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Reframing Ancient Afghanistan: Pre-Historic and Early Historic Spatial Connections to the Saka-Yuezhi Period (1st Century CE)  

Henri-Paul Francfort

Afghanistan has remained a crossroad of civilizations since its origins. Despite having no access to the sea, Afghanistan, in both the north and south of the high mountainous range of the Hindu Kuch, benefits from large fluvial arteries from the Amu Darya system in the north and the Helmand system in the south, along with their tributaries. This benefit brings opportunities for irrigation and for communications. The mountains, especially the Badakhshan and Pamir mountainous nodes, contain important mineral resources, including gold and lapis lazuli. Because Eurasia is an open space, Afghanistan had relations with external regions, groups, nations, cultures, as early as the Paleolithic and Neolithic (especially Kel’teminar) periods. During the Chalcolithic period (ca. 3000–2500 bce), the maps of exchange networks encompassed Iran, Pakistani Baluchistan, Tajikistan, and the steppe world. This is the period of pottery, metallurgy, and glyptics related to economic and social development: a proto-urban phase. This broad network strengthened and grew during the Bronze Age (ca. 2500–1400 bce) with the Oxus civilization, covering the north of the country (Bactria and Dashly) and neighboring regions (parts of Northeast Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan), and connected to the southern regions (Pakistani Baluchistan). During this period, Indus colonies settled in northeastern Afghanistan (Shortughaï). The territories of Afghanistan were developing as “urban” settlements where arts and crafts reached international high standards, but in a specific socioeconomic model without large cities and no writing system, and with an enormous network of trade and exchanges (semiprecious stones, metals, and possibly camels), connected to Elamite, Akkadian-Ur III, and Levantine arts. It was a sort of twin of the Indus civilization. It collapsed around 1800–1500 bce possibly because of the effect of climate change and coming of steppe peoples. During the Iron Age (ca. 1400– 500 BCE), changes in pottery and craftsmanship indicate an economic decline, when Iranian tribes of horsemen may have migrated coming from the steppes and early phases of Zoroastrianism appear (in Bactria, Chorasmia, or Sistan). “International” trade possibly continued (lapis and metals). A new “imperial” phase occurred with the inclusion of the Afghan territory in the Persian Achaemenid empire by Cyrus the Great (ca. 545–540 bce). A number of satrapies with capital cities were located in Afghanistan (Bactria, Arachosia, Aria, etc.). The ancient trade and administrative roads functioned and were controlled by the imperial power. With the conquest of Alexander the Great (ca. 330 bce), the empire fell into new hands. An important Greek colonization, especially in the north, expanded to the north of Amu Darya with the Seleucid and Greco-Bactrian kingdoms, founding cities and establishing their cultures. India, after the establishment of strong ties with the Indian Maurya dynasty, came also under Greek rule: the Indo-Greeks emerged after 180 bce. Around 145–130 bce, the Greek power disappeared in Bactria and newcomers from the steppes, the Saka (Scythians) and Yuezhi (other nomads, predecessors of the Kushans), installed their domination, preparing the advent of the Kushan empire’s stabilization in the 1st century ce. The dialectics between external and local archaeological remains is a difficult question to tackle; often the research focuses on the external origins of cultural elements. For example, the languages and the scripts (Aramaic, Greek, and Indian) belong to the external ruler groups rather than to the autochthonous cultures. Indeed, in the Early History of Afghanistan, it is almost impossible to clearly define any “autochthonous” archaeological remains, unless we consider the preceding period as being localadmit . In sum, without being the center of these “empires”, except during the two centuries of the Greco-Bactrian, but even then not, if we consider a larger “Hellenistic koinè”, Afghanistan was, from its origins, a meeting place for many cultures and civilizations, and it remained an important part of external politico-cultural entities for millennia—the crossroads of Eurasian civilizations.

Article

Indus Valley: Early Commercial Connections with Central and Western Asia  

Dennys Frenez

The study of commercial and cultural connections between the Greater Indus Valley and other regions of Central and Western Asia occupies a central role in the scholarly research about the Indus Tradition. Interregional trade was already established in the Indus River basin during the Neolithic period in the 6th millennium bce. However, from the early 3rd millennium bce, the Indus (Harappan) merchants and craftspeople contributed to defining, promoting, and regulating long-distance, cross-cultural trade exchanges throughout this entire region. Indus-type and Indus-related artifacts were found over a large and differentiated ecumene, encompassing Central Asia, the Iranian Plateau, Mesopotamia and the northern Levant, the Persian Gulf, and the Oman Peninsula. The discovery of Indus trade tools (seals, weights, and containers) across the entire Middle Asia, complemented by information from Mesopotamian cuneiform texts, shows that entrepreneurs from the Indus Valley regularly ventured into these regions to transact with the local socioeconomic and political entities. However, Indus artifacts were also exchanged beyond this core region, eventually reaching as far the Nile River valley, Anatolia, and the Caucasus. On the contrary, only a handful of exotic trade tools and commodities have been found at sites in the Greater Indus Valley. The success of Indus trade in Central and Western Asia did not only rely on the dynamic entrepreneurialism of Indus merchants and the exotic commodities they offered. Specific products were proactively designed and manufactured in the Indus Valley to fulfill the particular needs of foreign markets, and Indus craftspeople moved beyond their native cultural sphere adapting their distinctive productions to the taste of foreign elites or reworking indigenous models. The adoption of specific seals and iconographies to regulate external trade activities suggests a conscious attempt at implementing a coordinated supraregional marketing strategy adopting shared rules and procedures, with observable globalizing impacts in various contexts of Central and Western Asia.

Article

The Appropriation of Islam in the Maldives  

Boris Wille

The Maldives is one of four Muslim majority countries in South Asia. The contemporary Islamic Republic of the Maldives frames itself as a “100 percent Muslim nation.” The state religion is Islam, all 380,000 citizens are Muslims by law, and the practice of other religions is prohibited. Ever since the first Muslim exposure, probably in the 10th century, Islam has gradually evolved into a sociocultural configuration that affects most domains of archipelagic society and culture. It shapes foreign relations, informs legislation, and influences arts and architecture, as well as language and scripture. Scholarship of Islam and Islamization in the Maldives acknowledges the historical trajectories of the appropriation of Islam as well as its contemporary relevance in Maldivian identity and state politics.

Article

Commercial Structures of Ancient Central Asia  

Xinru Liu

Transactions between ancient communities across the varied ecological zones of Central Asia produced a complex commercial structure. Pastoral nomads on the steppe and farmers in the oases traded to supplement their livelihoods. Domestication of horses on the Eurasian steppe around four thousand years ago was a driving force stimulating interactions between the horse riders and settled farmers. Conflicts between horse-riding nomadic powers on the steppe and Chinese empires initiated the silk-horse treaty trade, which lasted until the end of the Tang Dynasty. Domestication of camels around 3000 bce enabled transportation across deserts and thus linked the oases to one another and to the outside world. Especially after the invention of a new saddle for the Bactrian (two-humped) camel, the caravan trade flourished as the major means of commercial interchange in the Central Asian deserts during the 1st millennium ce. Sogdian city states around the Syr and Amu Rivers prospered through farming, and the Sogdians became the agents of trade among Chinese empires, Persian empires, South Asian states, and various Turkic empires on the steppe. After the Islamic conquest of Central Asia, the Sogdians gradually submitted to Islamic rule, transforming themselves into Muslim traders and continuing to play an essential role in linking Central Asia to the wider Eurasian commercial world. Means of transportation and means of communication provided the infrastructure for trade. Governments and major trading communities such as the Sogdians were active in building trading networks, and religious movements such as the spread of Buddhism facilitated the formation of commercial networks.

Article

Commercial Networks Connecting Southeast Asia with the Indian Ocean  

Tom Hoogervorst

Southeast Asian history has seen remarkable levels of mobility and durable connections with the rest of the Indian Ocean. The archaeological record points to prehistoric circulations of material culture within the region. Through the power of monsoon sailing, these small-scale circuits coalesced into larger networks by the 5th century bce. Commercial relations with Chinese, Indian, and West Asian traders brought great prosperity to a number of Southeast Asian ports, which were described as places of immense wealth. Professional shipping, facilitated by local watercraft and crews, reveals the indigenous agency behind such long-distance maritime contacts. By the second half of the first millennium ce, ships from the Indo-Malayan world could be found as far west as coastal East Africa. Arabic and Persian merchants started to play a larger role in the Indian Ocean trade by the 8th century, importing spices and aromatic tree resins from sea-oriented polities such as Srivijaya and later Majapahit. From the 15th century, many coastal settlements in Southeast Asia embraced Islam, partly motivated by commercial interests. The arrival of Portuguese, Dutch, and British ships increased the scale of Indian Ocean commerce, including in the domains of capitalist production systems, conquest, slavery, indentured labor, and eventually free trade. During the colonial period, the Indian Ocean was incorporated into a truly global economy. While cultural and intellectual links between Southeast Asia and the wider Indian Ocean have persisted in the 21st century, commercial networks have declined in importance.

Article

The Classical Silk Road: Trade and Connectivity across Central Asia, 100 BCE–1200 CE  

Valerie Hansen

The Silk Road refers to all the overland routes connecting the major oasis kingdoms of Central Asia including Dunhuang, Turfan, Khotan, and Samarkand to their neighbors: the Chinese landmass, the Mongolian grasslands, the Iranian plateau, and the Indian subcontinent. The best-known routes ran east-west, but the north-south routes to the nomadic states of the Asian grasslands were also important. In the popular view of the Silk Road, extensive camel caravans carried goods over long distances, but this was rarely the case. Usually peddlers carried mostly local goods short distances. Government shipments to provision armies profoundly affected the region’s economy, because they involved much larger quantities than in the peddler trade. Rulers regularly exchanged envoys who carried gifts, exchanges that continued even when private trade fell off. Whatever the reason for an individual’s trip, almost everyone—whether envoy, missionary, artist, craftsman, or refugee—bought and sold goods to pay for travel along the Silk Road. Silk was not the primary commodity traded on these routes. Goods traveling east included ammonium chloride, paper, silver, gold, glassware, and aromatics such as spices, incense, and fragrant woods. Goods traveling west out of China included bronze mirrors, other metal goods, and paper, in addition to silk. Between 300 and 1000 ce, the most important function of silk was as a currency, not as a trade good, although it remained an important export throughout the period. A vibrant series of cultural exchanges occurred alongside these commercial exchanges. Technologies, medicine, plants, music, and fashion all moved in both directions across Central Asia. Multiple religions also entered China during this time. The term Silk Road may not be the most accurate term for these commercial and cultural exchanges, but, despite its flaws, the term has secured a firm place in both scholarly works and the popular mind.

Article

Commercial Networks and Economic Structures of Theravada Buddhist Southeast Asia (Thailand and Myanmar)  

Geok Yian Goh

Theravada Buddhist polities in ancient Southeast Asia comprised kingdoms located in present-day Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. Theravada Buddhism became influential in mainland Southeast Asia in the 11th century. Little information exists on the economy of daily life during that period; existing records from 1100 until 1600 mainly deal with administrative and religious affairs, from which some information about the economy can be extracted. These mainland Buddhist polities are typically described as practicing “redistributive economic systems,” a term that Karl Polanyi used to refer to geopolitical entities in which the primary source of subsistence is agriculture, and an administrative center, usually located in the capital, collects revenue from taxes on agricultural production, trade, and other specialized activities that are owned or controlled by the central government or other designated authorities, such as religious orders. The redistributive model is contrasted with the market economies of maritime port polities such as those in insular Southeast Asia. This binary opposition is, however, overstated, as demonstrated by diversity found in mainland Southeast Asia, where some polities relied both on agriculture and maritime trade. Polanyi’s model does not satisfactorily account for the diversity of the Theravada Buddhist polities of Myanmar and Thailand. Some scholars from Redfield and Singer to Miksic have constructed more elaborate models including the orthogenetic versus heterogenetic spectrum, on the basis of Polanyi’s thought but which attempt to utilize polythetic rather than monothetic concepts and scalar rather than stadial classifications.

Article

The Concept of the Silk Road in the 19th and 20th Centuries  

Justin M. Jacobs

The concept of the Silk Road first attained prominence in the latter half of the 19th century as part of European attempts to impose economic and political claims upon the lands and peoples of Xinjiang (also known as East Turkestan, Chinese Central Asia, or Chinese Turkestan). These claims were given cultural substance at the turn of the century by a series of expeditions undertaken by Western explorers and archaeologists, who ventured into the deserts of northwestern China in search of Greco-Indian art and antiquities. The study and display of such artifacts were motivated primarily by a desire to highlight the eastward migrations of Indo-European speakers into Central Asia. When these same expeditions began to reveal the presence of ancient Chinese ruins and antiquities as well, Chinese scholars and officials joined their Western counterparts in the field, using the material proceeds of their excavations to construct competing narratives of the westward influence of Chinese civilization. In the decades since the end of World War II, the concept of the Silk Road has come to dominate popular and scholarly associations with the region, monopolizing everything from the advertising of Central Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine to the names of academic monographs and international string ensembles. The elusive and malleable idea of “the Silk Road” has provided an attractive ideological platform over the past 200 years for major political, economic, and cultural actors throughout Eurasia to assert their imagined historical importance across both time and space, often with a highly romanticized gloss. In that sense, it is a purely modern intellectual construct, one that would have been utterly unfamiliar and likely incomprehensible to those historical agents it purports to describe.

Article

Ships and Shipwrecks in the Pre-Modern Indian Ocean  

Pierre-Yves Manguin

The Indian Ocean and its adjoining seas, from the Middle East and East Africa to Southeast Asia, have been witness to the nautical ventures of most, if not all, major sea powers of world history. Progress in nautical archaeology in the past few decades has brought about a much better understanding of shipbuilding traditions of the Indian Ocean, until then limited to textual and ethnographic sources. Only a few shipwreck sites and terrestrial sites with ship remains have been studied so far along the shores of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, or the Indian Ocean proper. Many more were found in recent excavations in the Southeast Asian seas, which were built along Southeast Asian or Indian Ocean shipbuilding traditions. Two main technical traditions can now be clearly identified for pre-modern times: the Arabo-Indian sewn-plank ships of the western Indian Ocean, which survived into our times, and the Southeast Asian vessels that evolved from a distinctive sewn-plank technology to fully doweled assemblages, as could still be observed in Indonesian vessels of the late 20th century. The still limited number of shipwrecks brought to light in the Indian Ocean as well as the considerable imbalance in archaeological research between the Indian Ocean proper and the Southeast Asian seas have hindered the advancement of the discipline. Considerable difficulties and interpretation problems have moreover been generated by biased commercial excavations and subsequent incomplete excavation records, not to speak of the ethical problems raised in the process. Such deficiencies still prevent solid conclusions being drawn on the development of regional shipbuilding traditions, and on the historical role of the ships and people who sailed along the essential Indian Ocean maritime networks.

Article

Earth, Water, Air, and Fire: Toward an Ecological History of Premodern Inner Eurasia  

John L. Brooke and Henry Misa

The histories of humanity and nature are deeply entangled across Inner Eurasia. Great expanses of steppe and mountain connected peoples at the far ends of the landmass and sustained unique civilizational zones of nomadic and settled societies. These are regions profoundly shaped by some of the most complex climatic regimes and by one of the most devastating disease vectors in the world. Viewed in the longue durée of the Holocene, the premodern prehistory and history of Inner Eurasia takes on new dimensions when reviewed in the context of the latest work being done in environmental, climate, and genetic science.