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Objects

Exploring the history of the silk roads through fascinating objects and archaeological discoveries.


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Flying Horse of Gansu

The Flying Horse of Gansu, Bronze Running Horse (铜奔马), Galloping Horse
Treading on a Flying Swallow (马踏飞燕)
Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 AD)
Bronze/ 34.5╳45.6 cm
Excavated in 1969 from the Leitai Tomb belonging to General Zhang of Zhang Ye, Wuwei County, Gansu Province
Gansu Provincial museum, Lanzhou, China

This is a realistic, three-dimensional, bronze sculpture of a galloping and neighing horse that has its right hoof treading on a flying bird. It was found together with 38 other bronze horse statues with chariots, of which some where inscribed with the name of General Zhang of Zhang Ye.

The heavenly horses of the Han Dynasy

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? 
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 instance, the remarkable statue of a galloping horse found in Wuwei city, Ga…