Central Asia 300-850

La Vaissière, Etienne de. 2024. Asie centrale 300-850: des routes et des royaumes. Paris: Belles lettres.

Central Asia forms the heart of medieval Eurasian trade, what is known, not entirely incorrectly, as the “Silk Road”. Caravans and conquerors, monks and artists all passed through Samarcand, Dunhuang or Bactria on their way from China to Byzantium or from Iran and India to the steppes. This was the era of the first globalisation, a thousand years before European expansion. But this history is in tatters, and at the height of these contacts, from the Huns’ raid in the fourth century AD to the end of the Tibetan empire and Islamisation in the ninth century, no work in any language had ever attempted to follow all the threads and patiently reweave the patterns.

Nomadic migrations and Buddhist art, great trade and the organisation of the State, Chinese colonisation and the Arab conquest, the history of climate, irrigation and demography, the birth of Persian and archaic globalisation, and many other themes: this summary offers a wide range of themes which it crosses and weaves into a complex but clear fabric. Using a wealth of maps and illustrations, it reconstructs a huge missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of medieval Old World history. It is the product of twenty years of research, and draws on the most recent work, including scholarly studies of Arabic, Chinese, Iranian and Turkish texts, new discoveries of manuscripts and the results of the many archaeological excavations that have been carried out since the end of the USSR and the opening up of China’s economy. All the disciplines and tools of the historian are called upon to make this world intelligible and legible, while at the end, behind the scenes, another level of analysis is offered for those who, like the great merchants and pilgrim monks, would like to go further.