The Silk Road: A New History

The Silk Road






Valerie Hansen


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©Valerie Hansen 2012

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hansen, Valerie, 1958–
The Silk Road : a new history / Valerie Hansen.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-19-515931-8 (hardcover : acid-free paper)
1. Silk Road—History. 2. Silk Road—History—Sources.
3. Silk Road—Description and travel. 4. Silk Road—History, Local.
5. Historic sites—Silk Road. 6. Trade routes—Asia—History. I. Title.
DS33.1.H36     2012
950.1—dc23      2011041804

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2

Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper

For Jim—
who else?




Note on Scholarly Conventions



At the Crossroads of Central Asia

The Kingdom of Kroraina

Gateway to the Languages of the Silk Road

Kucha and the Caves of Kizil

Midway Between China and Iran


Homeland of the Sogdians, the Silk Road Traders

Samarkand and Sogdiana

The Cosmopolitan Terminus of the Silk Road

Historic Chang’an, Modern-day Xi’an

The Time Capsule of Silk Road History

The Dunhuang Caves

Entryway into Xinjiang for Buddhism and Islam



The History of the Overland Routes through Central Asia


Art Credits


Color plates follow
page 144


his project has been a long time in the making, and many people have provided materials, answered questions, and helped in different ways. Since the first endnote to each chapter gives a detailed account of the assistance I have received, here I would like to single out those individuals whose help far surpassed the usual expectations of scholarly collegiality:

Phyllis Granoff and Koichi Shinohara, Yale University, for wise counsel about diverse Asian religious traditions usually dispensed over delicious family meals at their house;

Frantz Grenet, Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, for imparting his knowledge of Central Asian Art and his personal collection of images, some made by the talented François Ory;

Stanley Insler, Yale University, who first encouraged me to enter this field by agreeing to teach a joint class on the Silk Road and who was always willing to answer more questions over yet another lunch at Gourmet Heaven;

Li Jian, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, who recruited me to work on a Silk Road exhibit at the Dayton Museum and introduced me to the Hejiacun finds;

Victor Mair, University of Pennsylvania, for unceasing help since he first taught me in a graduate seminar on the Dunhuang documents thirty years ago;

Boris Marshak, Hermitage Museum, who generously gave of his knowledge in conversations about and lectures on the Sogdians before his death in 2006;

Mou Fasong, East China Normal University, who hosted my family during the academic year 2005–6 and showed by example how his advisor Tang Zhangru approached his studies;

Georges-Jean Pinault, École Pratique des Hautes Études, for his guidance on Indo–European languages, particularly Tocharian;

Rong Xinjiang, Peking University, for his unrivaled knowledge of the region and willingness to lend his personal library of books and articles;

Angela Sheng, McMaster University, for her expertise on textiles and her loyal friendship;

Nicholas Sims-Williams, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and Ursula Sims-Williams, British Library, London, who both patiently corrected multiple errors in an article I submitted to the
Bulletin of the Asia Institute
and for guidance on Central Asian languages, particularly Khotanese;

Prods Oktor Skjærvø, Harvard University, who has over the years answered frequent queries, traveled to Yale to give multiple presentations, and provided copies of his own unpublished translations;

Étienne de la Vaissière, École Pratique des Hautes Études, for his unfailing generosity in answering queries about all things Sogdian and many things Central Asian, often within an hour and always within a day (even in my last weeks of revising);

Wang Binghua, Renmin University, for sharing his deep knowledge of Xinjiang archeology, particularly about the sites of Niya and Loulan;

Helen Wang, British Museum, for her command of numismatics and for close readings of multiple chapters; and

Yoshida Yutaka, Faculty of Letters, Kyoto University, for his advice on Sogdian and Khotanese language and history.

Susan Ferber, my editor at Oxford University Press, has been consistently supportive since signing this book more than a decade ago, and her careful edits improved each chapter. She answered all queries with unusual alacrity, possibly because she works harder than anyone I have ever met. Joellyn Ausanka, senior production editor, oversaw the preparation of the book with extraordinary efficiency, while Ben Sadock copyedited with a gentle touch and great acuity.

The National Endowment for the Humanities provided a year of support that allowed me to study Russian and, with the help of Asel Umurzakova, immerse myself in the Mount Mugh materials. The Fulbright Scholar Program for Faculty financed my stay at East China Normal University in Shanghai, 2005–6. The Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange (USA) provided a generous subsidy for maps and illustrations.

All the Yale undergraduate and graduate students who have taken classes on the Silk Road over the years have pushed me to clarify my arguments. Elizabeth Duggan provided an insightful reading of an early draft of the introduction. The students in my Silk Road seminar in the spring of 2010, Mary Augusta Brazelton, Wonhee Cho, Denise Foerster, Ying Jia Tan, and Christine Wight, and, in the spring of 2011, Arnaud Bertrand, read through an almost-final draft and made many valuable suggestions for revision, including starting each chapter with a document. Mathew Andrews, my research assistant, performed multiple tasks, especially the tedious preparation of images, with speed and good cheer, even as a first-year student at Yale Law School. Joseph Szaszfai and the staff of Yale’s Photo + Design unit transformed many problematic images into digital files ready for publication.

Brian Vivier, now Chinese Studies librarian at the University of Pennsylvania, carefully edited all the endnotes. Jinping Wang helped to resolve multiple last-minute queries with her characteristic erudition. Alice Thiede of Carto-Graphics drew the beautiful maps, which were particularly challenging because of all the unfamiliar place-names. Pamela Schirmeister, associate dean of the Yale Graduate School, offered an incisive critique of the introduction just days before submission.

My husband, Jim Stepanek, and our children, Bret, Claire, and Lydia, have always supported my writing and teaching with good humor. No question that the best trips have been when they, either individually or collectively, were along. The final month in China before submission was an all-out family effort to proofread, prepare charts, and polish the manuscript. What will we ever talk about now that Bret, born just before I began this project, can no longer tease me about the average number of words I wrote each day?

September 30, 2011


Note on Scholarly Conventions

he reader will encounter multiple names from different Sanskritic, Turkic, and Iranian languages. The book gives the most commonly used spelling even if at the sacrifice of consistency. Similarly, the running text does not include diacritical marks (even when quoting sources that do), which are distracting to the general reader and already known to specialists. The notes, however, do give the diacritical marks for all authors’ names, terms, and titles of books and articles.

All Chinese names are given in pinyin, the romanization system in use throughout China. The pronunciation of several letters is not obvious to English-speakers: x, q, c, and zh are the most puzzling. The Tang monk Xuanzang (pronounced Shuen-dzahng) met the king of Gaochang, whose surname was Qu (pronounced like the French “tu”). Xuanzang’s monastery in Chang’an was called Ci’en (pronounced Tsih uhn), and the Zhang (pronounced Jahng) family ruled Dunhuang from 848 to 914.

Personal names of Westerners are given in the usual order of given name before surname, while Chinese and Japanese names follow the Asian practice of placing the family name before the given name. In the case of some scholars who publish in multiple languages, the order of given name and surname varies depending on the language of publication.

Occasionally the text quotes from sources giving quantities of certain goods. In most cases the original term is included along with a conversion to the modern equivalent, but the reader should bear in mind that, because all units of measure in the premodern world were not standardized, the modern equivalents are only approximate.

The Silk Road


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