The Silk Road: Hard Stones and Hot Sands

George Meszoly

Thursdays, October 12 - November 30 (not October 19 or November 23) 10:00 a.m. - noon 6 sessions
Hampshire House, 84 Beacon Street

…the wealth of Ormus and of Ind, Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand Showers on her kings barbaric pearls and gold… — John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II

If you stay in the land of the Ötüken, and send caravans from there,   you will have no trouble. If you stay at the Ötüken Mountains,   you will live forever dominating the tribes! Tonyukuk, Adviser to Bilge Khagan, circa 716.

Around 60 AD, Pliny the Elder registered the first known complaint against unfair trade in silk from the East, noting that, at a minimum, the Roman Empire was spending 100 million sesterces a year on imports, a sum I calculate sufficient to pay for one-third of the legions of the Empire. In fact, silk traded for its weight in gold. 

In this seminar, we will examine the source and history of this silk, its importance to its land of origin, how it traveled across the longest trade route until fairly recent times, and who the various merchants, adventurers, and nomads (Parthians, Huns, Turks, Sogdians, etc.) were that participated in this trade. We will also discuss what motivated and promoted this trade and what hindered it. 

So, saddle up your camels and come join me on the trip of a lifetime, across mountains and deserts, through lost cities and civilizations and peoples, as we  examine one of the greatest mercantile adventures in human history. 

A knowledge of Sogdian is not required. 

Suggested reading: Owen Lattimore, Inner Asian Frontiers of China; Edward  H. Schafer, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand; or any one of what seems to be thousands of books on the Silk Road 

Teaching Style: Lecture with questions     Weekly Preparation: None

    George Meszoly

    George Meszoly is a graduate of Harvard College in linguistics and Far Eastern languages and of Columbia University in linguistics and Uralic languages.