The Silk Road Revisited is an enticing new book that invites the reader to take an exceptional cultural and historical journey throughout Europe, Persia, Central Asia and China along one of the world’s oldest trading routes.
For more than two millennia the Silk Road developed a vital set of trading arteries between East and West. At its height, the route stretched from Venice in Europe to Xi’an in Northern China. Covering more than 8,000 kilometres, it spanned a wealth of cultures and lands, hosting many of history’s great legends and stories. This vast commercial and cultural relay between countries, peoples and religions influenced and changed the world and its effects are still being felt today. This book celebrates and cherishes a part of the world that once held more power thorough trade than any single empire could hope and which once again, Phoenix-like, is rising from the ashes with a reborn flourish.
This is no ordinary book on history – it is a personal view of the Silk Road’s fascinating history that has made each country that once lined its route what it is today. Charting a course from West to East, the book deviates from the traditional East to West depiction of the Silk Road and provides new perspectives. The engaging text interweaves the history and legends of this remarkable, and often forgotten, part of our world history. It is complemented by captivating photography as the reader travels from charming and powerful Venice to the homeland of the Yellow Dragon, China, from snow-capped mountains of Kyrgyzstan to the vast steppes of Kazakhstan and from the fearless Turkic tribes to the noble Persian empires. In each chapter the reader also encounters the diverse peoples, delicious cuisine and delightful landscapes through the both the vibrant photography and rich historical writing.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-88
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I’m not a historian, nor am I a writer by trade and yet I have written books on both, so you could say I am a bit of an accidental historian! When I returned from my Silk Road travels in 2006, I started to write Friendly Steppes to recount my journey. In that book I wanted to put some of the historical context around the various encounters I made with the local people I met on my travels. The problem was that the history of the Silk Road is so vast, there was plenty of it that I simply couldn’t add without turning my already lengthy tome into a thousand-page encyclopedia! This would have lost the real purpose of the book – to retell many of the wonderful characters’ stories as I found them. So, I started to collate my historical research and decided that some of it might be interesting to put together into a coffee table book where people could try and get a distillation of the vast history alongside photos of the region’s people and places. And this is where the book was born. After a couple of stop-starts with various publishers, finally, after 15 years, I found the opportunity with Hertfordshire Press to get it finalized and out in the market.
Extract from the Chapter titled "Land of Empires: Persia":
Persia was a land of empires. Perhaps nowhere in the world has there arisen such a succession of great empires that dominated such a large expanse of territory. These prominent empires, combined with its strategic location between the Caspian Sea in the north and the Persian Gulf in the south, made Persia one of the most significant regions in the history of the Silk Road. Put simply, any trade goods transported between Central Asia and Western Asia on the main routes of the Silk Road had to pass through Persia.
Although the empires extended far beyond its modern borders, the Persian heartland largely corresponded with present-day Iran. The name Iran comes from a term that means “land of the Aryans,” a reference to tribes who left their homeland on the steppes north of the Caspian Sea and entered Persia early in the second millennium b.c. Although the Aryans lagged behind the sophisticated cultures of Mesopotamia, Babylon, and Assyria (all in modern-day Iraq), they were expert horsemen and proved devastating in battle.
In the late eighth century b.c. an Aryan group called the Medes consolidated territory in what is now north-western Iran and built a beautiful capital at Ecbatana (now called Hamedan), which would later became an important junction on the Silk Road. In 606 b.c. the Medes and Babylonians formed an alliance to defeat the powerful Assyrians, and the Medean Empire extended from Iran into Anatolia (Turkey). The rule of the Medes would not last long, however, for a new Aryan people, the Persians, would soon take over the throne.
The Persian Empire
The Persians were a group of tribes who settled in southern Iran, in the modern province of Fars. While they began to carve out their own small empire, they were dominated by the Medes until the rise of an inspirational king who became known as Cyrus the Great. Uniting the Persians behind him, Cyrus occupied the Medean capital of Ecbatana in 550 b.c. Three years later he conquered Anatolia in the west, and for the next six years drove east as far as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Finally, he returned to the west and conquered Babylon—where he freed the Jews from a half-century of captivity.
Cyrus was not only a great conqueror but also a great leader who tolerated other religions and cultures and treated his subjects with such fairness that, according to the Greek historian Xenophon, “he was able to awaken in them so lively a desire to please him, that they always wished to be guided by his will.”
After Cyrus’s death in 530 b.c., his son expanded the empire into Egypt but lost control of other regions leaving the new empire on the verge of collapse. Then, in 521 b.c., a young relative of Cyrus took the throne and ruled with such strength and vision that he would later be called Darius the Great.
Darius reorganized the political structure, dividing the empire into 20 provinces (satraps), each with a governor, a general, and a secretary of state. These officials reported directly to the central government and were rotated throughout the empire to keep them from getting too powerful. To further maintain honesty and good government, inspectors travelled from satrap to satrap listening to complaints and reporting back to the central government.
In order to keep this enlightened and sophisticated political structure functioning, Darius built an impressive network of roads throughout the empire, including the Royal Road from his capital at Susa in the province of Fars to the city of Sardis near the Aegean Sea in western Anatolia. Soldiers patrolled the route to keep travellers safe, and fast-riding messengers provided a personal communication service for Darius.
The main route from Susa merged at Arbela (present day Arbil in northern Iraq) onto the Silk Road towards the west while a spur led to Ecbatana and further on towards the east. To collect taxes and further stimulate trade, Darius introduced a system of gold and silver coins and standard weights and measures. Although silk did not yet travel along the road—and the East remained shrouded in mystery—a steady stream of goods were carried through Persia, from luxury items and precious metals to common household goods, clothing, and grain. The western half of the Silk Road and the many routes that fed it were open for business, and Darius needed to be able to centralise and unify trade as it entered and travelled through his empire.
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