Essays, p. 442.” Translated from Pelliot (1904), p. 173, n. 3. 

The Guangzhi, a work by Guo Yigong, considered to be of the 4th or 5th century, along with several later works, also gives the variant, midie 迷迭 [mi-tieh]:

“7.65 Mi-tieh fragrance comes out of the Western Sea. (TPYL 982, IWC81)”

65 Ma, B, p. 12a, TYPL 982, p. 4481, IWLC 81, p. 12b, PTKM 14, p. 52, citing Ch’en Ts’ang-ch’i, pen-ts’ao shih-i.

Leslie and Gardiner (1996), pp. 91, 92 and n. 65; see also p. 204, n. 26.

rosemary, (Rosemarinus officinalis), small perennial evergreen shrub of the mint family (Laminaceae, or Labiatae) whose leaves are used to flavour foods. Rosemary leaves have a pleasant, tealike fragrance, and a pungent, slightly bitter taste. They are most pleasing used sparingly, dried or fresh, to season foods. . . .
          In ancient times rosemary was supposed to strengthen the memory. In literature and folklore it is an emblem of remembrance and fidelity. Rosemary is slightly stimulating; the ancients valued its aromatic qualities and used it as a medicinal tonic. Native to the Mediterranean regions it has been naturalized throughout Europe and North America. . . .
          In modern time rosemary is valued for its perfume; the essential oil content is from 0.3 to 2.0 percent, and it is obtained by distillation. Its principal component is borneol. . . .” NEB VIII, p. 673.

12.12 (58) douna (or ) [tou-na] probably from Sanskrit dhūna – an incense made from the resin of the Sal tree.

According to Couvreur, p. 68, the character can be substituted by , and it is the reconstructions for the latter character that I give here:  

dou – K. 117a *tu / tǝ̯u; EMC tǝw

na – K. 695h * nǝp / nâp; EMC nǝp/nap

In the quote in note (57) above, Pelliot indicates that douna may be related to Sanskrit dhūnaka, which can represent all types of resin. However, the word seems even more closely related to the Sanskrit word, dhūa which, according to Monier-Williams, p. 518, refers specifically to the resin of Shorea robusta L.
          This is an important and widespread Indian timber tree, usually known in India as ‘Sal.’ The resin or incense is known as dhuna in modern Bengali.
          Probably the earliest other mention of this resin being used as an incense is in the Mahābhārata, A
ṅṹsasana Parva Section XCVIII:

“. . . . Dhupas [= incenses] made of the exudation of the Shorea robusta and the Pinus deodara, mixed with various spirits of strong scent are, O king, ordained for human beings. Such Dhupas are said to immediately gratify the deities, the Danavas, and spirits.” Downloaded from: on 26 Oct. 2003.

Sal tree when tapped, yields white opaline resin which is burnt as incense in Hindu homes during religious ceremonies. It is also used for caulking boats and ships.” Downloaded from: on 26 Oct. 2003.

“An oleoresin called Sal dammar (Ral, Guggal, Laldhuna), obtained on tapping the trunk, is used in paints, varnishes and as an incense. It also finds use as plastering medium for walls and roofs and as cementing material for plywood and asbestos sheets. It possess [sic] valuable medicinal properties also. Sal leaves are reported to be used for bidi-making [cigarette wrappings] and for preparing platters and cup like articles for serving food. Sladammar on distillation gives ‘Chua Oil’, that is employed in perfumery and for flavouring chewing and smoking tobacco.” From: “Is there any possibility to save the Sal-borer infested forests of Chhattisgarh, India?” by Pankaj Oudia ©2001, 2002, 2003. Downloaded 26 Oct. 2003 from:

Shorea robusta: sal, sala, asvakarna (Skt.); sakhu, sal (H.); sal, taloora; (resin) : ral, dhuna (B.);  sal (M.); jalari-chettu (Te.); taloora, kungiliyam (Ta.); karimaruthu (Ma.); bile-bovu, bile-bhogimara (Ka.); habitat: common in the sub-Himalayan regions and the forests of Western Bengal. Bark yields on boiling with water, an extract similar to catechu . . . Resin (gum) which exudes from incisions made in the bark is a mild astringent, aphrodisiac and stimulant . . . The resin is burnt as an incense in sick-rooms for its fragrant smoke. (Indian Materia Medica, pp. 1132-1133).” Downloaded on 17th May, 2004, from:      

  [Douna] – “A perfume, kind of incense, drives out evil, not poisonous. [From the] Pei Wen Yun Fu p. 4163.” Personal communication from Dr. Ryden.

The Bencaogangmu [Pen-ts’ao kang-mu (PTKM)] by Li Shizhen [Li Shih-chen] (1596), 14, cites the 4th or 5th century Guangji [Kuang-chi] by Ma Guohan [Ma Kuo-han]:

Tou-na fragrance comes from the various mountains of the robber countries of the Western Sea.” From: Leslie and Gardiner (1996), p. 94 and n. 68.

12.12 (59) baifuzi 白附子 [pai fu-tzu] – literally: “white aconite.”

Bai Fuzi is used in Chinese medicine as the name for the roots two separate plants: Aconitum coreanum (Lévl.) Raipaics, known as Korean Monkshood; literally, “white monkshood or aconite,” and, also, Typhonium giganeum.
          The GR Vol. IV, No. 8437, p. 767, gives for pai2 fu4 tzu3 [Pinyin – bai fuzi]: “(Bot. – anc.) aconite : Aconitum coreanum (Lévl.) Raipaics.” In English it is known as Korean Monkshood.
            This information was kindly confirmed and expanded in an email on 3rd Nov., 2003, by the editorial staff of Shen-Nong – Integrated Chinese Medicine Holdings Ltd. (

“. . . .  BAI FUZI, according to Chinese Medicine (by Dr. Lui Zai Quan, Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers), BaiFuzi recorded in most of the ancient Chinese Medicine literature should be Aconitum coreanum (Lévi.) Raipaics as you mentioned. In Chinese, it is known as Guanbaifu.

Nowadays, Guanbaifu is seldom used in clinical practice, most of Baifuzi used in the prescription is Yubaifu (Typhonium giganteum) and it is now considered as the official species for Baifuzi.

In Chinese Medicine, both species of baifuzi have similar functions in expelling wind phlegm and relieving spasm. But Yubaifu (Typhonium giganteum) has less toxicity and can help disperse “knotted” stagnation and help relieve toxic materials. Guanbaifu (Aconitum coreanum), on the other hand, has greater toxicity and its functions are more specialized in dispersing cold dampness and relieving pain.

According to Dictionary of Chinese Materia Medica (Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers), Guanbaifu (Aconitum coreanum)(Baifuzi in ancient term) was recorded in herbal medicine literature in Tang Dynasty to be originated from Gaoli (former name of Korea). It is pungent and sweet, hot and with toxicity. It enters liver and stomach meridian. Active ingredients identified include Hypaconitine, etc. . . . ”

 The good people from Shen-Nong wrote again on 13 November 2003, after I sent them a copy of the Chinese text from Hirth (1885), p. 113:

“In Chinese, the word, xiang as appeared at the end of iii [i.e. at the very end of this list of products, as referred to in Hirth (1885), pp. 74 and 113] does not necessarily refer to aromatic materials. It also refers to materials that confer xiang aromatic properties though most of them are aromatic. The understanding of aromatic properties in Chinese is usually the promotion of qi circulation. That means xiang botanicals are usually able to “run” the stagnant qi in the body and hence has some kind of analgesic properties. Therefore we feel that the grouping of the last three botanicals [i.e. Bai fuzi, xunlu, and yüjin] is likely to be based on their analgesic properties.

Although Guanbaifu (Aconitum coreanum) is not aromatic, according to the properties of the herbs around. . . Bai fu zi [in Hirth’s work], we think that Bai fu zi is likely to be Guanbaifu. For more concrete confirmation, more historical cross reference might be needed.”

There are over 300 species of the Aconitum genus of the buttercup family. They all contain aconite, a powerful poison. It has been used since ancient times to reduce fever and as a poison on arrowheads. It was also used as a medicine and poison in the Roman Empire:

“Who could show sufficient respect for the diligent research of men of former times? It is agreed that aconite takes effect more quickly than all other poisons. If the sexual parts of a female are touched by the aconite, death comes on the same day. . . .

          But men have turned this plant to the advantage of their health, having found by experiment that when given in warm wine it counteracts scorpion-stings. Its nature is to kill a human being unless it finds something else in him to destroy.” Pliny the Elder, NH (bk. XXVII, chaps. 4, 5), p. 248.” 

          “ARIDEAE:– Pa-fu-tzu 白附子. An uncertain species of Aroid plant, brought from Fêng-t’ien Fu in Shing-king, is correctly referred to this order by Tatarinov. It is called “white futsze” to distinguish it from the root of the aconite. The tuberous, oval, elongated roots sold by this name, vary a good deal in size, as from an inch to two inches in length. The epsdormi is of a brown colour, mottled, withered and reticulated. The interior is pure white, starchy, but firm in texture. It is said to have been originally imported from Korea and Sin-lo. The plant grows in sandy soil, and is evidently deleterious, although but a very slight degree of acridity seems to exist in the drug. It is said to be useful in apoplexy, aphonia, wry-neck, paraplegia, choreic affections, heat apoplexy, and similar diseases. It is principally used at the present time as a face-powder, to remove pock-marks, stains and pigmentary deposits. The powder is used as a desiccant in scabious and other eruptions. Many of the drugs in former use having undoubted effects in internal diseases, are now seldom used by the faculty, save as external remedies, from utter ignorance of their own pharma-cological literature.” Mesny (1896), p. 100.

“Typhonium refers to the rotund roots of Typhonium giganteum. . . . The Chinese name is baifuzi, which refers to the light color of the root material (bai = white) and its similarity in appearance to aconite (fuzi). In fact, a substitute herb for baifuzi is Aconitum koreanum, which is processed the same way as fuzi to yield a non-toxic herb material. Typhonium is not a commonly used herb, but it is well known by Chinese herbalists. The herb is used for a condition of wind-phlegm, which produces stiffness or convulsions. Commonly, it is administered for post-stroke syndromes, characterized by tongue and facial paralysis, or difficulty with speech. . . .
          Little is known about the active constituents of typhonium or its pharmacology. In addition to its applications for neurological disorders, typhonium has been utilized for pain and swellings, though the substitute aconite species may be the ones used for that purpose. According to the book Sichuan Chinese Pharmacological History, typhonium is “very warm in nature and has an acrid-sweet taste, it contains toxins, and cures gastric pain and joint pain that is due to a blood disorder.” In Origin of Materia Medica, it is stated that typhonium “penetrates stomach yin to reach the yang, leads the effect of medicine upwards to activate the heart and the lung, clears away heat accumulated as the result of cold stagnation due to yang deficiency; it is used with herbs that expel pathogenic wind but does not itself function to overcome pathogenic wind.” Other Chinese texts point to the use of typhonium for lymphatic swellings (8).” Dharmananda (2001).

12.12 (60) xunlu 熏陸 [hsün-lu] = frankincense.

“(Xun lu) matches part of the old name of Olibanum (Resin from the bark of Boswellia carterii Birdw). And according to Dictionary of Chinese Materia Medica (Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers), xun lu xiang is one of the other names for Olibanum recorded in the Transactions of Famous Physicians at the end of the Han Dynasty. The additional word xiang means “aromatic” smell. In some case, this word may make a difference and mean different part of the same botanical. Since olibanum itself is aromatic, our view is that… (Xun lu) as listed is likely to be Olibanum (Resin from the bark of Boswellia carterii Birdw). Unlike the use in Europe, Olibanum is not often used as incense, it is used internally and externally for relieving pain and relaxing the tendons and meridians.” From an email sent by the Editorial staff of Shen-Nong in Hong Kong on 13 November 2003.

“Frankincense, or olibanum, is a gum resin produced by a south Arabian tree and by a related tree in Somaliland. The gum was known to the Chinese under two names, one going back to the third century B.C. and transcribing Sanskrit kunduruka, “frankincense,” and the other a descriptive phrase, ju hsiang, “teat aromatic,” given to mamillary pieces, of the kind described by Pliny: “The incense, however, that is most esteemed of all is that which is mammose, or breast-shaped, and is produced when one drop has stopped short, and another, following close upon it, has adhered, and united with it.” The cabalistic name, “Floating Lard from the Holy Flower” was probably only used by alchemists.” Schafer (1963), p. 170. See also: ibid, 318, n. 146, 378; Laufer (1918), p. 30. [The name given by Schafer here: hsün-lu, 薰陸 – ancient pronunciation: *ki̯uən-li̯uk, has a different, though closely related, first character to the one used in the Weilue.]

“Next would have come cinnamon, if this were not an appropriate point to mention the riches of Arabia and the reasons that have given it the names ‘Happy’ and ‘Blessed’. The principal products of Arabia are frankincense and myrrh; it shares myrrh with the country of the Cave-dwellers, but Arabia is the sole producer of frankincense – and even then, not the whole of Arabia. . . .
          It is said that not more than 3,000 families retain as a hereditary privilege the right to trade in frankincense; and so the members of these families are called sacred and not allowed to be defiled by meeting women or funeral parties when they are tapping the trees to obtain frankincense. In this way the price is inflated through religious scruples. Some authorities state that frankincense in the forests is available for all people without distinction, but others say it is shared out each year between different people.
          There is no agreement about the appearance of the tree itself. We have conducted campaigns in Arabia, and Roman arms have penetrated a large part of the country – indeed, Gaius Caesar, son of Augustus, won renown there. Yet no Roman writer to my knowledge has so far described what this tree looks like. Greek descriptions of it vary.” Pliny the Elder, NH (bk XII, chaps. 51, 54-55), p. 166. See also: Miller (1959), pp. 14 and 42, n. 135.

“To understand the role Yemen was destined to play in the Silk route it is necessary to understand it role in both space and time. The relationship of Iran, India and Ceylon trading east to China and also west to Yemen is critical. They were early pivot points. In the first millennium BC, Yemen is trading alone, carrying the products from these three by overland camel trade to Gaza. The shift to maritime transportation was essentially the point when a more fluid China to Gaza operation began, and the long Yemeni coastline profited the homeland in the second phase of the route in the first millennium AD.
            To follow the overland route, we must start at the area of its greatest resource wealth. The southeastern region of Yemen in modern Shihr and Hadramawt was the prime growing area for frankincense producing trees. While it appears that the trees were farmed in earlier times the range of suitable habitat is primarily but by no means only in this area. Earlier explorers report frankincense trees in all of the main river valleys as far north as the Asir highlands of modern Saudi Arabia. The gum was gathered in spring and autumn when the tree trunks were tapped. The resin was gathered and transported to the first station at Shabwa. This is located inland, on the southwestern edge of the desert. The Royal Palace of the king of Hadramawt was excavated by the French, and an associated deep sounding made. Today, it is a ruin and only occasional tourists make a visit. We have no documentation from this site of the trade policies. A sealing and seal from the deep sounding date to the first millennium BC. The documentation of commodities in this case appears to have been made on parchment, with the document rolled and held by a string, the knot sealed and stamped. This is the only example I know of this technique in Yemen. Close to Shabwa is an old salt mine, called Ayadime, and this must certainly have been a strategic resource in the ancient period for the preservation of fish. Today, chunks of salty dried shark are carried north and held in high esteem as an aphrodisiac. The salt is excellent and still used today.
            The next stop is Tumna, the capital city of Qataban. Excavated from this site is a market decree dating to the fifth century BC. This text was published by Beetson, and it can be compared to the rules of the Sanaa Suq today. The text was inscribed on a stone column, and was set up in the middle of a central clearing for all to see. Those who could trade were named, and taxation and payment rules rigorously stipulated. A rasifum building, possibly a raised platform associated with a temple, was probably the area of the ancient market.” Pickworth (2003).  

12.12 (61) yüjin 鬱金 [yü-chin] – turmeric, saffron, or the common tulip, Tulipa gesneriana L.

          It is impossible to tell which of these three items is meant here. The term yüjin is sometimes used on its own to denote either turmeric or tulips. Sometimes the xiang was added to these names as well, although usually, with the addition of xiang (“aromatic”), yüjin denoted saffron.
          Unfortunately, the Weilue’s list rather vaguely says at the end: “(altogether) twelve types of aromatic plants (shier zhongxiang),” making it unclear whether yüjin is meant to be read as a separate item, or whether it is intended to be read “yüjin xiang.” All three items were considered as “xiang,” which means “aromatic” or “analgesic.” Possibilities include:

12.12 (61)a. Saffron 

Saffron has long been confused, both in China and the West, with the common turmeric (Curcurma longa) and zeodary (Curcurma zeodaria), also used in perfumes and medicines. The dictionaries at my disposal all identify this word as the root tuber of the aromatic turmeric.
          True Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) was, apparently, native to the Mediterranean region, Asia Minor and Iran. It may well, therefore, have been exported at this early date from the Roman Empire. Cultivation in Kashmir apparently started about 500 AD. Achaya (1994), p. 215; Schafer (1963), pp. 124-126.

          “One of the rarest, most expensive and aristocratic flowers of antiquity was the saffron crocus. This fragrant purple, autumn-blooming flower apparently had its original home in the vicinity of Persia and northwest India, regions in which it has been intensively cultivated since antiquity. An aromatic dye produced from its deep-orange stigmas was an important article of ancient commerce. It was grown in Greece and Sicily in Pliny’s time, and used by the Romans to flavor sweet wines and to diffuse as a spray to perfume theatres; it was favored as a hair dye by Roman ladies, and naturally disapproved of by the Fathers of the Church. The plant was introduced into China in the Middle Ages, and the fragrant powder was in demand there in T’ang times as a drug to cure internal poisons, and as a perfume, but it is not certain whether it was used as a dye.
          The Chinese called it “ gold aromatic,” meaning “a golden substance as sweet-smelling as the -plant in making sacrificial wines in antiquity.” Unfortunately the name “ gold” had already been given to imported turmeric, though the “aromatic” was not suffixed in that case. Nonetheless, the two were often confused, as they were also in other parts of the world where they were known only in powdered commercial form. For that matter, saffron was also confused with safflower, which was much used to adulterate saffron and had been introduced into China much earlier, and with zedoary, a fragrant rootstock of India and Indonesia, a close relative of turmeric, and important in the perfume trade. (It should be remembered that drugs, perfumes, and incenses were not clearly distinguished in medieval times, and in putting a plant under one heading or another here, I am forcing a modern distinction on medieval culture. . . . ).” Schafer (1963), pp. 124-125.

saffron, purple-flowered saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, a bulbous perennial of the iris family (Iridaceae) or its golden-coloured, pungent dried stigmas, which are used to flavour and colour foods and as a dye; also the golden colour the dye produces. Saffron is named among the sweet-smelling herbs in Song of Solomon 4: 14. It has a strong, exotic aroma and a bitter taste. It is used to colour and flavour many Mediterranean and Oriental dishes, particularly rice and fish, and English, Scandinavian, and Balkan breads. It is an important ingredient in bouillabaisse.
          The golden-coloured, water-soluble fabric dye was distilled from the plant stigmas in India in ancient times. Shortly after Buddha died, his priests made saffron the official colour for their robes. 
          As a perfume, saffron was strewn in Greek halls, courts, and theatres and in the Roman baths. The streets of Rome were sprinkled with saffron when Nero made his entry into the city. Saffron dye produced a royal colour in early Greek times. Afterward, perhaps from its abundant use in the baths and as a scented salve, it was especially appropriated by the hetaerae, professional female entertainers of the time.
          Believed native to the Mediterranean area, Asia Minor, and Iran, the saffron crocus has long been cultivated in Iran and Kashmir and is supposed to have been introduced into Cathay by the Mongol invasion. It is mentioned in the Chinese materia medica (Pun tsaou, 1552-78). . . . In the 13th century saffron was worth much more than its weight in gold; it is still the most expensive spice in the world. . . . The three stigmas are handpicked from each flower, spread on trays, and dried over charcoal fires for use as a food flavouring and colouring. A pound (0.45 kilogram) of saffron consists of 75,000 blossoms. . . .” NEB VIII, p. 764.

12.12. (61)b. Turmeric

“KUÑKUMA 鬱金香 Perfume, prepared from the Turmeric (rhizome) plant, either Curcuma longa or Curcuma aromatica.

KUÑKUMASTÛPA鬱金香窣堵波 A stupa (covered with a paste of Kuñkuma), in honour of Avalôkitês’vara, at Gâya.” Eitel (1888), p. 80.

“Turmeric is the product of one of a number of pigmented and more or less aromatic rhizomes of genus Curcuma. In the narrowest sense it is a species [Curcuma longa = C. domestica] which is only slightly pungent and is most used as a dye; this common turmeric is believed to have been indigenous to southwest China. Closely related to it is a highly aromatic species of India and Indonesia known as zedoary [Curcuma zedoria. The English name may include C. aromatica of India], which is used chiefly as a source of perfume. There are many other species in Indonesia and Indochina which are used as coloring agents, in medicine, in curries, and in aromatic preparations. The collective Chinese name for these was “ gold,” a name which was also given to saffron, as we have seen (p. 125), though saffron is described more specifically as “ gold aromatic.” In any case, they were commonly confused in trade and practice alike. In contexts where aroma is emphasized it can be assumed that we have to do either with saffron or with zedoary, and otherwise with turmeric.” Schafer (1963), pp. 185-186.

The root tuber of the aromatic turmeric (Curcuma longa L. and Curcuma aromatica Salish), and was used in Chinese medicine.

“It was exported from south-east Asia at an early date also to China, where it was called yü-kin, or the plant with the golden tuber.2

2 Bretschneider, Bot. Sin. Vol. Ii, chap 2 (Plants mentioned in Chinese Classical Works), p. 231, item 408, under .”

Miller (1969), p. 63.

The GR Vol. VI, p. 1077 defines yü-chin as the tuber of the “saffron of the Indies” (Curcuma longa L.) and of Curcuma aromatica Salish.

turmeric (Curcuma longa), perennial herbaceous plant of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) or its tuberous rhizomes, or underground stems, used from a remote period as a condiment, a dye, and medically as an aromatic stimulant. In Biblical times it was used as a perfume as well as a spice. In the Middle Ages it was called Indian saffron because of its orange-yellow colour. The rhizome has a pepperlike aroma and a somewhat bitter, warm taste. It is the ingredient that colours and flavours prepared mustard and is used in curry powder, relishes, pickles, spiced butters for vegetables, in fish and egg dishes, and with poultry, rice, and pork. In Asia turmeric water is applied as a cosmetic to lend a golden glow to the complexion.
          Native to southern India and Indonesia, turmeric is cultivated on the mainland and in the islands of the Indian Ocean. . . . Dried rhizomes vary from about 2.5 to 7.5 centimetres (1 to 3 inches) in length. The spice is usually sold in powdered form. . . .” NEB X, p. 199.

“Zedoary. . . .  The rhizome of Curcuma zedoaria (Zingiberaceæ), resembling ginger in odour and taste.
   Uses. It has been used as an aromatic stimulant and carminative in doses of 0.6 to 2 g. (10 to 30 grains).” Martindale (1958), p. 639.

12.12 (61)c. Tulips – Tulipa gesneriana L.

The Editorial staff of Shen-Nong of Integrated Chinese Medicine Holdings Ltd., in Hong Kong ( kindly sent me the following notes in an email on 13 November 2003:

“(Yu jin) According to different Chinese medicine literature, there are two possibilities that match the name of… (yu jin). One is Yu jin xiang, the flower of Tulipa gesneriana L. The other is Yu jin, root tuber of Curcuma aromatica Salish.
            Yu jin (root tuber of Curcuma aromatica Salish) is a more common herb used nowadays. The herb is pungent, bitter and cold, and enters heart, liver and gall bladder meridian. In TCM, the herb is able to promote blood circulation and remove blood stasis. It also promotes qi flow and disperses stagnated qi in the body. Other functions include promoting the excretion of bile, clearing away heart fire and eliminating phlegm.
            Yu jin xiang (the flower of Tulipa gesneriana L.) is less commonly used in clinical practice. Early in Wei Dynasty, Yu jin xiang was recorded in Weilue to be originated from Da Qin. The name was also mentioned in Tang Dynasty. Although the additional Chinese word xiang was missed in the Weilue list, clear difference between Yu jin and Yu jin xiang was highlighted later in the Compendium of Materia Medica (Dr. Li Shizhen, Ming Dynasty).
            Therefore, our view is that (Yu jin) is likely to be Yu jin xiang (the flower of Tulipa gesneriana L.).” Email from Shen-Nong Editorial staff, 13 November 2003.

Tulips were being grown in what is now northern Vietnam before the turn of the second century CE:

“The existence prior to the first century B.C.E. of a Viet ca (Song of Viet) ascertains that the Viets at that time had their own language, spoken and written, that differed greatly from the Chinese. During that time, the Vietnamese people already knew how to grow flowers called Uat kim huong, a kind of tulip, to make offerings to the Buddha.13

13. Li Shih-chen (1518-1593). Pen ch’ao chiang mu 14, 69b4-5 under entry “Yu chin hsiang” quoting Nan chou yi wu chih by Yang Fu (fl. c. 100 C.E.).”

From: Le and Budden (2000).

I tend to think that tulips are the least likely of the three products if only on the basis that I don’t know of any trade or particular interest in tulips in the Roman Empire.

12.12 (62) yunjiao 芸膠 [yün-chiao] = rue oil or resin. Yun = . Common (or Fetid) Rue (Ruta graveolens L.) GR Vol VI, p. 1149, No. 13367.

Jiao [chiao] is defined in GR No. 1299, Vol. I, p. 704, as: “1. a. strong glue. b. (by ext.) Firms; solid tenacious. Obstinate; intractable. 2. vegetable gum; glue . . . .”

“Rue (Ruta graveolens) is a narcotic and a stimulant. Its leaves are used as savory in Mediterranean regions, and oil of rue is also distilled from it.” NEB 16, p. 103.

“But among our chief medicinal plants is rue. The cultivated kind has the wider leaves and the more bushy branches ; the wild variety is harsh in its effects and sharper in all respect. The juice is extracted by pounding with a moderate sprinkling of water, and is kept in a copper box. An overdose of this juice possesses poisonous qualities. . . . Any sort of rue, however, is even by itself a powerful antidote, the pounded leaves being taken in wine, especially against aconite and mistletoe ; likewise, whether given in drink or in food, against poisonous fungi. In like manner it counteracts the bites of serpents, seeing that weasels, when about to fight with them, first protect themselves by eating rue. Rue is good for the stings of scorpions and for those of spiders, bees, hornets and wasps, for injuries caused by cantharides [Spanish Fly] and salamanders, and for the bites of mad dogs. . . .” Pliny, Natural History, Book XX, LI. Translation by W. H. S. Jones 1961. Loeb Classical Library, London/Cambridge, Mass., Vol 6, p. 77.

Michael Schimmelpfennig kindly sent me an email with the following information on 21 August, 2003:

“In the Shuowen jiezi under the entry of yun grass or Rue (Matthews’, 7749) Xu Shen adds a quotation from Liu An saying that Rue grass can bring the dead back (fu) to life. When I came across the remark, I surmised that it could indicate that the Han lacked the concept of unconsciousness which is sort of supported by the fact that the Chinese language lacks genuine expressions for the loss of consciousness. But here, Don Harper may know more. At the same time fu is the central expression in and designation of the “Northern” Calling back the Soul ritual, if such a procedure was ever practiced.” See also note 6.10.

Yün (-chiao) ( ) (WL) L. Giles gives yün as rue (with yün-chiao as a glue made from rue, Ruta graveolens). Some scholars take these as two items, yün and chiao, almost certainly wrong.” Leslie and Gardiner (1996), p. 205.

The T’ai-p’ing Yü-lan (TPYL) 982 cites the 4th or 5th century Kuang-chih by Ma Kuo-han states:

“The gum of the yün fragrance is An-hsi [‘Parthian’] gum and black gum.” From: Leslie and Gardiner (1996), p. 94.

“Rue originated in Southern Europe and was introduced to Britain by the Romans. It is one of the historically well known bitter herbs, the others being tansy and wormwood. . . .
          This herb is not sought after for culinary use because of its acrid bitter taste. However, in ancient Rome it was eaten for the preservation of sight, and we have been told that to this day a little fresh rue is added by some Italians to their salads. . . .
          Ancient and modern herbalists agree on the potency of rue in helping to remedy several maladies. As it is very powerful, all experts warn laymen on its use – it should be administered only by a qualified therapist, and doses should be taken strictly as directed. Pregnant women are advised against taking it, and large amounts can be toxic. When given in the right doses, rue relieves colic and indigestion, has been useful in eliminating worms, and has improved the appetite. It has been found valuable when made into an ointment for external use to help relieve the pain of sciatica, rheumatism, and gout. It has also been used in skin disease.
          Oil distilled from rue has a use in perfumery. This may seem contradictory as we have emphasized its peculiar bitterness: when judiciously employed, an opposite scent or flavor can intensify the potency of other ingredients in many different kinds of blends, whether in fragrances or food.” Hemphill (1995), pp. 144-145.

“Rue (B.P.C. 1934, Fr. P., Swiss P.). Ruta; Herb of Grace; Herbygrass; Rutæ Herba. The dried herb Ruta graveolens (Rutaceæ), containing a small amount of volatile oil (about 0.1%). Its properties are virtually those of the volatile oil. An infusion has been used as an emmenagogue.
          Rue Oil (B.P.C. 1934). Oleum Rutæ. A pale yellow oil with a characteristic sharp unpleasant odour and an acrid taste, obtained by distillation from rue. It contains about 90% of methyl nonyl ketone, C11H22O, with small amounts of other ketones, esters, and phenols. Wt per ml. about 0.84 g. Soluble 1 in 3 of alcohol (70%). It has been used as an antispasmodic and emmenagogue. It is a powerful local irritant. Toxic effects: large doses cause violent gastric pains, vomiting, and prostration. Dose: 0.12 to 0.3 ml. (2 to minims).” Martindale (1958), pp. 1386-1387.

12.12 (63) Xun [hsün] – Oriental lovage.

Xun, on its own, is defined in GR No. 4795, Vol. III, p. 91, as: “1. (Bot.) Lysimachia foenum-graecum Hance (an odiferous plant that one carries on oneself to repel noxious emanations). 2. Perfume; good odor, to perfume. . . .” See also, Couvreur, p. 799.

Lysimachia foenum-graecum (“Oriental lovage”) is also known in Chinese as linglingxiang 鈴鈴香 [ling-ling-hsiang] – GR: No. No. 7192. The root is used to prevent halitosis and to scent the hair.

Lysimachia foenum-graecum

Jap. Reiryoko

Chi. Ling-ling Xiang

This is one of the rare ingredients which make oriental incense so special and unique. It exudes an aroma that is difficult to define. It is spicy, sweet, and quite musky in nature, although these are merely the surface of its true scent. It possesses the power to bring the mind to a state of presence. Awake and alert while at the same time calm and reflective are the thoughts while experiencing this incredible ingredient.” © Hikoshin Ryu 2002. Downloaded from: on 3/11/2003.

12.13 caomu shier zhong xiang 草木十二種香 [ts’ao-mu shih-erh chung hsiang] – altogether (they have) twelve types of aromatic plants.

For xiang see: GR No. 4242 (Rad. 186): 1. Agreeable odor; scent; aroma; perfume. Odoriferous; perfumed. 2. a. Incense. b. (by ext.) Temple; cult. 3. a balsam; perfumed. b. Aromatic plant; . . . . Williams, p. 307 gives: “Fragrant, odoriferous, sweet; . . . ; perfume, aroma, effluvia ; incense . . . .”
          See also the note from the Editorial staff of Shen-Nong in 12.12 (59) on the use of the word xiang, where in which they point out that, while most such substances are aromatic, “The understanding of aromatic properties in Chinese is usually the promotion of qi circulation. That means xiang botanicals are usually able to “run” the stagnant qi in the body and hence has some kind of analgesic properties.”
          This leaves open the problem that there are only 11 such “aromatic” substances in the list as I have interpreted it. This could be due to one of three reasons – either only eleven such substances were originally listed due to miscalculation or that the author did not know the name of one of them, that one was missed in transcribing the original text into the Sanguozhi or, I have misinterpreted the name(s) of one or more items.
          It is a difficult list to translate and some items I have not been able to identify – so it is quite possible that this apparent inconsistency is due to an unintentional error of my own. I leave it for the reader to decide or comment upon.

Section 13 – The Sea Route to Da Qin (Roman territory).

13.1. The seven commanderies of Jiaozhi 校趾 [Chiao-chih]. The Circuit of Jiaozhi, was made up of the following commanderies (from south to north): Rinan 日南 [Jih-nan], Jiuzhen 九真 [Chiu-chen], Jiaozhi 交趾 [Chiao-chih], Hepu 合浦 [Ho-p’u], Nanhai 南海 [Nan-hai], Cangwu 蒼梧 [Ts’ang-wu], and Yülin 鬱林 [Yü-lin].
          The administrative capital was at Longbian [Lung-pien], in the commandery of Jiaozhi, near modern Hanoi in the delta of the Red River, of what is now Vietnam. According to the census of
CE 2 they contained altogether 215,448 households. See Holmgren (1980), p. 64.
          As Jiaozhi Commandery was divided into Guan [Kuan] and Jiao [Chiao] Provinces in
CE 226, it seems the Weilue’s text was based on information that was gathered prior to CE 226.

          “Throughout the greater part of the Later Han dynasty, the region of Tongking was administered as Chiao-chih Commandery in Chiao-chih Circuit. It seems appropriate at this point to define and explain the significance of these administrative areas.
          Chiao-chih Circuit (pu) of Later Han, sometimes described loosely as a province (chou), extended from the south of the Ling Nan range, on the borders of present-day Kwangtung and Hunan, through present-day Kwangtung Province and Kwangsi Chuang Autonomous Region, and across the greater part of northern Vietnam. The circuit contained seven commanderies: Nan-hai, Ts’ang-wu, Yü-lin, Ho-p’u, Chiao-chih, Chiu-chen, and Jih-nan. Like other circuits of Later Han, Chiao-chih was supervised by an Inspector (tz’u-shih); however, where other Inspectors of circuits had authority only to report wrongdoing to the central government offices, we are told that the Inspector of Chiao-chih, presumably because of the great distance from the capital, possessed imperial credentials (chieh) which gave him the right to carry out punishments on his own initiative without prior reference to the throne.
          As will be observed already from the list above, Chiao-chih was the name not only of a circuit, but also of a commandery, and it was Chiao-chih Commandery, written with the same characters as the name of the circuit that supervised it, which occupied the great part of the area of Tongking during the Later Han period. Though this double nomenclature is confusing to many scholars, the same system may be observed in Yi Circuit, also known as Yi Province (yi-chou), which included a commandery named Yi-chou.” Holmgren (1980), pp. 54-55.

Jiuzhen had its capital at Xupu [Hsü-p’u], near modern Thanh Hoa, and Rinan’s centre was Xiquan [Hsi-ch’ien], near modern Quang Tri, in northern Vietnam. However, towards the end of the Han dynasty:

“Rinan commandery below the 16th parallel appears to have been lost, and the non-Chinese kingdom of Linyi was established in the region of Hue, extending south beyond present-day Da Nang. Further around the coast, on the Mekong delta, the kingdom of Funan, which traded regularly with the Han empire, and which was developing political authority along the eastern coast of the Malay peninsula and a dominance of the regional trade, was powerful enough and sufficiently distant to avoid any military confrontation.” de Crespigny (1989), Chap. 1.

“Chiao-chih was the name of the chün (“commandery”) which corresponds to our Tongking, and its seat was practically identical with the present Hanoi. . . .  In the first centuries of our era, Chiao-chou included Kuang-tung, Kuang-hsi, Tongking and North Annam.” Pelliot (1959), p. 460.

“Ch’in Shih-huang-ti, the first true Emperor of China (221-210 BC) and the first Chinese ruler to give his country the shape it has today, did this by conquering the whole of Nan Yüeh – all South China as well as North Vietnam – and bringing it for the first time under the rule of an Empire whose power had hitherto been confined to North China. The new dependency broke away in the confusion that followed the fall of the Ch’in dynasty, but was reconquered by Emperor Wu (141-87 BC) of the succeeding Han dynasty. Census reports of the Han Empire list its three southernmost territories as Chiao-chih (modern North Vietnam, round the delta of the Red River, with its capital not far from modern Hanoi); Chiu-chen, further south near the recent short-lived demarcation line between North and South Vietnam; and Jih-nan, the most southerly of all, with its capital near the modern town of Hue. (The name Jih-nan is picturesque; it means ‘South of the Sun’ and indicates the surprise of the Chinese when they passed the Tropic of Cancer and found the sun on the wrong side of the sky.) Chinese rule in Vietnam had to contend with frequent rebellions – including one led by two women, the Trung sisters, who were older contemporaries of ‘Boadicea’ and have a place in Vietnamese tradition similar to her place in the tradition of Great Britain. In the late second century AD the declining Han dynasty was forced to abandon its control of Vietnam. . . . ” Sitwell (1984), pp. 137-138.

Zhang Qian [Chang Ch’ien] reported seeing products from Szechuan in Bactria in 128 BCE, and assumed that they had been brought overland from Southern China.

“When in the second century B.C. Chang Chhien went on his protracted embassy . . . he found some sort of trade already in existence between India and the west of China, running from Szechuan southwards by way of Yunnan and either Burma or Assam. Such a route to India, coupled with other routes from India to the Middle East, would explain how he could bring back information on countries as far off as Parthia and Syria. It was Chang Chhien’s journey that paved the way for the Old Silk Road, that Titianus’ agents were to use, a road that did more, however, than act as a route for the export of Chinese silk to the West. The Old Silk Road was also used for imports into China, especially plants like the grape vine as well as alfalfa, chives, coriander, cucumbers, figs, safflower, pomegranates, sesame and walnuts, half of which have the character hu () in their names, including their origin in Central Asia or Persia. The traffic in plants was not, of course, one way : from China westwards went oranges and, in due course, pears and peaches, which reached India by the second century A.D. Many centuries later China was also to provide an altogether surprising proportion of the cultivated flowers now to be found in Western gardens : roses, peonies, azaleas, camellias and chrysanthemums.” Needham (1978), pp. 64-65.

Ptolemy, in his Guide to Geography (Bk. 1, 17), written in Alexandria between CE 127 and 151, mentions a port called Cattigara beyond the “Golden Chersonese” (the Malaysian peninsula), from whence a road led to the ‘Metropolis of the Sinai” (Changan?).

It is probable that Cattigara of Ptolemy refers to the port Jiaozhi (near modern Hanoi) as the reconstructed pronunciations seem to indicate – the ‘gara’ quite possibly being the common Indian suffix for ‘town’:

Jiao – K. 1166i *kŏg / kau or *g’ŏg / γau; EMC kaɨwh / kɛːwh or ɣaɨwh /  ɣɛːwh 

zhi – K. 961g * t̑’i̯əg / tśi; EMC tɕɨ’ / tɕi’

For Jiaozhi’s critical role in the early development of maritime contacts with the West see Appendix F.

13.2. Waiyi 外夷 [Wai-i]. The core meanings of the character wai are or “foreign” or “exterior” (in the sense of being outside of China territory). See: GR No. 12025. According to GR No. 5297, the character yi refers to “non-Chinese populations of the East” or “Eastern Barbarians.” ABC, p. 972, simply gives for waiyi: 1. foreigner 2. foreign country.         

13.3. Instead of bei [pei], ‘north,’ as in Hirth (1885), p. 113, the 1975 China Library Edition of the text gives the character bi [pi], ‘nearby.’ I have chosen bi as the most likely reading.

13.4. The Red River – Chinese: Yuan Jiang; Vietnamese: Sông Hông. See also note 13.1 and Appendix F. 

13.5. Yongchang 永昌 Yung-ch’ang (Prefecture)

“Yung-ch’ang was during the first centuries of our era the name of a vast region in western Yün-nan, between Ta-li and Bhamo, and its name has survived down to our days.” Pelliot (1959), p. 460.

“There was, however, a northerly land route from India to China through Assam, Upper Burma and Yunnan. Historical evidence shows it to have been in use as early as 128 B.C. when Chang Ch’ien discovered the products of Szechwan in Bactria. Steps were taken to develop it, and in A.D. 69, for its better control and protection, China founded the prefecture of Yung-ch’ang across the upper Mekong with its headquarters east of the Salween, about sixty miles from the present Burma frontier. Along this route in A.D. 97 travelled envoys from the eastern part of the Roman empire to Yung-ch’ang. The Buddhist pilgrim I-tsing tells us that it was used at the end of the third century by twenty Chinese monks, who went to the Court of Śri Gupta.
          In the fourth century China relaxed her hold on the Burma frontier to such a degree that in 342 the Yung-ch’ang prefecture was abolished.” Hall (1968), p. 23.

“There was a road of sorts linking south-west China with north-east India, but this was one of the most difficult and dangerous routes in the world, repeatedly climbing over snow-clad mountain passes and plunging down again into the jungly valleys of great rivers – a botanist’s dream, but a traveller’s nightmare.” Sitwell (1984), pp. 151-152.

          “YUNG-CH’ANG FU:– This prefecture is [i.e. in 1894] divided into one sub-prefecture of the T’ing class and two counties or Hsiens. The prefectural city is situated in a fine plain about 420 miles [676 km] west of the Provincial Capital, Yün-nan Fu. Yung-ch’ang is especially rich in precious stones and silver ore. Gold is also found in some places. Pears of immense size and good flavour are plentiful and cheap. The pears average about two pound in weight, and I have seen some weighing over three pounds [1.4 kg]. The city is a fine one, and enjoys in peaceful times a considerable amount of trade with Bhamo and Ava in Burma.” Mesny (1895), p. 269.

          “A sort of fair or market is held at Ta-li on the 2nd and 16th day of each moon, and an annual Fair called the Yüeh-chieh is held during the third moon. This latter is said to last for three days, but in reality lasts during the whole of the third moon. Strangers from all the neighbouring States attend this Fair, to exchange commodities.
          The Burmese bring rubies, jade-stone and cotton. The Thibetans bring gold nuggets, musk, rhubarb and some valuable dyes. A variety of things are brought from Siam, whilst the Shan states send some of their famous tea, called P’u-êrh Ch’a, a name derived from the fact of Chinese obtaining it principally in the prefecture of P’u-êrh Fu. This tea is the best in the world, and if properly prepared for the foreign market would, no doubt, be appreciated there. It now makes its way right up to the very borders of our tea plantations in Assam. If our tea planters were truly alive to their own interest they might compete favourably in the tea market near their gardens at least.
          On the 20th day of the 9th moon annually, large caravans of traders leave Ta-li for Ava in Burma. The journey occupies about two months, and is divided into 48 stages of a day each. Some of these caravans number as many as three or four thousand mules, and they camp out on the journey; there being no suitable caravanseries in those parts to accommodate such numbers.
          These caravans do not go by way of Bhamo, preferring the payment of regular duties in the Shan States to an uncertain amount of Black Mail in the Katchen mountains. These caravans take musk, opium, walnuts, felts, hats, copper cooking traps and a variety of other articles suitable to the Burmese markets.
          They bring back cotton and British piece goods, as well as a variety of other articles of Burmese and European manufacture. . . .” Mesny (1895), p. 270.

          “The Chinese invented the suspension bridge, and built the first iron chain bridge at least 1,000 years before the earliest examples to appear in Europe. The design may very well have originated here in western Yunnan, where the mountains are steep and the rivers fast. The same provincial chronicle that records Zhuge Liang’s visit mentions that he ordered the sinking of holes for the attachment of chains or cables at this very spot [across the Mekong River at Shanyang, to the southwest of Dali and Baosshan] around AD 225, making it the site of one of the earliest suspension bridges on record.
          At the bottom of the dark gorge where the green-brown water of the Mekong rushes silently by on its way towards Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and the South China Sea, I saw that the fifteenth-century Jihong Qiao, 60 metres (197 feet) long and supported by seventeen chains made of links the size of your forearm, was indeed a ruin. All that remained were the stout stone abutments protruding into the stream, the iron chains spilling down the shattered masonry where they had snapped like old rubber bands.
          An old man with a leaky boat was there to paddle the occasional villager who wanted to make the crossing, bailing out the ferry each time he got to the opposite bank. I handed him a note and we went over, the flimsy vessel quivering in the stiff current. On the other side were the remains of an entry arch to the bridge and, behind it, yellow cliffs covered with the inscriptions of travellers past. I followed the path a little way up the bank, searching for the spot where Jensen had photographed the scene. It didn’t take long. Looking back to the west side of the gorge, I saw the treacherous zig-zag footpath leading from the pass down to the bridge, which I had just descended, hadn’t shifted for a century. God knows how many coolies must have lost their footing on it over the centuries, ending their livers in that haunted place.”  McDonald (1995), p. 132.

“If you had the right kind of boat and permission from two governments and an insurgent army, you could paddle all the way from Tengchong to Rangoon – and on into the Bay of Bengal and beyond for that matter. From Tengchong the Daying River flows across the border to join the Irrawaddy River at Bhamo, which in turn becomes the major artery of Burma, navigable the year round. It wasn’t hard to see why 2,500 years’ worth of trade had funnelled out of south-west China through here on its way to Burma, India and beyond. Or why the Brits had been keen to build a railway through here in Morrison’s day; or why they’d decided to annexe Upper Burma, for that matter. The nearest Treaty port was 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) in the other direction over roads we’ve already heard enough about. And the French were ensconcing themselves in Vietnam, which placed them in an advantageous position to dominate the trade of Yunnan.
          Unfortunately, I had neither a boat nor the requisite paperwork to get me over the border and, from the look of my map, the trail was beginning to peter out. The only highway across the border was the Burma Road, which had forked off to the south after Baoshan. Following Morrison’s route, there was a road as far as the town of Yingjiang; from Yingjiang to Manyun there was a thin brown line on my map that signified ‘Secondary road, cart track, path’; and from Manyun to the border, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) beyond, there was nothing at all. At least it was downhill all the way.” McDonald (1995), p. 137.

“Between Chongqing in central China and Dali, 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) to the south-west, ran a highway that was laid out by the Qin dynasty – whose name, pronounced Chin, is the origin of the Western term ‘China’ – as part of a road-building program that was as crucial to the development of Chinese civilisation as Roman roads were to Europe. The road, a causeway designed for foot traffic, was known as the Five Foot Road (Wuchidao), so-called because in many places five feet wide was as wide as they could make it. When it was built in the third century BC this remarkable bit of engineering, which included many hanging galleries (wooden walkways banged into sheer cliffs through otherwise impassable gorges), had prised open the vast, rugged Yunnan-Guizhou Tableland like a can opener. The same route remains in use today, but it was a footpath until as late as 1938, when a motor road replaced it.
          When Morrison travelled from Kunming to Dali, he followed this route, then the major artery of trade, thick with coolies and pack animals and the occasional sedan chair. In some places it was paved, in others it was just a dusty track winding up pine-covered hills and down dark gorges, its decay mirroring the decline of dynastic power. In 1894 Yunnan, China’s sixth-biggest province, was only two decades away from secession.” McDonald (1995), pp. 17-18.

“The old imperial highway from Peking to Yün-nan runs through the provinces of Chih-li, Shan-tung, Ho-nan, H’u-pei, H’u-nan and Kuei-chou to its destination at the capital of Yün-nan, and even extends further by way of Ta-li Fu and Yung-ch’ang Fu to the borders of Burma. It is followed by the Imperial couriers and provincial graduates, who are provided with accommodation all the way to Peking at government expense. . . .” Mesny (1896), pp. 286-287.

13.6. Yizhou 益州 [I-chou], or I Province.

          “As will be observed already from the list above, Chiao-chih was the name not only of a circuit, but also of a commandery, and it was Chiao-chih Commandery, written with the same characters as the name of the circuit that supervised it, which occupied the great part of the area of Tongking during the Later Han period. Though this double nomenclature is confusing to many scholars, the same system may be observed in Yi Circuit, also known as Yi Province (yi-chou), which included a commandery named Yi-chou.” Holmgren (1980), p. 55. Note 13.1 includes the first part of this discussion.

Chinese control over this vast region in what is now Yunnan Province was probably made much easier by a large earthquake destroying the main centre of the local Dian culture in 110 CE when it was inundated by the waters of Faxian Lake, southwest of the modern city of Kunming:

Lost Empire Ruins Discovered Under Chinese Lake

[Original headline: City that sank sheds light on a lost empire ]

Archaeologists in China claim to have found the capital of an empire that disappeared in floods two millennia ago.

Divers discovered ancient city walls, dwellings and paved roads covering several square miles at the bottom of Fuxian Lake in southwestern China. The ruins are said to be what is left of the administrative centre of the Dian Kingdom, a neighbour of China’s Han dynasty.

According to Yu Xixian, of Beijing University, the city was located in a valley that flooded after a massive earthquake in AD 110. “The valley filled with water, probably killing all the inhabitants,” he said.

The city was forgotten for almost 1,900 years until a local man claimed to have found walls in shallow water. Subsequently, other divers spotted patterns of urban development on the sandy lake bottom.

Archaeologists inspected the site from a research submarine earlier this summer and concluded that it was genuine. Carbon dating has apparently confirmed that pottery found in the lake is from the Dian period. Excavation work has now been taken over by the Chinese Government. Experts have compared the site to Pompeii, the Roman city buried by a volcanic eruption.

Professor Yu said: “The flooding of this city was only 30 years after Pompeii. All sorts of terrible catastrophes happened around that time. When the earthquake struck in Dian, there would already have been an air of panic in the city. Many people may have gone there to escape disasters elsewhere.”

Several walls show ancient carvings, including two snakes facing each other, a known religious symbol, according to Professor Yu. He said: “Daily life in the city was marked by violence. Rich and poor worshipped many gods and for the rich this meant human sacrifices during grand ceremonies.” The Dian people worshipped nature gods, he said. “We can imagine that when the earthquake came and they were submerged in water, it was a cruel irony for everyone to see themselves killed by their object of worship. As they were dying, they probably imagined the world was coming to an end.”

The city was about 1½ miles long and one mile wide, according to sonar readings taken from the surface. The central boulevard is said to run along a perfect north-to- south alignment, with smaller streets going off at right angles. The ruins are 600ft from today’s shoreline and 50 ft to 300 ft below the surface.

The site is made up of eight clusters of houses, assumed to form different city districts. Poorer districts lie outside the partially surviving city wall.

The districts inside the wall have houses made of bigger stones, which are better preserved. The walls were built from stones with flat, polished surfaces. None of the dwellings has a roof and most walls have fallen over. The longest standing wall is 100ft long and 12ft high.

The first sighting was made by Geng Wei, a local man with a fascination of legends of the city’s existence. He found the site, 50 miles south of Kunming, near the borders with Burma, Laos and Vietnam, after 38 dives over the past year. The lake is 25 miles long, five miles wide and among the deepest in China.

The Dian Empire is said to have covered approximately the same territory as the modern province of Yunnan. Little is known about the Dian period and historians have long speculated about the location of its capital.

Professor Yu said: “All the Chinese experts agree that the city was flooded instantly and that there were no survivors.” After consulting records he concluded that the earthquake struck in AD 110. “However, there are no known records of the city’s existence, I think — and so far nobody has disagreed — that this city was the capital of the Dian border kingdom.”

• Story originally published by: The Times, London, England. August – Sept 01, 2001. Downloaded on 11 December 2001


Underwater town unveiled

FOLLOWING China’s first underwater archaeological studies at Fuxian Lake in the southwestern province of Yunnan yesterday morning, experts said the lake may house an ancient city akin to Pompeii.

Archaeologists, using a special submarine and a robot, discovered a carved stone, a piece of earthenware, a 30-metre wall and a huge flat stone platform at the bottom of the lake after they began the expedition shortly after 8 am.

The earthenware was brought to the surface. Judging from the relics brought from the lake, some experts said the site was the capital of the Dian State. But others said it is too early in the expedition to establish the site’s history.

The shell unearthed from a ruined wall in the lake, experts said, suggested the underwater buildings could be dated back at least to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).

They said an earthquake or subsidence could have caused the buildings to sink into the lake, which is now 157 metres deep.

Before yesterday’s operation, some experts believed the lake contained ancient wharves. Others argued they were tombs, or platforms for sacrifice, or even a dam.

Yesterday’s expedition was China’s first underwater archaeological studies on any lake, the first use of robots in archaeological activities, and the first time to offer live TV reporting of underwater archaeological studies.

Located deep in Fuxian Lake, 56 km southwest of Kunming, capital of Yunnan, the site is 1,200 metres by 2,000 metres in size, according to an estimate by experts using sonar devices.

The site first attracted people’s attention in 1992 when an underwater explorer called Geng Wei discovered large pieces of bluestone. Eventually, pieces of stone were found with man-made markings.

The lake covers 212 square kilometres and there are about 100,000 residents living in areas surrounding the lake. (SD News)

Downloaded from: Shenzhen Daily of the 6/4/2001 on 11 December, 2001:


This event seems likely to be the one referred to by Mesny (1896), p. 351, in his discussion of Lake Kunming (K’un-ming Hu), which is just to the northwest of Lake Fuxian. The story of the inundation of the city seems to have been transferred from one lake to a neighbouring one over the centuries or, perhaps, more than one lake flooded, and more than one city was destroyed:

“Lake K’un-ming. This lake extends south from the walls of the prefectural city of Yün-nan Fu, Capital of the province of Yün-nan. . . . The lake is said to have been formed by the destruction of a former city in earthquake.”

13.7. This quote probably indicates the truth – that the Chinese were aware of maritime routes to Da Qin before they became aware of the overland routes, i.e. the maritime route to Egypt (which later became Roman territory). Also, because trade was usually relayed through middlemen. It may not have been until quite late that it became known in China that on the overland routes, also led to the Roman Empire.
          It is well-established that Egyptian, Mesopotamian and the Indus River civilisations had been linked by sea for at least a couple of millennia before the Roman period. However, direct contact with China probably came quite late:

          “It was physically possible to make a round trip entirely by sea from Egypt to China, but it took three years. People who undertook such long journeys usually had specific reasons to do so or a desire to travel far abroad. Arab and/or Persian merchants had colonies in China, but they were permanent emigrants and did not constantly travel back and forth.
          Because of the circumstances outlined above, the maritime route was principally composed of three interconnected stages, rather than one long voyage. . . .  The Arabian Sea linked the West with India, the Bay of Bengal linked India with the Malay world, and the South China Sea linked the Malay lands with China. In the tenth century, Muslim traders learned to make a crossing in one season by leaving on just the right day, avoiding Sri Lanka, and refreshing at the Maldives. This southern route took them from Malaysia or Sumatra to the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, or East Africa. However, this bypassed the riches of India.” Francis (2002), pp. 5-6.

          “Bibby had found references to Makan in Mesopotamian inscriptions dating from the days of Sargon of Akkad, about 2300 BC, when he boasted of ships from Makan tying up alongside his quay together with ships from Dilmun [Bahrain] and Meluhha. King Sargon’s grandson claimed that he ‘marched against the country of Makan and personally took captive Mannu-dannu, King of Makan’. And Gudea, a governor of Lagash around 2130 BC, imported diorite from the mountains of Makran to fashion numerous stone statues, and some of these still exist with incised inscriptions recording the fact. But references to ‘copper from Makan’ or to merchandise ‘for the purchase of copper, loaded on a ship for Makran’ petered out about 1800 BC, according to Bibby. From then on, he found, there seemed to be no more direct sailings to Makran; now all the copper trade went through the markets of Dilmun. But Makran was still known as the primary producer. There were still listed references to ‘diorite, produce of Makran’, and ‘copper, produce of Makran’, as distinct from ‘palm-trees: produce of Dilmun, produce of Makan, produce of Meluhha’.” Heyerdahl (1980), pp. 240-241.

          “To me there was no longer any doubt. I agreed with those scholars who identified the Indus region with Meluhha. Meluhha could be nothing else. Dilmun, Makan and Meluhha belonged together.” Heyerdahl (1982), p. 311.

“The historian Pliny the Elder, in the first century after Christ, recorded the truly impressive volume of trade carried on in his days between Egypt and Ceylon, with further communication between Ceylon and ‘the country of the Chinese’. He made it abundantly clear that the early Romans had learnt local sailing directions from the ancient Egyptian, who knew exactly where to steer and when to hoist sail in the right seasons. Thanks to Pliny and his informant, the leading Egyptian librarian and geographer Eratosthenes, we knew that Tigris was not the first reed-ship to have accomplished this easy voyage. He recorded that in earlier times the Egyptians, ‘with vessels constructed of reeds and with the rigging used on the Nile’, visited not only Ceylon, but also sailed on to mainland India, trading with the Prasii on the river Ganges. He gives the exact sailing route learnt by Eratosthenes from the Egyptian merchant mariners, and states that the voyage from the Red Sea ports begins in midsummer at the time the dogstar rises. Then, ‘Travellers set sail from India on the return voyage at the beginning of the Egyptian month Tybis, which is our December, or at all events before the sixth day of the Egyptian Mechir, which works out before 13 January in our calendar. . . .’ Heyerdahl (1982), p. 357.

Likewise, maritime connections between India and Malaysia/Indonesia and from there to the Philippines and the Red River basin almost certainly existed since ancient times.
          That there was a maritime route to these advanced cultures in the west must have become known to the Chinese at the very latest by the time c. 218
BCE when Shi Huangdi conquered the state of Nanyue, which included the basin of the Red River in what is now northern Vietnam. In fact, I presume it is likely that Chinese knowledge of this route considerably antedated this event. As Thor Heyerdahl (1998), p. 264, says:

“Humans learned to paddle and sail before they learned to saddle a horse or discovered the wheel.”   

Section 14 – Roman Dependencies

14.1. The Chinese text clearly shows here that the Chinese were aware that the Roman Empire was the largest known Empire at the time other than China itself.

Section 15 – The Kingdom of 澤散 Zesan = Azania.

15.1. The Kingdom of Zesan 澤散 [Tse-san] = Azania. “Azania” was the name used by the Greeks and Romans for the East African coast from the port of Opôné (modern Ras Hafun about 137 km south of Cape Guardafui), down to mouth of the Rufiji River and included Mafia Island off the coast. Recent archaeological research suggests this is probably the region where the trading station of Raphta, mentioned in the Periplus, was located.
          The Chinese name, Zesan
澤散 shows a clear phonetic similarity to ‘Azania’ or, better, ‘Azan’ – the ending ia presumably being a Latin suffix. Other forms include – ‘Zanj,’ ‘Sa-,’ and ‘Zanji.’
          Karlgren’s reconstruction of the “archaic” pronunciations of the characters as: *d’ǎk-sân (Karlgren: 790o and 156a). Pulleyblank’s EMC reconstructions are: dra
ɨjk/drε:k-san’ or -sanh.
          It should also be considered that the first character,
, was, and is, also used interchangeably with the characters yi [i], ‘liquor,’ and yi [i], ‘happy,’ ‘joyous,’ (see GR Nos. 1136 [c] 1 and 2). K. 790g, 790c, gives the reconstructions of both of these characters as: *di̯ǎk / i̯äk; Pulleyblank gives both the EMC reconstructions as: jiajk. These indicate an even closer early approximation of ‘Azan’ than the character .
          From the account of sailing times given in the Weilue, it is likely, that the text refers to the text is to the northern part of this territory, near Cape Guardafui, at the so-called “Horn of Africa”, which the Romans aptly named, “The Cape of Spices’. Section 11 says:

“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’ = Egypt). With favourable winds it takes two months; if the winds are slow, perhaps a year; if there is no wind, perhaps three years.”

With good winds, the direct journey from Angu (Gerrha) to Egypt took about two months. In the account on Zesan we are told that it takes about a month with fast winds to head north to Lüfen (Leukê Komê), which was probably at Al Wajh on the eastern shore of the Red Sea opposite Myos Hormos or Quseir al-Qadim – see notes 12.12. (6) and 16.1. This agrees well with Lionel Casson’s estimation of the journey from Cape Guardafui to Egypt (Myos Hormos) of probably taking “over thirty days” – see Casson (1989), p. 287.
          So the Zesan of the Weilue’s account must be approximately half way between Angu and Egypt – a position which fits well with the port of Opôné, just south of Cape Guardafui itself.
          It is most unlikely that the Weilue was referring to any of the more southerly places along the Azanian coast mentioned in the Periplus, as the distances covered would have been too great (6 “runs” to the ‘Small and Great Bluffs’ + 6 “runs” to the ‘Small and Great Beaches’ + 7 “runs” to the ‘Pyralaoi Islands’ + 2 day-and-night runs, or 4 “runs,” to ‘Munthias Island’ + another 2 “runs” to ‘Rhapta’) – see Casson (1989), p. 280.

          “According to The Periplus, written around AD 40 [now generally accepted to have been written between 40 and 70 CE], the place was at least theoretically under the control of Arab merchants from the Yemen. It appears that they intermarried with the local women, gave gifts of wine and grain to the local chiefs and had royal Yemeni approval to exact tribute from the area.
          From The Periplus and Ptolemy, it is clear that Rhapta was simply the most remote – and the largest – of four ancient east African trading ports, from north to south: Opone (now known as Ras Hafun in Somalia), Essina and Toniki (both near modern Barawa in Somalia), and Rhapta itself.
          Opone – spectacularly sited on a virtual island linked to the coast by a 30 mile-long sandbar – may have had several hundred inhabitants, covered up to five acres and appears to have gone out of business some time in the mid sixth century AD. The latest pottery found by archaeologists on the site dates from the fifth or early sixth century. Up till that time, it seems to have acted as a transhipment point for Mediterranean, African and Indian trade goods.
          The other three ports, Essina, Toniki and Rhapta, have never been archaeologically detected [but see the entries below] – probably because, like Opone, they never made it into the medieval period. . . .
          Opone, a nearby site called Daamo, and probably Essina, Toniki and the lost ‘metropolis’ of Rhapta went out of business in the sixth century, while approximately 90 per cent of known coastal medieval archaeological sites appear to have no history prior to the seventh. That strongly suggest severe settlement discontinuity in the immediate pre-seventh-century period – i.e. the sixth century.” Keys (1999), pp. 20-21.

Professor Felix Chami of the University of Dar-es-Salaam, in Tanzania, very kindly wrote an email on 22 July, 2003 saying:

“1. Following my detailed discussion of the word Zanj in my co-edited book called Southern African and Swahili World (you can find it with African Books Collective) and a brief mention of it on those articles cited above, it seems now the word Zanj or Azania or Zangion had nothing to do with the colour of people or even slavery the way the first one has been conceptualized. What is in those words is the word ‘za’ or ‘zi’ an ancient Bantu word for waters-oceans or lakes, and another word ‘nchi’ or ‘nji’ another Bantu word meaning country or settlement respectively. The people of the coast of East Africa identified themselves with the ‘Indian Ocean’ which was then known as ‘za’ and hence the people of the country or settlement of ‘za’ and hence ‘Zanchi’ or ‘Zanji’. Not that even the early Greek reference of a country called Paanchi had the same connotation suggesting East Africa.

2. There is no doubt that Rhapta was a settlement between 7 to 8 degrees south of Equator. Note that Ptolemy has the exact latitudes for Rapha and it is in this same latitude where many sites of the same period are found around the delta of Rufiji and the island of Mafia (see my short articles in Current Anthropology of 1997(38/4) and 1999 (40/2).”

On 4 August, 2003, Professor Chami sent further details on the name “Azania”:

“Again the issue of Zanj or Zing does need much debate. . . . Some of the words recorded in the travellers literature are still in use and we know the meaning. For instance the traditional God around Lake Victoria is called Mu Ka Sa meaning the living spirit who dwells in the lake. Most lakes (Nyanja, Nyancha, Nyanza, Nyasa, Zakwati, Eyasi, Manzi) in the region have something to do with SA/SI OR ZA/ZI and when the people of the coast of East Africa are identified with Azania, Zangion or Zanj (Zingion, Zinj), and we know even today the word ‘nchi’ or ‘nji’ means territory or settlement, then it meant territory along the Ocean.”

“We should note, too, that Ptolemy refers to the promontory Zingis (Ζιγγις), probably at the northern end of Azania; the root occurs again in Cosmas Indicopleustes (mid-sixth century) as Zingion (ζίγγιov). This is certainly the equivalent of the Arabic Zanj, or Zinj, the name applied to both the country and the inhabitants beyond the Berber region.” Chittick (1975), p. 20.

Zang ذ or something like it, was a designation for African Negroes employed by their neighbours since at least the beginning of the Christian era. . . . ” Wheatley (1975), pp. 86-87.

“Beyond the Axumite kingdom, in the Horn of Africa, were several marts involved in the famous spice trade between the Indies and the Roman Empire. Cape Guardafui, the easternmost point of the continent, was known as the Cape of Spices, and the surrounding region was often given the name of ‘the Cinnamon Country’. In fact it produced no cinnamon (this, like most spices, came from South-East Asia) but the Arabs who handled much of the spice trade concealed this from their customers in the Western world. Guardafui itself had for some time been regarded as the southern limit of Africa, the coast thereafter supposed to turn to the north-west and continue in this direction till it reached the Straits of Gibraltar. The Periplus, however, is better informed. It describes the coast as continuing southward, as far as the port of Rhapta. The exact site of this place is disputed, but it undoubtedly has the honour of being the most southerly settlement recorded in ancient writings – at least five degrees south of the equator and possibly more. In the time of the Periplus it was controlled by the ruler of Mapharitis, a district of south-western Arabia; and Arab influence on East Africa has remained noticeable ever since. Rapta was also visited by people in ‘sewn boats’ (rhapton ploiarion in the Greek, from which the place was supposed to take its name). Most probably these were local craft, though it has been suggested that they had come all the way across the Indian Ocean from Indonesia, bringing with them the spices of that region for redistribution by the Arabs. Sitwell (1984), p. 78.

“Beyond Tabai, after a 400-stade sail along a peninsula towards which, moreover, the current sets, comes another port of trade, Opônê, and it too offers a market for the aforementioned [spices and frankincense]. Its products for the most part are: cassia, arôma, motô; better quality slaves, the greater number of which go to Egypt; tortoise shell in great quantity and finer than any other.
          Departure from Egypt for all these “far-side” ports of trade is around the month of July, that is Epeiph. To these “far-side” ports of trade it is also common to ship in from the inner regions of Ariake and Barygaza (both in northern India) goods from those places that find a market: grain; rice; ghee; sesame oil; cotton cloth, the monachê [cotton cloth] and the samatogênê [cotton cloth]; girdles; cane sugar. Some ships sail principally to these ports of trade but some follow the coast and take on whatever cargos come their way. The area is not ruled by a king but each port of trade is administered by its own chief.
          Beyond Opônê, with the coast trending more to the south, first come what are called the Small and Great Bluffs of Azania . . . , six runs by now due southwest, then the Small and Great Beaches for another six, and beyond that, in a row, the runs of Azania: first the so-called Sarapiôn run; then the Nikôn; after that numerous rivers and also harbors, one after the other, numbers of them separated by daily stops and runs, seven in all, up to the Pyraloi Islands and what is called the Canal; from here a little more towards the west, after two night and day runs, lying due west ... comes Menuthias Island, about 300 stades from the mainland. It is low and wooded and has rivers, a wide variety of birds, and mountain tortoise. There are no wild animals at all except crocodiles; these, however, are not harmful to humans. The island has sewn boats and dugout canoes that are used for fishing and catching turtles. The inhabitants of this island also have their own way of going after these with baskets, which they lower instead of nets round the mouths of [? rocky inlets?].
          Two runs beyond this port comes the very last port of trade on the coast of Azania, called Rhapta [“sewn”], a name derived from the aforementioned sewn boats, where there are great quantities of ivory and tortoise shell. Very big-bodied men, tillers of the soil, inhabit the region; these behave, each in his own place, just like chiefs. The region is under the rule of the governor of Mapharitis, since by some ancient right it is subject to the kingdom of Arabia as first constituted. The merchants of Muza hold it through a grant from the king and collect taxes from it. They send out to it merchant craft that they staff mostly with Arab skippers and agents who, through continual intercourse and intermarriage, are familiar with the area and the language.
          The principal imports into these ports of trade are: spears from Muza of local workmanship; axes; knives; small awls; numerous types of glass stones. Also to certain places, wine and grain in considerable quantity, not for trade but as an expenditure for the good will of the Barbaroi. The area exports: a great amount of ivory but inferior to that from Adulis; rhinoceros horn; best-quality tortoise shell after the Indian; a little nautilus shell.” Translation from: Casson (1989), pp. 59, 61.

The Periplus explicitly states that Azania was subject to Charibaêl, the king of both the Sabaeans and Homerites in the southwest corner of Arabia (including Aden). The kingdom is known to have been a Roman ally at this period. Charibaêl is stated in the Periplus to be “a friend of the (Roman) emperors, thanks to continuous embassies and gifts” and, therefore, Azania could fairly be described as a vassal or dependency of Rome, just as Zesan is described in the Weilue.

“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.

imyar [in the Periplus] exercises a guardianship over the Ma’āfir; together these two countries have possessions in Africa, towards modern Tanzania. The dependent ports of Arabia are: of Ma’āfir (Muza and Ocelis), of imyar (Arabia the Happy = Aden). Abyssinia, whose name is not quoted, but is easily recognised through the mention of its capital, Axum, is a vast country but its king has no influence over the Arabian coast of the Red Sea [as was the case by the third century].” Robin (1991), p. 22.

The Periplus describes the complexity of the control of the African coast south of the straits at the entrance to the Red Sea:

“At the straits began the “rest of Barbaria” (5:2.20). It included the African side of the Straits of Bab el Mandeb (cf. 7:3.19, 25:8.14-15), the northern coast of Somalia right up to Cape Guardafui (12:4.21), and a short stretch of the cape as far as Ras Hafun; strung along its shore were the so-called “far-side” ports (7:3.10-11), from Avalitês on the strait (7:3.13) to Opônê on Ras Hafun (see under 13:5.3). Like the port of Barbaria just below Roman Egypt, it had no central authority but was ruled by local chieftains (14:5.14-16). South of Opônê began what the author calls Azania (15:5.17-18, 16:6.3), the coast of Africa down to Rhapta in the vicinity of Dar es Salaam. At this time it was under Arab rule, a possession of the kingdom of the Sabaeans and Homerites (see under 23:7.27-29) in the southwest part of the Arabian peninsula, more or less modern Yemen. Azania was administered directly by the governor of Mapharitis (31:10.19-20), a province of the kingdom concentrated in the southwestern tip of the peninsula whose port of Muza was the foremost in the kingdom’s trade with Africa (cf. 17:6.21-23). Rhapta, Azania’s largest and most active port, was administered, like the rest of the region, by the governor of Mapharitis, but its taxes were handled in a special fashion: the crown farmed them out to the shippers of the port of Muza (16:6.10-13).” Casson (1989), pp. 45-46.

“Better conditions were available, however, at the southern end of the Red Sea. Here lay the substantial port of Muza, visited by seafarers who sometimes sailed as far as India. It belonged to the king of Ma’afir, or Mapharitis; but he was only a petty chief, subordinate to a more powerful inland ruler whose royal line we have already met:
          . . . Charibael, the lawful king of two tribes, the Homerite [Himyar] and that lying beside it called Sabaite [Sheba]; he is called ‘Friend of the Emperors’ on account of his continual embassies and gifts.
          (This mention of a ‘lawful king’ gives a hint of the turbulent political life of ancient South Arabia: Charibael’s ‘embassies and gifts’ had convinced the Roman authorities that he was ‘lawful’, but there may well have been pretenders in the region who would have disagreed.) Charibael also controlled a large port at Aden further around the coast; the Greek name for this was the same as that given to the whole peninsula, Arabia Eudaemon or ‘Araby the Blest’ – a singularly inappropriate name, as more recent visitors to Aden have often pointed out.        Eudaemon Arabia was called Eudaemon when in former days it was a city, when men had not voyaged from India to Egypt, and those from Egypt had not ventured to sail to the places further inside the sea-corridor, but came here where the cargoes from both India and Egypt were received, just as Alexandria receives them, both from overseas and from Egypt itself. But now, not very long before our time, Caesar destroyed it.
          The last sentence of this difficult passage [from the Periplus] has aroused much controversy. Some authorities assert that ‘Caesar’ is a mistake for some other name, such as Charibael or Elisar, and those who take the word to mean what it says disagree about the identity of the ‘Caesar’ concerned; suggestions range from Augustus in 23 BC to Caracalla in AD 196.” Sitwell (1984), pp. 89-90. [Note that the recent fixing of the date of the Periplus to between 40 and 70
CE places a limit on the upper date].

“There is universal agreement that Opônê is Hafun – the modern name may be descended from the ancient – an excellent harbour on the south shore of Ras Hafun, the prominent peninsula some eighty-five miles [137 km] south of Cape Guardafui (10° 27’ N, 51° 24’ E); Hafun was still serving the sailing ships of Arabia and Persia up to a few decades ago. . . .  Recent archaeological investigation has brought to light ancient remains dating to the 2d and 3d centuries A.D. and perhaps latter (N. Chittick in Azania II [1976]: 120-22 and IJNA 8 [1979]: 276). Some material produced a radiocarbon date of the 2nd or 1st century B.C., but there is doubt about its validity (G. Mgomezulu in Journal of African History 22 [1981]: 447).” Casson (1989), p. 132.

“The attempt to control South Arabia may have been resumed with a Roman occupation of the port of Arabia Eudaemon [‘Arabia the Blessed’ – modern Aden], in the reign of Claudius (A.D. 41-54) or earlier. Such an event is reported in the Periplus in one brief sentence: “But not long before our time Caesar [Καĭσαρ] subdued it.” But this statement has been much disputed. The most I shall maintain is that such an action was navally possible. The distance by sea from Myus Hormus or Berenice to Aden would be no more than from Puteoli to Alexandria. There would be no need for warships if the states bordering the southern portion of the Red Sea had none – and there is no sign that they had any. In any case, all that was required was some innocent-looking merchant ships filled with a few hundred Roman legionaries; once ashore, the forces of the local prince would be no match for them, even if they tried. The whole action would be considerably easier than the expedition of Gallus [into southern Arabia in 25/24 BCE], or the Persian invasion of South Arabia by sea in the sixth century A.D.
          What is more certain is that at the time of the Periplus Rome was in alliance with the Himyarite prince of
afār in the Yaman mountains. The tribe of imyar, whom the Greeks called “Homeritae,” were superseding the Sabeans as the leading South Arabian power. Their alliance, possibly combined with the presence of a Roman garrison at Arabia Eudaemon, would be sufficient to ensure the good behaviour of the South Arabians.
          Graeco-Roman intervention, commercial and naval, still left plenty of scope for Arab traders. The Periplus gives an account of their overseas trade in the middle of the first century A.D., at the same time describing the coasts of Arabia and the neighbouring countries. Starting in Northwest Arabia, it describes Leuce Come as a market of the Nabataeans for local shipping from Arabia. Beyond this the Arabian coast is foul and inhospitable and the Beduin plunder and enslave those who are unfortunate enough to be shipwrecked on its reefs. Passing this country “as fast as possible” we come to al-Yaman where the people are more peaceful, and anchor off Muza, “a market-town established by law,” at or near the modern Mukha.
          . . . And the whole place is crowded with Arab ship-owners and seafaring men, and is busy with the affairs of commerce; for they carry on a trade with the far-side coast [Eritrea and Somaliland] and with Barygaza [in India], sending their own ships there.” The next anchorage is Ocelis on the straits of Bāb al-Mandab, a mere watering-place for ships on their way to India. After this comes Arabia Eudaemon, “Arabia the Blessed,” the only real harbor in the Arabian peninsula. As we have seen, this was in former times the mart for exchange of Indian and Egyptian goods. But now that it is no longer even a port of call of the Greek and Roman ships sailing to India, it has sunk to the rank of “a village by the shore,” possibly enlivened by a Roman garrison.” Hourani, (1995), pp. 31-32.

“On the East African shore Arab merchants were found everywhere, as far south as Rhapta, near Zanzibar. Inside the Red Sea there was the young independent kingdom of Axum, founded by South Arabian colonists. In Somaliland and beyond, Arab princes were ruling, just as Zanzibar still had its Arab sultan. Of Rhapta the Periplus says, “The Mopharitic chief [a Yamanite prince] governs it under some ancient right that subjects it to the sovereignty of the town that you come to first on the coast of Arabia [Muza]. The people of Muza now hold it under his authority, and send thither merchant ships, on most of them employing Arab captains and agents, who are familiar with the natives and intermarry with them, and who know the coast and the language.” Hourani (1995), pp. 33-34.

It is very likely that there was an active trade in spices such as cloves and nutmeg with Indonesian vessels bringing them directly from the Moluccas to the East African coast (i.e. from the “Cape of Spices” south to Raphta), by the first century CE. All the evidence points to an active trans-oceanic trade between Indonesia, Madagascar and East Africa about this period as cloves and nutmeg were known and being used in Rome by the time of Pliny. At the time, the only places cloves and nutmeg were grown were in the so-called “Spice Islands” of what is now Indonesia. See: Ricotti (1994), pp. 106-107; Milton (1999), p. 20.

15.2. I believe this reference that: “His seat of government is in the middle of the sea”, shows that the king of Zesan did not live in Zesan itself, or as previously assumed, that he lived on an island.
          Charibel, the king of Homerite and Sabaean kingdoms, now the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, was in control of Azania, and ruled it through his governor of the province of Mapharitis, stationed in Muza. Muza had become the main port of the region since the destruction of Aden (Eudaimôn Arabia), “not long before our time.” See Casson (1989), pp. 37, 46, 63, 65, 149-151, 159-160.
          My contention is that King Charibel’s realm could reasonably be described as being “in the middle of the sea,” as it was roughly half way between the Persian Gulf and Egypt, and also about half way between (the southern part) of Azania and Egypt.

15.3. Lüfen 驢分 [Lü-fen] = Al Wajh, on the east coast of the Red Sea. See 16.1.

15.4. “It can take half a year to cross the water, but with fast winds it takes a month.” This quote is supported by Casson (1989), p. 287, where he notes:

          “If we allow for the sail from Guardafui to Egypt the same amount of time on the outbound voyage, over thirty days, he would arrive home in November of December, a year and a half after his departure. This left six months or so to collect a cargo for another venture to the area the next July. In effect, two years were required for a round trip [to Raphta].”

“Most of the Arabian Red Sea coast, from where Nabataean jurisdiction ended to a point north of Muza where that of the kingdom of the Sabaeans and Homerites began (cf. under 20: 16-17), had no central authority, being inhabited by primitive fisher folk and herdsmen; the latter eked out their meagre livelihood with the profitable returns from piracy (20:7. 6-11). The southwest corner of the peninsula, from north of Muza on the Red Sea around to at least Eudaimôn Arabia on the site of modern Aden (26:8. 23-24), was the kingdom of the Sabaeans and Homerites to which Azania was subject; it was ruled by Charibaêl, with its capital at Saphar (23:7. 27-29 and note ad loc.). The southwestern tip of the peninsula, site of the ports of Okêlis (25:8. 19) as well as Muza, made up the province of Mapharitis under Charibaêl’s governor, Cholaibos; the provincial capital was at Sauê (22:7. 24-26). Charibaêl’s realm ended somewhere east of Eudaimôn Arabia. Then came a stretch of coast inhabited by primitive fisher folk that extended to just short of Kanê (27:9. 1-4). Kanê was the major port of the “frankincense-bearing land,” ruled at this time by Eleazos, with his capital at Sabutha (27:9 4-8). This kingdom, corresponding roughly to the Hadramaut of today, reached eastward to a point on the coast opposite to the Isles of Zênobios (33:11. 10-12) or Kuria Muria Islands (see under 33:11. 10-11). The “frankincense-bearing land” had its own overseas possession, the island of Socotra (31:10. 19-20). The coast eastward of this point, an area the author characterizes as primitive (33:11. 11), was at this time under the control of the kingdom of Persis (33:11. 12 and note ad loc.).” Casson (1989), p. 46.

Because of their dependence on the monsoon winds, it took about six months for merchant ships to make the round trip from Egypt to India.

“Passengers generally set sail at midsummer, before the rising of the Dog-star, or else immediately after, and in about thirty days arrive at Ocelis in Arabia, or else at Cane in the region which bears frankincense. There is also a third port of Arabia, Muza by name; it is not, however, used by persons on their passage to India, as only those touch at it who deal in incense and the perfumes of Arabia. . . .  Travellers sail back from India in the beginning of the Egyptian month Tybis – our December – or at all events before the 6th day of the Egyptian month Mechir, that is before the ides of January. In this way they can go and return in the same year. They sail from India with a south-east wind, and on entering the Red Sea catch the south-west or south.” From the Natural History of Pliny the Elder (published circa. 77 CE), as quoted in Majumdar (1981), pp. 338-339.

“As noted at the outset, the Periplus treats of two major trade routes, one that ran along the eastern coast of Africa and another that crossed the water to the western coast of India. These involved very different sailing conditions–and as a consequence, very different kinds of traders.
          Along the African route sailing conditions were excellent, the chances of meeting trials at sea minimal. Thus it could be traversed by small craft as well as big, even by craft indifferently maintained. This meant it was open to small-scale merchants, those whose funds extended to only buying in a very modest supply of trade goods and chartering space at bargain rates on some unprepossessing freighter. The route to India, on the other hand, was just the opposite: the outbound voyage took place when the southwest monsoon was blowing the hardest, always strong and frequently increasing to gale force. Skippers of later ages waited until it had lost its bite before venturing forth during its period, but not the Greeks or Romans, thanks to the nature of their ships. For these were built in the special fashion favored by ancient shipwrights, one that guaranteed a hull of massive strength, and they carried a rig that not only was conservative but allowed quick and efficient reefing.” Casson (1989), pp. 34-35.

Navigation in the Red Sea is notoriously dangerous with many shoals and reefs, sudden storms and the prevailing northerly winds generally made it difficult and slow to sail to its northern end:

“In the northern part of the Red Sea area, extending down to 19° N, the prevailing winds are north to northwest. Best known are the occasional westerly, or “Egyptian,” winds, which blow with some violence during the winter months and are generally accompanied by fog and blowing sand. From latitudes 14° to 16° N the winds are variable, but during the months of June through August strong northwest winds move down from the north, sometimes extending as far south as the Straits of Bāb el-Mandeb; by September, however, this wind pattern retreats to a position north of 16° N. South of 14° N the prevailing winds are south to southeast.” NEB Vol. 15, p. 545.

“The eastern side of Africa is easier to explore by sea than the western. The Red Sea does present the same difficulty as the Atlantic off Morocco, a prevailing wind from the north, but this is nothing like as strong or persistent as the North-East Trade. And when one leaves the Red Sea for the Indian Ocean, the situation becomes surprisingly straightforward, since the wind here is of the ‘monsoon’ type (named from an Arabic word meaning ‘seasonal’). From May to September the South-West Monsoon blows from Africa to India; from November to March the North-East Monsoon blows back again, so that by choosing the right time of year a ship can sail a very long way without ever having to beat against the wind.” Sitwell (1984), p. 74.

“My vessel was one of those called a sambuk on the Red Sea. [The author describes a sambuk as: “A vessel similar in the shape of the hull and in rigging to a small baggalah, except that the stempost and stern are without decoration and superstructures. The sambuk carries a crew of 15 to 20 men, and can transport 15 to 60 tons of cargo according to size. Sambuks were once the principal pearling vessels.] Sixty feet long and fifteen feet wide, it was not decked except at the stern, where there was a sort of poop-deck under which an enclosure had been arranged which was honoured with the title of “cabin”, and was just big enough to hold our two mattresses, but nothing else. It was there that we slept; by day, we lived in the open air, on the poop. The sambuk also proceeds under oars but has two quasi-lanteen sails; one of them, the fore, billows right out when the wind fills it, and forms a sort of hemispherical balloon before the prow, as I have seen shown on ancient frescoes and medallions. I would wager heavily that nothing has changed in those parts for centuries, that the barques, the sails and the oars are absolutely the same as they were in remotest antiquity, and that the mariners frequent the same roadsteads and have the same customs, the same prejudices and the same superstitions as they did in the era of the Troglodytes. . . .
          Such are the vessels in use on the Red Sea, frail barks for so difficult a navigation. The sea is one of the most difficult known to mankind: cut and crossed in all directions by submarine currents, bristling with reefs and banks of coral, it lies wide open to violent squalls which the proximity of coast and mountain makes very frequent and very sudden; thus shipwrecks are common occurrences, despite the excessive caution and timidity shown by the mariners. . . .
          Never had the voyage been completed faster: subtracting pauses that we had made of our own volition, plus the excursion to Sinai, we had taken only eleven days to get from Suez to Jiddah, which implies an average of approximately sixty sea miles sailed each day. That is certainly good going, when it includes lying-to each day.
          A voyage which outward bound had required only a few days would, thanks to the northerly monsoon which prevails almost constantly in the northern part of the Red Sea, require five or six times as long for the return, often more, and I recoiled from the prospect of a crossing [from Jiddah to Qusair] that would take from thirty to forty days to accomplish.” Didier (c. 1857), pp. 45-46, 155.

15.5. The text 最與安息安城相近 is usually translated as something like: “Angu City on the frontier of Parthia is close (or near) to [Zesan].” This clearly does not make sense in this context, and the true meaning is, in fact, very different.
          The characters zuiyu
最與 [tsui-yü], GR No. 11503 – “the most,” “superlatively,” “very,” “in total,” “together,” plus GR No. 13162 – “with,” “together,” “associated with,” “allied country.” See also note 8.2.
          This is strongly reinforced by the term xiangjin
相近 [hsiang-chin] later in the sentence. The character xiang means: “reciprocal,” ‘together,” “with,” “mutual,” (GR No. 4195), plus jin – which although it can mean “close,” also has the additional meanings of “intimate,” “closely related,” “to associate with,” “visit,” or “related to” (See GR No. 1992, 4a and b; ABC, p. 451).
          This clearly implies that Angu and Zesan were in close contact or communication with each other – not that they were physically close to each other. I have, therefore, translated the sentence as: “in close communication with,” although the Chinese text may well imply an even closer relationship than that. For Angu
安谷 [An-ku] = Gerrha. See note 11.4.

15.6. This clear statement of the Weilue shows that Chinese scholars of the period were aware that it was possible to reach Rome by another route from Zesan = Azania, to the southwest and, therefore, around Africa.
          There is a striking parallel passage in the Periplus. After discussing ports south along the East African coast as far as Rhapta (probably a port in southern Somalia), it says:

“These are just about the very last ports of trade on the coast of Azania to the right of Berenicê [i.e. to the south]. For, beyond this area lies unexplored ocean that bends to the west and, extending on the south along the parts of Ethiopia and Libya and Africa that turn away, joins the western sea [i.e. the Atlantic Ocean].” Casson (1989), p. 61 and 143.

This is surely a reference to the knowledge that it was possible to circumnavigate Africa. Educated Romans of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE were aware that it was possible to sail around Africa to Asia. They would have known of Herodotus’ account of the successful circumnavigation of Africa by Hanno the Carthaginian, and of the attempts of Eudoxus of Cyzicus to reach India by sailing around Africa in the late second century BCE, which were recorded by Strabo. Eudoxus’ trips and expeditions are set out in a clear and approachable way in Landström (1966), pp. 44-47.
          Furthermore, Seneca made a confident prediction in his Naturales quaestiones (
CE 63-5), that Spain would soon be linked to the Indies by sea. It seems likely that his confidence was based on current accounts of the possibility of the circumnavigation of Africa. See: Cary (1954), p. 568.

“To the question whether the ‘Dark Continent’ was circumnavigated in antiquity it may be answered that we have authenticated records of four attempts to do so. The first, apparently successful, was made c. 600 B.C. by Phoenician sailors in the employ of the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II. The second, known to have been a failure, was made in the early part of the fifth century B.C. by Sataspes, a Persian grandee of the court of Xerxes. Both the third, which was unsuccessful, and the fourth, whose outcome is in doubt, were made in the late Ptolemaic period by the Greek mariner Eudoxus of Cyzicus, whose voyages on the Indian Ocean have already been noted.” Hyde (1947), p. 233.

Section 16 – The Kingdom of Lüfen 驢分 [Lü-fen] = Leukê Komê (‘White Village’).

16.1. Lüfen 驢分 [Lü-fen] = Leukê Komê or modern Egra = Al Wajh, 26° 13’ N, 36° 27’ E, on the east coast of the Red Sea.

– not in Karlgren; EMC – lɨə̆. This character could well have represented a foreign “lu,” “ru,” “ra,” or “ro,” sound. It was almost certainly used here to represent an attempt to transcribe a foreign sound, as its literal meaning is ‘ass’ or ‘donkey.’

fen – K. 471a *pi̯wən / pi̯uən; EMC – bunh or pun. GR No. 3467 gives: pi̯wən / pi̯uən and bi̯wən / bi̯uən. This character carries the meanings of (among others): ‘to divide,’ ‘separate,’ ‘limits between different sectors,’ ‘boundary,’ ‘border,’ ‘part,’ ‘portion,’ ‘branch (office, etc.)’   

The first character, , might represent an abbreviated attempt to phonetically represent Leukos = ‘white.’
            The Weilue states that from Lüfen you travel west “crossing over the sea” over a 230 li (96 km) long “elevated bridge.” It probably refers to a road atop an embankment on the canal cutting across the delta en route to Alexandria. At the time of the Nile’s flooding it would, indeed have looked like a bridge crossing the sea. This is discussed in detail in note 16.3.

          “Then to go to another extreme, there was the barren and mountainous zone of the northern Hedjaz. But here too there were substantial settlements, above all at Hegra (Medain Saleh), marked by a large number of fine rock-cut tombs of the first century AD, many with long inscriptions in Nabataean. On the coast there was also the harbour of ‘Leuke Kome’, ‘through which’, as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea reports, ‘there is a way inland up to Petra, to Malichus, king of the Nabataeans’. Because of the trade coming up from Arabia (Felix), there was also a customs-officer, to collect a 25 percent duty, and a ‘commander of 100 men’ (ekatontarchēs) with soldiers. The king will be Malichus II, AD 40-70, and the commander will not have been a Roman centurion, but a Nabataean officer. At Hegra the equivalent rank is even given the title centurion, transliterated into Nabataean (QNRYN’). . . . ” Millar (1993), pp. 388-389.

It is clear from the account in the Weilue that there were at least two itineraries leading to Roman territory, one overland, and another one by sea from Parthia. The maritime route described in the Weilue ended at Lüfen – probably the port of Leukê Komê on the eastern shore of the Red Sea.
          I had assumed previously that Myos Hormos (Mussel Harbour”) was located near Abu Sha’r (27o 23’N., 33o 35’E), with Leukos Limen situated at Quseir al-Qadim, just 8 km the north of modern Al-Quseir, and Berenicê securely located further south at Ras Banas. Until recently a number of eminent scholars supported these identifications. See, for example, Casson (1989), pp. 94-97; Millar (1993), p. 389.
            I am indebted to Professor David Peacock for information on a recent series of excavations at Quseir al-Qadim. It now seems certain that this was the site of ancient Myos Hormos – not Leukos Limen. Information leading to this conclusion has been found in the region including ostraca and a papyrus contract drawn up at ‘Myos Hormos on the Erythraean sea’ in 93
CE. See, for example, . The Periplus (19-20) says:     

“To the left of Berinicê, after a voyage of two or three runs eastward from Myos Hormos past the gulf lying alongside, there is another harbour with a fort called Leukê Kômê [“white village”], through which there is a way inland up to Petra, to Malichus, king of the Nabataeans. This harbour also serves in a way the function of a port of trade for the craft, none large, that come to it loaded with freight from Arabia. For that reason, as a safeguard there is dispatched for duty in it a customs officer to deal with the (duty of a) fourth on incoming merchandise as well as a centurion with a detachment of soldiers.
          Immediately after this harbour begins the country of Arabia, extending lengthwise far down the Erythraean Sea. It is inhabited by a variety of tribes speaking languages that differ, some to a certain extent, some totally.” Casson (1989), pp. 61, 63.

As Casson points out in his notes (ibid., p. 143), a journey of “two to three runs” would have been about 1,000 or 1,500 stadia, or 100 to 150 nautical miles (185 to 278 km). Now, if one heads due east, across the Red Sea 175 km in a straight line (and one rarely goes in a dead straight line in a sailboat) from Quseir al-Qadim, one arrives at the small port of Al Wajh. This port, on the western coast of Arabia, was at the beginning of the road which led through the mountains to the important Nabataean city of Mada’in Salih or Hegra, on the main incense route leading from southern Arabia up to Petra.

“This Nabataean center is located in Saudi Arabia, about 320 kilometers south of Petra. It is located 15 kilometers [sic – should read “miles”] from Dedan (modern Al Ula), the ancient capital of the Thamuds and Lihyanites. It is interesting to notice that the Nabataeans preferred this sheltered location to the metropolis of Dedan. Most likely they were not very welcome by the Lihyanites, and lived outside of their city limits. This is similar to the situation at Selah where the Nabataeans were living just outside of the Edomite capital.
            Around 65 BC, the Nabataeans absorbed the Lihyanite realm and Hegra became their southern capital. This center was well located, being at the crossroads of the caravan routes of Arabia, and also having limited access to the sea [through Al Wajh].” Gibson, D. (2002), pp. 127-128.

As there are no other ports anywhere near Al Wajh along this coast and, based on the identification of Myos Hormos at Quseir al-Qadim, I consider the location of Leukê Kômê to be near modern Al Wajh as certain.

            “Dedan is one of the largest and most fertile oases in North Arabia. Like Taima it had extensive fields which, in antiquity, appear to have been irrigated by a sophisticated system of dams and sluices diverting the seasonal flash floods, and possibly a network of underground channels. It lies on the northwestern route from Yathrib [modern Medina] to Tabuk, Transjordan, and Palestine at a point where the road is forced into a narrow pass between mountains and broken-up lava flows. . . .
            It is probable that the Minaeans chose Dedan as their center, rather than Taima, because it was closer to the Red Sea ports [
particularly modern Egra = Al Wajh – by far the closest Red Sea port to Dedan] and the sea trade with Egypt where they had commercial interests. Darius I’s opening up of the canal between the Nile and the Red Sea must have made this route even more attractive, although it is not certain how long it remained open after his death. . . .
            From the end of the first century
BCE with the absorption of northwest Arabia into the Nabataean kingdom, the settlement at Dedan appears to have declined and Hegra (modern Meda’in Salih), some twenty-five kilometres (15 miles) farther north, became the major city of the region.” Macdonald (1995), pp. 1361 and 1362.

            “The word Arreni [in Pliny] is transcribed from Agreni or Hagreni; these are the inhabitants of the town of Haegra, or Hegra, the modern al-Ḥeğr, which forms an important halting place on the caravan route connecting southwestern Arabia with Syria and Egypt. At this point a branch of the ancient trade route leads off along the southern border of the sandy desert of Nefûd to the Persian Gulf and southern Babylonia. Pliny therefore is right in saying that all trade is concentrated on this town.” Musil (1926), p. 311.

 “El-Wijh,” meaning the face, a word which the Egyptian Fellah perverts to “Wish,” lies in north lat. 26° 14’. It is the northernmost of the townlets on the West Arabian shore, which gain importance as you go south; e.g., Yambá’, Jeddah, Mocha, and Aden. It was not wholly uncivilized during my first visit, a quarter of a century ago, when I succeeded in buying opium for feeble patients. Distant six stations from Yambá’, and ten from El-Medínah, it has been greatly altered and improved. The pilgrim-caravan, which here did penance of quarantine till the last two years, has given it a masonry pier for landing the unfortunates to encamp upon the southern or uninhabited side of the cove. A tall and well-built lighthouse, now five years old, boasts of a good French lantern, wanting only soap and decent oil. Finally, guardhouses and bakehouses, already falling to ruins like the mole, and an establishment for condensing water, still kept in working order, are the principal and costly novelties of the southern shore.
            The site of El-Wijh is evidently old, although the ruins have been buried under modern buildings. Sprenger (p. 21) holds the townlet to be the port of “Egra, a village” (El-Hajar, or “the town, the townlet”?) “in the territory of Obodas,” whence, according to Strabo (xvi. c. 4, § 24), Ælius Gallus embarked his baffled troops for Myus Hormus. Formerly he believed El-Aúníd to be Strabo’s “Egra,” the haven for the north; as El-Haurá was for the south, and El-Wijh for the central regions. Pliny (vi. 32) also mentions the “Tamudæi, with their towns of Domata and Hegra, and the town of Badanatha.” It is generally remarked that “Egra” does not appear in Ptolemy’s lists; yet one of the best texts (Nobbe, Lipsia, 1843) reads <Greek> instead of the “Negran” which Pirckheymerus (Lugduni, MDXXXV.) and others placed in north lat. 26°.     
            My learned friend writes to me – “El-Wijh, on the coast of Arabia, is opposite to Qoçayr (El-Kusayr), where Ælius Gallus landed his troops. We know that ‘Egra’ is the name of a town in the interior, and it was the constant habit to call the port after the capital of the country, e.g., Arabia Emporium = Aden. We have now only to inquire whether El-Wijh had claims to be considered the seaport of El-Hijr.” This difficulty is easily settled. El-Wijh is still the main, indeed the only, harbour in South Midian; and, during our stay there, a large caravan brought goods, as will be seen, from the upper Wady Hamz.” Burton (1879), I, chap. 14.

            Sharm al Wajh (26o 13’N., 36o 27’E.) is free of dangers in the approach. The shores of the inlet are fringed by a reef; the head of the inlet is foul. There are depths of 27.4m in the entrance, which is about 0.1 mile wide between the reefs, shoaling to about 5.5m about 0.2 mile within.    
            The coast in the vicinity consists of coral cliffs 15 to 21m high. A low plain, which is marshy near the sea and covered with salt encrustation, lies between these coral cliffs and the steep hills 3 or 4 miles inland. A fort, about 6 miles E of this inlet, is surrounded by hills.  Al Wajh, a village on the NW shore of the inlet, consists of some stone houses, a few minarets, and a fort. Two jetties, in ruins, on the NW side of the inlet, constitute a danger for boats approaching the landing quay.
            A lighted radio mast, 75m high, stands about 3 miles ENE of town.”

From: , p. 85. Downloaded 28/8/2004.

“According to Sprenger, the “White Village, or Castle,” was not a Thamudite, but a Nabathæan port. Here Æelius Gallius disembarked his troops from Egypt. Strabo (xvi. c. 4, § 24) shows that <Greek> [Leukè Kóme] was the starting-place of the caravans which, before the Nile route to Alexandria was opened, carried to Petra the merchandise of India and of Southern Arabia. Thence the imports were passed on to Phoenicia and Egypt:--these pages have shown why the journey would be preferred to the voyage northward. He is confirmed by the “Periplus,” which relates (chap. xix.) that “from the port, and the castellum of Leukè Kóme, a road leads to Petra, the capital of the Malicha (El-Malik), King of the Nabathæans: it also serves as an emporium to those who bring wares in smaller ships from Arabia (Mocha, Múza, and Aden). For the latter reason, a Perceptor or toll-taker, who levies twenty-five per cent. ad valorem, and a Hekatontarches (centurion), with a garrison, are there stationed.” As the Nabatæ were vassals of Rome, and the whole region had been ceded to the Romans (Byzantines) by a chief of the Beni Kudá’ tribe, this Yuzbáshi or “military commandant” was probably a Roman.” Burton (1879), I, chap. 15.

Strabo’s account of the failed expedition of C. Aelius Gallus to the incense-producing lands of southeastern Arabia in 25-24 BCE fortunately gives us a few details on the port of Leukê Komê; in particular, the fact that camel caravans regularly travelled from this port and that aromatics were conveyed by land to Petra and then on to Rhinocolura (modern Al Arish):

“Now this was the first mistake of Gallus, to build long boats, since there was no naval war at hand, or even to be expected ; for the Arabians are not very good warriors even on land, rather being hucksters and merchants, to say nothing of fighting at sea. But Gallus built not less than eighty boats, biremes and triremes and light boats, at Cleopatris,1 which is near the old canal which extends 2 from the Nile. But when he realised he had been thoroughly deceived, he built one hundred and thirty vessels of burden, on which he set sail with about ten thousand infantry, consisting of Romans in Aegypt, as also of Roman allies, among whom were five hundred Jews and one thousand Nabataeans under Syllaeus. After many experiences and hardships he arrived in fourteen days at Leucê Comê 3 in the land of the Nabataeans, a large emporium, although he lost many of his boats, some of these being lost, crews and all, on account of difficult sailing, but not on account of any enemy. This was caused by the treachery of Syllaeus, who said there was no way for an army to go to Leucê Comê by land ; and yet camel-traders travel back and forth from Petra to this place in safety and ease, and in such numbers of men and camels that they differ in no respect from an army.
            . . . . However, Gallus put in at Leucê Comê, his army now being sorely tried with scurvy and with lameness in the leg, which are native ailments, the former disclosing a kind of paralysis around the mouth, and the latter around the legs, both being the result of native water and herbs. At all events, he was forced to spend both the summer and the winter there, waiting for the sick to recover. Now the loads of aromatics are conveyed from Leucê Comê to Petra, and thence to Rhinocolura near Aegypt, and thence to other peoples ; but at the present time they are for the most part transported by the Nile to Alexandria ; and they are landed from Arabia and India at Myus Harbour ; and then they are conveyed by camels over to Coptus in Thebaïs, which is situated on a canal of the Nile, and then to Alexandria.”

            1 Also called Arsinoê (Suez) . . . .

                2 i.e. to the gulf.

                3 i.e. “White Village.”           

From: Strabo (c. 23 CE)b: 16, 4, 23 and 24 – p. 357 and nn. 1-3, and p. 359.

Cargoes arrived from Rhinocolura (to the east of Egypt) via the crossing near modern al‑Qantara (‘the bridge’) – see note 18.1. The road then led on west Daphnae, the first major city after arriving in Egypt from the east (and somewhat over 800 km from Al Wajh by land – as indicated in the Weilue). From Daphnae the road ran on to Tanis, skirting the southern bank of Lake Manzalah, and then to Alexandria.
          This road formed from the earth excavated to make the canal, created a raised dry passageway alongside the canal. It passed between Lake Manzalah and other lakes and swampy land which would explain the phrase: ‘crossing over the sea by an elevated bridge,’ which would have been a very apt description of the conditions during the period of the annual Nile flood.
          It is important, also, to remember that this area was wetter during Roman times than it is now. Lake Manzalah extended considerably further south, and the Pelusiac branch of the Nile still emptied into the Mediterranean.
            Casson also provides some interesting notes on the mention of the customs service at Leukê Komê:

“A debate has raged over whether the customs officer and the centurion mentioned in this passage were Roman officials, and hence Leukê Komê was an outpost of Roman authority, or whether they were Nabataean. For the extensive bibliography, see Rashke 982, n. 1350. Bowersock (op. cit. under 19:6.26-28, 70) properly points out that “with the great Nabataean settlement inland at Madā’in āli, as well as other Nabataean installations in the ejāz, it is inconceivable that the port of Leuke Kome was being administered by Roman officials.” Both officials must have been Nabataeans (centurion was a rank in the Nabataean army as well as the Roman; see Bowersock 71). Rome might possibly have stationed its own personnel at some major commercial center where imperial interests could be involved but hardly at a place like Leukê Komê. As the text plainly states, it was not much of a port of trade, and whatever facilities it offered where for small-scale merchants from Arabia, a point that is underscored by the absence of the author’s usual list of imports and exports; here they were irrelevant to his readers. The facilities included a fort, a garrison, and, since Leukê Komê was the first Nabataean port traders from Arabia came to, a customs office.” Casson (1989), p. 145.

“In Strabo’s day Myos Hormos apparently was the chief port for trade with Africa and India, for it is the only one he mentions (2. 118, 16. 781) in that connection. In the archive of Nicanor, Myos Hormos and Berenicê seem of equal rank. By the time the author of the Periplus was writing, Berenicê clearly took precedence: it is from here that he starts the trade routes to both Africa (18:6.21-22) and India (19:6.26), and from here that he reckons the length of the voyage down the Red Sea (21:7.19-20). Berenicê had one great advantage over Myos Hormos: it was some 250 nautical miles further south, and that spared homewardbound vessels days of beating against the northerlies that prevail in the Red Sea above latitude 20o (Wellsted ii 166; Murray 138-39; SDRS, sector 1-27). Merchants might have saved six to seven days in overland transport to discharge at Myos Hormos but they might well have lost a month in making the attempt (cf. Claire Préaux in Chronique d’Égypte 53 [1952]: 271; she was told by locals that from Qusayr to Suez, some 230 nautical miles, could take a month) [actually, as it is now established that Qusayr al- Qadim was Myos Hormos – it was only about 270 km, or 146 nautical miles, north of Berinicê]. 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 for 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), pp. 96-97.

There was an overland route along the coast from the port of Al Wajh (Lüfen or Leukê Komê) to Petra via ‘Aynūnah (Xiandu = Leukos Limên?). This was made necessary for several reasons:

1. The overland route via Hegra, or modern al-Ḥeğr, to Petra was longer than the coastal route.

2. The Gulf of Aqaba is notoriously difficult to navigate due to its narrow entrance, many coral reefs, islands, and sudden squalls. Because of this, incense destined for Petra and beyond was usually unloaded at Al Wajh – known to the Greeks as Leukê Komê (Latin: Leucê Comê), or ‘White Village,’ on the coast of the Red Sea before entering the Gulf, and carried overland to Petra.

3. It was difficult to sail further up the coast from Al Wajh due to the prevailing winds, which is the same reason the Romans unloaded most of their cargoes at the harbour of Myos Hormos which, as has been shown, was in the same latitude and directly west of Al Wajh on the eastern coast of Egypt.

4. There was a well-used major route from ‘Aynūnah to Aqaba at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, and from there, the Romans had paved the road and provided it with rest stops and forts for protection all the way to Petra and beyond. There was a viable coastal route from ‘Aynūnah south to Al Wajh as is shown in the following account of the later pilgrimage route to Mecca:

            “It is more difficult to define the exact direction of the coast road to Mecca [for pilgrims coming from Egypt, Syria and northern Africa]. From Madjan it led to the inhabited halting place of ‘Ajnûna [‘Aynūnah], which has still preserved its name in the oasis fifty kilometres south of Madjan. The other halting places situated in our territory are: al-‘Awnîd, aṣ-Ṣala’, an-Nabk, al-Ḳuṣejbe, al-Buḥra, al-Muṛajṯa, Ẓbe’, and al-Weğh [Al Wajh]. The situation of Ẓbe’ is known for certain. This settlement is nearly one hundred and five kilometres distant from ‘Ajnûna. Between these two halting places al-Ja’ḳûbi mentions six others, while between Ẓbe’ and al-Weğh, the halting place 150 kilometers beyond Ẓbe’, he mentions not a single one. It is certain that something must be wrong with the text here. If we distribute the seven halting places between ‘Ajnûna and al-Weğh, we obtain seven marches of forty-five to fifty kilometres each, and this distance agrees with the length of the daily marches as calculated from the halting places to which al-Ja’ḳûbi refers. Ẓbe’ is then not the seventh but the second halting place from ‘Ajnûna, but regarding the others al-Ja’ḳûbi gives us no clue as to where we should insert them.” Musil (1926), p. 322.

16.2. The word du [tu] is commonly translated into English as “capital,” but often the word does not mean the “capital” of a country in the sense of the administrative centre of the country but, rather, or any large and regionally important city. Sometimes several du are mentioned within one country. When the Chinese wish to specify the administrative “capital” they usually use a term meaning “the king’s residence.”
          In the context of this text it seems clear that it refers here to one of the three major cities (presumably Daphnae, Tanis and Alexandria) mentioned above as being in the Egyptian Delta – see note 11.10 – and presumably the first one that one would reach (i.e. Daphnae), and not Rome is meant – as Rome is much further than 832 km from any point in Egypt, much less one further away.
          If my theory that Lüfen = Leukê Komê or modern Al Wajh is correct, it would confirm the 2000 li (832 km) mentioned in the text as the distance from Lüfen to the first “du” in Roman territory, which would have been Daphnae. As measured on modern maps, the most likely overland route up the coast from Al Wajh via ‘Aynūnah, Petra, Rhinocolura (El Arish) to Daphnae works out to be close to the distance mentioned in the Weilue.

16.3. There are references to this long feiqiao 飛橋 [fei-ch’iao] = ‘high,’ ‘rapid,’ ‘raised,’ or ‘elevated’ bridge in several early Chinese texts including the Hou Hanshu, the Hou Hanji and the Weilue.
          The GR Vol. II, p. 598 gives two interpretations for this term: 1. A raised bridge or foot-bridge (crossing a valley). 2. A floating bridge.
          For discussion of the various theories and arguments I refer the reader to the discussions in Hirth (1885), pp. 187, 192 ff; Leslie and Gardiner (1996), pp. 191-193; and Graf (1996), pp. 205-206.
            I believe the text refers to a road along canal embankments that crossed the Nile floodplains between the Egyptian border town of Pelusium in the east and the delta cities further west.
          The term flying bridge was first used by Hirth, and repeated by most writers since, to translate the term feiqiao. Flying bridge suggests some unusual or exotic type of bridge whereas, in fact, feiqiao is a common and standard Chinese term for an elevated or high bridge.
          All the texts remark on the great length of the bridge. The Hou Hanshu says it is “several hundred li long;” the Weilue says it was 230 li (96 km); while Ma Duanlin, the great 13th century encyclopaedist, records it as being 240 li (100 km), which difference probably only reflects the fact that the li was given different values after the fall of the Han dynasty.
          Previously, this great length has been considered to be either a gross exaggeration or a simple mistake. The “bridge” must have been unusually long or it would not have been mentioned at all. I have not found any other reference to the length of a bridge in the Chinese histories; it is certainly most unusual. Nor is there any qualification by the historians, as one would expect if they were just repeating some story, such as “it is said.” It is, rather, clearly stated as a fact in all the texts.
          Obviously, no conventional ‘bridge’ could be so long. One can only assume that it was a raised road to take traffic across a wide expanse of water – not a ‘bridge’ in the usual sense of the word, but something more like a ‘highway;’ a roadway raised above the surrounding country. The exact position of this long ‘elevated bridge’ is difficult to establish because the location of the countries it is said to have linked are still being disputed by scholars.

“The roads [in the “Land of Goshen” – i.e. the fertile lands along the easterly branch of the Nile and immediately to the east of it] are usually high above the rest of the country. They run along the canals, and consist of the dirt banked up to hold back the waters. The side roads are chiefly camel paths or foot paths, and one sees everywhere the traffic moving along through the fields. Even on the main roads there are few wagons. Most of the freight is carried on donkeys and camels, which are the common riding animals as well.” Carpenter (1928), p. 8. See note 16.1.

One can well imagine that when the Nile flooded it was only the main highways that could be traversed and they could accurately be described as long bridges “across the sea.”
          The Hou Hanshu has the bridge leading from Haixi (which I identify as Egypt) to Haipei (‘North of the Sea’), which I identify as the lands stretching between Egypt and the head of the Persian Gulf.
          The Roman dependencies mentioned in the corresponding passage from the Weilue are very difficult to identify confidently.
          The route from Lüfen (Leuke Kome) to Da Qin probably included the section of the ancient caravan route from Judea to Egypt along the isthmus between Pelusium and Pi-Ramses/Qantara Sharq, which separates Lake Manzala from Lake Balah, and then on to Tanis and Alexandria.
            There was a very ancient major trade route all the from the Hellespont to Alexandria. It was known at various times as the “Horus Military Road,” the “Way of the Sea,” or “Road of Kings.”

“The great Roman coastal road from Tangiers to Alexandria (in Egypt) was, if one measured in a straight line, 2,100 miles [3,380 km] long. Its last course lay along the menacing sands close to the sea, and the way was marked only by cairns of stones although there were regular way-stops which sheltered water sources. The goal of this coastal road was, of course, Alexandria.
          There were five principal roads in Egypt. The first was the coastal road, which Strabo called ‘the way of the sea’. It crossed seven of the streams of the Nile and followed the coast to Palestine, Sidon, Tyre and Lebanon. Under Trajan after AD 100 the road was rebuilt along the Mediterranean and extended from Alexandria to Antioch and along the serrated outer edge of Anatolia to the Bosporus.” von Hagen (1967), p. 106.

          “A parallel communication to Trajan’s interior road in the Middle East was the coastal ‘Way of the Sea’. As a primitive pre-Roman track it went back to dimmest antiquity ; ‘the overland journeys’, wrote Strabo of this road, ‘are made on camels through deserts and sandy places’. The track began at Alexandria in Egypt, followed the long sweep of the Mediterranean shore into Palestine and Lebanon and went on to Antioch and along the Anatolian shore to the Hellespont.
          The Egyptians, as early as 1950 BC, used it when they traded with Tyre and Sidon for wood and purple dye. It was designed for pedestrian and mule traffic. When the wheel was perfected, domesticated onagers – wild asses – were used to pull huge, solid-wheeled carts. Still later, after 700 BC, after camels had been introduced from Mongolia [or from Arabia?], they were used by caravans.
          This ancient track connecting Egypt with Tyre was an important trade route. Ancient Tyre, which was on a fertile coast watered by the rivers from the heights of Anti-Lebanon, was well known for its trade. The prophets of the Old Testament were livid with resentment over Tyre’s wealth ; their enumeration of the splendours to be found in the purple land gives an idea of Tyre’s opulence. Tyrian imports are listed as silver, iron, tin from Cornwall, lead from Spain ; ivory and ebony from Edom ; horses and horsemen from Armenia ; brass from Cilicia ; linen and wheat from Syria ; cassia from Damascus, not to mention camels, wine, and sheep. Tyre had two export items : cedars from Lebanon and the purple dye. The mollusc – source of that dye that gave Tyre its fame and wealth – is now possibly extinct ; there are only high mounds of murex shells as a tangible memorial to that once-great dye industry.
          This coastal road had already been paved by the time of Trajan. The same way passed through Sidon, which is listed in the Roman itineraria as both a seaport and a way-stop on the road. From there the road went to Beirut [and beyond to the Hellespont].” Von Hagen (1967), p. 127.

The main route leading from Daphnae to Tanis would have, at that time, skirted the southern bank of Lake Manzala. This road must have been raised to keep it dry and passable. It is likely that the main road was along top of the embankment beside the Butic canal which ran, in Roman times, south of Lake Manzala, in practically a straight line, directly west from Daphnae across the delta lands via Tanis to Sebannytos (at the Damietta branch of the Nile), and then on to Lake Mariut, thus connecting with Alexandria. The section from Daphnae via Tanis to Sebannytos would have been just about exactly 96 km.
          Professor Eric Uphill very kindly responded to a query of mine, and sent (on 30 March 2003) not only his personal comments on this matter, but also his article on Egyptian canals – see Uphill (1988) – and some abstracts of presentations he made at the “Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists – Cairo 2000, which includes the following quote from, “The Butic Canal: Its Date and Functions,” pp. 186-7:

“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. 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 Emperor Titus [reigned 79-81 CE]. 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 and Daphnae in the east would also clearly serve as a first line of defence for the Saite rulers.”

Professor Uphill suggested that where there were canals, merchants would tend to have used them to cart their goods rather than the embankments beside them, due to the relative cheapness of water transport.
          However, I suggest that the routes reported to the Chinese are obviously ones provided by merchants carrying goods:

1. From Myos Hormos (al-Wadj) to Petra and then via Rhinocolura (Al Arish) west to Daphnae and from there to Tanis via the embankment alongside the Butic canal, and then on to Alexandria, or:

2. From the head of the Persian Gulf, via Petra, there joining the route outlined above into Egypt. As such, the goods would have had to been loaded on to pack animals and it may have proved cheaper and/or more efficient to continue take these laden animals directly into the delta cities along the canal embankments rather than off-loading them onto rivercraft and paying others to carry them the rest of the way.

16.4. This would seem to me to be a rather sketchy description of sailing along the coast to the west (slightly southwest to begin with – then more westerly, even slightly northwest) from Alexandria to the region of ancient Cyrene or Apollonia and then northwest (not “due west”) to the Italian peninsula.

Section 17 – The Kingdom of Qielan 且蘭 [Ch’ieh-lan] = Wadi Sirhan.

17.1. Qielan 且蘭 [Ch’ieh-lan] is said in the text to be 3,000 li (1,248 km) due west of Sitao 思陶 = Istakhr or Stakhr, and 600 li (250 km) east of Sifu 汜復 = Petra.
          Now, if the identification of Sifu as Petra is accepted (see note 19.1), then Qielan must be somewhere around 250 km east of Petra. About 250 km east of Petra the old caravan trail reached the first wells the great shallow valley of Wadi Sirhan which stretched southeast about 400 kilometres from the oasis of Azraq in Syria to the oasis of Jauf in northern Saudi Arabia.
          From Jauf there were well-used caravan routes to the head of the Persian Gulf and to Gerrha (= modern Thaj – see note 11.4) on the western coast of the Persian Gulf. The Weilue says:

“Due south of Qielan [Wadi Sirhan] and Sifu [Petra] is Jishi 積石 [literally, ‘Stone Heap’]. South of Jishi there is a big sea [the Red Sea] which produces coral and pearls.”

This provides strong confirmation of the identifications I make that Qielan was (Wadi) Sirhan and, of Sifu as Petra – see note 19.1. South of the route between Petra and Sirhan the desert is particularly stony and noted for its odd stony formation appearing like heaps of rocks. Additionally, the Persian Gulf was famous for producing the best pearls in the ancient world, while the Red Sea was particularly noted for the corals found there. Of course, pearls were also found in the Red Sea (near Quseir, or ancient Myos Hormos) and coral was to be found in the Persian Gulf as well. See: notes 12.12 (22) and 12.12 (24).

“From the moment of the annexation of Arabia, the Romans inherited the desert patrol of the Near East to the south of the region that was policed by the Palmyrenes. The extent of the Roman province was almost certainly identical to that of the Nabataean kingdom. . . .
          With the evidence that has accumulated it becomes clear that the Romans undertook from the start to continue and strengthen the patrol system they took over; and they did this, as much as they could, with Nabataean personnel. Trajan, who authorized the annexation of the new province, was responsible for installing a legion there (I am now persuaded by Speidel that this was the Third Cyrenaica) and for raising troops from the former Nabataean army both to serve in the legion and to supplement it with auxiliaries. The natives were particularly valuable to Rome for their expertise in mounted archery and in camel riding. Some indeed, like the new cohorts Ulpiae Petraeorum (Trajanic units from Petra), were used elsewhere in the Near East to reinforce defences. But there is explicit epigraphical testimony for the use of Nabataean cavalry in the Third Cyrenaica and for camel riders in the Arabian auxilia. . . .
          The presence of detachments of the Third Cyrenaica at key points deep in the desert is now at last beyond doubt, thanks to the new discoveries, and proves that the Roman administration undertook a general patrol of the desert, just as the Nabataeans did, far away from settled areas. The pattern discernable in the
ejāz could be expected to recur in the Wādī Sirān. And it does. A centurion is strikingly attested at the main oasis of the central desert, Jawf, whence traders took the inner route of the Wādī Sirān into Syria. . . .  At the head of the Wādī Sirān is a cluster of military installations (forts or watchtowers) set up by the Third Cyrenaica, some at Nabataean sites like the desert city of Umm al-jimāl, others of a simple design on elevations or at oases. The system of forts and watchtowers provided for early warning as well as for the prompt intimidation and dispersal of nomadic raiders. The exact chronology of this Roman move into the desert, with the aid of experienced native recruits, is elusive; but the name Ulpia attached to various cohorts and cavalry units suggests that the strategy was adopted in principle by Trajan soon after he annexed Arabia and was carried forward by others.
          Of subsequent emperors before the tetrarchy, Septimus Severus was particularly concerned to strengthen the desert defenses. This may have been due to his annexation of Mesopotamia, which required that the intervening tracts of desert be even more secure than before. In any case, his reign witnessed notable activity in the Arabian frontier zones, especially at the head of the Wādī Sir
ān in the vicinity of Azraq. . . .  Severus’ extension of the provincial boundaries of Arabia in the north seems, in the light of present evidence, to reflect a recognition of the central role of the Wādī Sirān in the administration of the area. That passage through the desert, from south to north (in the direction of Bostra and Damascus), was at least as crucial for trade and for control as the old King’s Highway to the west.
          It is gratifying to observe that the Nabataeans fully understood the importance of the Wādī Sir
ān in the geography of their realm. With their ancient desert traditions, that was to be expected of them. More remarkable perhaps was the Roman arrogation of the Nabataean organization of the region, with the help of the Nabataeans themselves. The Wādī Sirān played a vital role in the prosperity and the defenses of Roman Arabia.” Bowersock (1996), pp. 156-159.

“Duma (Akkadian Adummatu, medieval Arabic Dumat al-Jandal) is the large oasis known today as al-Jawf. It lies at the southern end of the Wadi Sirhan, which is one of the most important routes between North Arabia and Syria. From here caravans could go either northwest to Syria and Palestine or northeast to Babylonia [or directly west to Petra – see Appendix G]. Its position, therefore, made it an ideal base for the Qedarite confederation, for which it was also the religious center.
            . . . . The oasis was certainly important in the Nabataean and Roman periods, but we must await archaeological excavations there for further evidence of its early history.” Macdonald (1995), pp. 1360-1361.

“More significant still [for showing Roman military power in the region] is the cluster of evidence from the area of the Azraq oasis, lying in the true steppe made up of a vast field of dark stones and, more important, on the route to the Wadi Sirhan, leading southeast into Arabia proper. Whether this was, as has been suggested, a major trade-route leading to the Persian Gulf will have to be discussed later. But the fact that it was a route is beyond question. Azrak lies some 80 km east of Amman, and military occupation in this area was eventually to be significant in relation not only to the Wadi Sirhan but to a Roman road leading north towards Damascus. For the Severan period, however, what we know for certain is that there was road-building here under Severus, though in what direction is uncertain (the milestones recording it are not in position); and that some 14 km south-west of Azraq, at Qasr el Uweinid, a detachment of III Cyrenaica constructed a castellum et praesidium Severianum in 205.
          This activity would be of some interest even if there were no probable connections to the Wadi Sirhan. But in fact from Jawf, some 400 km down the Wadi from Azraq, there is a Latin inscription of a centurion of III Cyrenaica, dedicated ‘for the safety of our (two) lords the Augusti’ to Iuppiter Optimus Hammon and a deity called Sanctus Sulmus. The date should certainly be the early part of the third century. There is nothing to show whether a permanent post was established here; but given the vast distances involved, even occasional patrols would reflect a Roman involvement in this area which would have been unimaginable in the first century. Dumatha (Jawf) was also, it may be recalled, the place whose people, according to Porphyry, had carried out human sacrifice and still conceived of an altar as being itself an object of worship.
          Much – indeed everything – is speculative about how the Roman army operated in such a context, and what it was intended to achieve. But what is certain is that, as on the Euphrates and Chabur, it must represent a line of movement through an area, not a ‘frontier’ held as a line against a putative enemy attacking from the side. Much the same will be true of the military presence in the central and southern part of Arabia, where the traceable evidence of the Roman army never appears far from the Via Nova Traiana, built in the first few years of the province. From Bostra the road ran south-east to Amman (Philadelphia) and then south along the border between the cultivated plateau of Moab and the steppe proper, then to descend a steep escarpment to reach the sea at Aila. In fact, however, to say that is simply to repeat in effect what is claimed on milestones of the reign of Trajan, found (only) on the northern part of the road, between Bostra and Philadelphia; other milestones of later reigns can be found in considerable numbers both in that area and further south, as far as Petra. But for the stretch between Petra and Aila there is no precisely datable physical evidence, though stretches of the road, with associated small forts, are visible.
          Though the line of the road across the southern desert, the Hisma, to Aila (Aqaba) has some milestones, no inscriptions have been read on these, so nothing definite can be said on dating. While it need not be doubted that Trajan’s Via Nova did reach Aqaba, we cannot identify anything more than a road, with side-roads westwards, and watch-towers. Why it was built at all, whether it had some relation to trade from the Red Sea, and how occupation in this area in the Roman period compared with that in the preceding Nabataean period are all uncertain.
          What is certain, however, is that a Roman official and military presence did not stop at Aqaba, but followed the earlier Nabataean presence at least as far as Medain Saleh in the northern Hedjaz. For from the region of Medain Saleh – some 900 km from Bostra and the main camp of the legion III Cyrenaica – there are graffiti in a mixture of Greek and Latin in Greek transliteration (as well as other Nabataean ones), which reveal Roman dromedarii and cavalrymen of an ala [a squadron consisting of 300 men or more] of Gaetuli; and a roughly inscribed stele contains a Greek dedication to the Fortune of Bostra by a painter with the legion III Cyrenaica. It is worth reflecting that the march back to the legionary base at Bostra would have taken at least a month.
          As so often, we do not know how permanent the Roman presence here was. Certainly there is nothing to suggest a regular military occupation; once again we seem to be concerned with a route, for we know from Pliny the Elder, writing in the 70s, that there was a land-route from Arabia Felix (Yemen) which passed through this area, needing sixty-five camel-stages to reach Gaza.” Millar (1993), pp. 138-139.

“New evidence, in the form of a Latin inscription from Azraq, serves both to show how the road-system all the way from Bostra to Dumatha were envisaged and to demonstrate a very surprising level of military investment here:

[The Emperor built?] through his very brave soldiers of the legion XI Cl(audia) and VII Cl(audia) and I Ital(ica) and IV Fl(avia) and I Ill(yricorum) linked by manned posts (praetensione coligata) to his soldiers from the legion III Cyr(enica). From Bostra to Basien(s)es 66 miles [97.6 km], and from Basien(s)es to Amat(a) 70 [103.5 km] and from Amata to Dumata 208 miles [307.6 km].

The involvement of these four legions becomes all the more surprising when one realises that they (or detachments of them) had come from Moesia on the Danube. The date is certainly the 290s, when detachments of these same legions are found in Egypt.” Millar (1993), p. 185.

“Two final questions need to be raised about the steppe peoples and the ‘desert frontier’. First, to what extent were there trade-routes across the steppe (and the true desert) in the vast zone south of Palmyra? If there were any, they would represent further links between the Roman Near East and Babylonia and the Persian Gulf, and ones which were independent of the Fertile Crescent. The clear evidence for both a Nabataean and then a Roman military presence far down the Wadi Sirhan must strongly suggest that this was a frequented trade route. Dumatha (Jawf), the furthest point which we know Nabataean and Roman forces to have reached, seems indeed to be mentioned in a passage of Pliny’s Natural History, which speaks of travel between Gaza, Petra and Characene at the head of the Persian Gulf; however, Pliny’s ideas of distances and locations here are completely confused; but by much interpretation a route via Dumatha to the Gulf can (perhaps) also be discerned in another passage of Pliny. This route would have involved a passage of some 500 km from Philadelphia or Bostra via Azraq Oasis (Basiensis?) to Dumatha, and then nearly another 500 km to the nearest point on the Euphrates, before the descent to the Gulf. It is hardly possible to imagine that it can have borne constant traffic. But, as always, firm negative conclusions cannot be justified. One reason for the caution is that Pliny the Elder gives a much clearer description of a route from Thomma in Arabia Felix (the Yemen) to Gaza in Judaea, covered by camels in sixty-five stages; Pliny’s figure for the distance is unclear, but even as the crow flies it would have been very much longer than the route through Dumatha to the Euphrates, in fact well over 2000 km. This route, it is true, will have led through the mountainous and (by comparison) well-watered region of the Hedjaz, passing the area of the later cities of Mecca and Medinah, as well as, further north, the Nabataean and then Roman outpost of Medain Saleh. But its existence must mean that we cannot altogether discount the feasibility of a regular trade-route through the Wadi Sirhan and Dumatha to the Gulf.” Millar (1993), pp. 515-516. [For information on the route from Petra via Wadi Sirhan and Dumatha to the Gulf refer to Appendix G.]

“The control of the caravan end of this Syrian traffic was a more delicate and difficult operation. Caravan traffic had, of course, existed in Syria from the earliest times, and Totmes III speaks of receiving lapis lazuli from Persia overland. On the whole, however, early traffic had avoided crossing the Syrian desert and preferred a northern route following the Euphrates into tolerably watered country before striking west to the coastal belt, while later Egyptian traffic under the Ptolemies had taken the Arabian route south of Syria through Petra to Lower Mesopotamia. Before the introduction of the camel from Bactria and Arabia somewhere about 1000 B.C., the most northerly of the Syrian routes had been the only one possible, since no other pack animal could normally be relied upon to make the desert crossing. The Seleucids, both on account of the northern position of their capital at Antioch and because they wanted to keep their trade well out of the way of the Ptolemies, had maintained the same route in use. The Romans had no such strategic reasons for favouring the northerly route, while their practical sense appreciated the shortness of the central desert route that halved the distance to Mesopotamia. Thus it only needed organization, and the acquiescence of the Parthians on the Euphrates, to establish the caravan routes of Central Syria. Organization Rome never lacked, and when it became evident that the Parthians could not be crushed, Augustus decided to come to terms. A compromise was arrived at – and was on the whole honoured – by which both parties agreed to call a truce and to foster for their mutual advantage the caravan trade across the no man’s land which lay between them.” Fedden (1955), pp. 80-81.

“Together with George and Agnes Horsfield, we discovered a whole group of fascinating rock drawings at Kilwa, among the hills of the Jebel Tubaiq. That is situated in the south-easternmost corner of Transjordan, on the border of Arabia. A number of important roads met there. One led southward from Amman, the capital of Transjordan, to the history-soaked oasis of Teima. Another passed it going eastward from Aila, on the north shore of the Gulf of Aqabah, to the great oasis of Jauf, which is likewise in Arabia. The latter place marks the southern end of the economic and military lifeline through the long and shallow and wide Wadi Sirhan, that connected Nabataean Syria with Nabataean Arabia.
          In other words, these rock drawings are to be found usually, though not exclusively, at sites along travel routes, and at burial places, way-stations and crossroads. The position and prominence of Jebel Ideid (Odeid), which of old may have had a certain sanctity attached to it, may explain why so many of them, together with occasional inscriptions, were chiseled into the blackened surfaces of its large sandstone boulders and smooth rock faces. There is, we think, a certain religious feeling reflected in them.” Glueck (1959), pp. 237-238.

“Al-Jauf was known as Duma in antiquity and as Dumat al-Jandal in mediaeval Arab texts. We do not know the ancient name for Wadi Sirhan. Three other oases in North West Arabia were of great importance. One is Hegra (modern Mada’in Salih) which the Nabataeans made one of their great cities. The second was called Dedan (modern al-’Ula, though there is some evidence that a similar name (‘ly) may also have been applied to a part of the oasis in antiquity); the third is Tayma’. All three were bitter rivals for the trade from Southern Arabia: Dedan (and later Hegra) dominated the route to Egypt and the Mediterranean, while Tayma’ dominated that to Mesopotamia.
          From Duma (al-Jauf) one could go either way. Further south on the western route from Yemen were Khaybar and Yathrib (modern Medina), both important staging posts at which the routes divided. Najran, on the northern border of Yemen was called Ra’ma in early antiquity, but by the fourth century AD at least was known as Nagran. See M.C.A. Macdonald, “Trade Routes and Trade Goods at the Northern End of the ³Incense Road² in the First Millennium B.C.” Pages 333-349 in A. Avanzini (ed.), Profumi d’Arabia. Atti del Convegno. (Saggi di Storia Antica, 11). Roma: ³L’Erma² di Bretschneider, 1997.
            Badana (east of Jauf and on one route to southern Mesopotamia) is also found in ancient texts, as is a kingdom of Hagar in North East Arabia. Also in East Arabia, though the exact location is disputed, was the great trading city of Gerrha. There is also a great ruined city nowadays called Thaj, and there is some evidence that this may also have been its ancient name. Finally, in central Arabia, on the north-eastern edge of the Empty Quarter, was a large and very wealthy trading city called in antiquity Qaryat Dhat Kahil (modern Qaryat al-Faw).
            Arsinoe is the Ptolemaic name for the town which was earlier called Crocodilopolis (because of the cult of a crocodile there). It was in the Fayum in west-central Egypt and was the source of clothing according to the first century AD Periplus Maris Erythraei (L. Casson (ed.), Periplus Maris Erythraei (Princeton, 1989), 111. Muza (usually identified with modern al-Mocha, 13 19’N 45 15’E) was a busy port on the Red Sea coast of what is now Yemen and is mentioned several times in the Periplus (see Casson, op. cit, p. 147)” Michael Macdonald, personal communication, 17th June, 1999.

17.2. Si- (or Sai-) tao (or yao) 思陶 [Tzu- (or Sai-) t’ao (or yao)] = Istakhr, Stakhr.

Si (or Sai) – K. 973a: *si̯əg / si, or *səg / si; EMC sɨ / si, or sɨh / sih, or səj

tao (or yao) – K. 1047d: *d’ôg /d’ âu; EMC daw, or jiaw

Persepolis (and nearby Stakhr) were on the main southern trade route from the head of the Persian Gulf and the old capital of Susa which headed south to Persepolis / Stakhr, then east to India via Kandahar:

“It is in these regions, which combine facility of defence with pleasantness of climate, that the principal cities of the district have at all times been placed. The earliest known capital of the region was Pasargadæ, or Persagadae, as the name is sometimes written [From note 49 on p. 613: Probably the true original form of the name was Parsa-gherd, “the castle of the Persians” (as Stephen of Byzantium explains the name). For the root gherd compare the modern Darabgherd, Lasjird, Burujird, &c., and the certa of the old Parthian cities, Tigrano-certa, Carcathio-certa, &c.]. . . .  Neither the shape nor the extent of the town can be traced. The situation was a plain amid mountains, watered by small streams which found their way to a river of some size (the Pulwar) flowing at a little distance to the west.
          At the distance of thirty miles from Pasargadæ, or of more than forty by the ordinary road [just 3 miles past the customs station and later capital, Istakhr or Stakhr], grew up the second capital, Persepolis, occupying a more southern position than the primitive seat of power, but still situated towards the edge of the plateau, having the mountain-barrier to the south-west and the desert at no great distance to the north-east. Like its predecessor, Persepolis was situated in a plain, but in a plain of much larger dimensions and of far greater fertility. The plain of Merdasht is one of the most productive in Persia, being watered by the two streams of the Bendamir [or Araxes] and the Pulwar [or Murgab], which unite a few miles below the site of the ancient city. From these two copious and unfailing rivers a plentiful supply of the precious fluid can at all times be obtained ; and in Persia such a supply will always create the loveliest verdure, the most abundant crops, and the richest and thickest foliage. The site of Persepolis is naturally far superior to that in which the modern provincial capital, Shiraz, has grown up, at about the same distance from Persepolis as that is from Pasargadæ, and in the same – i.e. in a south-west – direction.” Rawlinson (1870) II, p. 270.

“Pasagarda spoke too eloquently of the supplanted dynasty, and Darius sought a new site for his capital. Twenty-five miles down the winding gorge of the Median River that watered the Pasagarda Plain, a rock-cut road led into another and broader plain. Through it followed a yet larger river, the Araxes, to irrigate the fertile soil, until the stream disappeared in the great salt lake of southwestern Persia. . . .
          Just before the Median River entered the northeast corner, the valley opened. In this secure nook, where painted sherds witness another prehistoric settlement, Darius, it would seem, founded Stakhra, the “Fort,” ancestor of the famous medieval capital of Istakhr. A wall of massive stones closed the gap between hill and city fortifications and formed a “Gate.” Here the traveller was compelled to pay his toll at the single gateway under its guard tower. Chariots and beasts of burden might use the central two-way passage, whose wooden roof supported by a pillar and two piers; pedestrians employed the footpath under low stone lintels at either side. . . .
          From this opening the hills to the left turn southward and fall back. Three miles almost due south, but hidden from the city by projecting spurs, an isolated rock tending north-northwest and south-southeast offered a natural terrace at the foot of the Mount of Mercy. Here the king determined to establish his residence. Like the land, so the new palace group was to be called Parsa. Early Greeks called it the “City of the Persians” or “Parsai.” Later writers followed the deliberate mistranslation of the poet Aeschylus, Perseptolis, “destroyer of cities”; and, with them, we also speak of the site as Persepolis.” Anonymous (1998), p. 1.

During the period of the Periplus [40-70 CE] Persis (or Fars), with its seat of power at Stakhr, was, for practical purposes, almost independent of Parthia and controlled much of the Persian Gulf and the southern coast of Iran to the east along the Makran coast:

“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 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 (see under 36:12. 3–4). It controlled as well the head of the Persian Gulf (cf. 36:12. 5–6).” Casson (1989), p. 174,

          “And Persis held the coast east of the Persian Gulf at least as far as Omana, six days sail from its mouth (36:12. 3-4). Beyond this began the rule of the Indo-Parthian kings. First came a district inhabited by a people called the Parsidai (37:12. 13-14 and note ad loc.) and then Skythia, more or less modern Sind [in southern Pakistan] (38:12. 23 and note ad loc.); here was the area’s major port, Barbarikon at the mouth of the Indus. The author names no king presumably because, as he drily comments, the rulers were “constantly chasing each other off” the throne (38:13. 3-4). The capital was at Minnagar, upriver from Barbarikon (39:13.3, 6).” Casson (1989), p. 46.

It is difficult to establish the degree of control of Persis or Fars by the Parthians. There are a number of indications that it was more a matter of nominal vassalage than a truly subservient ‘province’ of the Parthians. For example, in the Hou Hanshu (see TWR Section 10) there is the interesting passage:

“In the thirteenth year [101 CE], the King of Anxi (Parthia) named Manqu again offered lions, and some of the large birds of Tiaozhi (Characene and Susiana), which people call ‘Anxi birds’ [ostriches].”

As already shown in TWR, note 10.8, the name Manqu does not relate to Pacorus II, the ‘King of Kings’ of the Parthians at that time, and probably referred instead to Manchihr I of Persis or Fars. If so, it shows that the King of Persis at the time was powerful enough to be considered ‘the King of Anxi’ by the Chinese, and to send substantial – and difficult to transport – gifts to the Chinese Emperor. This also reinforces the theory that China’s main contact with Anxi at this time was by the south, either overland through Kandahar, or by sea, or both.
          The Parthians’ control over Persis would have been seriously undermined by the invasion of Trajan in 114
CE, the Roman sack of Ctesiphon and the burning of Seleucia by Avidius Cassius in 165, and the sacking again in 193, as well as the regular wars with nomad forces in the northeast. It is probably not taking too many liberties to assume that Persis was independent from the Parthians in all but name throughout much of the second century. This growing independence and power culminated in the downfall of the Parthians and the establishment of the Sasanian state in 224 CE.

          “I found that all the four Farsi capital cities I visited [Pasargadae, Ishtakhr, Shahpur and Persepolis] were sited on the edge of a plain in a position commanding the mouth of a gorge that was wide enough to serve as an important human thoroughfare. Cyrus II’s capital, Pasargadae, on the edge of the plain of Morghab, commands the gorge (abandoned by the modern wheel-road) through which the River Pulvar threads its way to the plain of Marvadasht. In the throat of the gorge, where it debouches into Marv-dasht lie the ruins of a city, called Ishtakhr in the ‘Abbasid age, which was the ecclesiastical capital of Fars in the time of the Sasanian Empire. And then, just round the corner, on a terrace overhanging the plain and backing on to a mountain, comes Darius I’s capital Persepolis.” Toynbee (1958), p. 179.

“Between the ruins of Persepolis and Pasargadae a new provincial capital rose, called Istakhr. Exactly how conscious its citizens were of being the guardians of Persia’s first golden age we cannot know; but a flame was kept burning in Istakhr, at the temple of Anahita, the Zoroastrian provider of water.
          At the turn of the second and third centuries, the provincial king of Fars was one Papak, erstwhile keeper of the Anahita shrine. In AD 208, Papak’s son Ardashir succeeded to the throne. The court was ritualistic, without a bureaucratic tradition, and modest in keeping with its relatively small dominion. But Ardashir’s horizons were far wider. . . .  [In 224]. . . .  Ardashir and Ardewan [the last of the Parthian kings] resolved the future of Persia by fighting in single combat, two mailed figures circling each other in the vast desert arena in the heroic style of a medieval joust, with an empire hanging on the result. Ardewan was bludgeoned to death with a club. That day, Ardashir took the title King of Kings, knowing full well what it meant. The Sassanian dynasty lasted four centuries. In that time the art of kingship was elaborated and refined into a cosmic force.” Irving (1979), p. 76.

“At Istakhr, the ancestors of the Sassanian family were guardians of a temple of Anahita where burnt Athur Anabit, or ‘the fire of Anahita’; and according to certain scholars, the cult of fire was particularly associated with this goddess. Ardashir I hung the heads of his enemies on the walls of this temple and exposed the skin of Artabanus V, whom he had defeated and killed, in that of Ardeshir Khurra.
          Of the Iranian triad, it was Anahita who enjoyed most popularity beyond the western frontiers of Iran, and her cult spread to Lydia, where she was called ‘the lady of Bactria’, to Pontus, Cappadocia, and Armenia. It was probably even more popular than that of Mithra, which the pirates captured by Pompey took to Rome, whence it was carried by the Roman armies as far as the Rhine and the Danube.” Ghirshman (1954), p. 270.

“When the Sassanian dynasty came to power its native province of Fars was thus the centre of a cult of Anahita and Ahuramazda. The principal sanctuary of Anahita at Stakhr was served by the herbads or fire priests, among whom the ancestors of the ruling family seem to have been prominent. As has been seen, both Sassan and his father held important positions in this religious centre: Papak succeeded his father in office there before becoming king, and Ardashir exposed the spoils of his defeated enemies in the temple.” Ghirshman (1954), pp. 314-315.

“Fars, which had hibernated for five hundred years as a cul-de-sac, was suddenly well placed for the new combination of northern land routes and southern sea traffic. Two miles to the south of the gorge where Ardashir built his first palace, a new Sassanian city arose at Firuzabad. Its circular shape symbolized the spirit of being at the centre of the world: at each of the four points of the compass a gate led out to a trade route – to China, to India, to Arabia and to Rome.” Irving (1979), p. 84.

“Sometimes Istakhr was simply called Fars, for the entire name may have been Istakhr-i-Fars, or ‘the fortress of Fars’.” Frye (1975), p. 10.

          “IṢṬAKIR, a large and ancient town, which had been the seat of the Sasanian kings. In it ancient buildings, images (naqsh), and figures (ūrat) are found. Iṣṭakhr has many districts (nawāī), and (some) wonderful buildings called Solomon’s Mosque (maztig-i Sulaymān). In it grows an apple, of which one half is sour, and the other sweet. In its mountains iron mines are found, and in its region, silver mines.” From the udūd al-‘Ālam (982 CE) – Minorsky (1937), p. 126.

“After Persepolis had been gutted and Alexander’s meteoric career had come to an end, Persia became the Satrapy of his most powerful lieutenant, Seleucis, and for a hundred and fifty years the kingdom of his descendants, the Seleucids. They, in turn, gave place to the Parthians for three and a half centuries. But when the Parthians declined, power returned to the true Iranians with the dynasty of Sassan.
          Sassan himself was high priest of the temple of Anahita at Istakhr, which lies three miles to the north of Persepolis, and in A.D. 224 his grandson, Ardashir, priest-king of Persis, revolted against Artabanus V and killed him. Ardashir founded the dynasty of the Sasanians, and thus the seat and centre of power returned to the south, to the heartland of Fars, replacing the Parthian summer capital of Ecbatana and winter capital of Ctesiphon on the left bank of the Tigris.” Forbes (1963), p. 162.

“Of all the Parthian vassal-kingdoms the proudest was that of Persis in south-western Iran. Persian kings had been ruling most of the civilized world at a time when Rome was still a village and the Parthians’ ancestors an insignificant sub-tribe roaming the steppes of the Caspian. The old capital of the region, Persepolis, had been devastated by Alexander (in 330 BC) and left in ruins; but a new capital soon appeared not far away, also known as Persepolis to Western writers although its real name was Istakhr. Here stood a great temple of the goddess Anahita, burning one of the everlasting fires which were important in early Iranian religion. One of the high priests at the temple bore the name of Sasan; he himself is not important in history, but his descendants – the Sasanid dynasty – certainly are. His grandson Ardashir launched a successful revolt against Parthian rule; his forces defeated and killed the last Parthian king, Artabanus V, in about AD 224, and thereafter defended themselves against attacks by Kushans, Romans, Armenians (for the royal house of Armenia was related to that of Parthia) and even ‘Scythians’ from beyond the Caucasus.” Sitwell (1984), p. 110.

“The famous ruins of Old Persepolis are locally called Takht-i Jamshid: the much less well-known ruins of New Persepolis or Istakhr are locally called Takht-i Tavoos. . . . ” Sitwell (1984), p. 208, n. 14.

“The essentially southern provinces [of the Sasanian empire] were Pārs, Parthau, and Khūzistān, although Kirmān could also be included. Pārs was the homeland of the Sasanians and a focal area of the Zoroastrian church. It occupied most of the Gulf coast from Qais island in the east to the Jarrāhī river in the west, which during the Parthian period was part of Elymais. (Ptolemy also makes the eastern part of the coast, up to Nāband river, part of Kirmān.) It reached north through the Abors’n mountains – the southern Zagros and its easterly continuations. The border with Parthau lay toward the population concentrations along the Zanda River.
          The city of Stakhr (I
ṣṭakhr) served as an administrative and religious centre from Achaemenian times. Under the Sasanians the latter function was especially important; the dynasty’s fire, Anāhīd-ardashīr, was the ideological heart of the empire. But the city also functioned as a major crossroads, communicating with the coast and the adjoining provinces. The Tabula Peutingeriana terms it “the market town of the Persians”; and its district must have extended from Parthau along the road to the Kirmān border at Pantyene (Sīrjān). The adjoining district of Dārābjird may have connected Fārs with the ports of Kirmān. The city of that name had already become a governmental centre under the Bāzrangid dynasty and was a Nestorian diocese by 424.” Brunner (1983), pp. 750-751.

“The early Seleucids established mints along the trade routes – Susa and Persepolis for the southern way to India; Hamadan, Herat and Bactra for the north; and a particular money for the Indian trade. . . .” Stark (1966), p. 102.

17.3. The text says that after leaving Sitao (which I identified in note 17.2 as Stakhr) you head due south and cross a river (the Rūd-i Kor – see note 17.4) and “then head due west 3,000 li (1,247 km) to go to Qielan (Wadi Sirhan), and from there it is said to be 600 li (250 km) west to the kingdom of Sifu (Petra).
          As closely as I can measure it on modern maps, while making allowances for the extension of the Tigris and Euphrates deltas which have spread further into the Gulf over the past two millennia, it was 1,200 to 1,300 km between Stakhr and the Nabk Wells in the Wadi Sirhan. This would be the first watering place a traveller would reach in the Wadi Sirhan after travelling east from Petra and just about exactly 250 km from it – as indicated in the Weilue. Refer to Appendix G.

17.4. The Rūd-i Kor (or Bendamir) River.

It is clear from a glance at a map, that the text is quite correct in its emphasis that, after leaving the towns of Stakhr or Persepolis, one has to go south and cross a river, before heading west.

          “Another river is KURR which rises from the limits of Azd (*Urd?) in the district (rustā) of Karvān belonging to (az) Pārs. It flows in an easterly direction until it has passed south of Iṣṭakhr (hamī tā ba-Iṣṭakhr bigudharadh) and joined the lake *Bijagān [now Bakhtagān].” From the udūd al-‘Ālam (982 CE) – Minorsky (1937), p. 74.

“The Bendamir rises in the mountains of the Bakhtiyari chain..., and runs with a course which is generally south-east, past the ruins of Persepolis, to the salt lake of Neyriz or Kheir. . . .  It receives, where it approaches nearest to Persepolis, the Pulwar or Kur-ab, a small stream coming from the north-east and flowing by the ruins of both Pasargadæ and Persepolis. A little below its junction with this stream the Bendamir is crossed by a bridge of five arches, and further down, on the route between Shiraz and Kerman, by another of twelve. Here its waters are to a great extent drawn off by means of camels, and are made to fertilize a large tract of rich flat country on either bank, after which the stream pursues its course with greatly diminished volume to the salt lake in which it ends. The entire course, including only main windings, may be estimated at 140 or 150 miles.” Rawlinson (1870), pp. 268-269.

17.5. It is close to 250 km from Petra, via the oasis of al-Jafr, and the water cisterns (discussed in detail in Appendix G), to the nearest wells in the Wadi Sirhan (‘Sirhan Valley’).

17.6. The “Southern Route” mentioned here as joining the east-west route at Petra is undoubtedly the famous ‘incense route’ which ran all the way from southern Arabia to Petra. For the identification of Xiandu with the region of ‘Aynūnah – see note 18.1.

17.7. On Nov. 1, 2002 Dan Gibson posted the following note in reply to a question of mine on his excellent website.

Due south of Petra on the way to Ail (Aqaba) was the Nabataean city of Humeima. It is located on the edge of a range of very rugged mountains, and is located in the western Hisma desert, which has large rocks in it. Check out, and also The pictures in the first section of this page were taken in the desert very close to Humeima. You can see why the place would be called “Rock Piles” by the Chinese. This name, however, suggests that the Chinese explorers actually visited this location, otherwise, they would have transliterated the name from the Nabataean name of : ‘Hawara’.”

This description is amply supported by the following three quotes:

“The next transverse depression to the south is nothing less that the end of the plateau itself, which descends steeply below the modern town of Ma‘ān [to the east of Petra] to a flat desert of hard mud with jagged extrusions of sandstone.” Bowersock (1996), p. 6.

“In antiquity, as in the present, there was an inevitable symbiosis between the inhabitants of the Jordanian plateau and the residents of the lava fields to the north. A major reason for the constant interchange is the route that heads southeast from the lava fields to the great interior depression in the desert known as the Wādī Sirān. This long depression with major oases at its northern and southern ends has long been a favorite route between the interior of Saudi Arabia and southern Syria.” Bowersock (1996), p. 7.

“EDOM; a province of Arabia, which derives its name from Edom or Esau, who there settled in the mountains of Seir, in the land of the Horites, south-east of the Dead Sea. . . .
          The ancient greatness of Idumea must, in no small degree, have resulted from its commerce. Bordering with Arabia on the east, and Egypt on the south-west, and forming from north to south the most direct and most commodious channel of communication between Jerusalem and her dependencies on the Red Sea, as well as between Syria and India, through the continuous valleys of El Ghor, and El Araba, which terminated on the one extremity at the borders of Judea, and on the other at Elath and Ezion Geber on the Elanitic gulf of the Red Sea, Idumea may be said to have formed the emporium of the commerce of the East. A Roman road passed directly through Idumea, from Jerusalem to Akaba, and another from Akaba to Moab. . . .
          Of its [Edom’s] eastern boundary, and of the adjoining part of Arabia Petræa, strictly so called, Burckhardt writes: “It might, with truth be called Petræa, not only on account of its rocky mountains, but also of the elevated plain already described, which is so much covered with stones, especially flints, that it may with great propriety be called a stony desert, although susceptible of culture; in many places it is overgrown with wild herbs, and must once have been thickly inhabited; for the traces of many towns and villages are met with on both sides of the Hadj road, between Maan and Akaba, as well as between Maan and the plains of the Hauran, in which direction are also many springs. At present all this country is a desert, and Maan (Teman) is the only inhabited place in it. . . . ” Edwards and Brown (1835), pp. 488-489.

17.8. The pearl fisheries in the Persian Gulf were famous for producing the best pearls in the world. There were also commercial quantities in the Red Sea near modern Quesir. The Mediterranean and Red Seas were noted for their corals which were actively harvested there.

“Specially praised are the pearls from the islands around Arabia and in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.” NH (b), IX, 106 (p. 135).

          “Coral is as highly valued among the Indians as Indian pearls. It is also found in the Red Sea, but there it is darker in colour. . . . Now it is very scarce because of the price it commands, and is rarely seen in its natural habitats.” NH (a): XXXII, 21, 23. See also notes 12(22), 12(24) and 17.1.

17.9. Sibin 斯賓 [Szu-pin] – was identified by Hirth (1885), pp 154-155, as the Parthian city of Ctesiphon, built on the eastern bank of the Euphrates directly opposite, and most scholars since have followed this identification.
          I believe it to be far more likely that Sibin represented Susa –with the bin
a mistake for the similar-looking character, sai . Therefore, instead of Sibin it would have been Sisai. The reconstructed pronunciations of the three characters are:

si K. 869a *si̯ĕg / si; EMC siə̆ / si.

bin K. 389a (variant of this character) *pi̯ĕn / pi̯ĕn (identical to those in GR); EMC pjin

sai this character is not included in Karlgren; EMC səjh; GR No. 10164 gives: s-gi ĕg / siḙ

Sisai would seemingly have formed quite a reasonable transcription of Susa, but Sibin would have made a poor one for Ctesiphon. This identification of Sibin as Susa (rather than Ctesiphon) is also supported by the following points:

a. The route Gan Ying took in 97 CE undoubtedly led him through the region of Tiaozhi to the shores of the Persian Gulf, see: TWR Appendix D. As I shall show later, the major city of Tiaozhi was most probably Susa.

b. The Yuluo which Gan Ying apparently visited, was Charax Spasinou on the Gulf, as I shall show later.

c. The most direct route from Aman (Herat) to Charax Spasinou ran through Susa. It would have required quite a long and unnecessary detour to go to Charax through Ctesiphon.

d. The Hou Hanshu specifically states that Yuluo (Charax) was 960 li (399 km) southwest of Sibin. Charax was southeast of Ctesiphon, but southwest of Susa. Therefore, Susa fits the information given in the Hou Hanshu, whereas Ctesiphon does not.                                                             

See note 9.24 on the kingdom of Tiaozhi 條支 [T’iao-chih] = Characene and Susiana. Susiana was the province administered by the city of Susa (‘city of the lily’), the ancient capital of the Elamite royal family said by Pliny to have been founded by Darius I the Great (reigned 522 to 486 BCE). It seems Darius merely restored the fortifications and extended the town when he made it his seat of government in 521 BCE
          Susa is not referred to as a ‘capital city’ or ‘seat of government’ in the Hou Hanshu, although it is described as a very large city on a hill more than 40 li (16.6 km) in circumference. This accords with Susa’s status as a key regional administrative centre, that never functioned as a Parthian ‘capital.’

“Greek cities, such as Seleucia on the Tigris and Seleucia on the Eulaeus [Gk. Seleukeia on Eulaios] (Susa), formed enclaves in the vassal kingdoms and were permitted by the Parthians to retain their Greek organization. Their life underwent little change apart from the fact they had to obey an Iranian satrap appointed by the Arsacids instead of a Greek satrap.” Ghirshman (1954), p. 264.

It was possible to sail right up the Pasitigris River to the city of Susa (as, indeed, Alexander the Great did) even though it was some 250 Roman miles (371 km) from the Persian Gulf at the time of Pliny’s report in the 1st century CE: NH (b), p. 134. (VI. Xxxi).

“The territory of Susa is separated from Elymais by the river Karún, which rises in the country of the Medes, and after running for a moderate distance underground, comes to the surface again and flows through Massabatene. It passes around the citadel of Susa and the temple of Diana, which is regarded with the greatest reverence by the races in those parts ;  and the river itself is held in great veneration, inasmuch as the kings drink water drawn from it only, and consequently have it conveyed to places a long distance away.” Pliny NH (b), p. 135. (VI. xxxi).

I tend to agree with the detailed arguments by Sōma that the big city, described as “more than 40 li” [i.e. more than 16.6 km] around in the Hou Hanshu, could not possibly be Charax Spasinou, which, as we know from Pliny (6.38), was only 2 Roman miles around [= almost 3 km, or just over 7 li]. Sōma, MTB, No. 36 (1978), pp. 11-12.
          It fits with what we know of Susa – the largest city in Parthia after Seleucia. Susa used Charax Spasinou as its seaport. We also know Susa retained its importance throughout the Roman period and retained a considerable degree of autonomy from the Parthian capital at Ctesiphon, though the details are anything but clear.

“The region of Susiana is distinguished from Elymais by Strabo XVI.1.8, 17, 18 and Pliny, NH VI.135-136. For the absorption of Susiana and its capital by the kingdom of Elymais, see U. KAHRSTEDT, Artabanos III, 40-47 and G. L. RIDER, Suse, 426-430, who dates the end of Parthian Power in Susa to c. A.D. 45 and places a mint of Elymais in the city by c. A.D. 75. Possibly at this time Susa became the capital of Elymais.” Raschke (1976), p. 817, n. 721.

Susa, earlier Shushan, Shush (later Seleucia on the Eulaeus), the capital of Susiana (Elymais, formerly Elam), now in southwestern Iran. Susa lay at the foot of the Zagros mountains near the river Choaspes or Eulaeus (of which part was known as the Pasitigris from at least c 400 BC; precise identifications with course of the modern rivers Karkeh [or Kercha, see Charax], Ab-i-Diz, Khersan and Karun are impossible due to hydrographic changes). The place served as the chief residence of the Achaemenid Persian monarchs since Darius I (521-486), and after the suppression of their kingdom by Alexander the Great it provided the mint for a victory coinage issued by Seleucus I Nicator (c 304). The city was refounded as Seleucia on the Eulaeus by a Seleucid monarch; this colony is first heard of under Antiochus III the Great (223-187), but is probably earlier.
          In about the middle of the second century Susiana achieved independence under a dynasty whose kings bore the name of Kamnaskires. The first of these monarchs, surnamed Nicephorus struck silver coins imitating Seleucid mintages. Kamnaskires II (c 82) struck pieces with busts of himself and his queen Anzaze, while a seated Zeus holding a figure of Nike appears on the reverse. Abundant bronze coinages, issued from the time of Kamnaskires IV (c 72) onward, bear the portraits of Parthian kings after the first century AD. Their inscriptions are in barbarously formed Greek letters or in Chaldaeo-Pahlavi script.
          However, Susa-Seleucia long retained a Greek constitution and the rank of a city state, as inscriptional evidence of AD 21 confirms. Its local decrees were framed in Greek, and its citizens produced a number of poems, including a lyric ode of the first century BC addressed to Apollo. But the poet gives him his Syrian title of Mara: and the city goddess was the Elamite Nanaia, equated with Artemis. Traces of Persian, Babylonian, Syrian, Jewish, and Anatolian elements can be detected in records of the ancient population.” Grant (1986), pp. 610-611.

17.10. Aman 阿蠻 [A-man] = Ariana, the province of which Herāt (also spelled Harāt) is the centre, was known to the Greeks as Areia. (Avestan: Haraēuna; Latin: Aria).

“The Heravia [people] occupied the oasis of Herat in the southern district of Khorasan [in the middle of the 9th century BCE].” Ghirshman (1954), p. 90.

Mark Passehl sent an email on 7 July 2003, saying that:

“In all Greek texts the province is called Aria/Areia and the capital founded by Alexander is called Alexandreia in Areia (or “among the Arians”). The Persian capital/palace town there was Artakoan(a).
          Strabo repeatedly refers to the general area of Ariana which apparently corresponds to Chinese Anxi but with the addition of Sogd, Baktria and Gandhāra as far as the Indus (i.e. where Indo-Iranian languages were spoken).
          I note with some interest that the so-called Bactrian language deciphered by Professor Sims-Williams is called precisely “Arian” in the Rabatak Inscription.”

The character man ; (GR 7588), K. 178p *mlwan / mwan; EMC maɨn / mεːn, was interchangeable with lüan (GR No. 7523). Interestingly, the lüan form seems to have been the earlier, as GR remarks that it was always used for man on bronze inscriptions.

The character lüan is not included in Pulleyblank’s Lexicon, but it is given in K. 178a, as: *blwân / luân / luan; and *bli̯wan / li̯wan / lüan, and, according to GR No. 7523, should read: [l]wân / luân.
          Due to its rarity, the character lüan is not included in the normal “CJK” character sets in my software, only in the “compatibility ideographs,” where it is represented in a rather squashed form like this:
          The alternative lüan for this second character is not recorded in many dictionaries – which is presumably why the obvious phonetic similarity of the name Aman (= Alüan) with Areia / Arian (i.e. Ariana with Herat as its centre) has previously been overlooked. See, however, the suggestion by Pulleyblank (1963), p. 124, that:

“One of the stages on the journey to Ta-ch’in, the Roman Orient, mentioned in the Hou Han-shu and the Wei-lüeh is 阿蠻 M. a-man. Hirth’s identification with Ecbatana is still often quoted but there is only the vaguest of phonetic resemblances and the suggestion of Miyazaki that it represents Armenia is much more likely. I hope to discuss this itinerary in detail elsewhere. (See Hirth 1885, Miyazaki 1939.) The transcription should go back to *aδ-mlan and the –l- could represent the foreign –r-, once again by a metathesis. I do not know of any examples of *ml in Buddhist transcriptions.” Pulleyblank (1963), I, p. 124.

The distance given in the Hou Hanshu between (presumably the eastern border of) Anxi to Aman is 3,400 li or 1,414 km. There is no evidence of the Kushans conquering Sind in the first century CE, which appears to have remained under “Parthian” or “Indo-Parthian” rulers. 
          Careful measurements on modern maps from the present town of Mithankot (which is strategically located just below the junction of the Jhelum and Indus rivers and the site of an important ferry crossing) through Quetta, Kandahar and Farah to Herat produce a figure of 1,410 km, which is remarkably close to the figure given in the Hou Hanshu. This suggests that Gan Ying may have come via Hunza / Gilgit (the “Hanging Passages”) through Kushan-controlled Jibin (Gandhāra) entering Anxi (Parthian or, rather, “Indo-Parthian” territory) further down the Indus valley. This route is based on:

a. the distances and directions given in the Hou Hanshu;

b. partly on the excellent phonetic correspondence between Aman (or, rather, Alüan) and Aria(n) with its capital in Herat; 

b. and the fact that Yuluo is an almost perfect phonetic representation of the Greek name Karax / Charax (a ‘palisade’ or ‘fort’). See TWR note 10.12, where I identify the Yuluo in the Hou Hanshu as (Spasinou) Charax, the famous port at the head of the Persian Gulf. Charax was a common Greek name for fortified towns. It is clear that the Yuluo of the Weilue that the Yuluo of that Hou Hanshu refer to a completely different towns called Charax. Also check note 20.1.

The alternative proposals are, I believe, far less credible:

          Aman was first identified as modern Hamadan by Hirth (1885), p. 154: “A-man, I presume, is the city of Acbatana (= Assyrian Akmatan, the present Hamadán), the first centre of population on the road west of Hekatompylos.” Pavel Lurje of the Department of Ancient Near East, St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences (email 18 May 2002) suggests that Aman may refer to “Media, Akkadic Amadai, Medieval Māy or Māh? It is not a town, but a country, as it is stated in Hou-Han-shu as well. Hamadan (OPers. Ham-gma-ta-na) is, however, its capital.” Hamadan was known to the Greeks as Ecbatana or Epiphaneia.
          There is a major error here with the distances – the text states that it is 3,400 li (1,414 km) west of Anxi. Similarly, we read that it is 3,600 li (1,497 km) from Aman to Sibin and from there south across a river and then southwest 960 li (399 km) to Yuluo
于羅. These are impossibly large distances – for example, the distance from Hamadan via Ctesiphon right through to the head of the Persian Gulf is less than a thousand kilometres – a far cry from the 1,813 km indicated in the Hou Hanshu.
          Hirth attempted to deal with this problem by reading the li as stadia (1885, pp. 142; 212; 222 seq.; 224) in this section of the text. The stadium he is referring to was 1/8 of a Roman mile or about 185.25 metres. This would make the distance from Anxi to Aman, 630 km; from Aman to Sibin, 690 km; and 178 km from Sibin to Yuluo. These fit fairly well for the Anxi to Aman section, if we take Anxi to refer to the capital at Hekatompylos near modern Damghan. Nevertheless, they do not fit Hirth’s identifications of Sibin as Ctesiphon, or Yuluo as Hira. 
          These identifications of Aman as Hamadan, and Sibin as Ctesiphon, have been accepted by almost all scholars since Hirth except Ogawa and Miyazaki, supported by Tazaka and Leslie and Gardiner (1996, p. 268 and n. 14). They propose Armenia and Sophene for Aman and Sibin, based on the apparent phonetic similarities. 
          Leslie and Gardiner also propose that Yuluo might be Dura Europos but this makes it very difficult to account for the very clearly stated passage in the Hou Hanshu that Yuluo “is the extreme western frontier of Anxi (Parthia). Leaving there, and heading south, you embark on the sea and then reach Da Qin (Roman territory).” To add to the confusion, there is also another Yuluo (same characters) mentioned in the Weilue as a vassal of Da Qin (not of Parthia), and located elsewhere.      

17.11. Hirth (1885), p. 196, was the first to identify this range with the “Taurus Mountains” of Antiquity: “The range running east to west in the north of Emessa, Palmyra, Ktesiphon and Acbatana must be the Taurus. . . .”
          Of course, its use here must be taken in a very broad sense, as they are said to extend to the north of Aman (which, as we have seen above = Ariana, including Herat). The definitions of the limits of this range were, in ancient times, far more extensive than they are today:

Taurus (Toros) Mountains. The principal mountain range of Asia Minor, extending through the southwestern part of the peninsula, along the coast of Lycia, and through Pisidia and Isauria to the borders of Cilicia and Lycaonia. The off-shoots of the range include Antitaurus (Cappadocia, Armenia) and Manaus (at the junction of northwestern Syria and Asia Minor). The Taurus Massif, regarded by the ancients as the backbone of Asia, was also loosely enlarged by their geographers to include the mountains of Mesopotamia and Armenia and northern Iran and even the Paropamisus (Hindu Kush) and Imaus or Emodus (Himalayas), and was extended, by rumor, as far as the unexplored Eastern Ocean.” Grant (1986), p. 630.

17.12. I have examined three versions of the text because Hirth (1885) pp. 76 and 114, and Shiratori (1956c), p. 118, n. 98, both have “Haidong” instead of “Haixi” here. The New China Bookstore Publishing House, Beijing, 1975 edition of the Sanguozhi, which I used, clearly has Haixi. It seems probable to me that the texts used by the earlier authors mistakenly repeated the word dong – ‘east’ – twice in a row. I believe the 1975 edition is more likely to be correct.

17.13. I presume this must refer to the Jibāl ash Sharāh Range which sits astride the main routes leading from Egypt to the east. This range was known in ancient times as ‘(Mount) Seir’ or ‘Mount Hor.’

“SEIR, (MOUNT ;) a mountainous tract, extending from the southern extremity of the Dead sea to the gulf of Acaba, or Ezion-Geber. The whole of this tract was probably before called mount Hor, and was inhabited by the Horites, the descendants, as it is thought, of Hor, who is no[t] otherwise known, and whose name is now only retained in that part of the plain where Aaron died. These people were driven out from their country by the Edomites, or the children of Esau, who dwelt there in their stead, and were in possession of this region when the Israelites passed by in their passage from Egypt to the land of Caanan. The country had, however, been previously overrun, and no doubt very much depopulated, by the invasion of Chedorlaomer, king of Elam. At what time the name of Hor was changed to that of Seir cannot be ascertained.
          Mount Seir rises abruptly on its western side from the valleys of El Ghor and El Araba ; presenting an impregnable front to the strong country of the Edomite mountaineers, which compelled the Israelites, who were unable (if permitted by their leader) to force a passage through this mountain barrier, to skirt its western base, along the great valley of the Ghor and Araba, and so to “compass the land of Edom by way of the Red sea;” that is, to descend to its southern extremity at Ezion-Geber, as they could not penetrate it higher up. To the southward of this place Burckhardt observed an opening in the mountains, where he supposed the Israelites to have passed. This passage brought them into the high plains on the east of mount Seir, which are so much higher than the valley on the west, that the mountainous territory of the Edomites was everywhere more accessible : a circumstance which perhaps contributed to make them more afraid of the Israelites on this border, whom they had set at defiance on the opposite one. The mean elevation of this chain cannot be estimated at less than four thousand feet. . . .” Edwards and Brown (1835), p. 1061.

Section 18 – The Kingdom of Xiandu (‘Aynūnah = Leukos Limên)

18.1. Xiandu 賢督 [Hsien-tu] was probably located near the village of modern ‘Aynūnah, and was probably the site of ancient Leukos Limên (‘White Harbour’).

xian K. 368e *g’ien / ɣien (same in GR No. 4458); EMC ɣεn = ‘worthy,’ ‘wise,’ ‘eminent,’ ‘virtuous,’ ‘able.’ 

du K. 1031n *tôk / tuok; EMC tawk = ‘to supervise,’ ‘inspect,’ ‘oversee,’ ‘control,’ ‘General-in-Chief,’ ‘Governor,’ ‘Viceroy,’ ‘Inspector.’                

I have never found either of the characters in Xiandu used to transcribe foreign sounds, and it seems likely to me that the name was either meant to be descriptive or a translation of some foreign term.
          The village of ‘Aynūnah is almost exactly 250 km southwest of Petra on the main route southwest of that city via Aqaba to the Red Sea. This, in itself, goes a long way to support the statement in the Weilue that: “The king of Xiandu is subject to Da Qin (Rome). From his residence it is 600 li (250 km) northeast to Sifu (Petra).”
          ‘Aynūnah (28° 5’ 8 N; 35° 11’ 13 E), was an important settlement in a strategic position, controlling the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, connected by road with Petra, providing convenient quick access by sea to and from Egypt. I suspect this was the site of Leukos Limên.

            “According to Agatharchides, Periplus [Müller, Vol. 1]), pp. 177–179 [ca. 113 BCE]. . . .  The bay five hundred stades (79 km.) long, which Agatharchides mentions, is identical with the strip of sea seventy-five kilometres long by fifteen kilometres broad, which is bordered on the east and the north by the coast, on the south and west by the shallows, islands, and islets, and which extends from Târân eastward and terminates by Cape Mṣajbe Ṧarma.
            The coast line of this bay, together with the oases of ‘Ajnûna [‘Aynūnah], Šarma, terim, and al-Mwêleḥ, and the adjacent eastern uplands, belonged to the Batmizomani tribe. . . .  The stony shore, stretching for a long distance and belonging to the Thaumudenoi, extends to the southeast from Cape as-Sabḫa. It has very few bays, and there are only two places, one by the settlement of Ẓbe’ and the other south of al-‘Wejned [modern Al Wajh], where ships can safely anchor.” Musil (1926), pp. 302-303.

The present small port of the region is now at Ash Sharmah, some 5.7 nautical miles (10.56 km) east of ‘Aynunah:

Ash Sharmah (27o 56’N., 35o 15’E.), a small subsidiary port of Yanbu, is reached by a buoyed channel leading from a point off the N end of Yubu [island], NE to the pilot boarding station. Range lights in alignment bearing 036o, lead from the pilot boarding ground to the port area. A grounded barge, with a length of 130m, offers a berth which will accommodate drafts of 7.8m alongside. . . .
            Caution.— The fairway entrance N of Yuba is about 2 miles wide, and shows depths of 96 to 239m but leads between isolated shoal patches with a depth of 9m. The areas outside of the buoyed channel are unsurveyed.
            Take care when steering on the entrance range, as shoal water lies close NW, and in the vicinity of the pilot station. The least charted depth on the range line is 70m.
            Jazair Silah is a low group of coral reefs and islets extending from 6 to 12 miles SE of Jazirat Yuba.”

From: , p. 84. Downloaded 28/8/2004.

It was thought by many scholars until recently, when convincing evidence that Myos Hormos was located at Quseir al-Qadim, that ‘Aynūnah was the site of ancient Leukê Komê. It is clear that Leukê Komê was located further south, near modern port of Al Wajh, as I have shown earlier – see notes 15.1 and 16.1. ‘Aynūnah was also the port and industrial centre for a very ancient gold and copper mining region:

“We were again much puzzled concerning the form of industry which gave rise to such a large establishment as Sharmá. Agriculture was suggested and rejected; and we finally resolved that it was a branch-town that supplied ore to the great smelting-place and workshop of the coast, ‘Aynúnah, and possibly carbonate of lime to serve for flux.
            The distance along the winding Wady, between the settlement and the sea westward, where the watercourse ends in sand-heaps, is seven to eight miles, and the coast shows no sign of harbour or of houses. About three miles, however, to the northwest is the admirable Bay of ‘Aynúnah, unknown to the charts. Defended on both sides by sandspits, and open only between the west and the north-west, where reefs and shoals allow but a narrow passage, its breadth across the mouth from east to west measures at least five thousand metres, and the length inland, useful for refuge, is at least three thousand. At the bottom of this noble Límán, the Kolpos so scandalously abused by the ancients, are three sandy buttresses metalled with water rolled stones, and showing traces of graves. Possibly here may have been the site of an ancient settlement. The Arabs call the southern anchorage, marked by a post and a pit of brackish water, El-Musaybah or Musaybat Sharmá. Its only present use seems to be embarking bundles of rushes for mat-making in Egypt. The north-eastern end of the little gulf is the Gád (Jád), or Mersá of El-Khuraybah, before described as the port of ‘Aynúnah. . . .
            In the afternoon Mr. Clarke led a party of quarrymen across the graveyards to El-Khuraybah, the seaport of ‘Aynúnah, and applied them to excavating the floor of a cistern and the foundations of several houses; a little pottery was the only result. It was a slow walk of forty minutes; and thus the total length of the aqueducts would be three miles, not “between four and five kilometres.” I had much trouble and went to some expense in sending camels to fetch a “written stone” which, placed at the head of every newly buried corpse, is kept there till another requires it. It proved to be a broken marble pillar with a modern Arabic epitaph. In the Gád el-Khuraybah, the little inlet near the Gumruk (“custom-house”), as we called in waggery the shed of palm-fronds at the base of the eastern sandspit, lay five small Sambúks, which have not yet begun fishing for mother-of-pearl. Here we found sundry tents of the Tagaygát-Huwaytát, the half Fellahs that own and spoil the once goodly land; the dogs barked at us, but the men never thought of offering us hospitality. We had an admirable view of the Tihámah Mountains--Zahd, with its “nick;” the parrot-beak of Jebel el-Shátí; the three perpendicular Pinnacles and flying Buttresses of Jebel ‘Urnub; the isolated lump of Jebel Fás; the single cupola of Jebel Harb; the huge block of Dibbagh, with its tall truncated tower; the little Umm Jedayl, here looking like a pyramid; and the four mighty horns of Jebel Shárr.
            I left ‘Aynúnah under the conviction that it has been the great Warshah (“workshop”) and embarking-place of the coast-section extending from El-Muwaylah to Makná; and that upon it depended both Wady Tiryam and Sharmá, with their respective establishments in the interior. Moreover, the condition of the slag convinced me that iron and the baser metals have been worked here in modern times, perhaps even in our own, but by whom I should not like to say.” Burton (1879), I, chap. 2.

The description by Casson who, like many earlier scholars prior to the recent discoveries at Quseir al-Qadim, thought it was the site of Leukê Komê, nevertheless shows that it must have been a port of some significance:

          “Identification with ‘Aynūnah is supported by the findings of archaeologists who have surveyed the area. The port would not have been at ‘Aynūnah itself but at the nearby village of Khuraybah on the water. Between the two sites archaeologists have identified signs of extensive occupation that date to the early centuries A.D. or even before: remains of impressive building complexes, a necropolis with over one hundred tombs, an abundance of Nabataean-Roman pottery; see M. Ingraham and others in Atlal 5 (1981): 76-78.” Casson (1989), p. 144.

Richard Burton as early as 1879 found ancient artefacts at Wady Tiryam just two marches south of ‘Aynanum:

“Early next morning I set the quarrymen to work, with pick and basket, at the north-western angle of the old fort. The latter shows above ground only the normal skeleton-tracery of coralline rock, crowning the gentle sand-swell, which defines the lip and jaw of the Wady; and defending the townlet built on the northern slope and plain. The dimensions of the work are fifty-five mètres each way. The curtains, except the western, where stood the Báb el-Bahr (“Sea gate”), were supported by one central as well as by angular bastions; the northern face had a cant of 32 degrees east (mag.); and the northwestern tower was distant from the sea seventy-two metres, whereas the south-western numbered only sixty. The spade showed a substratum of thick old wall, untrimmed granite, and other hard materials. Further down were various shells, especially bénitiers ( Tridacna gigantea) the harp (here called “Sirinbáz”), and the pearl-oyster; sheep-bones and palm charcoal; pottery admirably “cooked,” as the Bedawin remarked; and glass of surprising thinness, iridized by damp to rainbow hues. This, possibly the remains of lachrymatories, was very different from the modern bottle-green, which resembles the old Roman. Lastly, appeared a ring-bezel of lapis lazuli; unfortunately the “royal gem,” of Epiphanus was without inscription.” Burton (1879), I, chap. 2.

The fact that the port of Leukos Limên was not mentioned in Greek or Roman works before Ptolemy is, I believe, in itself significant. It probably indicates it was probably of little importance to them before the Romans annexed Nabataea in 105/106 CE.

          “Leukos Limên must have flourished after the Periplus was written, for the first mention occurs in Ptolemy (4. 5. 8).” Casson (1989), p. 96.

As there are no other contemporary ports of significance mentioned in the Greek and Roman accounts in the northern Red Sea region which remain unaccounted for – I suggest that Leukos Limên was probably the port near modern ‘Aynūnah – and that it was almost certainly the Xiandu of the Weilue.
            The name Leukos Limên or ‘White Harbour’ may well have been derived from the striking white “regular, round-headed cone” of quartz and granite called, Jebel el-Abyaz or ‘White Mountain,’ which could be seen from the sea as one approached the port:

“The height of the Jebel el-Abyaz, whose colour makes it conspicuous even from the offing when sailing along the coast, was found to be 350 (not 600) feet above the plain. The Grand Filon, which a mauvais plaisant of a reviewer called the “Grand Filou,” forms a “nick” near the hill-top, but does not bifurcate in the interior. The fork is of heavy greenish porphyritic trap, also probably titaniferous iron, with a trace of silver, where it meets the quartz and the granite. Standing upon the “old man” with which we had marked the top, I counted five several dykes or outcrops to the east (inland), and one to the west, cutting the prism from north to south; the superficial matter of these injections showed concentric circles like ropy lava. The shape of the block is a saddleback, and the lay is west-east, curving round to the south. The formation is of the coarse grey granite general throughout the Province, and it is dyked and sliced by quartz veins of the amorphous type, crystals being everywhere rare in Midian (?) The filons and filets, varying in thickness from eight metres to a few lines, are so numerous that the whole surface appears to be quartz tarnished by atmospheric corrosion to a dull, pale-grey yellow; while the fracture, sharp and cutting as glass or obsidian, is dazzling and milk-white, except where spotted with pyrites--copper or iron. The neptunian quartz, again, has everywhere been cut by plutonic injections of porphyritic trap, veins averaging perhaps two metres, with a north-south strike, and a dip of 75 degrees (mag.) west. If the capping were removed, the sub-surface would, doubtless, bear the semblance of a honeycomb.
            The Jebel el-Abyaz is apparently the centre of the quartzose outcrop in North Midian (Madyan Proper). We judged that it had been a little worked by the ancients, from the rents in the reef that outcrops, like a castle-wall, on the northern and eastern flanks. There are still traces of roads or paths; while heaps, strews, and scatters of stone, handbroken and not showing the natural fracture, whiten like snow the lower slopes of the western hill base. They contrast curiously with the hard felspathic stones and the lithographic calcaires bearing the moss-like impress of metallic dendrites; these occur in many parts near the seaboard, and we found them in Southern as well as in Northern Midian. The conspicuous hill is one of four mamelons thus disposed in bird’s-eye view; the dotted line shows the supposed direction of the lode in the Jibál el-Bayzá, the collective name.” Burton (1879), I, chap. 2.

The Chinese name Xiandu may well have been meant to imply that it was the seat of an Inspector, Governor or Viceroy, or that Xiandu was an “official” or “designated” port similar to ports mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea as a “designated harbour.” That is, an official port were there taxes were collected and the equivalent of modern customs or inspection services were available.         

          “Designated ports. –Trade was limited to ports of entry established, or, as the text has it, “designated” by law, and supervised by government officials who levied duties. There were many such ports on the Red Sea under the Ptolemies. There were also ports of entry maintained by the Nabatæan Kingdom [which was, of course, under Roman control at the time of the Weilue], by the Homerite Kingdom in Yemen, and by the newly-established Kingdom of the Axumites; the latter, possibly, farmed to Roman Greeks, now Roman subjects.” Schoff (1912), p. 51. Also see Casson (1989), pp. 51, 69, 173.  

The Periplus (19) says:

“To the left of Berenicê, after a voyage of two or three runs eastward from Myos Hormos past the gulf lying alongside, there is another harbor with a fort called Leukê Kômê [“white village”], through which there is a way inland up to Petra, to Malichus, king of the Nabataeans. This harbor also serves in a way the function of a port of trade for the craft, none large, that come to it loaded with freight from Arabia. For that reason, as a safeguard there is dispatched for duty in it a customs officer to deal with the (duty of a) fourth on incoming merchandise as well as a centurion with a detachment of soldiers.” Casson (1989), pp. 61, 63.

Although this refers to conditions around the middle of the first century CE, it would seem likely that the Romans continued to use the port in a similarly lucrative manner after they annexed Nabataea in 105 or 106 CE. It provided a much shorter (and, therefore, cheaper) access to bring incense from southern Arabia into the Roman Orient rather than shipping it to Egypt and then carting it from there all the way to Israel, Damascus, etc. The Romans charged exactly the same duty – 25% – on cargos imported through their Egyptian Red Sea ports. See Casson (1989), p. 14.

“To the left of Berenicê, after a voyage of two or three runs eastward from Myos Hormos past the gulf lying alongside, there is another harbor with a fort called Lêuke Kômê [‘white village’], through which there is a way inland up to Petra, to Malichus, king of the Nabataeans. This harbor also serves in a way the function of a port of trade for the craft, none large, that come to it loaded with freight from Arabia. For this reason, as a safeguard there is dispatched for duty in it a customs officer to deal with the (duty of a) fourth on incoming merchandise, as well as a centurion [presumably Nabataean, not Roman] with a detachment of soldiers” Casson (1989), pp. 61, 63.

18.2. It is almost exactly 250 km or 600 li northeast of the village of ‘Aynūnah (see the previous note 18.1) to Petra, or Sifu (see note 19.1), adding credibility to the identification of both places.

Section 19 – The Kingdom of Sifu 汜復 [Szu-fu] = Petra.

19.1. The Chinese name, Sifu 汜復 [Szu-fu], is probably not a transcription of a local name. I have not been able to find examples of either character being used to transcribe foreign sounds. However, the reconstructed pronunciations are:

Si K. 967i *dzi̯əg / zi ; EMC: zɨ’ / zi’

fu K. 1034d *b’i̯ôk / b’i̯uk ; EMC: buwk

The name Sifu appears to be descriptive rather than phonetic. Si refers to a branch of a river which rejoins the main river, and fu can mean to return, turn around, or to go and come.
          The first character, si
[szu] is, according to the Shuowen [Shuo Wen]: “an arm of a river which rejoins the main stream,” or, alternatively: “a canal filled to the brim.” The Shijing [Shih Ching] says: A river with two arms of water which rejoin.” Translated from GR No. 10171.
          It seems likely that the Chinese name refers to the many streams which wind through the great canyons or wadis in which the city was built. The stream in the main valley, the Wadi Musa, is fed by the famous spring of ‘Ain Musa, near the town, where, according to legend, Moses struck a rock and water gushed forth.
          The basic meaning of
fu means “to return” (GR 3594). Thus, the name Sifu forms an apt description of the city of Petra, in which the courses of the main streams were cleverly paved over by the Nabataeans, directed through the city, and any overflow channelled into a huge water cistern which formed the city’s water reserves and prevented flooding of the city: “a large Birket, or reservoir of water, still serving for the supply of the inhabitants during the summer.” Burckhardt (1822), p. 427.

          “Water, however, was an essential which often determined the location of a major city or trading-post, and Petra’s supply was beyond the wildest dreams of the most optimistic caravaner. The physical configuration of the mountains at this point would enable Man, if he was prepared to employ himself, to create a natural reservoir for the storage of water against even the harshest circumstances. The high rolling limestone ridge in the east describes a wide semicircle, with parallel arms stretching out westward in the direction of the Wadi Arabah. It is subtended by two parallel folds of the exotically coloured Nubian sandstone, about a mile apart. The northern and southern ends are tipped up slightly, thus forming a natural basin. The Wadi Mousa flowed, and still does during the torrential winter rains, into this basin, but instead of being held there where it could be put to some good effect, it escapes down the Wadi Siyagh and spends itself wastefully in the sands to the Wadi Arabah [except when the Nabataeans put an end to this waste].” Browning (1989), pp. 13-14.

          “The Edomites had started the process of water conservation in Petra but it was the Nabataeans who took such great pains to develop this into an elaborate system of control and regulation. Their water engineering was in fact their most impressive achievement: their architecture is remarkable, their pottery exceptionally fine, but their techniques of collecting, distributing and conserving water display outstanding ingenuity, skill and imagination which even the Romans could not better.
          They had to contend with the problem that, at the height of its prosperity, the city area by itself probably housed between 18,000 to 20,000 persons. With the various suburbs such as the Adi Siyach, el Sabrah, el Barid, el Madras, etc, the total would have been as great as 30,000. The springs in the valley were quite inadequate to meet the need by themselves, but up the hill, outside the Siq, above the village of Elji, is the abundant and perpetual spring of Ain Mousa – Moses Spring. Other springs in the area also augment the generous supply. By means of conduits and lengthy stretches of earthenware piping (Fig. 13), the Nabataeans brought the precious waters Ain Mousa through the Siq and round the great flank of the mountain el Kubtha, right into the heart of the city area – perhaps to feed the Nymphaeum, the ruins of which stand on the Colonnade Street. . . .” Browning (1989), p. 49.

It appears that the unequalled conservation and control of water at Petra led the Chinese to name it Sifu, which means something like, “rejoined water courses.”

“Petra, Arabic BARĀ, an ancient city, centre of an Arab kingdom in Hellenistic and Roman times; its ruins are in Ma’ān muāfaah (governate), Jordan. The city was built on a terrace, pierced from east to west by the Wādī Mūsā (the Valley of Moses) – one of the places where, according to tradition, the Israelite leader struck a rock and water gushed forth. The valley is enclosed by sandstone cliffs veined with shades of red and purple varying to pale yellow; and for this reason Petra is often called the “rose-red city.”
          The Greek name Petra (Rock) probably replaced the biblical name of Sela. The site is usually approached from the east by a narrow gorge known as the Sik (Wādī as-Sīk), one and a fourth miles long. Remains from the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic periods have been discovered at Petra, but little is known about the site up to c. 312 BC, when the Nabataeans, an Arab tribe, occupied it and made it the capital of their kingdom. Under their rule, the city prospered as a centre of the spice trade.
          When the Nabataeans were defeated by the Romans in AD106, Petra became part of the Roman province of Arabia but continued to flourish until changing trade routes caused its gradual commercial decline. After the Islāmic invasion in the 7th century, it disappeared from history until it was finally rediscovered by the Swiss traveller John Lewis Burckhardt in 1812.” NEB: VII, p. 914.

There have been many other identifications proposed for Sifu. Pulleyblank apparently accepts Pelliot’s argument (outlined below) that the first character si was a mistake for the very similar fan . He therefore gives the reconstructed pronunciation of the first character as M. bi̯am – very different from his later reconstruction for the character si as E. zɨ / zi in his 1991 Lexicon, op. cit. p. 292.
          It seems that, on the basis of this dubious substitution for the character actually used in the Weilue, he finds support for Pelliot’s suggestion that Sifu stood for ancient Bambyke:

“On the other hand there is also good evidence that M. bi̯am had no cluster, since it is used in the Wei-lüeh in transcribing the first syllable of a place name in the Middle East which Pelliot has convincingly identified with Bambyke (Pelliot 1921).” Pulleyblank (1963), p. 114.

Unfortunately, this misguided proposal by Pelliot, probably strengthened by the desire to see all Chinese representations of foreign names as attempts to phonetically transcribe local names, continues to influence modern scholars, in spite of their misgivings:

“Pelliot, for example, wants to change ssu to fan (changing the name Ssu-fu to Fan-fu, which he then reads as Bambuke)22. He quite rightly (though we believe he is mistaken in his identification) gives two arguments to strengthen his case. Firstly, by giving other cases where such a change has been made; and secondly, by pointing out the fan is commonly used in transcriptions, ssu is not. This last argument is especially powerful.

          22 PELLIOT, 1921, pp. 141-142.”

Leslie and Gardiner (1996), p. 29.

For details of the alternative proposals that Ligan [Li-kan] / Lijian [Li-chien] or Wudan [Wu-tan] stood for Petra, see Graf (1996), pp. 207-210. Hirth (1975), pp. 169-173 also discusses the Ligan = Petra theory.

“Petra, ‘the Rock’, lies within a high sandstone outcrop in southern Jordan, a desert area which was part of the ancient kingdom of Edom. It is approached, on horseback, from Ain Musa, ‘Moses Spring’. The bed of the Wadi Musa leads through the famous Sik, the gorge at times only 5 feet wide with bulging sides 300 feet high, cut by the water in the soft rock. Paved by the Romans, with separate tunnels to carry the water, it can now be dangerous when the rare floods sweep down.” Macaulay (1964), p. 49.

“In front of the great temple, the pride and beauty of Petra, of which more hereafter, I saw a narrow opening in the rocks, exactly corresponding with my conception of the object for which I was seeking [the main entrance through the Sik]. A full stream of water was gushing through it, and filling up the whole mouth of the passage. Mounted on the shoulders of one of my Bedouins, I got him to carry me through the swollen stream at the mouth of the opening, and set me down on a dry place a little above, whence I began to pick my way, occasionally taking to the shoulders of my follower, and continued to advance more than a mile. I was beyond all peradventure in the great entrance I was seeking. There could not be two such, and I should have gone on to the extreme end of the ravine, but my Bedouin suddenly refused me the further use of his shoulders. He had been some time objecting and begging me to return, and now positively refused to go any farther; and, in fact, turned about himself. I was anxious to proceed, but I did not like wading up to my knees in the water, nor did I feel very resolute to go where I might expose myself to danger, as he seemed to intimate. While I was hesitating, another of my men came running up the ravine, and shortly after him Paul and the sheik, breathless with haste, and crying in low gutturals, “El Arab! el Arab!” – “The Arabs! the Arabs!” This was enough for me. I had heard so much of El Arab that I had become nervous. . . . ” Stephens (1837), p. 252.

There are several names for Petra in ancient literature: Selah and Rekem, the Hebrew and ‘Syrian’ names for the city, as well as the Greek Petra, all mean ‘Rock’. It is called ‘Rakmu’ in a Nabataean inscription from Petra itself. Gatier (1995), p. 118.

“Ethnic and cultural labels were always used very loosely, and it may be significant that Eusebius [Onom., ed Klostermann, 142] was later to say that Petra ‘is (still?) called “Rekem” among the Assyrians’. But is he reflecting current usage, or just rephrasing a similar point made earlier by Josephus [Ant. IV, 7, 1 (161)]?” Millar (1993), p. 504.

My identification of Sifu with Petra depends on more than just the descriptive nature of its name:

a. If Yuluo stands for Karak in the Weilue (see note 20.1), then Sifu must be Petra, which is about 140 km (340 li) southwest of ancient Karak (depending on one’s exact route through these rugged mountainous regions), as indicated in the Weilue.

b. The distances and directions given in the Weilue to other places:

– Petra is about 1,200-1,300 km due west of Istakhr, near Persepolis, which was the seat of the Sassanids, soon to become the masters of Persia, and the last major centre on the southern trade route via Kandahar (identified as the Wuyi in note 6.25) on the ancient route to India. This distance agrees with the distance given in the Weilue of 3,000 li (1,247 km) between Sitao [= Istakhr, Stakhr] and Sifu. See notes 17.2 and 17.3.

– I identify Yule as Kerak. Kerak is slightly more than 140 km by the modern road north (instead of northeast) of Petra to Kerak – which agrees with the 340 li or 141 km given in the Weilue as the distance between Sifu and Yule).

c. The fact that Petra was under Roman control from 106 CE and throughout the rest of the second and third centuries CE.

d. South of Petra and Wadi Sirhan is a stony desert noted for its piles of rocks and odd rock formations (Jishi – ‘Rock Piles’) to the south of which are the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. The Persian Gulf was particularly famous for its pearls and the Red Sea for its coral, though both, of course, were found in each gulf. See note 17.1.

e. It is said to be in the text 600 li or 250 km from Xiandu northeast to Sifu or Petra. This is just about exactly the distance to Petra from the village of Aynūna, just south of the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. See note 18.1.

f. Sifu was at the junction of a major route from the south (the “Incense Route”) with a major east-west trade route, as clearly noted in the Weilue. Petra, controlled the main perfume route from southern Arabia, and from it important routes extended west to Egypt via Rhinocolura, and east to the head of the Persian Gulf.

Because of the interest in Petra and the importance of its identification for the determination of the trade routes in the eastern Roman Empire, as outlined in the Weilue, I have included some additional observations:

          “Round the south-east of Jebel Neby Harun and on its north side narrow defiles lead up from the Arabah to the edge of the most singular and most famous site on Mount Edom, the Wady Musa, in which lies the city of Petra. It is beyond the capacity of these pages to compass the features of this incomparable and fascinating basin, only some 1250 yards [1,143 metres] by from 250 to 500 [229 to 457 metres], in which nature and human art have worked together as nowhere else in the world. . . .  By her position and its security, and by her later importance, Petra must have been at a very early period a centre of commerce between Arabia and all to the west and north of her. But it is very doubtful whether the Old Testament ever refers to Petra; the name usually taken for her, Ha-Sela’, The Rock, being too general for a single town. Josephus says, “the capital of all Arabia, formerly Arkē, Arkem or Rekemē, is now called Petra by the Greeks”. Towards the end of the fourth century B.C. the place was twice attacked by the forces of Antigonus, one of the Greek rivals for the Seleucid sovereignty; but these assaults, not till after they gained much spoil, were repulsed by “the Arabs”, doubtless the supplanters of the Edomites, the Nabatæans, who in the second century had their capital in Petra. In 55 B.C. Gabinius, a general of Pompey, brought the town and district under the Romans, who called the region Arabia Petræa after it; and in 105 the Nabatæan kingdom was added to the Roman province of Arabia. . . .
          One of the intricate shî
s or corridors through the deep rock of Wady Musa, called The Shî, leads up from Petra by the village of Eljy on a five hours’ march south-east to Ma‘an, a small double-town, due with its gardens and orchards to several springs in an otherwise inhospitable area. It is the last Syrian merkez or rest-station on the Hajj Road, and has a market and on the railway a station. Thence to Jauf, the nearest oasis in Arabia, is ten camel-marches. Ma‘an is said to have been a Roman military post, and has been suggested as the Ahamant of the Crusaders. . . . ” Smith (1931), pp. 369-370.

“JOKTHEEL, (obedience to the Lord;) a place previously called Selah, which Amaziah, king of Judah, took from the Edomites, and which is supposed to have been the city of Petra, the celebrated capital of the Nabathæi, in Arabia Petræa, by the Syrians called Rekem, 2 Kings 14: 7.
          There are two places, however, which dispute this honor ; Kerek, a town two days’ journey south of Syault, the see of a Greek bishop, who resides at Jerusalem; and Wady-Mousa, a city which is situated in a deep valley at the foot of mount Hor, and where Burckhardt and more recent travellers describe the remains of a magnificent and extensive city. The latter is no doubt the Petra described by Strabo and Pliny. – Calmet” Edwards and Brown (1835), p. 698.

“SELA; 2 Kings 14: 7. Sela, in Hebrew, signifies a rock, and answers to the Greek word petra; whence it has been reasonably inferred that the city bearing this name, and which was the celebrated capital of Arabia Petræa, is the place mentioned by the sacred historian. The remains in the valley of Wady Mousa, which are described by Burckhardt and Legh, and by captains Irby and Mangles, attest the splendour of the former city. At the western end of the valley, the road ascends to the high platform on which mount Hor and the tomb of Aaron stand; in the vicinity of which Josephus and Eusebius agree in placing the ancient Petra.” Edwards and Brown (1835), p. 1061.

“Trajan’s catastrophic Parthian policy shifted the interest of the Euphrates from Armenia to Mesopotamia : but, even before his reign, the Romans had discovered how the dues and harbours of the south could relieve their chronic embarrassment, when imports like spikenard had risen to three times the value they had in the days of Mary Magdalene: a new Arabian chapter, or perhaps the continuation of the older chapter of Augustus, was emphasized by Trajan in 106 A.D. when he annexed the Nabataeans round Petra. The termini of all the southern trade routes – Jerash, Petra, Gabala, Rabbat-Ammon and Damascus – were in their hands. They had their own docks, and warehouses to distribute the Arabian spices even near Naples at Puteoli. Their absorption gave little trouble and they prospered under Rome. Their archers were used as garrison troops to save the legions and protect the trans-Arabian trade, and the new capital of the new province was established in A.D. 106 at Bostra (Bosra). . . .
          Under the Romans this south-western trade route was still the main source of wealth for Egypt as it had been through the ages, and city life prospered along it, though Petra declined with the rise of Palmyra. Two other great desert cities – Vologasia and Hatra – owed their existence to it; and others – Jerash, Amman, Edessa, Babylon – grew and flourished, and so did Parthian Ctesiphon in spite of its destructions. The trade with Europe through Palmyra continued: the Egyptian linen paid for Arabian spices and helped to limit the Indian circulation of Roman money; 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 Palmyrenian archers officered by Rome.
          Hadrian exploited the situation, maintained a friendship with the south Arabian kings, and was called the second founder of Palmyra. He favoured the southern trade route in all its length, and kept friendly intercourse alive between Syrian Rome and the Euphrates. Imperial bureaucracy had not yet closed down on Palmyra; when peaceful relations with the Parthians were re-established, Hadrian was careful to arrange for the free passage of the Roman (Palmyrenian) caravans, and pushed his troops as far as the Euphrates, possibly running a flotilla there when threatened from the East. He adopted Parthian cavalry equipment for his desert wars and a merchant of Palmyra was allowed to dedicate a temple to him in Vologasia, for his popularity was great with the Parthians. They ‘regarded him as a friend because he took away the king whom Trajan had set over them’.
          There were other inducements. The Sarmatian-Alani, pressing continually against the northern frontier, gave a common defensive interest to both empires in the north. There was no need for Rome to hold Mesopotamia while Petra and Palmyra were under her control – just as there was no need to hold Armenia while the Black Sea was open and the Caucasus was at peace. Whether Hadrian’s policy was meant to be permanent, or merely to tide over a crisis is not certain, but – reversing that of Trajan – it was a policy of peace: his frontier system showed itself useless only when his tactics were reversed by the emperors who followed him. The Roman defence then broke down and the thin frontier crumbled, and only the strongest walled cities were able to survive.” Stark (1968), pp. 252-254.

“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 centres of Meda’in Saleh and Teima in Arabia. Other caravans came from as far away as Gerrha on the Persian Gulf. Both in Petra and Meda’in Saleh, bold architects carved buildings out of the solid rock, as if they were slicing through the most insubstantial material.
          From Petra, goods were reexpedited northward to Syria, southwestward across the Negev and Sinai to Egypt, and westward across the northern Negev to Gaza and to Ascalon on the Mediterranean. From Ascalon, the precious freight was transhipped to Alexandria in Egypt and as far away as Puteoli in Italy, with ships hired by the Nabataeans touching Rhodes and Greece on the way. Along with their merchandise, the Nabataean traders carried their gods, so that by worshipping familiar deities in foreign ports they would always feel at home and secure. . . . ” Glueck (1959), pp. 195-196.

“While still under Nabataean rule, Petra controlled the caravan routes from the south, since the original trade route went through a waterless desert west of Petra. In order to gain the northern route, all caravans had to take the narrow exit through the Sîk. So, in AD 106 Trajan annexed Petra; later, Hadrian renamed it ‘Hadriana’. After that began its full Romanization.
          The Sîk road that led into Petra was paved; in the city itself a fine Roman road of gleamingly white limestone was laid down. A wall was erected to give dignity to the forum; a Temple to Zeus and a triumphal arch to Hadrian were built, and an amphitheater was hollowed out of the side of a sandstone cliff, gigantic enough to seat 10,000 spectators.
          Petra’s influence, however, disappeared with the pax Romana since the main Roman road – the Via Traiana or Way of Trajan – by-passed the city.” von Hagen, (1967), p. 114.

“Further to the east another independent state was established by the Nabataeans, with their headquarters in Petra (South Jordan) and Madain Saleh (Saudi Arabia). In the second century BC their powerful kingdom stretched deep into the Arabian peninsula and flourished by controlling the caravan trade which brought Chinese and Indian spices, perfumes and other luxuries from southern Arabia to Syria and Egypt. The Nabataeans spoke Arabic, but their writing was Aramaic. Their culture was superficially Hellenic. The people of present-day Jordan regard them as their ancestors.” Mansfield (1992), p. 8.

“The city certainly maintained its old pride. Its self-image was grandiose, probably larger than reality. Petra has the long title of “Imperial-Colony Antoniana, distinguished, Holy, Mother of the Colonies, Hadriana, Petra, Metropolis of the Tertia Palestina Salutaris”. The exalted rhetoric is clear. Most of the elements of this titulature are traditional, but some of the individual titles and the series as a whole are new. The composite title reflects the history of the city within the Roman empire, specifically that Petra received the title of metropolis under Hadrian and was honored under Elagabalus (M. Aurelius Antoninus) [reigned 218-222] who called Petra an “Imperial Colony,” a great honor and a title which was also given to Bostra (J. Gascou per litteras). But there is also a un-Greek, un-Roman element, “Mother of the Colonies”, a title known previously on an inscription from the area of Petra. Tertia Palaestina Salutaris too is grandiose. Palaestina Tertia and Palaestina Salutaris occur in other sources, but the three-word combination is new and reflects an ear for the rhetorical effect of such combinations. This effect reaches far beyond the actual meaning. The grandiose title of the city is a mirror image of the grandiose titles of individuals. The pride in being the centre of the Roman province, honored by Roman emperors throughout history, is matched by indigenous self-consciousness. Members of the upper class used Greek, Latin or Nabataean names. Obodianus, for example, a name derived from that of former Nabataean kings, was combined with the Byzantine/Roman status-name Flavius, just as Greek and Roman names were.” Koenen (1996).

“By 114 there is no doubt that the emperor intended to march farther east, against the great empire in the Iranian heartland. And it was obviously important to him to secure the countries behind him as he moved eastward. The organization of Arabia with the great road linking Syria to the Gulf of ‘Aqaba and the establishment of Roman authority at Bostra may well have been part of Trajan’s master plan for conquest of the Parthians.
          It is perhaps no accident that the greatest memorial to Trajan in Roman Arabia was on the triumphal arch at Petra, where the city honored him with a magnificent inscription, only recently made known in full, shows that the honorific title of the city, long associated with Hadrian’s visit later, is Trajanic. Furthermore, Arabia’s legion, the Third Cyrenaica, which contributed to Trajan’s expedition, itself commemorated the emperor with a great arch in the following year at Dura Europus near the Euphrates. It looks very much as if the mission of Claudius Severus in the province of Arabia over the course of nearly a decade was to provide continuity in preparations for the fulfilment of Trajan’s great dream to reenact the conquests of Alexander the Great and conquer the kingdom in Iran. Trajan could not have known exactly when Rabbel would die, but he must have had good reason to judge from Rabbel’s age that it would happen at some point in his own imperial rule. When the occasion arose, the arrival of Roman troops forced the Nabataeans into submission and allowed the Romans to accomplish a thorough organization of the region while the attention of the Roman world was directed to the brilliant conquests in Dacia. By 120 when the reports of the private life of the family of Babatha resume, Trajan is already dead, his great expedition a failure. But the province of Arabia remained as his legacy in the Near East, with its Roman troops, its Roman governor, and its Roman law.
          It had become clear from Trajan’s grant of the title of metropolis to Petra by 114 that it was not his intention, in placing the capital at Bostra, to diminish the role of Petra as a centre for the southern part of the Arabian territory. . . .  In the following year [125
CE] we find Babatha herself summoning a guardian to be judged by the governor of the province of Arabia, Julius Julianus, at Petra. The presence of the governor in that city on such an occasion does not prove, as some have surmised, that the city was the provincial capital as late as the reign of Hadrian. It simply shows that, in this province as in others, the governor travelled to the major cities outside the capital in order to hold assizes and administer justice. The assizes to which Babatha had recourse at Petra do indicate that the city was considered among the most important in the province.
          There are additional indications that Petra continued to flourish under Roman administration. . . .  That the city of Petra should have been thought an appropriate place for the construction of a tomb for a major Roman official [Governor T. Aninus Sextius Florentius who was definitely governor in 127] in the province is sufficiently eloquent testimony to the preeminence of the city in the Hadrianic age.
          Furthermore the careful excavation of the domestic area of Petra has provided evidence of unbroken habitation through the Roman period, down to the great earthquake of the mid-fourth century A.D.” Bowersock (1996), pp. 84-86.

“To envisage the area of the kingdom and the province realistically, we have to take into account the following elements. First, there was a band of settled territory stretching across the northern Negev almost to the Mediterranean, bordering on the southern part of Judea/Syria Palaestina, and incorporating towns such as Elusa, Nessana, Mampsis and Oboda (Avdat).
          Then, to go to the other extreme, there was the barren and mountainous zone of the northern Hedjaz. But here too there were substantial settlements, above all at Hegra (Medain Saleh), marked by a large number of fine rock-cut tombs of the first century AD, many with long inscriptions in Nabataean. On the coast there was also the harbour of ‘Leuke Kome’, ‘through which’, as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea reports, ‘there is a way inland up to Petra, to Malichus, king of the Nabataeans’. Because of the trade coming up from Arabia (Felix), there was also a customs-officer, to collect a 25 percent duty, and a ‘commander of 100 men’ (ekatontarchēs) with soldiers. The king will be Malichus II, AD 40-70, and the commander will not have been a Roman centurion, but a Nabataean officer. At Hegra the equivalent rank is even given the title centurio, transliterated into Nabataean (QNRYN’). Leuke Kome itself will be the Nabataean settlement of Aynuna, just east of the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba.
          Very little has been found of any settlement on the presumed land-route up the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba. But from Aila northwards up the east side of the Wadi Arabah, and especially north of the escarpment which rises up from the barren plain (the Hisma) stretching down to Aila, traces of settlement are increasingly dense. The ‘King’s Highway’, soon to be marked out as the Via Nova Traiana ‘from the borders of Syria to the Red Sea’, indicates the approximate eastern limit of such settlement as there was. But Petra, which lies just beyond the zone of 200-mm annual rainfall, which covers the fertile high plateau of Moab, in fact comes – very significantly – just within the tip of a narrower zone, between the Wadi Arabah and the steppe, in which some trees will grow. The question of the relation of the steppe and its peoples to the culture of this whole area is fundamental. Petra itself, however, is not a desert settlement, but a city carved out in a hollow among dramatic sandstone outcrops, with springs, and within a zone where there is vegetation.
          Whatever contribution was made by long-distance trade to the extraordinary urban development of Petra in the first centuries BC and AD, it owed its role as a royal city to the combination of inaccessibility and defensibility, on the one hand, and on the other to its location at the limits of a zone where agriculture and settlement were possible. The main area of Nabataean settlement, and the core of the Roman province, thus lay to its north, in the fertile plains of Moab, bisected by great wadis running down to the Wadi Arabah and, further north, to the Dead Sea. From around Petra northwards we are again entering a world of villages and small towns. . . . ” Millar (1993), pp. 388-390.

“It is difficult to demonstrate from textual sources exactly when and how the camel breeders took over the incense trade. The process was a gradual one, as has already been pointed out. The Nabataeans of Petra, Strabo’s “hucksters and merchants,” had definitely become an important factor in the trade by the first century B.C., and by the first century A.D. they probably controlled the desert route as far north as Damascus. Another entrepot, Gerrha, which was not peopled by camel herders, transshipped incense northward to Babylonia by sea in the fourth century B.C., according to Aristobulus who should have been in a good position to know having accompanied Alexander on his campaigns. But two centuries later in the time of Diodorus, Gerrha’s trade had become redirected overland to Petra. Bulliet (1975), p. 100.

“The indication in Diocletian’s edict on prices that camel transport was 20 percent cheaper than wagon transport is entirely explicable on practical grounds alone – cost of fodder, cost of wood to build a wagon, and so on – assuming there is a ready supply of camels. Since 600 B.C. at the very latest camels had been present in the deserts bordering the settled land of Syria and the Tigris-Euphrates valley in sufficient quantity to compete successfully with wagon transport. Between camel and farmer, however, was a cultural gulf far broader than the few miles that separated them geographically. That gulf had to be bridged before significant competition could occur, and a number of intricately interrelated elements went into building the bridge.
          In schematic summary, the North Arabian saddle made possible new weaponry, which made possible a shift in the balance of military power in the desert, which made possible the seizure of control of the caravan trade by the camel breeders, which made possible the social and economic integration of camel-breeding tribes into settled Middle Eastern society, which made possible the replacement of the wheel by the pack camel. But, of course, in reality this neat schematic development becomes much too complex to be followed with precision. Different stages in the process were reached at different times. The process in locations situated upon major caravan routes was different from that in more remote areas. While some tribes ultimately became primarily suppliers of camels for the general transport market, others, such as those in southern Arabia, continued throughout the centuries to use their camels primarily for milk. Yet however confusing the process appears, it did lead in the end, after perhaps five hundred years of gradual change, to the disappearance of the wheel in the Middle East. The impact of the process on different camel-breeding tribes was very uneven, but its impact upon settled society was uniform and its effects far-reaching.” Bulliet (1975), pp. 109-110.

19.2. See note 20.1.

19.3. The Wadi al-esa. There is obviously a mistake in the text here. In this section it says that going northeast from Sifu you cross a ‘sea’ (hai) to get to Yuluo, while in the very next passage it says that Yuluo is northeast of Sifu across a ‘river’ (he).

“Looking south from the point where the road begins its descent into the Wadi al Hasa [travelling south from Karak towards Petra], a change in the nature of the scenery can be observed; no longer is there a rolling plateau with smooth, rounded hills rising from it. Instead, numerous steep little valleys appear, and the hill-tops take on a rough and jagged outline, which represents the change-over from limestone to sandstone rock. The view down the Wadi to the west is very impressive, and prominent in the mid-distance is a high, isolated hill, on the top of which are the remains of a Nabataean temple, called today Khirbat al Tannur. The stream, which is perennial and as usual filled with oleanders, is crossed by a bridge, and soon after passing this the foot of the hill on which Tannur stands is reached. It is a steep and arduous climb to the summit. . . .  The temple dates from the first century B.C.–A.D., and is so far the only Nabataean temple to have been excavated. . . .
          . . . farther on a fine stretch of the great Roman road of Trajan can be seen beside the modern road; it is part of the great paved way which ran from Damascus to Aqaba.” Harding (1960), pp. 111, 113.

Section 20 – The Kingdom of Yuluo 于羅 [Yü-lo] = Karak, Kerak or al-Karak.

20.1. The character yu – K. 97a: *gi̯wo / ji̯u; GR: gi̯wo / ɣi̯u; EMC wuâ – was sometimes used to transcribe foreign ka sounds, as in the yu of Yutian – for Khotan, and for the kha of Khara. Furthermore, luo commonly represents foreign ra, or ar sounds, as in a number of Sanskrit names and terms, as well as in the name Khara itself. See, for example, Ts’en (1981), pp. 580-581, and Eitel (1888), pp. 80, 127-131. Therefore, the name Yuluo was pronounced something like Kara which is a very good representation of the commonly-used Greek name of Karax or Charax – literally, a ‘palisaded’ or fortified place.
          The reconstructed pronunciation of Yuluo in the Han period (ka-ra) provides a very good transcription of the Greek καραξ – Karax, or Charax, a ‘palisade’ or a ‘fort.’ This explains the identical names given to both Karak and Charax (Karax) Spasinou by the Chinese. Also see Hirth (1885), p. 156, n. 1, where he states that the very similar: “Χάραξ in Greek, and Karka in Syriac (see Kiepert, 1, c., p. 146) means “town” or “city.” The vocalising of the initial character yu
during the Later Han period is discussed by Pulleyblank:

“The use of Chinese ĥ / ĥw to represent Sanskrit h and v has already been touched upon. In a number of transcriptions of the Western Han it appears to be used to represent a foreign voiced back-velar, or perhaps uvular, consonant, that is as a voiced counterpart to initial glottal stop. An interesting example of this is in the name of Khotan 于闐 M. ĥi̯ou-en. This transcription, which first occurs in Shih-chi in the account of Chang Ch’ien’s journey, remained the standard Chinese name from that time onward. The earliest non-Chinese form of the word is Khotana, found in the Kharoṣṭhī documents at Lou-lan (ca. A.D. 300). Later we have the Brahmī spellings Hvatäna, Hvana, representing the native Khotanese pronunciation. Though these spellings use the Indian h (originally a voiced consonant), they ought, Professor Bailey tells me, to represent a voiceless aspiration in Khotanese. This is also implied in Hsüan-tsang’s spelling 渙那 M. hwan-na said to represent the local pronunciation in the seventh century A.D. Nevertheless there are indications pointing to an original voiced initial. The sanscritized form *Gostana, known through Hsüan-tsang’s 瞿薩旦那 M. giou̯-sat-tan-na [Pinyin: qusadanna] and from Gaustamä in a Khotanese document, is in no doubt etymologizing (meaning “earth-teat”) but it must have had some basis in a native original. (Besides these forms cited by Pelliot, we have Gaustana-deśa in a Sanskrit text from Khotan – see Bailey 1938 p. 541). The Tibetan forms with voiced initial H̲u-ten, H̲u-then or H̲u-den, might be based on Middle Chinese M. ĥi̯ou-den as Pelliot suggests, in which case they do not give independent evidence about the original form of the word. I fear that the same may be true of the Altaic forms which Pelliot discusses at length and in any case I cannot agree that the Chinese are likely to have first heard the name through an Altaic intermediary. I agree however in general terms with his conclusion that the native original must have been something like *Godan. The initial was probably not a stop but a spirant. (See Pelliot 1958, “Cotan”.)
          The same character appears in a number of Hsiung-nu words. Two of these will be discussed in the Appendix,
單于 M. ji̯en-ĥi̯ou < *dān-ĥwāĥ and 護于 M. ĥou`-ĥi̯ou < *ĥwax-ĥwāĥ, in which it is proposed to see the ancestral forms of Turkish tarqan/tarxan and qaγan/xaγan. Though we have no direct knowledge of Hsiung-nu phonology it may be conjectured that the underlying forms were something like *dārγā or dārγwā and *γaγā or γwaγā.” Pulleyblank (1963), p. 91.         

The same name, Yuluo, with exactly the same characters, appears in both the Hou Hanshu’s ‘Chapter on the Western Countries,’ and in the Weilue. It is clear that they refer to different towns on very different routes. The Hou Hanshu says:

“From [the eastern frontier of] Anxi (Parthia), if you travel 3,400 li (1,414 km) west, you reach the Kingdom of Aman (Herat). Leaving Aman and travelling 3,600 li (1,497 km), you reach the Kingdom of Sibin (Susa). Leaving Sibin (Susa) and travelling south you cross a river, then going southwest, you reach the Kingdom of Yuluo (Charax Spasinou) after 960 li (399 km). This is the extreme western frontier of Anxi (Parthia).”

It is evident that the Yuluo in the Weilue refers to a quite different place than the one mentioned in the Hou Hanshu. From the indications given that it was a Roman dependency, and not far north of Petra, we can safely assume it refers to modern al-Karak, Karak or Kerak. Its name, like that of the Yuluo of the Hou Hanshu is also derived from the same Greek name, Karax.         

al-Karak, often written KERAK muƒāfaah (governorate), Jordan, on the Wādī (watercourse) al-Karak, 10 mi (16 km) east of the Dead Sea. Built on a small, steep-walled mesa, about 3100 ft. (950 m) above sea level, the town is the Kir-hareseth or Kir-heres [note the similarity to Greek Karax] of the Old Testament, one of the capitals of ancient Moab. The ancient name means Wall of Potsherds in Hebrew, or City of Potsherds in ancient Moabite; the modern Arabic form can be traced back through Greek charax “palisade”, to the corresponding Hebrew word kir (modern transliteration qir), as found in the Bible.
          . . . . The natural fortress has evidences of settlement throughout post-biblical times; in the 3rd century AD [sic – should read 2nd century] it was known as Characmoba to the classical geographer Ptolemy. Subsequently settled by the Byzantines, who had a bishopric there, it is represented as a walled city on the Ma’dabā mosaic map, the oldest map of the Holy Land and environs known (6th century AD).” NEB I, p. 248. 

As it is very common to have more than one city or town with the same name (especially when that name means something as common as “a fortified place”), it is surprising to find Leslie and Gardiner (1996), p. 198, remarking that:

          “Our WL passage links up Yü-lo with other satellite states, in particular putting it north-east of Ssu-fu. The HHS passage has Yü-lo south-west of Ssu-pin, which in WL is south of the same mountain (range) as Ssu-fu.
          One must admit the possibility that there is a contradiction between the HHS and WL texts, though we are reluctant to suggest that there are two distinct places called Yü-lo. Were we to do so, we might place the earlier HHS Yü-lo towards Greece [sic], the later WL one in Mesopotamia.”

The fortified town of Karak is situated on a roughly triangular hill, about 900 metres along each side and protected by deep ravines on all sides but one.  

“In contrast to the Land of Edom, a broken mountain-range with lofty peaks, the land of Moab is a more or less sustained plateau, Hebrew Ha-Mishôr, mainly of limestone, resting upon sandstone with outcrops of basalt, and cut across from the desert, The Wilderness east of Moab, to the Dead Sea by several valleys, shallow at their upper ends, deepening westward and with considerable plains, but less passable towards their issue upon the sea. The border between the two Lands is the Wady esa-erai. From this the Land of Moab stretches north, divided by the valleys into four parts, which with their names are as follows:

1. Ar el-Kerak, the southernmost of the four, is also the largest, extending from Wady esa north to Wady Mojib or Arnon. On the whole well-watered it is drained by wadies within itself as well as by the Arnon affluent, Wady es-Sulani or Mkheres, which may be taken as its natural boundary on the east. All travellers affirm the fertility, and signs of a large ancient population, both of which somewhat revived after the Turkish Government was established in Kerak. The most important ancient sites are Kerak and Rabba, Rabbath-Moab, Areopolis of the Greeks, which Musil takes to be Ar Moab, a name sometimes applied to the whole district. . . . El-Kerak itself, Kerakka of the Targums, Ptolemy’s Charakmoba, Mōbou Charax of Uranius, Krak or Crac of the Crusaders, stands on one of the finest positions offered by nature to the military engineer. The town was entered by zigzag tunnels under its walls, through which I found in 1904 recent breaches, and was told that the chapel I sought in the Frankish citadel had ceased to exist. Probably el-Kerak is Kir-hareseth or Kir of Moab of the time of the Hebrew kings and prophets. The name Harasha applies to a lower stretch of Wady Kerak.”

Smith (1931), pp. 371-372.

“In Transjordan, where the Mādabā map unfortunately breaks off, there is still enough of the mosaic to see that Characmoba, modern Karak, was given a splendid representation, second only to that of Jerusalem itself, and perhaps equal originally to that accorded Ascalon and Pelusium. Characmoba became a major Byzantine city, although it had also existed in the earlier period under Roman domination. But despite its commanding location and its role as a local administrative centre, it had not been one of the principal cities at that time. The absence of Characmoba on the Peutinger Table, by comparison with its prominent appearance on the Mādabā map, is another very strong indication of the date of the information provided in these two documents. In short, with the Mādabā map we have a picture of late antiquity that, where comparison can be made, is utterly at variance with that of the Peutinger Table.” Bowersock (1996), p. 184.

“There are no other sites of interest on the road [south of the village of Rabbah] until the town of Karak is reached; this is imposingly situated on an almost isolated hilltop, and commands a magnificent view in all directions, especially towards the Dead Sea. Such a fine site must have been occupied since earliest times, though there is no actual evidence of such until the Iron Age, about 1200 B.C. It is given various names in the Old Testament – Kir Hareseth, Kir Heres, Kir of Moab – and was certainly one of the chief cities of the kingdom of Moab, even perhaps the capital at some time. The chief Biblical reference to it occurs in II Kings 3, when Mesha was king of Moab, Jehoram king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah, about 850 B.C. . . .  Most other Old Testament references are curses against the city by the prophet Isaiah. Very little else is known of its history; in Byzantine times it was the seat of an archbishop, and contained a much-venerated ‘church of Nazareth”. Its greatest prominence was during the Crusading period, when it was called Crac des Moabites or Le Pierre du Desert, and was the capital of the province of Oultre Jourdain. . . .
          The present remains are all of the Crusading period and later..., the only material evidence of its earlier occupation – apart from occasional sherds and other objects of the Iron Age turned up in the course of road-making – being the rear half of a lion carved on a basalt slab, and a headless bust of the Nabataean period. Both these pieces are built into later walls. In its Crusading plan the town was entered only by three underground passages, one of which can be seen beside the present road just before it passes through a gab in the walls to enter the town.” Harding (1960), pp. 109-110.

20.2. See note 19.3.

20.3. The Arnon or Wadi el-Mojib.

          “The Arnon, the present Wady el-Mojib, is an enormous trench across the plateau of Moab. It is about 1700 feet [518 m] deep, and two miles [3.2 km] broad from edge to edge of the cliffs which bound it, but the floor of the valley down which the stream winds is only forty yards [36.6 m] wide. About fifteen miles [24.1 km] up from the Dead Sea the trench divides into branches, one running north-east, the other south-south-east, and each again dividing into two. The plateau up to the desert is thus cut not only across but up and down, by deep ravines, and a difficult frontier is formed. You can see why the political boundary of Eastern Palestine has generally lain here, and not farther south. The southern branch, the present Seil Sa‘ideh, called also Safiah, is the principal, but all the branches probably carried the name Arnon right into the desert.” Smith (1931), pp. 377-378.

“Soon after leaving Dhiban [travelling south to Karak], the river Arnon (the present name of which is Wadi Mojib) is reached; both the descent and ascent are very steep and tortuous, and have given pause to many a good motorist. But there is a regular bus service between Amman and Karak which does the crossing twice a day without too much fuss; except, of course, when the river is in spate or a minor landslide carries away a part of the road. The gorge itself is immensely impressive, being at this point some 4 kilometres wide at the top and having a depth of nearly 400 metres. On the northern edge of the gorge, a few kilometres east of the road, is a small site called Arair, which is the Biblical Aroer. Close by the point where the road crosses the stream are the remains of a Roman bridge.” Harding (1960), p. 108.

Section 21 – The Kingdom of Siluo 斯羅 [Szu-lo] = Sura?

21.1. The character Si [Szu] – ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘completely’, ‘tear apart’ – is frequently used to transcribe ‘s-’ sounds in foreign words. K. 869a: *si̯ĕg / sie̯; EMC: siə̆/si.
          The character luo
[Lo] – ‘bird net’, ‘gauze’, ‘lace-like’ – K. 6a: *lâ / lâ. EMC: la – is commonly used to transcribe ‘ra’ and ‘ar’ from Sanskrit and other languages.
          Unfortunately, the Weilue gives no distances from Yuluo (Karak) to Siluo. It says that you go northeast from Yuluo (Karak), and cross a river before reaching Siluo. After Siluo, you again cross a river to the northeast. If Siluo does, indeed, refer to Sura, then the river mentioned after leaving would be the Euphrates, as I have indicated in the text.
          If my identification of Yuluo as Karak is correct, then it is most likely that Siluo refers to Sura, which is roughly north-northeast of Karak, travelling via Palmyra. Sura was on the border of Roman and Parthian territory and changed hands at least once.
          The Weilue makes it explicit that Siluo was held by the Parthians at the time the information was gathered. Although we know Sura most of the time functioned as a frontier-post for Roman Syria, no records tell how long it was held by the Parthians. The most likely period would seem to be the period after Hadrian withdrew from Trajan’s eastern conquests until Avidius Cassius’ retaking of Dura Europa, Sura, and surrounding regions in 164
CE, as Freya Stark describes:

“In the north, a Roman Syrian senator – soon to be in trouble – was made king of Armenia; and in the south, Avidius Cassius, following in Trajan’s footsteps, conducted a brilliant campaign down the Euphrates, rolling up the Parthian stations in his stride. The Parthians hurried back so as not to be cut off west of the river, and were beaten at Dura and again at Sura on the river-bank. Seleucia opened its gates to Cassius and Ctesiphon stood a siege, and both were equally destroyed. . . .  The plague – endemic in Baghdad in spring and autumn even in my day – increased until it broke the invasion: year after year it carried desolation through the peoples of the Empire, and diminished their numbers, often piling up two thousand dead in Rome in a day, altering the balance of the classes like the Black Death later in Europe, and helping to bring the humiliores to the top. It was looked upon by many as a vengeance of the Gods for Seleuceia – the bastion of Hellenism, a town at that time of three or four [hundred?] thousand inhabitants, and founded by the friend of Alexander. It never recovered; Greek culture was almost extinguished east of the Euphrates; ‘and it was probably now that the kings of Charax put Aramaic inscriptions on their coins’.” Stark (1966), pp. 236-237.

“Sura on the Euphrates was not a metropolis like Dura, and graduated from food producer to garrison town with the building of a paved road from Palmyra by Trajan’s father in the reign of Vespasian. Control references are vague because it was not so much of a trophy as part of the garrison chain.” Information kindly supplied by Samir Masri on 6 November 2003 to a question of mine posted on

“The steppe descends gently on the approach to the Euphrates. A few kilometres to the north of Qaraqol al-ammâm, appears the important shelf of Surya, the ancient Sura, dominating the crossing of the river. . . . Sura was the post of the Commandant (praefectus) of the Legio XVIa Flavia Firma in the Notitia Dignitatum.

“Sura was for some centuries the frontier fortress (Grenzfestung) of the Roman Empire against the Parthians ;   nearby, at Callinicum, was the final garrison of Syrian territory. The town lost some of its importance, when Diocletian, by the fortification of Circesium, advanced the frontiers as far as middle Mesopotamia. Meanwhile Sura always remained, even during the Byzantine period, an important strongpoint. During the Persian war, in 540, it was able to withstand the first shock. After this war it was fitted with strong defences. (PROCOPIUS, De Aedificiis, II, 9, p. 72). The present ruins, in their architecture, deviate a little from the later fortresses of Justinian on the Euphrates. They probably go back to the period in question” (MORITZ, op. cit., p. 29).

The Peutinger Table marks this importance of Sura before Diocletian by this note inscribed before the town, in the desert on the right bank of the Euphrates :

Finis exercitus syriatic(a)e (sic)

Et commertium Barbaros (= Babarorum).”

Poidebard (1934), pp. 83-84.

The Romans managed to hold the strongly fortified Dura-Europos (and, presumably other nearby posts along the right bank of the Euphrates such as Sura), from the time they captured it from the Parthians in CE 164, until it was lost to the Sasanian Shapur I in 253.
          Roman troops in the east (and, presumably, the Parthians as well) were badly weakened by a terrible plague beginning in 164:

“Forty years later there followed the plague of Antoninus, sometimes known as the plague of the physician Galen. The story is better documented than that of previous outbreaks. Disease started among the troops of the co-emperor Lucius Verus on the eastern borders of the empire. It was confined to the east for the two years 164-6 and caused great mortality among the legions under the command of Avidius Claudius, who had been sent to repress a revolt in Syria. The plague accompanied this army homewards, spreading throughout the countryside and reaching Rome in A.D. 166. It rapidly extended into all parts of the known world, causing so many deaths that loads of corpses were carried away from Rome and other cities in carts and wagons.
          The plague of Antoninus or Galen, is notable because it caused the first crack in the Roman defence lines. Until A.D. 161 the empire continually expanded and maintained its frontiers. In that year a Germanic barbarian horde, the Marcomanni from Bohemia and the Quadi from Moravia, forced the north-eastern barrier of Italy. Owing to the fear and disorganization produced by the plague, full-scale retaliation could not be undertaken; not until A.D. 169 was the whole weight of Roman arms thrown against the Marcomanni. Possibly the failure of this invasion was as much due to the legions carrying plague with them as to their fighting prowess, for many Germans were found lying dead on the battlefield without sign of wounding. The pestilence raged until A.D. 180; one of the last victims was the noblest of Roman emperors, Marcus Aurelius. He died on the seventh day of his illness and is said to have refused to see his son at the last, fearing lest he, too, should succumb. After A.D. 180 there came a short respite followed by a return in 189. The spread of this second epidemic seems to have been less wide, but mortality in Rome was ghastly; as many as 2,000 sometimes died in a single day.
          The name of the physician Galen is attached to the plague of A.D. 164-89 not only because he fled from it, but because he left a description of the disease. Initial symptoms were high fever, inflammation of the mouth and throat, parching thirst and diarrhoea. Galen described a skin eruption, appearing about the ninth day, sometimes dry and sometimes pustular. He implies that many patients died before the eruption appeared. There is some resemblance to the Athenian plague, but the undoubted Eastern origin and the mention of pustules have led many historians to assert that this was the first instance of a smallpox epidemic. One theory holds that the westward movement of the Huns started because of virulent smallpox in Mongolia; the disease travelled with them, was communicated to the Germanic tribes upon whom the Huns were pressing and, in turn, infected the Romans who were in contact with the Germans. Against this theory must be set the fact that the later history of the Roman outbreak in no way resembles the later history of European smallpox in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. But, as we shall see in some of the following chapters, the first appearance of a disease often takes a form and a course which is quite different from that of the disease once established.
          After A.D. 189, plague is not again mentioned until the year 250. . . . ” Cartwright and Biddiss (1972), pp. 12-14.

“Possibly even before the end of 164 Seleucia, a Greek city, surrendered voluntarily to the Romans, while Ctesiphon, the Parthian capital was destroyed. But in the following year Seleucia too was sacked and burnt, on the grounds that it had not fulfilled the conditions of the surrender. The Parthian expedition was regarded as concluded in 165, the year of the two Emperors’ third salutation as imperator and of Lucius’s assumption of the title Parthicus Maximus, which was also assumed by Marcus in 166.
          With that, the whole war was virtually over, for the above-mentioned operations on the far side of the northern Tigris, in Media, which went on until the beginning of 166 and gained the Augusti their fourth salutation and the title of Medicus, were only the finishing touches to the great success. Peace was concluded in the early months of 166; we don’t know if it was hastened by the appearance in the Roman army of the plague, from which Avidius Cassius had already suffered losses at Seleucia and on the way back from Babylon. . . . ” Garzetti (1976), p. 479.

“The eastern frontier that Trajan inherited, though neater than the confused patchwork of client states of the Julio-Claudian era, was still highly unsatisfactory. From the ill-defined borders of the Nabataean client state (east of Judea and south into northwest Arabia), the frontier cut across the desert by way of Damascus and Palmyra to the Euphrates, probably reaching the river above Sura. From there it followed the river through Zeugma to the north until its eastward turn into Armenia, then overland to the Black Sea, to a point east of Trapezus (Trabzon).
          In fact, as drawn on the map of the empire at the accession of Trajan, this frontier was scarcely tenable. Largely as a result of the distribution of rainfall, Roman territory in the Levant was limited for all practical purposes to a narrow strip almost five hundred miles long (from Petra to Zeugma), much of it less than sixty miles wide. Though theoretically in Roman hands, the lands to the east of this fertile strip were mostly desert, which required no security force for border defense against low-intensity threats (“point” defenses would suffice) but which, on the other hand, could not support the substantial forces which would be needed to meet any high-intensity threats. The Romans were in the uncomfortable position of holding a long and narrow strip with the sea to the west and a vulnerable flank to the east. Opposite Antioch, the greatest city of the region, the depth of territory controlled by Rome was scarcely more than a hundred miles – not enough if Parthian armies were to be contained until forces more numerous and better than the Syrian legions could arrive from Europe.” Luttwak (1976), pp. 107-108.

“The annexation of the major clients of Anatolia and Syria had substituted the presence of Roman legions for the “leisurely processes of diplomacy” from the Black Sea to the Red. With the deployment of direct military force where before there had been only a perception of Rome’s potential for ultimate victory, there came the need to provide new administrative and communications infrastructures. Under the Flavians, a network of highways was constructed in Anatolia; also, very likely, a frontier-delimiting road from Palmyra to Sura on the Euphrates was built (under the supervision of Marcus Ulpius Traianus, father of the future emperor). Behind the highways a chain of legionary bases spanned the entire sector, from Bostra in the new province of Arabia, to Satala, only seventy miles south of the Black Sea.” Luttwak (1976), p. 113.

          “There was also structural innovation in the opposite direction: the introduction of a new kind of force, the numeri, commonly associated with Hadrian but possibly already in existence under Domitian. The numeri are far less familiar to historians than either legions or the alae and cohorts. They can be recognized primarily by the structure of their names: an ethnic designation followed in most cases by a functional one. It is likely that the numeri were smaller units than the quingenary auxilia (300 men?), and that as newly raised ethnic units they retained a pronounced national character, which most of the auxilia had lost long before. It is recorded that they were allowed to retain their native war cries, and it is sometimes said that their introduction was motivated by the need to renew the fighting spirit of the now-staid auxilia. . . .
          While it seems improbable that the Romans looked to the numeri to infuse the troops with barbarian energy, mounted archery was very much an eastern specialty, and it is natural to find numeri of mounted archers from Palmyra and Sura side by side with regular auxiliaries such as those of Ituraea. Mounted missile troops were obviously suitable as border forces, since they could deal with elusive infiltrators and skirmishers. . . .” Luttwak (1976), pp. 122, 123.

“There are limits even to the distances which a camel can go without water, and the essential preliminary to the organization of the trans-Syrian desert routes was the provision of wells. Mention has already been made of the Roman roads in Syria. Those that linked the Euphrates to the coast were strengthened with forts and provided, at intervals of twenty-four miles, with wells. It was typical of the Roman thoroughness that these should have been sunk with absolute regularity regardless of the depth which had to be dug before water was found. To protect the caravans themselves the desert was patrolled by the Roman Camel Corps, and in addition a regular convoy system was evolved. Strabo says that these huge trade columns, trekking across the desert, sometimes two and three thousand camel strong, were like armies on the march. Considerably more capital was needed to launch these great enterprises than the average merchant could find, and it was provided by the Empire banking system in which the Syrians played a notable part. In the coast towns bankers would guarantee a 50 per cent return on money invested in one of the Mesopotamian-bound ventures. General political stability, local security, water and capital: Rome provided them all and the fantastic florescence of the Syrian caravan trade became possible, indeed almost inevitable. The focus of this trade, as everyone knows, was Palmyra. From the caravan city ran three major roads eastward to the Euphrates: the northernmost to Raqqa [across the Euphrates from Sura], the next to Circesium at the junction of the Euphrates and the Khabur, and the third to Hit. The last was the chief route to Mesopotamia, and the care which the Romans lavished in wells and fortification on its two hundred and ninety-five miles had preserved for it among the Arabs the name of Darb el Kufri, or Road of the Unbelievers. Westward from Palmyra another group of roads led to Egypt via Bostra and Petra, and to the coast via Damascus, Homs, or Hama. Palmyra was geographically the centre and key of Roman caravan traffic, and it is to Palmyra that one must go to get a notion of the wealth and civilisation to which this traffic gave birth.” Fedden (1955), pp. 81-82.

“The Roman limes on the Euphrates consisted merely of a number of strong points created at positions of strategic importance. Such were Zeugma where the northerly traffic crossed the river; Sura near the ford at Thapsacus; Callinicum which we know as Raqqa; Circesium at the junction of the Khabur and the Euphrates (a transit point for Palmyra traffic); and lastly Dura Europos and Halebiya whose extensive ruins are so well preserved.” Fedden (1955), p. 93.

Section 22 – The Far West

22.1. This passage does not make geographical sense, and certainly cannot be taken as indicating that the Chinese thought that one could reach China by travelling west from Da Qin. It was, perhaps, caused by the joining of information from two or more sources; or perhaps confusing real geographical information with fanciful Chinese notions about the far west. It most likely resulted, as Pulleyblank expounds below, by the continual shifting to the west of Chinese mythological concepts as their sphere of factual geographic information expanded in that direction. The first clear geographical information is the reference further on to the Baiyu shan [Pai-yü shan] – see note 22.3.

          “A point that needs to be stressed is that the Chinese conception of Dà Qín was confused from the outset with ancient mythological notions about the far west. In the same way that Dà Qín replaced Zhāng Qiān’s Dà Xià as the “counter-China,” the Weak Water (ruò shuǐ 弱水) and the Queen Mother of the West (Xī Wáng Mǔ 西王母), reported by hearsay as features of Tiáozhī in the Shǐji and Hànshū, were moved to the western extremity of Dà Qín in later texts. Attempts to identify them with actual western places are obviously futile.” Pulleyblank (1999), p. 78.

22.2. Chishui赤水 [Ch’ih shui] – literally the ‘Red River’ – possibly originally referring to the Kāshgar-daryā – and then continually shifted westwards as Chinese geographical knowledge advanced.
          The passage is so confused it is impossible to know where the original for this Chishui (‘Red River’) was located. One possibility is the Kizil-su, which was called Chihe [Ch’ih ho] in a Tang itinerary. Both these names also translate as ‘Red River.’ Stein (1928) Vol. II, p. 840, while discussing the Tang itinerary, says:

“Considering the general direction which the ancient route must have followed past Marāl-bāshi and the isolated hills to the east of it, there seems to me to be little doubt that the Kāshgar-daryā is meant by the ‘Red River’. The identical name, in the form of Kizil-su is still borne nowadays by the main branch of the Kāshgar river, which passes to the south of the ‘Old Town’ of Kāshgar and by the river as a whole higher up.”

22.3. Baiyushan 白玉山 [Pai-yü shan], literally – ‘White Jade Mountains.’

Baiyushan, literally the ‘White Jade Mountains’, traditionally referred to the mountains just to the south of Khotan, and are the earliest place given as the abode of the mythological Xi wangmu, (see note 22.4). It seems clear they were continually moved to west to accommodate the legend of their association with the ‘Weak River’ and Xi wangmu, as Chinese knowledge of the land to their west increased and no sign was found of either the ‘Weak River’ or Xi wangmu.

22.4. The legends relating to Xi wangmu 西王母 [Hsi wang-mu], the so-called ‘Queen Mother of the West,’ (or ‘Spirit-Mother of the West’) appear by the 4th century BCE. She was considered to be the personal goddess of the Emperor of China.
          Although Xi wangmu has usually been translated as ‘Queen Mother of the West’ I prefer ‘Spirit-Mother of the West’ as proposed by Paul Goldin recently. He has summed up the reasons for this choice of term neatly in the brief abstract at the beginning of his paper:

          “Xi wangmu, the famous Chinese divinity, is generally rendered in English as “Queen Mother of the West.” This is misleading for two reasons. First, “Queen Mother” in normal English refers to the mother of a king, and Xi wangmu’s name is usually not understood in that manner. More importantly, the term wang in this context probably does not carry its basic meaning of “king, ruler.” Wangmu is a cultic term referring specifically to the powerful spirit of a deceased paternal grandmother. So Xi wangmu probably means “Spirit-Mother of the West.” This paper discusses occurrences of wang as “spirit” in ancient texts, and concludes with a consideration of some etymological reasons as to why wang is sometimes used in this less common sense.” Goldin (2002), p. 83. 

22.5. Liusha 流沙 [Liu-sha], literally, ‘Shifting Sands’ or ‘Drifting Sands’, originally referred to the sands of the Taklamakan which were notorious for sudden sandstorms which, at times, could bury whole caravans or even towns, especially along the Southern Route.

“Stein speaks of “tame deserts”: those found in Arabia, America, and South Africa that are deserts in their sense of solitude and emptiness, but “tame” because in them whole tribes can wander about for long periods of time sure of finding water at least at certain regular seasons.” How different the true desert, “the dune-covered Taklamakan and the wastes of hard salt crust or wind-eroded clay of the Lop desert which stretch almost unbroken for a length of eight hundred miles from west to east. In them the absence of moisture bans not only human existence but also practically all animal and plant life.”
          . . . . Like ocean swells, the dunes move, the effect of northeast winds that rage over the desert much of the year, that are also constantly abrading the soft clayey soil unless it is already covered by dunes or anchored by desert tamarisks and poplars. At the ancient sites ruins of buildings or what were once orchards and arbors often rise above the wind-eroded bare ground on island-like terraces: these preserve the original level while around them the ground has been scooped out lower and lower.” Mirsky, (1977), p. 113.

Shiratori, (1956c), p. 135, n. 131, points out that the term Liusha first appears in the Book of Wukang in the Shujing connected with the term Ruo Shui 弱水 [Jo-shui or, as Shiratori gives it, Jao-shui] “and since then it has been almost the rule with Chinese writers to use the expression “Liu-sha and Jao-shui” when speaking indefinitely of the remotest western world. In the case under review [in the Peishi and, by inference, in the Weilue], Liusha must have referred to a particular desert region.
          He refers to the testimony of the Weilue that the Middle Route swept around the northern head of the much-feared Sanlungsha (‘Three Sand Ridges’) and the Longdui (‘Dragon Dunes’) on the Southern Route:

“It is these sandy deserts, which laid the most formidable obstacles before the traveller going through this part of Asia, that answer best to Liu-sha, as mentioned in the Pêi-shih.”

The Zhoushu, zhuan 50, provides a graphic description of their terrors, and places them to the northwest of Qiemo [situated on the east bank of the Charchan River, opposite the modern town of Charchan]:

“Northwest [of Qiemo = modern Charchan] there are shifting sands for many hundreds of li. On summer days there is a hot wind which is disastrous for travelers. Only the old camels know that the wind is about to strike; then, crying out and huddling together, they stand burying their mouths and noses in the sand. Whenever this happens, the men recognize it as a sign, and themselves take felt and press it over their noses and mouths to cover them up. This wind is swift, but after a while it is completely calm. Still, those who do not take precautions are sure to come to grief and perish.” Miller (1959), pp. 8, and 24, n. 44.

22.6. Jiansha 堅沙 [Chien-sha], literally, ‘Stable Sands.’

Shiratori (1956d: 172) suggests that Jiansha was probably a transcription of Kešš. However, as this name is unknown in other sources, and follows soon after Liusha or “Shifting Sands,” in the text, and, as the characters literally mean, “Stable Sands,” I have left it in the literal form.

22.7. Shuyao 屬繇 [Shu-yao] = Sogdiana.

Shu K. 1224s * d̑i̯uk / źi̯wok; EMC: dʑuawk

yao K. 1144n *d’i̯og / i̯äu; EMC: jiaw

This is a well-known transcription of Sogdiana. Enoki agrees that Shuyao = Sogdiana but gives the ancient form of the name as: *Ziwok-iu. See: Enoki (1955), pp. 51-52; Shiratori (1956d), p. 172; Ts’en (1981), p. 586.
          Sogdiana was centred in the Zerafshan (Zaravshan) and Kashka Daryâ valleys, including the important oases cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, on the main trade route to Merv and beyond.

“The name of Soghdak or Sogdiana first appears in the Hou-han-shu, Bk. 118. It is transcribed Li-i, which is to be read Su-i [the very similar characters su and li are commonly confused], *Siwok-ick (*Siwok-dck) “Soghdak”. The passage runs as follows: “The country of Li-i belongs to K’ang-chü. Excellent horses, cattle, grapes and many other kinds of fruit are produced there. Among other things the country is famous for wine because of (its) water of superior quality.” The description could apply quite well to Sogdiana in Central Asia, which has been famous for its beautiful water, wine, and splendid horses from ancient times to the present. K’ang-chü is the present Kirghiz Steppe to the north of the Syr and must not be identified with Sogdiana.” Enoki (1955), p. 51.

There is no evidence that the Kushans ever directly controlled Sogdiana (although they might have passed through it at some point) but, as the Hou Hanshu makes clear, it was at times definitely controlled by the Kangju who appear to have maintained friendly relations with the Kushans. This friendship was sealed by the marriage of a Kangju princess to the Kushan Emperor in 84 CE. (See the biography of Ban Chao in Hou Hanshu, 77.6 b, Chavannes (1906), p. 230; Zürcher (1968), p. 369.

“Still more definite evidence of the political independence of most parts of Transoxiana in the Kushān period is provided by the independent local strikings found there. In most cases they go back, without perceptible breaks, to those “barbarous imitations” which earlier (in the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.) were issued and circulated in the same regions. Apart from coins we have practically no sources from which to reconstruct the internal political life of Transoxiana. . . .
          In Samarkandian Sughd in the 1st or 2nd century A.D. there began the issuing of coins that showed, on the reverse side, a standing archer. . . .
          Since the archer coins bear no titles (if we do not include the Greek legend, rapidly subjected to ornamentation), and one and the same legend remains on coins struck over a period of a hundred years and more, it is clear that these coins did not bear the personal, nominal mark of the rulers of Samarkandian Sughd between the 1st and 2nd centuries. . . . ” Zeimal (1983), pp. 250-251.

“It is difficult to understand the next step in the establishment of Sogdian communities in China [after the first century BCE]. It seems that some of the ambassadors and their families settled in China, especially in Gansu. Some late genealogies of Sogdian families in China seem at least to imply such a reconstruction. We know on a firm textual basis that as early as 227 CE, In Liangzhou (Gansu), when a conquering army was approaching from the South, “The various kings in Liangzhou dispatched twenty men including Zhi Fu and Kang Zhi, the enobled leaders of the Yuezhi and he Kangju Hu, to receive the military commander, and when the large army advanced north they competed to be the first to receive us” [Sanguo hi, 4, p. 895]. The Hu from Kangju are the Sogdians, while the Yuezhi are the traders from Bactria and Gandhāra, the Kushan Empire created by the Yuezhi tribes. The leaders of the biggest trading communities in Gansu were sent to the invading army, and the Sogdians were already on a par with the greatest merchants of Antiquity, the Kushan ones.” de la Vaissière (2003).

22.8. Heishui 黑水 [Hei shui], literally: ‘Black River.’ Heishui or ‘Black River’ is a common name. There are several rivers in China and neighbouring countries with this name, including one near Osh in Ferghana also known as Kara Su – which also translates as “Black River.”
          Stein (1928), Vol. I, p. 457, notes that the Etsin-gol was known as Heishui, but I can find no mention of a Heishui west of the countries named.

Section 23 – The ‘New Route of the North’.

23.1. This route must be distinguished from the “New Route” described in Section 4 which headed from Dunhuang across the desert to Gaochang [Kao-ch’ang] = Turfan, and then along the southern slopes of the Tianshan [T’ien-shan] Mountains, and rejoining the Central Route to Qiuci [Ch’iu-tz’u] = Kucha.
          Unfortunately, the first part of the “New Route of the North” is not described in the Weilue. When political conditions allowed, the preferred route was undoubtedly, then as now, from northern China via Hami directly to the region of the Further Jushi [Chü-shih], near modern Guchen or Gu Chengzi [Ku Ch’eng-tze]:

“From Kuei-hua he [Younghusband in 1887] had followed the Small Road, carrying on past its coincidence with the Great Road. Then striking off from the wells and springs fed by drainage from the Altai which define the course of the Great Road, he crossed over by Ming Shui, rounding the eastern end of the Qarliq Tagh, and reached Hami. This is a little-used variant from the established roads, but for the study of trade routes it is of the first importance, because Hami is the most easterly point on the arterial cart roads of Chinese Turkestan. Under the special conditions of the caravan trade, camel traffic usually overshoots Hami, going on all the way to Ku Ch’eng-tze. This is partly because the pastures near Ku Ch’eng-tze are more adequate to caravan needs, but still more because, transport being cheaper by camel than by cart, it is to the advantage of merchants to have their goods carried as far as possible by caravan.” Lattimore (1929), p. 250.

There is no mention in the Weilue of the important stages of Hami or the Barköl lake and valley, or the great camel routes from northern China through to the region of Further Jushi to the north of Hami and Barkol. Presumably this is because the Chinese had again lost control of Hami and Barköl to the Xiongnu soon after 150 CE – Chavannes (1907), pp. 214-215. There is no record of them regaining control of Hami or Barköl before the fall of the Han dynasty.
          Undoubtedly the ‘New Route’ was developed so Turfan could be reached without having to travel through Hami (see note 4.22). Presumably the ‘New Route of the North’ would have been accessed either through the gorge to the north of Jijiaojing [Ch’i-chiao-ching – literally, the ‘Seven-Horned Well’], or via Turfan.
          It is probable that, when the Chinese had control of Yiwu (Hami), the route headed through there, and then north to Jijiaojing and through the narrow gorge across the Bogda Shan mountains to Dzungaria and the territory of Further Jushi (south of Jimasa). Cable and French (1943), pp. 297-298.
          From Jushi, the ‘New Route of the North’ went north of the Tianshan Mountains into the Ili Valley. From here it split into two branches, one that ran via the northern shore of Lake Issyk Kol, and another that avoided the lake, running to the north through the region of what is now Almaty (Alma Ata). Both these routes joined up again near modern Bishkek (Frunze) and then headed around the north of the Aral and Caspian Seas to the Black Sea where there was trade with Roman ports. Of course, this route had been well-known to nomadic groups and merchants for centuries, and was only “new” to the Chinese:

“It is now ascertained that from the days of Herodotus and before, the Black Sea appears to have communicated with the Altai steppes across the flat lands of Dzungaria. These lands, slowly desiccating but geographically easy, where horse and horsemen were at home, are slowly opening out to the fascinated eyes of the West. Their salty grasslands are excellent for sheep in the two per cent area of their oases, and their climate, with the ups and downs of a few centuries, has not greatly varied; a route across them was followed in the sixth century from the Crimea to China by the ambassador of the Byzantine Emperor Justin II; and it must have been already known to a good many merchants from whom Ptolemy – about A.D. 150 – got his information, for he shows himself well at home in the geography of the Don and the Volga to about 55 degrees North. The importance of Asia in his day may be gauged from the fact that only ten out of his twenty-six maps deal with Europe, as against twelve for Asia and four for Africa; and he got much of his vast information from these slowly accumulating reports of unrecorded travellers. Along the great eastern trade routes the Parthian frontiers impeded Roman merchants, but the northern information seems to have had the traditional itinerary of the steppes to rely on. ‘The itineraries consulted extended much farther north than most commentators have supposed; no doubt they continued the ones traced across western Scythia, the great Turkish-Siberian steppe.’ North of the Caspian, the route crossed a pass to Dzungaria and made for Mongolia. The discoveries of the Tarim basin, says Berthelot, ‘have concentrated attention on the high passes of the Karakorum, Pamirs, and Altai, but the far easier route of Dzungaria must have been the more usual one in the age of Ptolemy as in that of the Milesians and Mongols’ before and after.
          Two passes, Dzungaria and Ferghana, form corridors which connect the Asiatic and European portions of the vast and gradually sand-invaded plain where the nomads, divided rather vaguely into Massagetae, Dahae, Sacae, Scythians, lived a uniform life and spoke a more or less homogeneous Iranian language under conditions that were much the same from the Don (Tanais) to the ice-preserved graves of the Altai that have shown them as they lived. ‘Countless tribes of the Scythians extend over territories which have no ascertained limit; a small part of whom live on grain. But the rest wander over vast deserts, knowing neither plough time nor seed time; but living in cold and frost, and feeding like great beasts.’ So wrote Ammianus Marcellinus in the fourth century A.D. Their carpeted tents lined with patterned rushes as their Luristan descendants still weave them, their Chinese carts and mirrors, their gay and rich horse trappings and clothes are there from the fifth century B.C. intact.” Stark (1968), pp. 195-196.

The Weilue mentions six small kingdoms which were dependencies of the King of Further Jushi. They apparently formed an arc along the route north of the mountains towards the territory of the Wusun to the west, in the Ili Valley. Chavannes (1905), p. 556, n. 5, very plausibly suggests that these vassal ‘kingdoms’ stretched from Lake Barkol in the east to Lake Ebi Nor in the west.
          The Weilue gives us almost no details on these small ‘kingdoms’ other than presenting them as dependencies of the king of Further Jushi, seemingly listed in order from east to west, along the trade route.
          The Hanshu gives us more information on these kingdoms (and a number of others in the region). “But, as already observed by M. Chavannes, the bearings and distances there recorded are unfortunately too confused to afford safe clues to the location of these territories.” Stein (1921), Vol. I, p. 542, n. 15.
          This is presumably the result of measurements taken along differing routes by various people and also the fact that that many of the ‘kingdoms’ were extremely small, some no more than hamlets, and were often tucked away in valleys off the main routes, making it difficult to locate them precisely.
          Although the Hou Hanshu only mentions Pulei, Eastern Jumi, and Posterior Jushi, I have found that the distances given from them to the seat of the Zhangshi [Chang-shih], or ‘Adjutant General’, in Lukchun, appear to be accurate, and are, therefore, of some help in confirming their locations.
          Another clue is that, in the Han histories, some of the kingdoms are said to be west of, and others east of, the ‘Tianshan.’ Rafe de Crespigny suggests (1984), pp. 43, 465 n. 57, that, in Han times, the ‘Tianshan’ referred to the Barköl Tagh (stretching east from Urumchi to near Hami), and not the massive range stretching to the west of Urumchi now known as the Tianshan. Assuming this is correct, it allows us to check whether these kingdoms were to the west or to the east of this range.
          Eastern and Western Jumi [Chü-mi] – the Jiemi [Ch’ieh-mi] of the Weilue – and Beilu [Pei-lu] (= Bilu) are said (in the Hanshu) to be east of the Tianshan, while Pulei [P’u-lei] (= Pulu) is said (in both the Hanshu and the Hou Hanshu) to be west of it.
          Fortunately, Chavannes and Stein have convincingly located the seat of the king of the Posterior Tribe of Jushi, the most important of the kingdoms, just north of modern Jimasa. Their identification is confirmed by the distance given in the Hou Hanshu between Lukchun and Posterior Jushi of 500 li (208 km). See TWR notes 1.21, 1.37, and Section 27.  

“I may point out here that the direct tracks leading from Turfan to Guchen across the high, snowy portion of the T’ien-shan intervening are open only 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, impractical 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 Bogodo-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 on 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 Hami to Guchen and Urumchi passes.” Stein (1921), Vol. II, p. 706, n. 6.

“Another possible route..., went round Parthian territory on the other side, towards the north. Instead of taking the regular route through the deserts of Sinkiang, Turkestan and Iran, a traveller could follow the steppe belt through Siberia, north of the Aral and Caspian Seas, and so down to one of the Roman-controlled ports on the Black Sea. This was apparently the route followed by Aristeas in his quest for the Hypoboreans, and later by the anonymous people who supplied Ptolemy with his new information about the Volga...; later still, it was the route followed by the Polo family on their visits to Kublai Khan. But it was always hard going for anyone not used to the way of life of a nomad horseman. The more southerly route, though steep and arid, did at least have permanent settlements along it, some of them very large and beautiful, where travellers could recuperate after a long march; the northern route had none.
          A still more serious objection to the northern route was that most of the time it must have been more expensive, not less, than the southern one. No tribe, however primitive and disorganized, was likely to let a valuable cargo pass through its territory without exacting a toll; and when the steppe-belt was divided among a multitude of small tribes, as it often was, the cumulative effect of such tolls would have been more than those of the larger states on the regular southern route. Thus we find all the longest commercial journeys across the steppe being made when it happened to be dominated by a tribal group of exceptional size and power – the Royal Scythians in Aristeas’ time, the Alans in Ptolemy’s, the Mongols in Marco Polo’s. And in the fluid society of the nomads no such group could last for any length of time.” Sitwell (1984), p. 189.

“Evidence for the trade route that in antiquity linked the northern Black Sea coast with Central Asia and farther east, with China, or south with India, is provided by ancient writers and by archaeological material. Central Asia has yielded finds of objects from the north Pontic areas, while Central Asiatic and Chinese objects have come to light in the Black Sea region – fragments of a patterned silk fabric have been discovered in the Crimea, in a Bosporan grave dated to the first century AD.
          Among materials that indicate trade relations of the north Pontic centres with Central Asia, coin finds are also listed. They include coins of Greek rulers of Bactria and their imitations found in the Black Sea area, coins of Bosporan cities allegedly found at Dzungary (near lake Ebi-Nor, China) and Roman coins found in areas north of the Amu-darya, in Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan.
          The discussion of numismatic finds, which have not yet been analysed, has led to an assessment of the problems posed by the trade route that linked the Black Sea area with Central Asia and farther east, with China. The route, defined as the northern Silk Route, ran through the northern Caucasus, across the Lower Volga region and along the northern coast of the Caspian Sea to Central Asia.” Mielczarek (1997), p. 131.

“Beyond Pontus were three little kingdoms – Colchis, Iberia, and Albania – ‘free people without kings living about the Araxes [Aras River]’, Plutarch describes them erroneously, for they had numerous kings. They held the southern Caucasus, from whose uplands at least seven summits rise to over fifteen thousand feet. The people in summer fasten to their feet ‘broad shoes made of raw ox-hide, like drums, and furnished with spikes . . . and descend with their loads by sliding down upon skins’. Of the three passes, even when Bryce travelled there some eighty years ago, only the Dariel had a road. On the south-west of this range the Phasis [Rioni River], and on the east the Araxes [Aras River] and Cyrus [Kura River], linked the Black and Caspian Seas by a four days’ journey with a paved road between them, the Phasis [Rioni] ‘made passable by one hundred and twenty bridges . . . with a rough and violent stream’. At its estuary [at the port of Phasis on the Black Sea] stood a statue of its god together with the legendary anchor of the Argo, and a fort with walls and towers and four hundred men inside it: and in the mountains above, the Iberians lived ‘like the Scythians and Sarmatians of whom they are both neighbours and kinsmen . . . and assemble many tens of thousands, from them and from their own people, when anything alarming occurs’. Below the slopes on the eastern side, the Albanian nomads who had been free throughout their history, simple people who could not count up to a thousand, lived quietly on the Caspian plain, which was ‘better watered by its rivers and other waters than the Babylonian and Egyptian and consequently keeps a grassy appearance always, and is good for pasture’. Here the Albanian, or Derbend pass led northward by the shore. The only other passage is the Dariel in the middle of the range, a gigantic crevasse within four thousand feet vertical walls, and both are confusingly apt to be called the Caspian or the Caucasian Gates. Pompey, making for the more central pass, attacked the Iberians. He left a garrison and advanced to the Cyrus [Kura], until the conquered Iberians concluded a treaty. He was securing the gateway to Sarmatia.” Stark (1968), pp. 193-194.

Pliny, in his Natural History, Book VI, 17 (19) says: 

“He (M. Varro) adds that under the direction of Pompey it was ascertained that it is seven days’ journey from India to the river Iachrus, which flows into the Oxus, and that people have been conveyed from the Oxus through the Caspian into the Cyrus, and that Indian merchandise can be brought by land to Phasis [on the Black Sea] in Pontus in five days at most.2

2Strabo (XI. vii. 3) writes to the same effect: ‘Aristobulus [who accompanied Alexander the Great] says that the Oxus is easy to navigate (a circumstance which both he and Eraosthenes borrow from Patrokles), and that large quantities of Indian merchandise are conveyed by it to the Hyrcanian [Caspian] Sea, and are thence transferred into Albania by the Cyrus, and through the adjoining countries to the Euxine [Black Sea].’ From the Cyrus the merchandise was conveyed in four days along a carriage road to the fortress of Sarapana, whence it was carried down the Phasis to the Euxine. See Strabo, XI. Ii. 17. A passage to the same effect is quoted by Lassen from Fragm. Hist. Græc., ed. C. Muller, ii. 444. The Iachrus is supposed to be the Bactrus, which from Bactra (Balkh) joins the Oxus. there may have been an error in the transcription of the name.”

McGrindle (1901), p. 110, and n. 2.

“Chersonese, Tauric, in ancient geography, the Crimea and the city of Chersonesus (Heracleotic Chersonese), located on the peninsula three mile west of modern Sevastopol. . . .  Under the Roman Empire, Chersonese was treated as a free city protected by the Bosporan client king; a Roman military station guarded its considerable grain trade. The city continued to flourish in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, in the early Hellenistic Age, and again under the Byzantines.” NEB, Vol. II, p. 809.

The Weilue specifies that kingdoms stretching from Kangju west to the Alans/Yancai (Wuyi, Liu, Yan, and Yancai), “all have the same customs as those of Kangju.” This is confirmed by what is known from archaeological and classical sources, about an alliance of related tribes known as Sarmatians:

“The Sarmatians were a people who, during the 4th century BC – 4th century AD occupied much of southern European Russia and penetrated into the eastern Balkans beyond.
          . . . .  The earliest accounts of the Sarmatians are those of Herodotus and other Greek historians who stated that the Sarmatians, or Sauromatians, were an association of tribes. As with the Scythians and the Cimmerians before them, the most vital element in their political group came from central Asia. Its members were of Iranian stock and language; their tongue closely resembled that of the Scythians (Herodotus, Book IV, 117). Like the Scythians they were nomadic, excelling in horsemanship and displaying the same skill in warfare. They also had a keen political sense and administrative ability and followed their conquest of the western Eurasian plain by obtaining full political control over what is now southern European Russia. In consequence their name acquired generic significance; it quickly came to represent a large group of kindred and allied tribes that remained thenceforth attached to the smaller Sarmatian core. The Alani and Roxolani were the most important of these secondary tribes, yet, even when acting independently, all retained their place in the Sarmatian community. All of them accepted the culture favoured by the Sarmatians, practicing and disseminating it with such vigour and enthusiasm that Sarmatian taste and influence were felt even on the shores of the Black Sea and in the west.
          . . . .  In the last phase of their history, spanning the 2nd to the 4th centuries AD, the Sarmatians and their Germanic allies entered Dacia (Romania) and began raiding the lower reaches of the Danube, but in the 3rd century the Gothic invasion put an end to their independence. Many Sarmatians nevertheless retained their position and influence under the Goths; others joined them to sweep into western Europe, fighting at their sides. Soon after AD370, however, waves of migrating Huns effectively ended the very existence of Sarmatia; the majority of the Sarmatians who remained in southern Russia perished at the hands of these Asian invaders. . . .
          . . . .  The Sarmatians were excellent craftsmen. Perhaps artistically less inventive than the Scythians, they were nevertheless equally proficient metalworkers, better potters, and no less adept at curing hides; they were thus able to maintain the important trade in furs, grain (levied from local settlers), honey, fish, and metal that the Scythians had established with the Greek cities on the northern shores of the Black Sea. The Sarmatians also developed commercial contact with the Syr-Darya region, the borderlands of China, and the kingdom of Khwārezm (Chorasmia).” NEB, Vol. 16, pp. 249, 250.

23.2. The kingdom of Eastern Jumi 東且彌 [Chü-mi] – near modern Dashito [Ta-shih-t’o].

“Chü-mi 且彌 (according to Yen Shih-ku has to be pronounced chü); GSR 46a and 369m : tsi̯o/tsi̯wo (usually ts’i̯å/ ts’i̯a) - mi̯ăr/mjie̯. The Hsi-yü t’u-kao places both Eastern and Western Chü-mi in the area of Hu-t’u-pi 呼圖壁 River, South of Manass. Matsuda (1956), p. 91-95, argues in favour of a location in the Yulduz area.” CICA: 181, n. 608. [I have followed the advice of Yen Shih-ku that the name of this country should be pronounced Chü-mi – Pinyin, Jumi, rather than Ch’ieh-mi – Pinyin, Qiemi. On the other hand, both of the locations given in this quote appear very unlikely to me, as the Hanshu specifically notes that they were both east of the Tian or Bogodo mountains. See note 23.1]

“At the conquest [in 60 BCE] of Ku-shih [the state] was not completely destroyed but was split between the two kings of Nearer and Further Chü-shih and six other states north of the mountains.” Hanshu 96A in CICA, pp. 76-77.

“As enumerated by Hsü Sung these six states were East and West Chü-mi..., Nearer and Further Pi-lu..., and Nearer and Further P’u-lei..., but cf. Shimazaki (1969). . . . ” CICA, 79, n. 51

“The territories of Eastern Chü-mi and Western Chü-mi are the first to be named in the list [in the Weilue] among those dependent upon Posterior Chü-shih through which ran the ‘new northern route’ after emerging from the desert to the north-west of the Jade Gate barrier. I have shown in Serindia that this route between the Jade Gate and Posterior Chü-shih, first opened in A. D. 2, must necessarily have crossed the T’ien-shan by the easy saddle over which passes the present Chinese cart-road from Hāmi to Guchen, between the stations of Ch’i-ku-ching and Ta-shih-t’o (Map No. 31. C. I. ; D. 2). Eastern Chü-mi, like the rest of the small ‘kingdoms’ dependent on Posterior Chü-shih, must have lain on the northern side of the T’ien-shan. Hence we can safely locate it in the valleys and plateaus to the west of the Barkul lake which are reached across the saddle and which we crossed on our way from Barkul to Guchen , as seen in Maps Nos. 34. A. I ; 31. A-D. I.
          I shall have occasion farther on to give a brief description of this region ; but I may at once observe that its physical character entirely agrees with what the Hou Han shu tells us of the Eastern Chü-mi. The territory is there said to include over three thousand households and some two thousand fighting men. Its people are described as nomads living in huts and tents and leading a pastoral life, agriculture being practised only to a small extent. The T’ien-shan sinks to a much lower elevation to the west of Barkul, before it rises again to a crest line carrying permanent snow in that portion of the range which divides Guchen from Turfān. Consequently there is less moisture to be found in the valleys west of Barkul until the forest-clad slopes east of Mu-li-ho (Map No. 31. A. I) are reached. Yet grazing grounds are to be found in most of this area, and also patches of cultivation, which gradually increase in size and importance as the tract of Guchen is approached.” Stein (1928), Vol. I, pp. 542-543.

The Hou Hanshu says that Eastern Jumi is 800 li (333 km) east of Lukchun. This makes it 300 li (125 km) east of Posterior Jushih (just north of Jimasa). Measured out on Stein’s maps (1928, Maps 28 and 31), and the U.S. Defence Mapping Agency’s ONC, Sheet F-7, this brings one almost exactly to the modern village of Dashite [Ta-shih-t’o], the first village reached after crossing the range from the south into the Dzungarian plain. (See note 13.1).

“At San-t’ang Hu we had joined the old Great Road, so that my camel man was at last in country known to him ; but still, the last marches between us and Ku Ch’eng-tze [Guchen] were not to be lightly undertaken. The end of the Great Road is, in reality, a choice of three routes : one going straight to Bar Köl and thence by the Road Inside the Mountains, through hilly country, emerging by Mu-li Ho and Ta Shih-t’ou almost at the gates of Ku Ch’eng-tze ; one following the outer edge of the mountains for a number of stages, before entering them and joining the first ; and a third skirting the mountains all the way. The first two are better than the open desert until the winter has fully set in, but once they are encumbered with snow the only safe way is by the open desert, where in an ordinary winter snow lies neither long nor deep. This route is reckoned at eleven or twelve stages, but owing to unusual snow we had in the end to keep still farther out from the mountains, the distance, at my estimate, running to 230 miles.” Lattimore (1929), p. 314.

23.3. The kingdom of Western Jumi 西且彌 [Hsi Chü-mi] – near modern Mulei. The Hanshu (CICA: 181) states that it was 1,487 li (619 km) southwest from Western Jumi to the seat of the Protector General and that it was 1,237 li (515 km) southwest from the capital of Further Jushi (ibid: 184), which we have located (see note 23.8) close to modern Jimasa. It is probable that the distance from Western Jumi to the seat of the Protector General at Wulei, west of Korla, would have been measured through the kingdom of Further Jushi. Therefore, if the measurements can be trusted, Western Jumi would have been about 104 km east of Jimasa, placing it in the region of the modern town of Mulei.

23.4. The kingdom of Danhuan 單桓 [Tan-huan]

“The seat of the king’s government is at the town of Tan-huan, and is distant from Ch’ang-an by 8870 li. There are 27 households, 194 individuals with 45 persons able to bear arms. [There are the following officials:] the noble of Fu-kuo (support of the state), the leader, the commandants of the left and the right, and the interpreter-in-chief.” CICA, p. 180.

“The Hsi-yü t’u-k’ao places it in the area of Urumchi.” CICA: 180, n. 604.

23.5. The kingdom of Bilu 畢陸 [Pi-lu].

The Hanshu mentions both a Beilu [Pei-lu] and a ‘Further state of Beilu [Pei-lu]’:

“Pei-lu 卑陸 GSR 874a and 1032f : pi̯ěg / pjiě - li̯ok / li̯uk. The commentators are uncertain about the location of this country and the seat of the king. Chavannes (1905), p. 557, note 2, merely notes that the Wei-lüeh writes Pi lu. Matsuda (1956), p. 116, locates it at Tzu-ni-ch’üan 紫泥泉 or Pai-yang i 白楊驛.” CICA:, p. 179, n. 596

23.6. The kingdom of Pulu 蒲陸 [P’u-lu].

“It is probable that Pulu is here the equivalent of Pulei 蒲類. But Pulei is the name of Lake Barkol and, consequently, the kingdom of Pulei would have to be at the head of the list seeing as it follows a regular progression from the east to the west. The solution of the difficulty appears to me to be supplied by the Hou Hanshu (chap. CXVIII, p. 8 a)[T.P. 8, pp. 209-210]. Indeed this book informs us that the chief of the Xiongnu, having been displeased by the king of Pulei, transported the people of Pulei, numbering more than 6,000, en masse to the region of Ao 阿惡, which was more than 90 days’ journey by horse to the north of the posterior court of Jushih (Jimasa near Gutchen). Some of the most pitiful of those who had been displaced in this way managed to escape and took refuge in the mountain gorges where they founded a new kingdom which kept the name of Pulei. As for the territory of the ancient kingdom of Pulei near Lake Barkol, it was occupied, according to the Hou Hanshu, by the kingdom of Yizhi 移支. These events took place during the Former Han and it is this, no doubt, that explains why the Hanshu, as well as the Hou Hanshu place the kingdom of Pulei to the west of the Tianshan, that is, in the region of Urumchi and Manass. This being the true position of the new kingdom of Pulei, one will naturally find that it occupies the last place but one in the enumeration of the Weilue.” Translated from: Chavannes (1905): 557, n. 3.

          “The name P’u-lei 蒲類 given to the fifth of the ‘kingdoms’ is undoubtedly that borne by the Barkul lake. But the account given by the Hou Han shu of this territory makes it equally certain, as already pointed out by M. Chavannes, that it must have been situated in a valley of the T’ien-shan much further away to the west, probably well beyond the present Urumchi. M. Chavannes has also indicated, in the same passage of the Hou Han shu, what is a most likely explanation of this transference of the name P’u-lei. It records that, at a period when the ‘Western Countries’ were controlled by the Hsiung-nu, the king of P’u-lei had offended the ‘Shan-yü’ 單于 or supreme chief of the Huns. The angry Shan-yü thereupon departed more than six thousand people of P’u-lei to a territory known as A-o 阿惡 situated at a distance of ninety marches from Posterior Chü-shih on the extreme right or western flank of the Hsiung-nu. But some of the exiled people ‘in their wretchedness escaped thence to this mountain gorge and settling there founded a kingdom’.” Stein (1928), Vol. I, p. 542.

The Hou Hanshu notes that Pulei is “west of the Tianshan” [= the Bogda Tagh mountains], and says it is 1,387 li (577 km) northwest of the seat of the Zhangshi [Adjutant General] at Lukchun, see Chavannes (1907), p. 209. Measured on modern maps, this places it past modern Wusu to the southeast of Lake Ebi-nor, probably near modern Shaquanzi.

23.7. The kingdom of Wutan 烏貪 [Wu-t’an].
          Wutan is called
烏貪資離 Wutanzili [Wu-t’an-tzu-li] in the Hanshu and is said to adjoin “Danhuan on the east, Jumi on the south and Wusun on the west” CICA, p. 179. The seat of government “is at the Yulou 于婁 valley”. It is not mentioned at all in the Hou Hanshu.
          Wutan is not only said to adjoin the Wusun on its west. It also comes last in the east-to-west listing of the dependencies of Nearer Jushih in the Weilue. This strongly suggests that it should be looked for in the area southeast of Lake Ebi-nör, before the main route crosses the via Lake Sairam and the Talki Pass into Wusun territory in the Ili River valley.
          This would put it in the region of modern Jinghe [Ching-ho], or even further east near Wutai [Wu-t’ai], at the foot of the main route through the mountains. Unfortunately, there are no useful distances to work from (the Hanshu only gives a distance from Changan) and there are a couple of puzzles remaining with the rest of the information given.
          The Jumi mentioned as south of Wutan cannot refer to the kingdoms of Eastern and Western Jumi, which has already been located hundreds of kilometres to the southeast (see notes 23.2 and 23.3). I have been unable to find any other references to this Jumi.
          It is also said to adjoin Danhuan to the east, but the Weilue gives both Bilu and Pulu between Danhuan and Wutan. Note that the population of Wutan had shrunk to only 231 individuals by the time the notice on the ‘kingdom’ in the Hanshu was written (see CICA, p. 179).

“In the time of emperor Yüan [49-33 BC] the additional post of the Wu and Chi colonel was established to set up agricultural colonies at the royal court of Nearer Chü-shih. At this time Tzu-li-chih, king of P’u-lei [Barkol] to the east of the Hsiung-nu, led more than 1700 of his people to submit to the protector general. The protector general separated the western part of [the land of] the king of further Chü-shih to become the territory of Wu-t’an-tzu-li, in order to settle them there.” CICA, p. 79.

“This kingdom is called Wutanzili 烏貪資離 in the Qian Hanshu (chap. CXVIII, p. 1 a) [see Chavannes (1907), p. 156]. According to the Hanshu, this kingdom bordered on 單桓 Danhuan to the east, Jumi 且彌 to the south, and the Wusun 烏孫 to the west. This last piece of information is valuable for it shows us that the kingdom of Wutanzili was indeed the westernmost of the kingdoms situated along the route which passed to the north of the Tianshan, as the Weilue has already led us to believe.
          The Hsi yü t’ung wen chih (chap. 1, p. 6 a) identifies this country with the place called Teneger today. According to the map of the district of Urumchi in the Xinjiangshi lue [Hsin chiang shih lüeh], Teneger is the name of the river which passes by the sub-prefecture of Fukang
阜康 [Fu-k’ang], to the east of Urumchi. It is, therefore, probable that Teneger is the indigenous name of the town which the Chinese have baptised Foukang. However, the identifications of the Xiyu tungwenji[Hsi yü t’ung wen chih] appear very carelessly made and, as far as I am concerned, I consider that Wutanzili must have been situated further to the west, between Manass and Ebi Nor.” Translated from Chavannes, (1905), p. 557, n. 4.

“The Hsi-yü t’u-k’ao identifies it with modern Sui-lai 綏來, i.e. Manass, but Chavannes (1905), p. 557, note 4, believes it was situated between Manass and the Ebi-nor.” CICA: 179, n. 592.

23.8. The king has his capital in the city of ()賴城 Yulai [Yü-lai]. The 1975 China Library Edition of the Sanguozhi, which I have used as the basis of my translation, gives 于賴 Yulai as the name of this town whereas the edition M. Chavannes used it seems to have been written 於賴 – see Chavannes (1905), p. 558.

“Both the Qian Hanshu and the Hou Hanshu say that the capital of the Further Jushi was in the valley of Wutu 務塗谷. Perhaps Yulai was the name of the town situated in this valley.” Translated from: Chavannes (1905), p. 558, n. 2.

23.9. wei shizhong 守魏侍中 – ‘Probationary Wei Palace Attendant’.

shóu (1) HAN-SUNG: Probationary, prefix to a title during the appointee’s first year in service, only after which he was normally entitled to substantive (shih, chen) status and full salary. . . . + Wei – one of the Three Kingdoms (220-265) + Hucker (1985), p. 431, No. 5355. shih-chūng 侍中 Lit., serving in the palace. (1) HAN–N-S DIV: Palace Attendant, supplementary title (chia-kuan) awarded to officials of the central government chosen by the Emperor as his confidential advisers, led by one among them known as Supervisor of the Palace Attendants (shih-chung p’u-yeh); from Later Han on, regular officials ranked at 2,000 then = 2,000 bushels, headed by one of them designated as Chancellor of the Palace Attendants (shih-chung chi-chiu), all on the staff of the Chamberlain for the Palace Revenues (shao-fu). In the era of N-S Division sometimes served as officers of the Imperial Bodyguard (san-lang nei-shih) under 4 Directors of Palace Attendants (nei-shih chang), but steadily gained status as 4, 5, or 6 autonomous counsellors at court associated with the emerging Chancellery (men-hsia sheng) and known colloquially as Junior Grand Councilors (hsiao tsai-hsiang). . . .” From: Hucker (1985), p. 423, No. 5229.

23.10. 大都尉 (da duwei) ‘Great Defender of the Wei’. From: da + Hucker (1985), p. 545:

“No. 7326 tū-wèi 都尉 (1) Commandant or Commander-in-chief: throughout history a common military title, in later dynasties used mostly for merit titles (hsün); in all cases, specific identification is possible only by taking note of prefixes. . . . (2) HAN: Defender, rank 2,000 bushels, head of military forces in a Commandery (chün) a Region (chou), or a Dependent State (shu-kuo). . . .”

Although this refers to the Wei Dynasty which immediately followed the Han, the meaning of the title appears to fit the latter description best.

23.11. 印魏王 (yin weiwang) ‘Seal of King (appointed by the) Wei. From: Hucker (1985), p. 581, No. “7968 yìn Seal, an official’s formal emblem of authority; its size, shape, and inscription varied according to the rank status of the office. . . .” + weiwang. This title was bestowed on king Yiduoza 壹多雜.

23.12. The “New Route of the North” turns northwest to reach 烏孫 Wusun (Issyk-kul and the upper courses of the Ili, Naryn and Chu rivers in Semirechiye).

“In the Tien Shan region the Wu-sun were the first tribal group about which substantial evidence is available. The Chinese sources refer to the Wu-sun or nomad state. The Wu-sun were bounded by the Hsiung-nu to the east, by the settled peoples of East Turkestan to the south, by Ta-yüan (Ferghana) to the south-west and by K’ang-chü to the west. Their federation included locally conquered Saka tribesmen, as well as some Yüeh-chih. The question of the ethnic origin of the Wu-sun themselves remains debatable, and contradictory hypotheses have been advanced. The one thing that is clear is that the majority of the population consisted of linguistically Iranian Saka tribes.
          The administrative and political centre of the Wu-sun state was the walled city of Ch’ih-ku, ‘the City of the Red Valley’, situated in the basin of the Issik-köl. Lying on one of the branches of the Silk Route, it was also an important trade centre, but its exact location has not yet been established. The principal activity of the Wu-sun was cattle-raising. They freely wandered with their livestock seeking pasture and water, but the geographical conditions in Semirechye and T’ien Shan did not allow constant wandering, and the economy of the Wu-sun remained semi-nomadic, with the population moving from one climatic zone to another with each change of season. They combined cattle-breeding with agriculture as is evident from archaeological finds in the Chu valley, the Issik-köl basin and in eastern Semirechye. . . .
          Little is known of the Wu-sun during the early centuries of the Christian era. Under pressure from the Ju-jan, a new group of nomadic tribes from Central Asia, the Wu-sun were obliged to abandon Semirechye and seek refuge in the T’ien Shan mountains. The last reference to the Wu-sun in the historical sources is in A.D. 436, when a Chinese diplomatic mission was dispatched to their country and the Wu-sun reciprocated. It is probable that by the middle of the fifth century A.D., the Wu-sun, with other neighbouring peoples, had succumbed to the Hephthalites.” Zadneprovskiy (1994), pp. 459-460, 461.

Most scholars place the Wusun capital somewhere in the region of Issyk-köl, usually in the region of the modern town of Karaköl (formerly, Przhevalsk), in the fertile flatlands at the eastern end of the lake. See CICA, p. 143, n. 376 for a discussion of previous attempts to locate the Wusun capital.
          I believe that it is now possible to locate the ancient capital of the Wusun with more accuracy and certainty. The Hanshu 96B (CICA, p. 143) says that the seat of the Wusuns’ foremost leader, the “Greater Kunmi,” was “at the walled town of
赤谷 Chigu” [literally, ‘Red Valley’]. In the Tang shu, chap. XLIII, b, p. 14 a – see Chavannes (1900), p. 9 – it is called 頓多城 – the town of Dunduo [Tun-to], “which is none other than the walled town of Chishan 赤山 [literally, ‘Red Mountain’], capital of the Wusun 烏孫.”
          There is, in fact, a very dramatic and famous red-coloured valley and mountain not far west of the present town of Karaköl:

“About 25 km west of Karakol, at the mouth of the Jeti-Öghüz canyon is an extraordinary formation of red sandstone cliffs that has become a kind of tourism trademark for Lake Issyk-Kul.
          A village of the same name is just off the main around-the-lake road. Beyond it the earth erupts in red patches, and soon there appears a great splintered hill called Razbitoye Serdtse or Broken Heart. (Legend says two suitors spilled their blood in a fight for a beautiful woman; both died, and this rock is her broken heart.)
          Beyond this on the west side of the road is the massive wall of Jeti-Öghüz. The name means Seven Bulls, and of course there is a story here too – of seven calves growing big and strong in the valley’s rich pastures. Erosion has meant that the bulls have multiplied. They are best viewed from a ridge to the east above the road. From that same ridge you can look east into Ushchelie Drakanov, the Valley of Dragons.” King, et al. (1996), p. 392.

As there are no other comparable red-coloured formations around Issyk-köl, it seems very likely that Jeti-Öghüz is identical to the ‘Red Valley’ and ‘Red Mountain’ of the early Chinese accounts. This is confirmed by the distances contained in the Hanshu between Chigu and the town of Wensu, to the south of the mountains.
          There are also accounts from the Tang period of the route to Issyk-köl from the south. The distances given in the itinerary in the Tang shu are clearly far too short – see: Chavannes (1900), p. 9. Xuanxang’s [Hsüan Tsang] account is, unfortunately, too vague to be of much help. He describes the route as being “over 400 li”, and the Life says it took seven days to cross the mountains to Issyk-köl. Beal (1884), p. 25, and nn. 76-80; Beal (1911), p. 41; Watters (1904-05), pp. 66-70.
          Wensu, was located in the in the valley of the Dashigan He [Ta-shih-kan Ho, also known as the Taushkan Darya], and is usually identified with the region of modern Wushi (Uch Turfan or Urqtur pan), about 85 km west of Aksu. The usual route to Issyk-köl departed from the region of Uch Turfan and crossed over the relatively low (c. 14,000 ft) Bedel Pass. This was the route Xuanxang describes – Stein (1923), Vol. III, p. 1300, n. 1. During the Tang:

“The Bedel Pass was the border between Turkish and Chinese territory, it is on the ridge of the watershed, some (rivers) flow to the south into China, the others to the north, into Turkish country. . . . ” Translated from Chavannes (1900), p. 143, n. 2.

The Hanshu (CICA, p. 162) gives the distance from Wensu to Chigu as 610 li or 254 km. Measuring carefully, I estimate 255 km for the current route, from Jeti-Öghüz, west along the southern bank of Issyk-köl to Barskoön, south to Karasay (770 53’ E, 410 32’ N), then west, and south over the Bedel Pass to the village of O-t’o-le (780 44’ E, 410 9’ N), about 40 km to the west of Wushi, further up the valley of the Aksay River (T’o-shi-kan Ho). (See: U.S. Defence Mapping Agency Aerospace Center map ONC6, Sheet F6, scale 1: 1,000,000, revised Feb. 1981). This is remarkably close to the 610 li or 254 km given in the Hanshu (see above).
          The itinerary in the Tang shu – Chavannes (1900), p. 9, n. – indicates that the route, at that time, after crossing the Bedel Pass and the Terskey Alatau mountains to the north of it, headed down towards Issyk-köl through the Jeti-Öghüz valley:

“50 li further on [after crossing the mountains], one arrives at the town of Dunde, which is the same as the town of Chishan (“Red Mountain”), capital of the Wusun.” Translated from Chavannes (1900), p. 9 n.

As Chavannes notes, the capital of the Wusun, the town of Chishan (“Red Mountain”), is undoubtedly the same place as the Chigu (“Red Valley”) in the Qian Hanshu (and the Weilue). See also the discussions in Stein (1923), Vol. III, pp. 1300-1301, and n. 26; Minorsky (1937), pp. 293-297, notes 13-15.

“Mr. Schuyler gives a good account of the lake and come to a different conclusion [than that the level of Issyk Kul had recently subsided]. He writes : “Lake Issik-Kul, which is a large body of water, 120 miles long by 33 wide, has at present no outlet. Its shores, however, afford indubitable evidence of numerous elevations and depressions.” He admits that “at one time” the water may have reached the bases of the mountains 100 feet above its present level, but adds (in another place): “the fact that ruins are visible under the water would seem to show either a subsidence of the soil, or that the lake is higher than it once was.” He relates that “diamond-shaped tiles, some plain red, others covered with a blue glaze, have been obtained partly from the lake and partly from ruins, ploughed up by the peasants. At a place on the northern shore of the lake called Koroi-Saroi, and in two places at the eastern end, remains of submerged cities are still to be seen a few feet under water. Many objects have been found here, some thrown up by the waves and others fished out of the water, chiefly broken pottery and pieces of metallic vessels.” He mentions the discovery of two ornamented copper kettles, a lamp bearing an inscription in an unknown alphabet, etc. and continues : “These ruins have never been carefully investigated, but in 1869 General Kolpakofsky examined some of them, and says that between the mouths of the streams 2nd and 3rd Koi-Se, at seven feet from the shore and at a depth of three feet, there are visible traces of brick walls which go parallel to each other at a distance of a few feet until the depth of the lake prevents their being seen. He also saw a large stone, on which was carved the representation of a human face, and which he succeeded in getting out of the water. Subsequent observers, who had succeeded in rigging out a boat, assured me that especially near the river Tub, on a clear day, they could see the remains of buildings.”
          Issigh-Kul means warm lake, and it is the equivalent of the Chinese Jhe-hai. Other Chinese names are Yen-hai, salt lake (for the water is brackish), and Tsing-hai, or clear lake. By the Kirghiz it is sometimes called Tuz-Kul, meaning ‘salt lake,’ and by the Kálmáks Timurtu Nor or ‘iron lake,’ on account of the ferruginous sand found on its shores. Schuyler remarks that old Chinese maps place the city of Chi-gu on the shores of Issigh-Kul, while the Catalan map of 1375 (as noted already) marks on the southern shore, a Nestorian monastery containing the bones of St. Matthew. . . .” Elias (1895), Part I, Chap. XXXIX, p. 78, n. 1.

“. . . the upper Ailah, which may also be read Ilah, and is the river nowadays called the “Ili,” which passes by Kula and flows into the Balkásh Lake. “Ili” is the Chinese pronunciation, while the Turki-speaking people of the present day call it “Ila.” Elias (1895), p. 66, n. 2.

“To the Turks the area to the south and east of Lake Balkhash was known as the Yeti Su (Land of the Seven Rivers), and from this is derived the Russian name of Semerechiye.” NEB 18, p. 792b.

Semerechiye includes the important basin of the Ili River, the southern part of which, together with the lands surrounding (Lake) Issyk Kul to the south, formed the homeland of the Wusun during the period described by the Weilue.

23.13. Kangju 康居 [K’ang-chü] = Tashkent and the Chu, Talas, and middle Jaxartes (Syr Darya) basins. There has been confusion in the literature over the extent of Kangju’s territories during the Kushan period, and it is difficult to determine exactly. The character means ‘residence,’ ‘settled part of the country;’ so Kangju can be translated as either: ‘the territory of Kang,’ or ‘the territory of the Kang (people).’

“The most extensive and stable state in the west of this region was K’ang (the ancient Kangha in the Avesta or K’ang-chü in the Chinese chronicles). Some scholars believe that the K’ang-chü state was centred on oases situated between the upper and lower reaches of the River Syr Darya (Jaxartes), known in ancient times as the River Kanga. During the early period, the power of the rulers of K’ang-chü extended to the territories of Transoxiana and the valley of the River Zerafshan, while in the north were vassal states, the largest of which was Yen-ts’ai. According to the Chinese chronicles, by the second century it had been renamed Alania and was dependent on K’ang-chü. Alania was situated between the Caspian and the Aral Sea. . . .
          In K’ang-chü itself, which lay north-west of Ta-yüan (Ferghana), although there were many semi-nomadic herdsmen, most of the Iranian-speaking population were reported to be farmers and craftsmen. The inhabitants of the region were said to lead a settled life, have towns, cultivate the land and breed livestock. Originally all the territories were dependent on the great Hsiung-nu power. The sources mention that in the first century B.C. dissent among the Hsiung-nu leaders weakened their power and Chih-chih (56–36 B.C.), a rebellious shan-yü (ruler) of the Hsiung-nu, sought refuge for a short time in K’ang-chü and was killed there. K’ang-chü is still mentioned in fifth-century sources, but in the sixth century instead of K’ang-chü we find five principalities which, as the chronicles stress, were situated in the ‘former territories of K’ang-chü’.” Kyzlasov (1996), pp. 315-316.

As Mark Passehl kindly pointed out in an email (7th July, 2003), Kangju territory was described as “small” at the time of Zhang Qian’s visit c. 129 BCE:

“… probably concentrated around the Tashkent oasis as you say. They probably had no common frontier with the Wusun until a bit later when Kangju land became the name of a much larger and more powerful federation which seems to have included a great slab of the Massagetans dispersed west and south by the westward migrations forced by the Xiongnu victories and expansion, as also probably most of the nomad inhabitants of Kazakhstan displaced westwards at the same time.”

The Shiji, chap. 123 says:

“K’ang-chü is situated two thousand li northwest of Ta-yüan. Its people likewise are nomads and resemble the Yüeh-chih in their customs. They have eighty or ninety thousand skilled archer fighters. The country is small and borders Ta-yüan. It acknowledges nominal sovereignty to the Yüeh-chih people in the south and the Hsiung-nu in the east.” Watson (1961), p. 267.

There was a considerable expansion of Kangju territory and population after the time of Zhang Qian’s visit to the region. The Hanshu records that were 120,000 households, 600,000 individuals and 120,000 men able to bear arms (CICA, p. 126). This represents an increase of their fighting force by at least a third. By this time their territory had also increased:

          “1. In the Hanshu, Ch. 96 A, it is recorded that “[Wusun adjoins] Dayuan in the west. In the same book, ch. 70, it is also recorded:

     Zhizhi 郅支, the Chanyu 單于 of the Xiongnu 匈奴, turned west and went to Kangju, and borrowed troops from Kangju. With troops [given by Kangju], he attacked Wusun many times and penetrated as far as the town of Chigu 赤谷, he slaughtered and plundered the people and seized their domestic animals. The Wusun dared not pursue him. The west of [the state of Wusun] was then weakly defended, an uninhabited area extending for 1000 li.

This shows that the town of Chigu, the seat of the royal government of Wusun, which was situated in the upper reaches of the Naryn River, was about 1,000 li [416 km] from the western boundary of the state. Therefore, the natural boundary between Dayuan and Wusun may have been the Kagart Mountain and Yassi Mountain.

2. In the Hanshu, Ch. 96A, it is recorded that “[Dayuan adjoins] Kangju in the north.” Since the metropolitan territory of Kangju lay on the northern bank of the Syr Darya and its eastern boundary extended as far as the east of the Talas River, the natural boundary between Dayuan and Kangju may have been Chatkal-tau and Urtak-tau.” Yu (1998), p. 67.

In general, I agree with Yu’s analysis here although I have been unable to locate the “Kagart Mountain and Yassi Mountain” he mentions. The Chaktal and Urtak-tau ranges, on the other hand, look like logical boundaries:

          “From the middle of the Alexander range [now referred to as the Kirghiz Range], in about 74o E., a chain known as the Talas-tau breaks away from its south flank in a W.S.W. direction, and from near the western extremity of this latter two parallel ranges, the Chotkal or Chaktal (14,000 ft.)[ 4,267 m], and the Alatau, break away in a south-westerly direction, and running parallel to one another and to the river Naryn, or upper Syr-darya, terminate at right angles to the middle Syr-darya, after it has made its sweeping turn to the north-west. The Talas-tau, sometimes known as the Urtak-tau, while the name of Ala-tao is also extended to cover it, has an average elevation of 14,000-15,000 ft. [4,267-4,572 m], but lifts its snow-capped summits to 15,750 ft. [4,801 m]; it is crossed by passes at 8,000-10,650 ft. [2,438-3,246 m].” From the Encyclopædia Britannica (1911 edition), downloaded from: on 27 April 2003.

I assume that the “uninhabited area extending for 1000 li [416 km],” threatened by the Xiongnu and their Kangju allies, refers to that stretch of the important northern route between modern Tokmak (to the northwest of Issyk-kul) as far west as the region of modern Taraz (Dzhambul), to the north of the Kirghiz Range. This would have allowed the Xiongnu and Kangju to bypass the Wusun and control the far northern route, until the Han defeated Zhizhi in 36 BCE. These events are described in Hanshu 96A:

          “In the east [the inhabitants] were constrained to serve the Hsiung-nu. In the time of Emperor Hsüan, the Hsiung-nu became ill-disciplined and disordered, with five Shan-yü contending for power simultaneously. Han supported the Shan-yü Hu-han-yeh and had him established; so the Shan-yü Chih-chih, felt offended and put the Han envoys to death and blocked the way west to K’ang-chü. Later the protector-general Kan Yen-shou and deputy colonel Ch’en T’ang brought out troops of the Wu and Chi colonel and of the various states of the Western Regions. On reaching K’ang-chü he punished the Shan-yü Chih-chih and exterminated [his line], as is described in the biography of Kan Yen-shou and Ch’en T’ang. These events occurred in the third year of the reign-period Chien-chao of Emperor Yüan [36 B.C.].” CICA, p. 126.

Direct communications were then re-established by the Han with Kangju. They continued to be somewhat unhelpful and disrespectful in spite of sending hostages to Changan. See CICA, pp. 127-128.
          Taishan Yu (1998), pp. 105-107, does, I think, a good job of identifying the seats of the five “lesser kings” of the Kangju listed in the Hanshu. The identifications are based on the accounts in Xin Tangshu, ch. 221B, which make mention of their earlier names. See also Chavannes (1900), I, pp. 136-147.

“According to this, of five lesser kings of Kangju, the seats of governments of Ji [Chi], Fumo [Fu-mo], and Suxie [Su-hsieh] were situated at Bokhāra, Tashkent, Kashania, and Kesh respectively. As mentioned above, these oases had been subject to Kangju in the Han times. As for “Huoxun” (Khwarizm), the seat of the royal government of Aojian must have been identical with “Huanquian,” a small state west of Dayuan, recorded in the Shiji, ch. 123. Khwarizm which lay on the left bank of the Amu Darya, had once confronted Anxi. In view of its location, since Sogdiana was subject to Kangju, Huanqian (Huoxun) also was possibly subject to Kangju. In the Hanshu, ch. 96A, it is recorded that Anxi adjoined Kangju in the north. As mentioned above, this shows that Anxi adjoined Sogdiana, a dependency of Kangju, in the middle reaches of the Amu Darya. As this was so, the relevant records in the Xin Tangshu, ch. 221B, are, generally speaking, reasonable. It has been suggested that the records are all fantastic talk. I disagree.” Yu (1998), p. 106.

Again, in the Later Han, we find Kangju taking hostile action against Chinese expansionism. In the Biography of Ban Chao – see Chavannes (1906), p. 230 – it is said that the Kangju sent troops in 84 CE to help Kashgar against the Han. Ban Chao was able to bribe the king of the Yuezhi, who was in the process of making a marriage alliance with the Kangju, to get the Kangju to desist. Kangju then captured the king of Kashgar (allowing China to gain control of the key route to the west through Kashgar for over 20 years.          

“The K’ang-chü were of course an important people in Sogdiana in the Han period. They later gave their name to Samarkand but in the Former Han period were centred around Tashkent. The Ch’iang-ch’ü group in the Hsiung-nu were presumably a part of the K’ang-chü people who had at some time been captured and incorporated by the Hsiung-nu. Now it happens that Tashkend was later known in China as Shih Kuo “Stone Country” and people from there who came to China took the surname Shih “Stone”. Tashkend itself means “Stone City” in Turkish. This is usually regarded, following Marquart (1901, p. 155), as simply a Turkicization of the earlier Čāč, but this does not account for the Chinese name which is long before the region became Turkish.
          The K’ang-chü people are usually thought of as Iranian but they had close links with Ta-yüan (= *Taxwār, Tochari) and the Yüeh-chih and they shared the title hsi-hou = yabgu with the latter and the Wu-sun. It is quite likely therefore that they too were Tocharian in origin and that they moved into Sogdiana as part of the same westward movement that brought the Yüeh-chih and then the Tochari spilling over the Pamirs. In this case we may look in Tocharian for an interpretation of their name. It happens that there is a word
ka- in Tokharian A about which Sir Harold Bailey has kindly given me the following note.” Pulleyblank (1963), p. 247. [This is followed by Bailey’s rather lengthy note that can be summed up in his sentence: “The above contexts seem to assure a Tocharian word kāk- meaning “stone”.”]

Kangju certainly controlled the oasis of Tashkent (which was possibly the administrative centre of their kingdom) and the middle and lower reaches of the Syr Darya or Jaxartes (also known in ancient times as the Kanga or the Jayhun) river, and they almost certainly also had control of the rich grazing lands and trade routes along the valleys of the Chu and Talas rivers.
          Pulleyblank (1963), p. 94, states on the basis of the account in Hanshu 96A, that the Kangju had their capital in their summer territory at Beitian “= Bin-kāth, the old name for Tashkend, with Bin < *Bidn through loss of medial d?”. See also, ibid, p. 247, and CICA, p. 124, n. 299. Exactly where their eastern border with the Wusun was, though, remains to be discovered.

          “The construction of the Salar-Karasu-Dzhun irrigation system in the second and first centuries B.C. gave impetus to the development of the agricultural oasis of ancient Tashkent. The origin of crop-raising on the territory of the Chirchik-Ahangaran basin dates back to an earlier period. However, as the Buzgon-tepe, Taukat-tepe, Kugait, Shash-tepe and other archaeological monuments located in the irrigation zone of the Salar-Karasu-Dzhun system show, the intensive application of irrigation in that region and the urbanization of a part of its settled area began at the dawn of the Christian era. One characteristic feature of the establishment of the Tashkent agricultural oasis is the fact that all the lands comprised in it were not brought under cultivation at the same time. Priority was given to the use of water resources for irrigation areas which were most favoured by natural conditions and were, for the most part, situated in regions adjacent to the water supply.” Mukhamedjanov (1996), p. 267.

“It must be noted, however, that although the inhabitants of Tashkent and Ferghana at that time followed a settled way of life and were engaged in crop-raising, livestock-breeding and highly artistic handicraft work, careful study and analysis of written and material sources indicate that ancient Ta-yüan (Ferghana) and Chach (Tashkent) were less developed economically than Parthia, Bactria and Sogdiana.” Mukhamedjanov (1996), p. 277.

“Pulleyblank discusses the possible Tocharian origin of the name ‘Kangju’, in his reconstruction of ‘Old Chinese’ *khan-kiah. In the Tokharian vocabulary (Tokaharian 1A) there is the word kank, which means ‘stone. Thus Kangju could mean the ‘Stone Country’, i.e. Samarkand (or equally Tashkend as ‘Stone City’). A.K. Narain offers a precise geographical location for Kangju: ‘the northeastern wedge formed part of Dayuan’. This description, however, does not allow for the inclusion of any lands south of the Syr Darya, thus excluding the entire Zeravshan Valley, the cultural heart and population centre of Sogdia.
            The information provided by the texts is hardly ambiguous, however, and clearly suggests the identification of the ‘state’ of Kangju with ancient Sogdia. Kangju is to the north of the Amu Darya and the Yuezhi’s principal city of Jianshi (Khalchayan in the Surkhan Darya valley?); to the west and northwest of the Ferghana Valley (where it also apparently adjoined the clearly substantial, post-132 realm of the Wusun); and southeast of the western realms of the Xiongnu (which must have included the steppes of present-day Kazakhstan). Kangju incorporated lands on either side of the middle Syr Darya, particularly the densely occupied Zeravshan Valley south of the Syr Darya, and must surely have included Samarkand and Bukhara (as Shishkina also argues below). Hence, according to the textual evidence at least, Kangju can only convincingly be located within the general geographical region of ancient Sogdia.” Benjamin (2003). [My only disagreement with this quote is that I believe I have convincingly shown that the “Yuezhi’s principal city of Jianshi” must have been in the region of Bactra or modern Balkh, and that the distances given in the Hanshu from Xiuxun to the Yuezhi completely eliminate the possibility of it being Khalchayan. See TWR note 12.2 for details.]

It has been suspected for a long time that the Kangju had conquered and controlled of ancient Sogdiana during the Kushan period. This now may be confirmed. The key is in a short passage in the Hou Hanshu on the kingdom of Liyi, which is said to be dependent on Kangju (see TWR Section 17).
          As Professor Enoki (1955), p. 51, and others, have suggested, Liyi
栗弋 is an obvious error for Suyi 粟弋, a common Chinese representation of Sogdiana (see note 22.7 for the quote from Enoki). The characters li and su are so similar that they are commonly confused. Chavannes (1907), p. 195, note 1, noticed that the Tangshu used the form Suyi 粟弋, but wrongly deduced that this was a mistake for the Liyi of the Hou Hanshu.
          Sogdiana included most of the territories between the Jaxartes (Syr Darya) and the Oxus (Amu Darya) rivers. It was centred in the Zerafshan valley, which includes the key oases of Samarkand and Bukhara and also controlled the rich and strategically important centres of Kesh (modern Shakhrisabz) and Alexandria Eschate (modern Kujand).

“Intensive trade was also conducted during this period with Han China, which exported silk, nephrite [jade], lacquerware, hides, iron and nickel. Central Asian merchants exported glass, precious stones and ornaments to China. Luxury goods were the main articles of trade, as was usually the case in ancient times. The Sogdians played an important role in the development of trade links with China. In Tun-huang (East Turkestan), letters in the Sogdian language have been found dating back to the early fourth century A.D. (or to the end of the second century A.D.). One of them notes that 100 freemen from Samarkand were living in Tun-huang. W. B. Henning estimates the number of Sogdians (including slaves and their families) in Tun-huang must have totalled 1,000. Several letters contain information on merchandise, trade, prices, etc. The Sogdians living in East Turkestan maintained close contact with their home town in Samarkand.” Mukhamedjanov (1996), p. 286.

Kangju, therefore, controlled the two major caravan routes from China to the West: the main “Silk Route” which ran from Kashgar through Ferghana, Samarkand, and Bukhara before it entered Parthian territory in Merv, or headed south through Balkh, as well as the important alternative route north of the Aral and Caspian Seas (thereby avoiding Parthian territory) to their kinsmen, the Alans, who were in direct contact with Roman ports on the Black Sea.
          Relations between Kangju and the Kushans were close as shown by the marriage of a Kushan emperor to a Kangju princess in 84
CE. See the biography of Ban Chao in Hou Hanshu, 77.6 b, Chavannes (1906), p. 230; Zürcher (1968), p. 369.
          The Kushans controlled the routes from Balkh to the west, and all the routes into northern India. Therefore, all the overland trade routes between Chinese territory and India, and the main routes to Parthia, and the Roman Empire were under the control of either the Kushans or their allies, the Kangju.

“The nomadic federation of the K’ang-chü was the second great power after the Yüeh-chih in Transoxiana. According to the Chinese sources, K’ang-chü lay north-west of Ta-yüan and west of the Wu-sun, bordering upon the Yüeh-chih to the south. The territory of the K’ang-chü, therefore, covered the region of the Tashkent oasis and part of the territory between the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya rivers, with its heartland along the middle Syr Darya. It seems to have emerged as a powerful state in the second century B.C. As the historians of Alexander do not refer to the existence of any political confederation on the Jaxartes (Syr Darya) except Chorasmia, the K’ang-chü must have appeared a little later. They united a number of regions which had sedentary, agricultural and nomadic populations.
          The K’ang-chü were inevitably affected by the events of the mid-second century B.C., when the Central Asian tribes invaded Graeco-Bactria. The migration of the nomadic peoples (the Asii, Tochari, etc.) to the south altered the balance of power in the valley of the Syr Darya. Taking advantage of these circumstances, as the Hou Han-shu suggests, the K’ang-chü subjugated Yen-ts’ai in the region of the Aral Sea, and the still more remote land of the Yen in the southern Urals. Yen-ts’ai is identified with the large confederation of Sarmatian tribes led by the Aorsi. Thus, K’ang-chü established direct contact with the Sarmatian world to the north-west. The expansion of K’ang-chü in this direction in the first and second centuries A.D. was occasioned by the rise of the powerful Yüeh-chih confederacy (subsequently the Kushan Empire) to the south and by the presence in the east of the formidable Wu-sun state allied with the Hsiung-nu and the Han Empire. The Chinese sources inform us that K’ang-chü was tributary to the Yüeh-chih in the south and to the Hsiung-nu in the east. The north-west advance of K’ang-chü and its conquest of Yen-ts’ai apparently obliged some tribes of the Aorsi, and later of the Alans, to move west; it may, therefore, be concluded that K’ang-chü played a major historical role in the initial stages of the Great Migration of Peoples, which was such an important event in world history. In this way, K’ang-chü gained control over the northern sector of the international trade route known as the Northern Route.” Zadneprovskiy (1994), p. 463.

“Undaunted, K’ang-chü continued to pursue an independent policy. It maintained its independence up to the end of the third century A.D. and continued to send embassies to the Chinese court. Convincing evidence of its independent status may be seen in the coinage it issued in the second and third centuries. During this period, the K’ang-chü rulers at Chach (the Tashkent oasis) began to issue their own currency, similar to some of the early coin issues of ancient Chorasmia. Soon afterwards the fortunes of K’ang-chü declined and it was absorbed into the Hephthalite state – a fate which it shared with other states of Transoxiana.
          The Han-shu describes the typically nomadic way of life of the K’ang-chü élite and particularly of its sovereign, who spent his winters in the capital, the city of Pi-t’ien, and his summers at his steppe headquarters, situated seven day’s journey away on horseback. The ruling nucleus of K’ang-chü consisted of nomadic tribes whose customs resembled the Yüeh-chih.” Zadneprovskiy (1994), p. 464.

“Although it is a barbarian town (Maracanda, Samarkand), you find carpets dyed in a matchless purple shade, if not that of wine sparkling in a cup in the sun, and so thick that in treading on them it is like sailing on a galley ship.” CATULLUS, c. 84 – c. 54
BCE. From: The Silk Road Saga by Jean-Pierre Drège and Emil M. Bührer, 1989. Facts On File, New York, Oxford.

Mark Passehl kindly wrote (7th July, 2003) stating that most, if not all, of Catullus’ extant poems were written in the 50s (mostly 58-53) and adds the following interesting observations: “His interest in the wares of Samarkand are probably because the poem in question was written about the time of Crassus’ expedition to conquer Parthia (which departed Rome in the winter 55-54 BC). . . . He also belonged to a wealthy trading family (his father had a personal friendship with Julius Caesar) with interests and property in the Asia and Bithnyia provinces. For all we know his father may have traded in some of the wares brought into the Roman empire along the Silk Road.”

23.14. This evidently refers to the relative stability of these two nations, at least through the Later Han dynasty.

Section 24 – The ‘Kingdom of Northern Wuyi’ –Bei Wuyi北烏伊 [Pei Wu-i] = Khujand – Alexandria Escharte)

24.1. “Northern Wuyi” undoubtedly refers to Alexandria Eschate or ‘Alexandria-the-Furthest,’ modern Khujand or Leninabad, south of Tashkent, and northeast of Samarkand.
          As shown in note 9.22, it was, during the time covered by the Hanshu, Kujand was probably the capital of Dayuan. As outlined in that note, Dayuan weakened during the Later Han period, the last record of it as a separate state was when it sent tribute and offerings to China along with Kashgar and Yarkand in 130
          By the time of this report in the Weilue, the city had become an independent kingdom. There are several good reasons for identifying Northern Wuyi as ancient Alexandria Eschate:

a. First, the name 北烏伊 Bei Wuyi (‘Northern Wuyi’) is very similar to the form of the name 烏弋 Wuyi given by the Weilue earlier on in its description of the Central Route, which I have identified as referring to ‘Alexandria Arachaton’, or Arachosia, centred on modern Kandahar.
          The last character here is different, but similar in pronunciation, as they were in ancient times according to the reconstructed pronunciations:

K. 604a: *  ̇̇i̯εr /   ̇i; EMC: ?ji

K. 918a: *di̯ək / i̯ək; EMC: jik

The name 烏弋is obviously a shortened form of the 烏弋山離 Wuyishanli which was “evidently a transliteration of Alexandria” = Arachosia/Kandahar of the Hanshu and the Hou Hanshu. See the discussion in: CICA, p. 112, n. 250.

b. Alexandria Eschate (Khojent) was “the farthest”, and the most northerly, of all the Alexandrias established by Alexander the Great, and is almost due north of ‘Alexandria Arachaton’ – Kandahar, the capital of Arachosia. It would seem this city was called “Northern Wuyi” to distinguish it from the other, more southerly, Wuyi. 

c. Its position, as given in the Weilue, is on the “New Route of the North” after, and to the north of, Kangju (which at this time consisted of the Chu, Talas, and middle Syr-darya river basins).

From Northern Wuyi the route went northwest to Tashkent, and thence around the northern coastlines of the Aral and Caspian Seas, to reach Roman territory via the territory of the Alans. At this period, according to Roman sources, the Alans were living in the Terek basin and on the plains to the west of the Caspian, and to the north of the Black Sea, where they had contact with Roman territory. Crimea, at this time, “was still a Greco-Roman realm in vassalage to the Caesars”. Grousset (1970), p. 73.

“The legend of a trans-Caspian sea trade has been demolished by Professor Tarn, and only a more northern route is left, that led from the steppes north of the Caspian to the plains of Mongolia, ‘quite independent of the routes through Chinese Turkestan’. It finally reached Pliny’s Seres, who were not the peaceful Chinese traders of the Yellow River, but tall nomads of the steppes with ‘flaxen hair and blue eyes who speak in harsh tones and use no language’, famous for their pure steel which the Parthians bought. Horace imagined them:

          quid Seres et regnata Cyro

                    Bactra parent Tanaisque discors,i

(Horace: Odes; III.29.25-27)

i ‘Bactrian and Serian haunt your dreams,

And Tanais, toss’d by inward feud.’ (Conington’s translation.)

They were the metal workers of the Altai whom the Parthian envoy referred to when he threatened to load Crassus with their chains.
          These were the people Strabo thought of when he reported goods brought from India by the Oxus; and their traffic along it at the end of the first century A.D. was observed by the Chinese.” Stark (1968), pp. 194-195.

“Alexandria Escharte, or Alexandria on the Tanais (Leninabad, formerly Khojend). A town in Soviet Central Asia, in the borderland of Sogdiana (now Tajikistan), on the river Jaxartes (Syr Darya) – named the Tanais after the Don by Alexander the Great – at the point where it turns sharply to the north, and a number of important roads meet. Founded by Alexander c 327 to settle Macedonian and Greek soldiers and inhabitants of the region and control the pass over the Tian Shan range to Kashgar, it was known as Eschate, ‘the farthest,’ because it was the most remote (and also the northernmost) of Alexander’s foundations. It was later refounded by the Seleucid monarch Antiochus I.” Grant (1986), pp. 25-26.

“As to Alexandria Eschate, of which we know from the ancient authors that Alexander built the walls in a score of days, there is presently nothing that has been found which can be definitely attributed to the Greek period and testifies that these foundations of the conqueror are indeed under present Khojent.” Translated from: Leriche (1993), p. 82.

“In the western part of Ferghana, on the bank of the Syr Darya, the city of Khujand was going through a period of change. From the second to the fifth century, it had remained within the same territorial limits as during ancient times, its central nucleus occupying an area of approximately 20 ha [49 acres]. . . .
          During the medieval period, the territory of Khujand had its own ruler with the title of malik (king). The territory was not large: apart from the city of Khujand itself, it included Kand and the smaller town of Samghar. Kand, which is mentioned in the early eighth-century Sogdian documents from Mount Mug, subsequently came to be known as Kand-i Bodom (town of almonds) because of the large quantity of almonds it exported to various countries. According to al-Muqaddasi, a river or canal ran through the bazaars of Kand. Samghar was in the centre of a small agricultural oasis on the right bank of the Syr Darya and consisted of a citadel-castle, a town and outlying buildings. The territory of Khujand also included several small settlements in the cultivated areas along the Syr Darya and in the delta part of the Khujabakyrgan. Khujand was situated on the main trans-Asian trade route, Kand on its Ferghana branch and Samghar on its Chach branch. This fact, together with access to mineral and agricultural resources, promoted the growth of these cities’ trade and economies and also their rise to political prominence.” Marshak and Negamatov (1966), pp. 274, 275.

Section 25 – The Kingdoms of Liu (Turkestan? Kzyl-Orda?), Yan (north of Yancai), and Yancai (= the Alans between the Black and Caspian Seas).

25.1. The kingdom of Liu – literally, ‘Willow’ – was probably situated somewhere between Kangju and Yancai, possibly in the delta and marshlands of the Syr Darya (Gk. and L. Jaxartes; Arab. Shash or Si/fun), where it entered the Aral Sea.
          The name of the kingdom, ‘Willow,’ was possibly deliberately evocative of the typical vegetation of this well-watered region in ancient times. It may also have been used descriptively to differentiate it from Yancai or ‘Vast Steppes.’

25.2. The kingdom of Yan [Yen] – literally, ‘cliff,’ ‘crag,’ ‘precipice,’ ‘rock.’ To the north of Yancai and probably centred in the southern Urals.
          Yan, may well have been a descriptive name helping to define not only the territory, but the people in it – much like the names ‘highlands’ and ‘Highlanders’ are used in Scotland. Alternatively, as can be seen in the quote from Shiratori below, it could possibly have been a phonetic attempt to represent the Kama river region.
          The kingdom of Yan was, we are told, to the north of Yancai – the ‘vast steppe,’ and, therefore, presumably referred to the southern Urals which are distinguished by their deep river valleys and isolated steep-sided buttes. The region was, until recent times, famous for its furs, producing sables, fox, beaver and other valuable pelts.  

“Now the Hou-han-shu assigns the country of Yen to the north of the country of the Yen-ts’ai, and we may safely place the country of Liu in the same quarter. This view of the geographical position of the two countries, combined with the fact that one was noted for the production of sables and the other for the luxurious growth of chên and sung (pine) go to show that both countries lay in the Ural regions, and not on the northern borders of the Caspian, where such natural products would have been out of the question. We remember that the Wêi-liao describes the country of Yen-ts’ai as abounding in fine sables, and this perhaps means that those things were imported by the Yen-ts’ai from their neighbours in the countries of Yen and Liu.
          It was the basin of the Kama, as it flows from the northeastern direction into the Volga, more particularly the district about the present Perm, that occupied the most important position in the whole of the Ural regions in connection with the commercial intercourse between east and west of Asia in those ancient days. So there is enough reason to place in this particular quarter that country which is mentioned as Yen
in the Wêi-lian [should read: Wêi-liao] and as Yen in the Hou-han-shu. Both characters with their archaic sounds ngiam and ngiäm respectively, were suitable for reproducing the term Kama, which was probably applied to the inhabitants of the river Kama. As for the name of the other country, mentioned as Liao in the one history and as Liu in the other, we know that the early pronunciation of the character was most likely liau and that of the character lau. This reminds us of Rau, the name by which PTOLEMAEOS’S geography represents the Volga, and also of Rau and Raw, as the present Mordwins call that river ; and thus we are led to infer that the name Liao (or Liu ) signified the tribe which, as inhabiting the borders of the Volga, owed its name to the ancient appellation of that river. And on the strength of these observations, we may go further to identify the country of Yen with that of the Budini, which lay on the commercial route noticed by HERODOTUS, And to recognize the country of Liu in the neighbourhood of the junction of the Kama and the Volga, which district was later occupied by the Bulgars.
          The reason why the Chinese historians of the Han and Wêi period know of those remote countries at all must be simply that these were significantly positioned on the highway of commerce between east and west in those early times. Just as, in the days of H
ERODOTUS, the Greek merchants having their headquarters on the northern shore of the Black Sea went up the Don and the Volga, and then up through the valley of the Kama, and further across the Ural range to its eastern side, in order to obtain Siberian furs ; so might the Chinese, or at least the K’ang-chü, traders in the Han times, trace the Syr down to the northwest, and from the northern side of the Aral travel through the neighbourhood of the present Orenburg, come out first at the Kama, and then turn west so as to reach the Volga. What is noteworthy in this connection is the following passage of the Wei-liao ; “The country of short people 短人 lies northwest of that of the K’ang-chü. Men and women there are all three feet high, and the population is very numerous. It is very far away from the country of the Yen-ts’ai and others. The aged among the K’ang-chü say that they have heard that there are always some traders who go over to that country ; which is perhaps more than 10,000 li away.” There is of course no identifying of that dwarfish race, but as the chief class of goods sought after by the K’ang-chü merchants in this case must have been furs, it is quite possible that they ventured even farther north than the country of Yen, into the basin of the Obi, and thus had a chance to hear, say, of the Samoyedes, who had their abode lower down the river.” Shiratori (1956c), pp. 133-134.

25.3. The kingdom of Yancai 奄蔡 [Yen-ts’ai] = ‘Vast Steppes,’ or ‘Extensive Grasslands’. See also note, 25.5.
          The Shiji and the Hanshu both placed the Yancai almost 2,000 li (832 km) to the northwest of Kangju, near a great marsh. It seems that the Tashkent oasis was the centre of Kangju, and 832 km to the northwest of Tashkent brings one to the region of the Syr Darya delta lands, just before the river emptied into the Aral Sea. Zadnesprovskiy (1994), p. 463, also places the Yancai in the region of the Aral Sea.

“The economic and cultural pattern of the semi-sedentary Saka-Massagetae pastoralists and farmers in the lower Syr Darya plain is illustrated by a series of sites: . . . and finally, the monuments of agricultural oases at Dzheti-Asar along the tributaries of the Zhani Darya and Kuvan Darya, which lasted from the first century B.C. to the Early Middle Ages. All these suggest a distinctive, complex culture with an advanced pastoral economy alongside agriculture. There were large cities, smaller settlements, a system of fortress-type strongholds with thick walls and towers and enormous burial grounds.” Negmatov (1994), pp. 449-450.

Yancai 奄蔡 translates literally as ‘Vast Steppes’ or ‘Extensive Grasslands,’ and I feel confident that the name must have been intended as descriptive. Nonetheless, see Pulleyblank (1963), pp. 220, 232, for its linguistic features and its possible relationship to the Greek name *Αορσοι [*Aorsoi]. Other scholars have sought to connect it with the Abzoae:

          “Chavannes (1905), p. 558, note 5, approves of the identification of Yen-ts’ai with the ‘Αορσοι mentioned by Strabo, as proposed by Hirth (1885), p. 139, note 1 ; he believes this identification to be strengthened by the later name Alan, which explains Ptolemy’s “Alanorsi”. Marquart (1905), pp. 240-241, did not accept this identification, but Pulleyblank (1963), pp. 99 and 220, does, referring for additional support to HSPC 70.6b where the name Ho-su 闔蘇, reconstructed in ‘Old Chinese’ as ĥa̱p-sa̱ĥ, can be compared with Abzoae found in Pliny VI, 38 (see also Pulleyblank (1968), p. 252). Also Humbach (1969), pp. 39-40, accepts the identification, though with some reserve.” CICA , p. 129, n. 316.

It is clear from the texts that, between the period covered by the Hou Hanshu to the time covered in the Weilue, Yancai had freed itself from Kangju, centred in Tashkent, and allied itself to, or joined with, the Alan tribes who stretched west past the Caspian, meeting up with the Roman-controlled cities on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.
          According to Josephus VII, 7, 4. (1960 trans.), in 73
CE, the Alani, had been “dwelling about the Tanais [the River Don] and the Lake Maeotis [Sea of Azov].” In this year, with the help of the king of Hyrcania, they invaded Media and put the king Pacorus [presumably Pacorus II, who didn’t begin to rule Parthia as a whole until 78 CE] to flight. He adds that they almost captured Tiridates the king of Armenia, before retreating to their own country.

“. . . Pliny put on record the fact that the Sarmatians west of the Volga held communication with a people, named the Abzoae, east of that river. Now, even a cursory examination of Ptolemy’s description makes it evident that, though he gives many names between the Kama and the Jaxartes, he neither points out nor suggests any connection between the peoples on the opposite banks of the lower Ra. The inference to be drawn from the different statements of the two authors is that a change had taken place in the affiliations of the peoples north of the Caspian between the times represented by their accounts, and happily the circumstances attending this change are recorded by Chinese historians.
          Shortly before 100 B.C. it became known to the Han government that northwest of the K’ang-chü, at a distance of 2000 li (about 700 miles)[actually, about 832 km or about 517 miles – thus placing it in the lower reaches of the Syr-darya near the northeastern end of the Aral Sea], lay the country of the Yen-ts’ai. Ssŭ-ma Ch’ien, in his monumental Shih Chi, goes on to say that “it is a land of nomads, and its manners and customs are in the main the same as those of the K’ang-chü; it has fully 100,000 bowmen; the country lies near a great marsh which has no limit; for it is the Northern Sea”. Ssŭ-ma Ch’ien also gives particulars concerning the political and trade relations of China with Ta-yüan (Ferghana) and the Wu-sun (on the river Ili), and states further that intercourse was maintained with An-hsi (Parthia), Yen-ts’ai, and other distant countries.
          The Ch’ien Han Shu, the history of the Former or Early Han dynasty, for which Pan Ku and other relatives of Pan Ch’ao were responsible, gives much the same information. It includes, however, an account of the activities of Chih-chih, in which it is said that while he was in the service of the K’ang-chü (43-36 B.C.) he sent ambassadors to Ho-su and Ta-yüan to demand the payment of an annual tribute. The significance of this statement lies in the fact that “Ho-su” was another name for “Yen-ts’ai.” Ta-yüan was situated on the route from Su-lê (Kashgar) which crossed the Pamirs and reached the Yen-ts’ai by way of the K’ang-chü.
          In the Hou Han Shu, the history of the Later Han dynasty, which was written by Fan Yeh, new information is provided concerning the peoples in the West. Thus, it is recorded that the kingdom of the Yen lay north of the Yen-ts’ai, that it was dependent upon the K’ang-chü and paid tribute in furs. The account then continues: “The kingdom of the Yen-ts’ai has changed its name into A-lan-liau; its capital is the city of Ti; it is dependent upon the K’ang-chü (or, they dwell on the land and in cities and depend upon the K’ang-chü).”
          The account of the Yen-ts’ai given by Fan Yeh relates specifically to the period A.D. 25-55. The information which comes next in time is contained in the Wei lüeh, and has reference to the years between A.D. 225 and 239. Though the date falls outside the period here under consideration, the description given by Yü Huan in this work contributes so much to an understanding of the situation in the steppes that it cannot be overlooked.
          “The [new northern] route,” he says, “turns to the northwest and we have then the kingdoms of the Wu-sun and the K’ang chü, which are the original kingdoms with no addition or diminution. Northern Wu-i is a separate kingdom north of the K’ang-chu. There is also the kingdom of Liu, there is also the kingdom of Yen, there is also the kingdom of Yen-ts’ai, called (by some authorities) A-lan; they all have the same customs as the K’ang-chu. To the west they border on Ta Ch’in, to the southeast on the K’ang-chü. In these kingdoms there are many famous sables. The kingdoms raise and pasture cattle, following the river courses and grasslands. They are overlooking the great marsh, therefore at times they were under the control of the K’ang-chü, but now they do not depend upon them. (Or, The kingdoms raise and pasture cattle, following the river courses and the grasslands overlooking the great marsh. In former times they were under the control of the K’ang-chü, . . .).”
          The facts which have been presented make it evident that both European and Chinese authorities provide information concerning inhabitants of the country north of the Caspian Sea. In an inquiry which is concerned with the connections of peoples it becomes of importance, then, to consider whether it can be shown that the western and eastern sources refer, in any instance, to the same people. The evidence on both sides is simple and direct. On the one hand, Pliny states that certain peoples in Asiatic Sarmatia held communication “across the straits” (the Volga mouth) with the Abzoae, a people made up of many different tribes. On the other hand, Ssŭ-ma Ch’ien, Pan Ku, Fan Yeh, and Yü Huan all place north of the Caspian the Yen-ts’ai or Ho-su, an organization with 100,000 fighting men. To establish the identity of the peoples mentioned, it is necessary only to observe that, in the time of the Early Han, Ho-su was pronounced Hap-sŏ or Hap-suo, for this, in accordance with Chinese usage, is a precise rendering of the word “Abzoae.” Without question the Yen-ts’ai or Ho-su were the Abzoae, who were in communication across the Volga with the Thali and the Siraci, and through them with the Greek cities of the Taman peninsula.” Teggart (1939), pp. 197, 199-201.

The Yancai 奄蔡 [Yen-ts’ai] were also known as the Hesu 闔蘇 [Ho-su] – see Teggart (1939), p. 199 and the quote from Hirth, “Hunnenforschungen,” Keleti szemle, 2 (1901), 85, which Teggart gives on p. 152, n. 5.
          This name, Hesu, as Teggart points out, makes an almost perfect transcription for the Abzoae mentioned in Pliny VI, 38. See Pulleyblank (1963), pp. 220 and 232, and CICA p. 129, n. 316.

          “Pliny, then, records the fact that connections were maintained between the peoples west and east of the Volga-mouth, but his information is not of later date than A.D. 49. On the other hand, Ptolemy, whose information relating to the region north of the Caspian is definitely earlier than the invasion of Armenia by the Alani in or about A.D. 73, makes no reference to any connection between the peoples on the two sides of the lower Volga; the routes he describes in the Volga-Ural region run from north to south and southeast. Consequently it is to be inferred that between 49 and 73 some important change had taken place in the relations of the peoples east of the Volga. The nature of this change is made clear in the passages quoted above from the Chinese historians. Up to the middle of the first century, trade was carried on between the kingdoms in the Tarim basin and the Yen-ts’ai, north of the Caspian. But about the middle of the century–certainly before A.D. 55–this east-west connection was broken, and at one and the same time the Yen-ts’ai became dependent upon the Kang-chü and changed their name “against that of” the Alani. In other words, in or about A.D. 50-55, the Abzoae–Yen-ts’ai abandoned their old relations with the Sarmatians across the Volga and became a part of the confederacy of the Alani. In the new alignment they were linked southeastward with the K’ang-chü, and through them with the Kushan empire south of the Oxus. It is of immediate interest, therefore, that a coin of the first Kushan sovereign, Kujula Kadphises, should have been found on the Kama in modern times. Ammianus Marcellinus (xxxi. 2. 16) evidently had a basis for his statement that the Alani stretched out as far as the river Ganges. Nor, in the attempt to realize the actuality of the change, should the detail, recorded by Yü Huan, be overlooked that in the early part of the third century old men of the K’ang-chü still told of their journeys–10,000 li in extent–beyond the kingdom of the Yen-ts’ai to the kingdom of the Dwarfs, in other words, to the country of the Lapps.” In the period to which the author of the Wei Lüeh here refers, the Kama-Kushan alignment had ceased to exist; “in former times,” he says, “the Yen-ts’ai were under the control of the K’ang-chü; now they are no longer dependent upon them.” So, too, in speaking of the Yen-ts’ai, he remarks not that they are named A-lan, but that some authorities spoke of them as A-lan. It is plain, therefore, that the adhesion of the Abzoae-Yen-ts’ai to the confederacy of the Alani implied no loss of identity and was no more permanent than their trade connection with the K’ang-chü and Northwest India. Indeed, after the revolutions which affected the entire continent of Asia at the end of the second and the beginning of the third century, the Abzoae ceased to be Alani, and in the Peutinger Table (of the fourth century) the names Abzoae, written Arzoae, and Alani appear independently in the Don-Caucasus region. It may be added that the name of the Yen-ts’ai or ’Am-ts’ai has not even now lost its place north of the Caspian, for the river Emba was known to Anthony Jenkinson (1557) as the Yem, and down to the middle of the nineteenth century appeared on maps as the Yem, Hyan, Djem, Iemm, or Iemba.
            The different accounts of Pliny and Ptolemy are thus intelligible when viewed in the light of the detailed historical information contained in the Chinese sources.” Teggart (1939), pp. 203-205.

The Hou Hanshu gives a rather different account and adds another kingdom to the north of Yancai:

“The kingdom of Yan is to the north of Yancai and is a dependency of Kangju (Tashkent plus the Chu, Talas, and middle Jaxartes basins). It produces small animal pelts, which it uses to pay its tribute to that country (Kangju).
          The kingdom of Yancai (‘Vast Steppe’) has changed its name to the kingdom of Alanliao. Its capital is the town of Di. It is a dependency of Kangju (Tashkent plus the Chu, Talas, and middle Jaxartes basins). The climate is mild. Wax trees, pines, and ‘white grass’ (aconite) are plentiful. Their way of life and dress are the same as those of Kangju.” TWR, Sections 18 and 19.

This account in the Hou Hanshu presumably originated from the report of General Ban Yong to the Emperor circa 125 CE. It is of particular interest because it is not only the first report that Yancai had changed its name to Alanliao – although (at least nominally) still dependent on Kangju. This strongly hints of some recent alliance or amalgamation with the Alans or ‘Alani,’ as the Romans called them. There is no reference, as in the earlier histories, to the distance from Kangju. They now have as their capital, or occupy (ju), a town called Di . It seems probable that, by this time, they had moved or extended their power further west, to near the mouth of the Volga.
          As the Weilue reports that the kingdoms of Yancai was no longer dependent on Kangju, they probably freed themselves of their subservience to them sometime between the report of Ban Yong to the Emperor circa 125
CE – on which most of the Chapter on the Western Regions of the Hou Hanshu was based – and the time the information for the Weilue was collected, probably in the latter part of the 2nd century CE. However, it is impossible to be more precise than this.
          Also, the phrase that Teggart uses stating that they changed their name “against that of” the Alani” appears to be a literal translation of Chavannes’ “. . . a changé contre celui de A-lan-leao. . . .” See Chavannes (1907), p. 195. It does not read well in English and could lead to confusion. The Chinese texts simply says:
奄蔡 國改名阿蘭聊Yancai guo gaiming Alanliao; which translates as: “The Yancai changed their name to Alanliao.”

“Defence (against the southward-pressing Sarmatians or Alani as they now came to be called) was at any rate not the only motive of the Roman interest, if indeed it was a motive at all. Until the following century [2nd century CE] off and on, the tribes of the northern Black Sea coasts were friendly to the Greek protected cities, that gave them supply centres and trustworthy agents ‘because of their need for traffic with the Greeks.’ The ‘Chief Interpreter’ of the yellow-haired Alani was an important official in the Bosporus. Though a strong ‘iranisation’ was proceeding, altering arms and dress and language, it was an uneasy but not a menacing relation – its impact more against Parthia than Rome. Vespasian refused to cooperate when the Parthian king asked for help; and the southern Alani were soon to show themselves ready to join the other Black Sea peoples in homage to Trajan when he reached Armenia. . . .
          There is thus a whole background of interpretations for the undoubted Roman interest in the north: defensive against the Alani; precautionary for the Trebizond supply route (which was aggressive in its very nature); or a mere evasion of the Parthian customs; or a subsidiary fringe to frontier affairs farther north, where Dacia and the main road of the Empire were soon to blaze into war.” Stark (1968), p. 201.

“The third major nomadic state, that of the Yen-ts’ai, was situated in north-western Central Asia in the steppe around the Aral Sea and the northern shores of the Caspian, where it was in contact with the world of the Sarmatians. The nomadic population of this region belonged to the Sarmatian group of tribes which replaced the Scythians around the turn of the third century B.C. During the second century B.C., a new major grouping of Sarmatian tribes, of which the chief were the Siraci and Aorsi, appeared on the steppes between the Caspian and the Tanais (the River Don), as Strabo describes. Abeacus, King of the Siraci, could mobilize 20,000 horsemen (at the time when Pharnaces was lord of the Bosporus), while Spadinus, King of the Aorsi, commanded as many as 200,000 and the Upper Aorsi had even more. That explains their camel caravan trade in Indian and Babylonian goods which they procured by barter from the Armenians and the Medes (Strabo XI.5.8).
          It is evident from this text that the Aorsi and their kinsmen, the Upper Aorsi, were tribes of Sarmatian origin and were masters of the lands lying along the coast of the Caspian Sea. The precise eastern boundaries of the Aorsi are unknown, but their influence probably extended to the Aral Sea. They were a great military power and for almost three centuries, until the arrival of the Alans, they played a major role in events of the northern Pontic region. King Eunonus of this tribe was an ally of Mithradates VII (A.D. 40-44) in his struggle against Rome, and offered him asylum after his defeat.
          Strabo refers to the established international trade links of the Aorsi with the states of the Caucasus. They also controlled trade routes leading from the Bosporus and other Black Sea states to Transoxiana and China. According to Chinese sources, one of the branches of the Silk Route – the Northern Route – passed through East Turkestan, Ta-yüan and K’ang-chü, ending in the country of the Yen-ts’ai. Chinese artefacts from archaeological excavations provide concrete evidence of the use of this route during the first few centuries A.D.
            Scholars generally identify the Aorsi mentioned by the classical writers with the Yen-ts’ai state of the Chinese sources.
            The Shih-chi states that Yen-ts’ai lies almost 2,000 li north-west of K’ang-chü, and it is a nomadic country whose customs are like those of K’ang-chü. Its army numbers over 100,000. It lies on a large lake that does not have high banks – the Northern Sea.
            This independent nomadic state played a role of some significance in the history of Transoxiana and the neighbouring localities along the international trade route. It is not, therefore, surprising that the Han Empire should have sent embassies there and fostered trade relations. Eventually, in the first century B.C., Yen-ts’ai lost its independence and became a dependency of K’ang-chü. According to the Hou Han-shu: ‘The domain of Yen-ts’ai was renamed A-lan-ya, over which K’ang-chü held sway.’ Another country to lose its independence was Yen, which paid tribute in furs. Many scholars seek to identify A-lan-ya (or A-lan-liao) with the Aorsi and Alans of the ancient sources. It should be noted that the appearance of the name A-lan-ya in the Hou Han-shu coincides with the emergence of the Alan tribes on the political stage.” Zadneprovskiy, (1994), pp. 465-467.

“The nomad realm of Yen-tsai (“nearly 2,000 li [832 km] from K’ang-kiu, to the north-west”) lay “beside a great lake the shores of which are not high”, and can be situated either on the lower reaches of the Jaxartes (i.e. beside the Aral Sea)[which is just about the right distance from K’ang-chü] or else beside the Caspian Sea, this being less likely.” Frye (1983), p. 243.

25.4. The Alan 阿蘭 [A-lan]. Alanliao 阿蘭聊 [A-lan-liao] = the Alans.
          It was recognised very early on that the Yancai
奄蔡 and the Alans of the Chinese accounts must refer to the Aorsi and the Alani of the Classical authors. Not only are the names very similar, and they occupied the same region between the Caspian and Black seas, but the timing of the appearance of the name of the Alan/Alani people corresponds in both Chinese and Western accounts. See, for example, Chavannes (1905), p. 558, n. 5.

“According to the Chinese chronicles, by the second century it had been renamed Alania and was dependent on K’ang-chü. Alania was situated between the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea.
          A military and political alliance between the Sarmatian and Alan tribes living between the lower reaches of the Volga and Aral Sea was formed under the name of Yen-ts’ai–Alania. It consisted mainly of semi-nomadic herdsmen speaking Iranian languages. According to Chinese sources, their customs and costume were similar to those of the inhabitants of K’ang-chü and their forces were 100,000 strong. The climate of their country was temperate, and there were many pine trees and large areas of broom and feather-grass. According to sixth-century sources, the Alanian region of Yen-ts’ai was renamed Su-te or Su-i and the Hsiung-nu from Central Asia took possession of it (apparently in the second century).” Kyzlanov (1996), pp. 315-316.

This correspondence has been discussed at length by many authors and may be taken as certain. Those who would like to read further on the subject should check the discussions in: Pulleyblank (1963), p. 220; CICA (1979), p. 129, n. 318; Zadneprovskiy (1994), pp. 467-468; and Leslie and Gardiner (1996), pp. 258-259.
          There is extensive and convincing numismatic and archaeological evidence for the early use of a trade route linking the northern Black Sea with Central Asia, China and India dating back to at least the 2nd century
BCE, and probably earlier. See, for example, the excellent summary of the evidence in Mielczarek (1997).
          It is of interest to quote Strabo’s account of the Aorsi because it contains the earliest historical reference we have to the use of the route around the north of the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Azov by camel caravans from the East:

 ”The next peoples to which one comes between Lake Maeotis [the Sea of Azov] and the Caspian Sea are nomads, the Nabianai and the Panxini, and then next the tribes of the Siraces and the Aorsi. The Aorsi and the Siraces are thought to be fugitives from the upper tribes of those names and the Aorsi are more to the north than the Siraces. Now Abeacus, king of the Siraces, sent forth twenty thousand horsemen at the time when Phrarnaces [II – Anatolian king of Pontus and son of Mithradates VI Eupator] held the Bosporus [between 63 and 47 BCE]; and Spadines, king of the Aorsi, two hundred thousand; but the upper Aorsi sent a still larger number, for they held dominion over more land, and, one may almost say, ruled over most of the Caspian coast; and consequentl