Comparative culture

Silk Road



Peoples of the Silk Road


1.Many nations contributed to the Silk-Road commerce.


Among inhospitable mountains and deserts scatter grasslands, river valleys, and oases, each once supported a pastoral tribe or an agricultural statelet. Jostling and squabbling, they constituted a checkerboard of agriculture and pastoral economies, sedentary and nomadic cultures, and peoples practicing both or alternating from one to the other. Their history was a kaleidoscope of moving peoples, diverse languages, shifting identities, and transient polities, complicated by conquests and the intrusions of imperial powers. They were the peoples of the Silk Road.


By the sixth century BCE, the Achaemenid Persians built a vast empire stretching from today’s Turkey to the Indus River and beyond the Amu Darya. Its ceremonial city Persepolis was destroyed by Alexander the Great. Luckily, some of the carvings on the walls of its palatial platforms and staircases survived to show us the stylized portraits of ancient peoples. Besides the Persians and their neighbor Medes, we see a parade of nations, allies and subject peoples bringing native products. Among them are an Armenian bringing a horse, a Babylonian bringing a cattle, a Parthian brining a Bactrian camel, an India bringing perhaps flasks of gold dust.



2. Babylonian bringing a cattle to Persia.


3. A Parthian bring a Bactrian camel


From north of the Black Sea, the Scythians bring their horse. Compare them to the horsemen of the Altai region, as depicted on a fourth century BCE felt wall-hanging excavated in the tombs of Pazyryk.


Migrations were common. For example, the Uighurs, whose descendent inhabit China’s Xinjiang province today, migrated there from northern Mongolia in the 840s. A Uighur princess of that time appears in the wall paintings of Bezeklik. In the seventh and eighth centuries, China under the Tang Dynasty was exceptionally open to the world. Many color-glazed pottery figurines uncovered from tombs feature open eyes, thick facial hair, conical cap, and open collar, characteristics of traders and visitors that frequented the capital Changan. Two musical bands, each mounted on a camel, contrast the Chinese instruments to that from the “western regions”.


4. Chinese musicians in the Tang Dynasty.


5. Musicians from the western regions.