Cover image for The Silk Road : two thousand years in the heart of Asia
The Silk Road : two thousand years in the heart of Asia
Wood, Frances.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
270 pages : illustrations (chiefly color), maps ; 27 cm
General Note:
First published: London : Folio Society, 2002.

Maps on lining papers.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DS33.1 .W66 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The Silk Road, a series of ancient trade routes stretching across Central Asia to Europe, evokes exotic images of camel trains laden with bales of fine Chinese silk, spices, and perfume, of desert oases surrounded by snow-capped mountains, of bustling markets thronging with travellers buying and selling grapes, coriander, Baltic amber, and Mediterranean coral. Along this route, silks were sent from China to ancient Rome; princesses were dispatched in marriage alliances across the deserts; bandits and thieves launched attacks throughout history.

Covering more than 5,000 years, this book, lavishly illustrated with photographs, manuscripts, and paintings from the collections of the British Library and other museums worldwide, presents an overall picture of the history and cultures of the Silk Road. It also contains many previously unpublished photographs by the great explorers Stein, Hedin, and Mannerheim.

More than just a trade route, the Silk Road witnessed the movement of cultural influences. Frances Wood traces the story of the civilizations and ideas that flourished and moved along its vast geographical expanse. Indian Buddhism was carried into China on the Silk Road, initiating a long history of pilgrimages along the lonely desert routes; Manichaeism, Nestorian Christianity, and Islam also made their way eastwards along its route.

The nineteenth century saw a new interest in Central Asia and the Silk Road, as Russia and Britain vied for power on the frontiers of Afghanistan. A new breed of explorer, part archaeologist, part cartographer, part spy, was seen on the Silk Road, while some of the ancient cities, long buried in sand-blown dunes, began to give up their secrets. This book brings the history of the Silk Road alive--from its beginnings to the present day, revealing a rich history still in the making.

Author Notes

Frances Wood is Head of the Chinese section at The British Library.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Illustrated with drawings, manuscripts, paintings and artifacts, this historical journey through the byways of the old Silk Road is a beautifully rendered tribute to the thousands of years in which these routes served as the center of trade. In reality, as Wood, head of the Chinese section at the British Library, explains, merchandise passing from Central Asia to Europe crossed over a large variety of routes before arriving at its destination, and "the number of travelers who actually traversed the full length of the Silk Roads was always very small." But the importance of the Silk Road is demonstrated by the vast cultural and religious movements that either began or flourished around it, and which are related in historical detail by the author, who traces the road to its origins as far back as Alexander the Great. This is a rich, and richly illustrated, history. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Choice Review

There has long been a need for a general guide on the history of the Silk Road. Wood's book represents one of the most successful attempts of this kind. An impressive gallery of historical personages from famous dynasties, great invaders and travelers, tradesmen, missionaries and pilgrims of the world religions, spies, brigands, mercenaries, and herdsmen from Greece and Rome, China and mysterious Scythia, medieval Europe and Mongolia, Russia and Great Britain pass before readers in illustrations of exquisite artifacts, monuments, manuscripts, and paintings from the world's most renowned collections. Especially impressive are previously unpublished photographs by the great explorers Hedin, Mannerheim, and Stein. This encyclopedic, all-embracing work is a brilliant account of the famous trading route and the cultures it trespassed. Wood (British Library) shows it as an indispensable conduit for cultural interchange between civilizations--a highway for the movement of religious and political ideas, culturally enriching both East and West. The book is written so well, contains so many interesting details, and is so lavishly illustrated, that it is impossible to put down. An accessible style makes it useful not only for scholars but for students as well, and would be very useful in university courses in the history of world civilizations. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. A. V. Isaenko Appalachian State University

Table of Contents

Note on spellingsp. 7
1 'A ceaselessly flowing stream of life'p. 9
2 Coiled dragons and filmy fleeces: jade and silkp. 26
3 From Greece and Rome to China--and back againp. 36
4 A people abandoned by Heaven: the Xiongnu and trade during the Han dynastyp. 48
5 The spread of trade and religions: Tocharians and Sogdiansp. 61
6 The fashion for all things Central Asianp. 75
7 The Caves of the Thousand Buddhas: Buddhism on the Silk Roadp. 88
8 Tanguts, Mongols, Nestorians and Marco Polop. 111
9 A parterre of roses: travellers to Ming China and Samarkandp. 130
10 The Great Game and the Silk Roadp. 147
11 Asia held them captive in her cold embrace: explorers on the Silk Roadp. 165
12 Trophies and tiger entrails: hunting and theorising on the Silk Roadp. 180
13 Securing specimens: Aurel Steinp. 191
14 An end to excavation: Pelliot, von Le Coq and Warnerp. 208
15 The Baby General: travel on the Silk Road in the 1930sp. 223
Epilogue: The Silk Road todayp. 243
Referencesp. 247
List of Illustrationsp. 255
Acknowledgementsp. 259
Indexp. 261