12 April 2006

Silk Road Travels

When we in the West think about people traveling the Silk Road, Marco Polo is probably the first (and possibly the only) person that comes to mind. There's good reason for this, since he was one of the few Europeans who traveled extensively at that time, and he also wrote about his travels. He also influenced people like Christopher Columbus, and Columbus obviously has a huge impact on history.

But there are other accounts of the Silk Road and the people who traveled it. As usual, a good place for information on the Silk Road is from people at the University of Washington, and this site has a lot more on various people who traveled the Silk Road. But here are a few:

Ibn Battuta was from Morocco and traveled extensively through Asia. I was looking for information on Ibn Battuta in a past issue of Saudi Aramco World and checked to see if a new issue was up yet and there was a new article on Ibn Battuta in India. Handy.

Zhang Qian was another Silk Road traveler that isn't very familiar to those in the West. It's not quite accurate to say he traveled the Silk Road, since it wasn't really in existence yet, but he did travel and write about his experiences in Central Asia. It would be more accurate to say that his travels were the beginning of the Silk Road.

Xuanzang took a 17-year trip to India to study Buddhism and returned with a number of Sanskrit texts.

Faxian traveled extensively in Central Asia and China and you can download a translation of his book, A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms: Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fa-hsien of Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414) in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline.

Ban Chao was a Chinese general who made it as far as the Caspian Sea and the Ukraine. He sent an envoy, Gan Ling, to Rome who wrote about what he saw farther west.

Babur was a very interesting man who spent most of his life in Central Asia and India. There is a lot more to the man than his travels and you can read The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor to find out more.

Rabban Bar Sauma and Markos were Nestorian monks who went the opposite direction of Marco Polo at the same time. There are a few books about their travels, including The Monks of Kublai Khan Emperor of China, or the History of the Life and Travels of Rabban Sawma, Envoy and Plenipotentiary of the Mongol Khans to the Kings of Europe, and Markos Who as Mar Yahbhallaha III Became Patriarch of the Nestorian Church in Asia.

The trouble is finding translations of what these people wrote. You can read a translation detailing some of Zhang Qian's travels in Sima Qian's book Records of the Grand Historian. It would be interesting to read a book with an edited collection of Eastern views on the Silk Road, or a comparing Eastern and Western descriptions.

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