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Topic ClosedParthian and Roman relations with Han China

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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Parthian and Roman relations with Han China
    Posted: 01-Oct-2005 at 22:46
Emperor Wu also dispatched Zhang Qian twice as his envoy to the Western Regions, and in the process pioneered the route known as the Silk Road from Chang'an (today's Xi'an, Shaanxi Province), through Xinjiang and Central Asia, and on to the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Following Zhang Qian' embassy and report, commercial relations between China and Central as well as Western Asia flourished, as many Chinese missions were sent throughout the 1st century BC, initiating the development of the Silk Road:

"The largest of these embassies to foreign states numbered several hundred persons, while even the smaller parties included over 100 members... In the course of one year anywhere from five to six to over ten parties would be sent out." 

China also sent missions to Parthia, which were followed up by reciprocal missions from Parthian envoys around 100 BC:

"When the Han envoy first visited the kingdom of Anxi (Parthia), the king of Anxi dispatched a party of 20,000 horsemen to meet them on the eastern border of the kingdom... When the Han envoys set out again to return to China, the king of Anxi dispatched envoys of his own to accompany them... The emperor was delighted at this."

The next step came around 130 BCE, with the embassies of the Han Dynasty to Central Asia, following the reports of the ambassador Zhang Qian (who was originally sent to obtain an alliance with the Yuezhi against the Xiong-Nu, but in vain). The Chinese emperor Wudi became interested in developing relationships with the sophisticated urban civilizations of Ferghana, Bactria and Parthia: The Son of Heaven on hearing all this reasoned thus: Ferghana (Dayuan) and the possessions of Bactria (Daxia) and Parthia (Anxi) are large countries, full of rare things, with a population living in fixed homes and given to occupations somewhat identical with those of the Chinese people, but with weak armies, and placing great value on the rich produce of China.

The Chinese subsequently sent numerous embassies, around ten every year, to these countries and as far as Seleucid Syria. Thus more embassies were dispatched to Anxi (Parthia), Yancai (who later joined the Alans), Lijian (Syria under the Seleucids), Tiaozhi (Chaldea) and Tianzhu (northwestern India) As a rule, rather more than ten such missions went forward in the course of a year, and at the least five or six.

Ban Chao's expeditions

In 97, the Chinese general Ban Chao crossed the Tian Shan and Pamir mountains with an army of 70,000 men in a campaign against the Xiongnu. He went as far west as the Caspian Sea and the region of Ukraine, reaching the territory of Parthia, upon which event he reportedly also sent an envoy named Gan Ying to Daqin (Rome). Gan Ying left a detailed account of western countries, although he only reached as far as Mesopotamia. He intended to sail to Rome through the Black Sea, but some Parthian merchants, interested in maintaining their profitable role as the middleman in trade between Rome and China, told him that the trip would take two years at least (when it was actually closer to two months). Deterred, he returned home.

Gan Ying left an account on Rome (Daqin in Chinese), which may have relied on second-hand sources. He locates it to the west of the sea:

Its territory is covers several thousand li [a li is around half a kilometre], it has over 400 walled cities. Several tens of small states are subject to it. The outer walls of the cities are made of stones. They have established posting stations... There are pines and cypresses.

He also describes the adoptive monarchy of the Emperor Nerva, and Roman physical appearance and products:

As for the king, he is not a permanent figure but is chosen as the man most worthy... The people in this country are tall and regularly featured. They resemble the Chinese, and that is why the country is called Da Qin (The "Great" Qin)... The soil produced lots of gold, silver and rare jewels, including the jewel which shines at night.. they sew embroidered tissues with gold threads to form tapestries and damask of many colours, and make a gold-painted cloth, and a "cloth washed-in-the-fire" (asbestos).

Finally Gan Ying determines Rome correctly as the main economic power at the western end of Eurasia:

It is from this country that all the various marvellous and rare objects of foreign states come.

The Chinese army made an alliance with the Parthians and established some forts at a distance of a few days march from the Parthian capital Ctesiphon, and were to hold the region for several years. In 116, the Roman Emperor Trajan advanced into Parthia to Ctesiphon and came within one day's march of the Chinese border garrisons, but direct contacts never took place.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Oct-2005 at 01:00
That's most interesting. 

I've read in some places that Romans had direct commercial relations with India and even that many Roman Pagans (or Greek Ethnikoi maybe) found refuge ther when the Christian persecutions. Do you know something about Roman relations with India?

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Oct-2005 at 06:34
The Chinese had garrisons that were one days march from Ctesiphon? That would mean about 15-25 miles from Baghdad.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Oct-2005 at 11:55

Yeah I would be glad to tell you about Indian and Roman relations

With the expansion of the Roman Empire by Trajan in Mesopatamia during the 2nd century, the Romans gained the capability to develop shipping and trade in the Indian Ocean. Several ports have been excavated on the coast of India which contain Roman remains.

Several Romans probably travelled farther to the East, either on Roman, Indian or Chinese ships. The first group of people claiming to be an embassy of Romans to China is recorded in 166, sixty years after the expeditions to the west of the Chinese general Ban Chao. It came to Emperor Huan of Han China, "from Antun (Emperor Antoninus Pius), king of Daqin (Rome)". Although, as Antoninus Pius died in 161, while the convoy arrived in 166, if genuine, it may have been from Marcus Aurelius, who was emperor in 166. The confusion arises because Marcus Aurelius was formally adopted by his predecessor and took his names as additional names.

The mission came from the South, and therefore probably by sea, entering China by the frontier of Jinan or Tonkin. It brought presents of rhinoceros horns, ivory, and tortoise shell, which had probably been acquired in Southern Asia. About the same time, and possibly through this embassy, the Chinese acquired a treatise of astronomy from Daqin (Chinese name of the Roman Empire).

The existence of China was clearly known to Roman cartographers of the time, since its name and position is depicted in Ptolemy's Geographia, which is dated to c. 150. It is located beyond the Aurea Chersonesus ("Golden Peninsula"), which refers to the Southeast Asian peninsula. It is shown as being on the Magnus Sinus ("Great Gulf"), which presumably corresponds to the known areas of the China Sea at the time; although Ptolemy represents it as tending south-east rather than north-east. Trade throughout the Indian Ocean was extensive from the 2nd century, and many trading ports have been identified in India and Sri Lanka with Roman communities, through which the Roman embassy passed.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Oct-2005 at 12:37
I know there were Chinese outposts in the Parthian empire, but I have never heard of garrisons slap bang in the middle and only one day's march fromt he nerve centre. What's your source?

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Oct-2005 at 12:43
My soure is one of my books intitled " Ancient Rome: Politics and Military".
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Oct-2005 at 13:14

The Chinese and Parthians were realy strong bonded allies, and the Chinese were just there to guard the silk road.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Oct-2005 at 13:55
OK. Thank you, do you know off hand which sources the book used?
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Oct-2005 at 14:07
No, Im very sorry, I dont know were the book is right know.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-Oct-2005 at 23:51
Were Chinese  and The Romans allies?
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Oct-2005 at 00:09
Yes, Rome and China were in the trading bussiness, and when they went to see each other they were doing it for allied reasons.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Oct-2005 at 04:05
Judging from some of the posts here, it would seem that the Chinese were actually closer allies of the Parthians.  The relationship between them seemed to come close to a military alliance.  By comparison, the relationship between the Chinese and the Romans was apparently strictly commercial.

The situation in the ancient world looks almost the same as the present-day situation where there are close ties between China and Iran that include military cooperation.  On the other hand, while China maintains strong trading ties with western nations, military relations are more strained and problematic.  Parallel lives?
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Oct-2005 at 09:04
Yes, Rome and China were in the trading bussiness, and when they went to see each other they were doing it for allied reasons.


There was a net flow of gold from the Roman Empire to the east, though i think the larger share of it went towards India.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Oct-2005 at 10:23
Parthia and Rome traded with each other extensively when they weren't at war.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Oct-2005 at 22:12
Parthia played the middle men between Rome's and China's trade, how did Parthia trade with Rome?
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Oct-2005 at 07:17
I've another question regarding the article that appeared last week on the Han Dynasty Roman ruins in Ganzu Province, in China.  I am living in west China at the moment and would like to know more about the site (how I could see it) and whether any archaeologists are working on it at present (since I have an archaeology degree).  Any idea how I could contact anyone working on it?  And I can't find the website for that article...is it now removed from your site (I'd like to send it to a friend)?  How could I get in touch with the guy who wrote it?
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Oct-2005 at 07:25

And if there's any info on where in Kazakhastan the supposed Roman site was (with soldiers practising in "fish scale formation") which the Chinese delegation found during the same period I'd also be interested (having just been there overland and since I may go there again a bit later).

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