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5.1: Regional Configurations of Historical Territories

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    The Silk Road, a vast network of trade routes that linked the Far East with the Middle East and Europe, was founded during the Han Dynasty in China in 130 B.C. This marked the official opening of trade between China and the West. The Silk Road remained a vital trade route until the Ottoman Empire boycotted trade with China and closed the routes in A.D. 1453. Despite the passage of nearly six centuries, the Silk Road's influence on commerce, culture, and history still reverberates today.[1]

    The Maritime Silk Road and the Overland Silk Road were prominent trade routes that connected different parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, and Europe. The Maritime Silk Road was established initially around 200 BCE when boats navigated from one port to another along the coastal regions, and it was a vital link for trade in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. As shipbuilding technology advanced, merchants could travel longer distances across vast oceans to reach other continents. This resulted in the expansion of the Maritime Silk Road, which connected East Asia to Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, and eventually Europe. The Maritime Silk Road and Overland Silk Road played a significant role in the exchange of goods, ideas, and culture between different regions of the world, and their legacy still resonates today.

    The discovery of a Han Dynasty palace in the mountains of Siberia was unusual as the territory was under the control of the Han enemy – the Xiongnu. The Xiongnu were nomadic people who continually invaded the northern borders of China. Because of the constant attacks of the Xiongnu, construction began on the Great Wall of China, erecting barriers to the invasions. During the palace excavation, archaeologists found all the definitions of the Han, jade, bronze, and gold, indicating their success in expanding their territory. The Han not only expanded their borders but developed trade across Asia. Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty sent Zhang Qian across the region as an emissary who came in contact with other cultures. 

    Map of Asia
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Eastern Hemisphere in 200 BCE (TalessmanCC BY 3.0)

    The emperor wanted horses, traded with others with horse breeding programs, and thought about what else he could use for trade. The Parthians, who controlled the region of Mesopotamia, became allies with China and helped with the expansion of the Silk Road. Expanded trade helped bring economic success to China and the demand for more consumer goods. Rome and the Roman Empire were also growing and needed more places to trade and move commodities over the expanded trade routes. While many types of merchandise traveled along the Silk Road, the name comes from the popularity of Chinese silk with the West, especially with Rome. The Silk Road routes stretched from China through India, Asia Minor, up throughout Mesopotamia, to Egypt, the African continent, Greece, Rome, and Britain.[2] On the vast networks of trade routes, camels and donkeys became a primary source of transportation on land as goods moved from center to center.  

    Buddha’s teachings spread across central and northern India when the emperor Asoka supported Buddhism and helped bring the missions across other parts of Asia. By the first century CE, Buddhism spread into China across the Silk Road and then to Korea, Japan, and Tibet. Art and architecture helped spread the teachings of Buddha, both of which educated and inspired believers. King Asoka, who converted to Buddhism, was a prominent personality of the movement. He repented about all the violence he brought when conquering territories and, as an expression of his remorse, spread Buddhist art and architecture across the territory. 

    Some of Ashoka’s most well-known arts included the expansion of stupas, carving cave pillars, and inscribing his edicts on all the spaces and walls. “Based on the content on which they were engraved, Asokan Edicts are classified as Minor and Major rock and pillars edicts. Minor edicts focused more on religion, while Major edicts focused on politics and morality. The languages used in the inscription are Prakrit, Greek, and Aramaic, with four types of scripts: Brahmi, Kharosthi, Greek, and Aramaic scripts.[3]

    The stupa was a domed structure made from fired bricks. Initially, they were constructed to enshrine Buddha’s relics or remember important events and locations of his life. Buddhists also built sanctuaries (griha) and monasteries (vihara); however, the stupa was the most prominent. Monasteries were constructed as residence halls for the monks. The sanctuaries were assembly halls with a smaller stupa inside. The stupa was placed to allow people to walk around the stupa during contemplation. The Ananda Stupa (x.x) was located at Vaishali, the last place Buddha gave a sermon. The stupa was constructed to commemorate Ananda, a disciple of Buddha. In the stupa are the relics of Ananda. 

    Brick Stupa with surrounding buildings
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Ananda Stupa (Rohit SharmaCC BY-SA 4.0)


    [1] Silk Road 

    [2] Mark, J. J. (2014, March 28). Silk Road. Ancient History Encyclopedia. 

    [3] Buddhist College of Singapore