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The Silk Road

A New History with Documents

Valerie Hansen

Publication Date - 14 June 2016

ISBN: 9780190208929

496 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

The most up-to-date history of the Silk Road, now with primary sources and coverage to 1400 CE


The Silk Road is iconic in world history; but what was it, exactly? It conjures up a hazy image of a caravan of camels laden with silk on a dusty desert track, reaching from China to Rome. The reality was different--and far more interesting. In The Silk Road: A New History with Documents, Valerie Hansen describes the remarkable archeological finds that revolutionized our understanding of these trade routes. Hansen explores eight sites along the road, from Xi'an to Samarkand, where merchants, envoys, pilgrims, and travelers mixed in cosmopolitan communities, tolerant of religions from Buddhism to Zoroastrianism.

Designed for use in the classroom and based on the award-winning trade edition (OUP, 2012), The Silk Road: A New History with Documents offers a selection of excerpted primary sources in each chapter. The wide-ranging sources include memoirs of medieval Chinese monks and modern explorers, letters written by women, descriptions of towns, legal contracts, religious hymns, and many others. A new final chapter provides coverage of the Silk Road during the period of Mongol rule.

About the Author(s)

Valerie Hansen is Professor of History at Yale University. She is the author of several books, including The Open Empire, Second Edition (2015), and, with Kenneth R. Curtis, Voyages in World History, Third Edition (2016).


"The Silk Road was already the best introduction to the reality behind this commonly used phrase. With the new documents, this version gives an even more vivid picture of how the 'Silk Road' actually functioned. It is perfect for classroom use."--Christopher P. Atwood, University of Pennsylvania

"In 2013 the International Convention of Asia Scholars recognized The Silk Road: A New History as the best new book about Asia for teaching the humanities. That is no small praise, and I could not readily agree more. Indeed, for anyone who teaches the Silk Road--or Asian or world history--this updated version that includes a remarkable array of original sources is an absolute boon. Not only because it is beautifully written and cogently offers up a magisterial overview of Inner Asian history up through the Mongol conquest, but also, more importantly, because it weaves into its narrative the excitement of discovery that lies at the heart of the humanities."--Johan Elverskog, Southern Methodist University

"The Silk Road is a remarkable achievement, especially considering the extreme complexity of the subject matter. This useful and timely text provides teachers and students of Chinese, Asian, and world history a much-needed collection of primary sources on the Silk Road in the first millennium and beyond. The selected prayers, contracts, personal correspondence, and graffiti tell extremely vivid, personal, factual stories and promise to generate stimulating class discussion. Instructors and students alike will benefit greatly from Hansen's informative introductions and carefully selected maps and images."--Cong Ellen Zhang, University of Virginia

Table of Contents


    1. A Walk through the Taklamakan, Charles Blackmore, 1995
    2. A Caravan in 1895, Sven Hedin, 1925
    3. The Han Emperor Speaks with the Explorer Zhang Qian, Ban Gu, 111 BCE
    4a-b. Documents About Sogdian Envoys from the Xuanquan Fort, 52, 39 BCE
    5. The Kingdom of Da Qin, Fan Ye, 445 CE
    6. Greek Description of the Lands East of India, Periplus, First Century CE
    7. Pliny the Elder on the Country of Seres and the Silkworm, circa 77 CE

    Chapter 1. At the Crossroads of Central Asia: The Kingdom of Kroraina

    8. The Niya Site in 1901, Aurel Stein,1907
    9. The Niya Site in 1993, Charles Blackmore,1995
    10. The Kroraina and Jingjue Kingdoms, Ban Gu, 111
    11a-h. Local Life in a Silk Road Community as seen in the Kharoshti, Documents, circa 250-350

    Chapter 2. Gateway to the Languages of the Silk Road: Kucha and the Kizil Caves

    12. Sven Hedin's Account of his 1899 Boat Trip, 1925
    13. How the Germans Removed Paintings, Albert von le Coq, 1928
    14. The Jataka Tale of How the Monkey King Saved His Band, Fifth Century CE
    15. The Punyavan Jataka Tale, Fifth-Sixth Centuries CE
    16. The Invasion of Kucha by General Lü Guang, Li Fang, 984
    17. The Biography of Kumarajiva, Fang Xueling, 644

    Chapter 3. Midway Between China and Iran: Turfan

    18. Xuanzang's Journey out of China, Huili, 649
    19. The Astana Graveyard in 1915, Aurel Stein,1928
    20a-c. The Real World Legal System in the Turfan Documents
    21a-c.The Underworld Court System in the Turfan Documents
    22a-d.The Tang Code, Zhangsun Wuji, 653

    Chapter 4. Homeland of the Sogdians, the Silk Road Traders: Samarkand and Sogdiana

    23a-c. The Sogdian Ancient Letters, Nicholas Sims-Williams (trans.), ca. 310
    24.The Mount Mugh Marriage Contract and the Bride's Script, 710
    25. The Fall of Devashtich's Fortress at Mount Mugh, Al-Tabari, 923
    26. Xuanzang's Description of Sogdian Ways, 646
    27. The Kingdom of Sogdiana, Liu Xu, 945

    Chapter 5. The Cosmopolitan Terminus of the Silk Road: Historic Chang'an, Modern-day Xi'an

    28a-c. Epitaphs for the Two Sogdian Headmen An Jia and Shi Wirkak, 579
    29. Christianity in China: The Nestorian Stele of Xi'an, 781
    30. A Record Book of Accounts from a Tang-Dynasty Pawn Shop, 662-689
    31. The Lament of the Lady of Qin, A Poem about Chang'an in 881

    Chapter 6. The Time Capsule of Silk Road History: The Dunhuang Caves

    32. Aurel Stein's Negotiations at Dunhuang, 1912
    33. A Hebrew Prayer preserved in the Library Cave, 800-1000
    34. A Manichean Hymn from the Library Cave, 800-1000
    35. A Christian Hymn from the Library Cave, 800-1000
    36. The Zhang Yichao Transformation Text, after 857
    37a-b. Women's Lives in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries

    Chapter 7. Entryway into Xinjiang for Buddhism and Islam: Khotan

    38. Xuanzang's Description of Khotan, Huili, 649
    39. The Pilgrim-monk Faxian's Description of Khotan, 401
    40. The Book of Zambasta, circa 500
    41. A Khotanese Contract Governing the Use of Irrigation Water, circa 700
    45. The Second Jewish-Persian Letter, circa 790
    46. A Khotanese-Sanskrit Phrasebook, Tenth Century CE
    47. A Khotanese Account of Expenditures, Tenth Century CE

    Chapter 8. A New Route through the Grasslands: Beijing

    48. Pope Innocent's Letters to the Mongols, 1245
    49. The Mongol Khan's Reply to the Pope's Letters of 1245
    50. John of Piano Carpini's Description of the Mongols, 1246
    51. The Religious Debate at Möngke's Court, 1254
    52. The Armenian King's Report about William of Rubruck, after 1259
    53. Rabban Sauma's Account of France, circa 1300
    54. Marco Polo's Account of Beijing, 1299
    55. Marco Polo's Route South of Beijing, 1299

    Conclusion: The History of the Overland Routes through Central Asia

    Art Credits