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Source: Index >> Story on the Silk Road >> 7

The Dispute on the West End of the Silk Road
(tianshannet) Updated: 2008-January-18 12:52:06


The AD 3rd century witnessed a deep and broad upheaval sweeping across European and Asian Continents. In the west, Roman Empire suffered from serious economic crisis. The political center moved to the Mediterranean Sea. Alexander established Byzantium which replaced the position of Rome. In the east, the Hah Kingdom in China was in the process of disintegration. China entered a tinle when many small kingdoms fought against each other.

The political upheaval in the East led to exchange between China and the Western Regions stopped and the Silk Road was interrupted almost for a century From the beginning of AD x84, there were a lot of coup plots, which resulted in the disappearing of Hah Kingdom and the establishment of Three Kingdoms. China's northern part belonged to Wei Kingdom. As a result, silk trade came to a complete standstill. A close-door situation appeared both in Roman and Chinese Empires. That is why there was a complete gap in history of excbanges between the two empires.

In the West, from around AD 270, economy began to recover. In AD 330 the capital of Roman Empire moved to Constantinople. The interest of the West in silk (lid not decrease. When the king of Persia conquered Syria of the Byzantine Empire, he ordered to gather Syrian silk craftsmen and specialists of spinning and weaving as well as printing and dyeing and transported them back to Susa away from Byzantium. This measure greatly promoted the development of Persian silk industry. Before that, Persian merchants were mainly to purchase the silk products fi'om India.

The use of silk in Byxantium grew more and more popularity When Christimlity was adopted as a national religion, Christians began to wear silk costumes and churches to use silk fabrics as curtains, this created further demand for silk Afterwards, a custom using silk clothes to wrap body of VIPs when burying them was developed gradually The silk was so important to Byzantium that the fluctuating of silk price could be a measurement of the political stability of the Byzantine Empire.

At that thne however, Byzantine Empire was completely isolated from the country of Seres. In the North, the uncivilized tribes prohibited people of different races to transit the area of the Danube and the Black Sea. In the East, Persia was the greatest barrier to overcome. In the South, the Red Sea is a natural obstacle since the 2nd century, Roman boats had stoppcd sailing Gr India. Thc Red Sea had long been in the control of Ethiopians and Persians. Byzantium had no choice but to give up the direct trade with the East and to settle for transit trade of goods from Persians, who rapidly became the big clients for the goods from the Far East trade and also big beneficiaries of the trade. Because the northern part of China was temporarily in an isolated condition with the outside wot[d, no Chinese businessmen were seen traveling on the Silk Road between A fghanistml and the Western Regions. From the beinning of the 4th century, the Persian ships, sailing from the coast of Mesopotamia had to cross the Red Sea for the ports in India or Ceylon

and to purchase products from the southern part of China. In the period from AD 220 to 280, this new sea route was very busy it is usually called Silk Road by sea.

Just as it was oncc the time of Romans, now this period was the time belonged to Persians. The Persian regime was established on the foundation of the firm and rigid feudal structure. Persia was strong and powerful. It tried every means to protect its achievements in territory conquered and take the monopoly of economic privilcge. The most profitable deal was the transit trade of Chinese silk. In order to gain the cheapest price of silk, the two empires of Byzantium and Persia fought a fierce war, which lasted for more than 3 centuries.

At that time, silk was one of the important  factors influencing the policies of the Byzantine Empire. Numerous historical records were found to be related to silk, such as customs regulations, peace treaty,commerciaI articles of association, the law on restricting luxuries and other documents. The shadow of silk even extended into the religious prayers. Bishops often uncovered fraudulent practices related to silk trades. The emperor of Byzantium adopted a economic policy to have more strict control of the silk trade. This was an ominous vicious cycle and the trade become more difficult to control. A tremendous Byzan tine army fought with the Persians and the uncivilized tribes for the control of the silk trade. The payment for the silk drained the treasury of Byzantium. In order to enrich the treasury, there was no choice but for the Empire to increase taxation and to have the monopoly of economy The Empire replied heavily on the tax collected from the silk trade. From AD 4th century, Persian intermediate brokers effecnvely controlled the import of silk products.

When Byzantium felt it was powerful enotlgh m fight a decisive battle with Sasanian Dynasty, an understanding was reached at last between them. In AD 297, emperor Diocletian and king Narses agreed to designate Nisibine as the only exchange center for silk. In fact, this was only a custom city NTt) other place was allowed to engage in silk business. In AD 408 and 409, Byzantium signed silk trade agreements with Sasanian Dynasty In AD 528, Byzantine Empire again entered into war with Persian Empire, which resulted in the interruption of the Silk Road. In order to open the commercial route to the Orient and maintain the silk trade with China, the empires of Rome and Byzantium waged wars for more than 5 centuries, until the end of Persian Empire.

(SOURCES: XJTS)Editor: zhaoqian
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