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Flying Horse of Gansu

The Heavenly Horses of the Han Dynasty

The Heavenly Horses of the Han Dynasty

The most well-known part of the Silk Road are the so-called northern routes of the overland Silk Road. These routes linked Xi’an in China, with Lanzhou, Dunhuang, Turfan and Kashgar. Traditionally the “opening” of this branch of the Silk Road is attributed to the military and commercial missions of Emperor Wudi, who ruled from 157 to 87 BC during the Han Dynasty. Although silk is often considered to be the main commodity exchanged, but what really kick started the trade over these northern routes was the Chinese demand for horses, and in particular ‘heavenly horses.’ But, as you may wonder, what were heavenly horses? Where did they come from? And what were the motives behind the desire for horses in Han-period China? 
The Discovery of Heavenly Horses Unfortunately, the breeds of horses associated with these ‘heavenly horses’ are extinct today, but archaeological discoveries can provide us with a glimpse of how they may have looked like. For instanc…

The Silk Road(s): A Short Introduction

The Silk Road(s): A Short Introduction

Defining the Silk Roads

The term Silk Road was coined in 1877 by the German geographer and historian Ferdinand von Richthofen. The singular “Die Seidenstra├če” (Silk Road) or plural “Seidenstra├čen” (Silk Roads) were first used by Richthofen in one of his lectures, but only in the twentieth century these terms became more commonly mentioned by scholars. Since then, the Silk Road has come to mean many things beyond its original usage. You can think of the Silk Road as the original globalisation before the rise of modern globalisation. It is, in a nutshell, the intercultural movement of goods and ideas.

Besides, the well-known overland silk road, there also exists a network of maritime routes, called the Maritime Silk Road. Sometimes referred to as “the Spice Routes” or “Ceramic Routes”, these maritime routes also played a major role in the intercultural interactions between regions in Eurasia. So actually, when we talk about silk roads, the plural fo…