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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…

Flying Horse of Gansu

Hepu and the Opening of the Han Dynasty's Maritime Silk Road

Hepu and the Opening of the Han Dynasty's Maritime Silk Road
Today, many Chinese scholars believe that China’s first turn to the sea was during the Han Dynasty and took place in Southern China. To explore this theory, we have to travel to the most southern coastal regions of China bordering the South China Sea. This area, historically called Lingnan, roughly corresponds to the present-day provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong. When looking at a map of China, these two provinces are at the most southern point of China. According to Chinese historians this region is the cradle of the maritime silk road in China and there are two reasons why they think so: first, in Lingnan they have discovered the remains of two Han-period ports that are mentioned in an early historical text; and secondly also in this region they have found a large number of so-called ‘oversea goods’ in Han-dynasty tombs.
Historical Evidence: The Book of Han Let’s first have a look at this historical text, which is the …