The Silk Thread: Connections between Ancient China and Ancient Rome

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Foreign cultural influences from Europe in Asia are by no means a recent occurrence or merely an inevitable remnant of the XIXth-century European colonialist past.

Everyone has heard the story of the Venetian seafarer Marco Polo to China. This, however, might not have been the only contact between Italy and China. In fact, contact between both nations has been common ever since the first and second century AD when Ancient Rome and the Chinese Han dynasty traded goods through the well-designed trade system in Asia known as the Silk Road. All sorts of exotic goods would flow across this Silk Road and commercial interactions between Eastern and Western powers were more common than originally thought.

During the age of the Antonine Emperors in the II-Century, the Roman Empire had effectively reached the zenith of its expansion. Its main center of power relied on its control over the Mediterranean Sea, achieving unparalleled prosperity and control over its frontiers. It is referred to as Pax Romana. During this period, the Han dynasty was also experiencing great prosperity and advances in philosophy, literature and geographical expansion.

Contact between Ancient China and Ancient Rome is hard to identify due to a lack of primary archaeological and literary historical remnants from the time period that showcase contact among civilizations and knowledge of each other. However, modern historians have encountered direct evidence that shows mutual contact between both did occur, albeit indirectly and mainly through the famed Silk Road. A trading network that connected regions of the Middle East such as Egypt and Constantinople, the Parthian Empire and all the way towards Chinese-held territory. Due to Egyptians and Kushan traders strictly focusing on their role as trade intermediaries to maintain their financial interests, they abstained from revealing the source of their more exotic goods. That is the Chinese Empire.

Even though ancient Greece had extensive knowledge of the existence of rich eastern empires even before the conquests of Alexander the Great, there were no mentions of the existence of the Chinese people. The Greek historian Herodotus acknowledged the existence of India, Persia, Arabians and Ethiopia, and he never professed any knowledge of any people existing beyond the confines of the Indian borders. More than 500 years would have passed before ancient historians began to wonder about the origins of these goods.

As for sources of knowledge of Ancient Rome from ancient China, sources among II century Chinese scholars reveal that they believed in the existence of a great western empire referred to as Da Qin. This Da Qin empire was further described by emissary Gan Yi who accompanied general Fan Ye in an expedition in the I century AD. Also, a second expedition in II AD met in Sinan coasts or Tonkin, current Vietnam, between emissaries of an emperor from Da Qin, the Chinese called Andun, in which goods were traded. Many historians strongly suspect Da Qin to have been their name for Rome.

Nowadays, Vietnam is no longer just a gateway into China but a touristic country in its own right. Each year more tourists come to this country in search of new experiences. For many years, Vietnam has been continuously developing in all manner of ways. Its cuisine has been recognized and appreciated globally and is consumed everywhere in the world. Vietnam has also very efficiently adopted certain features brought over from other cultures and presented them to their citizens and tourists. For instance, Vietnamese punters can access specialized betting sites on the internet by simply typing in ‘’casino online’’ or as the locals would say ‘’sòng bài trực tuyến’’. American entertainment has been well received among its citizens: Baccarat, Pai Gow and its many variations or live croupier games to fully experience all each has to offer. All of them are well-protected against cheating and rules are strictly followed. Therefore, if the real money is played, there is nothing to fear concerning cheating incidents. Another example of foreign influence that has strongly influenced Vietnamese culture is France. Due to the French presence in Indochina, many aspects of French culture were gradually introduced into Vietnamese society, which remains until today. The architecture, infrastructure and even local food are some features of French culture.

Regardless, imagining contact between such two mighty empires of antiquity is fascinating.

Image source: pixabay


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