The Maritime Silk Road: Global Connectivities, Regional Nodes, Localities
The Maritime Silk Road foregrounds the numerous networks that have been woven across oceanic geographies, tying world regions together often far more extensively than land-based routes. On the strength of the new data which has emerged in the last two decades in the form of archaeological findings, as well as new techniques such as GIS modeling, the authors collectively demonstrate the existence of a very early global maritime trade. From architecture to cuisine, and language to clothing, evidence points to early connections both within Asia and between Asia and other continents—well before European explorations of the Global South. The human stories presented here offer insights into both the extent and limits of this global exchange, showing how goods and people traveled vast distances, how they were embedded in regional networks, and how local cultures were shaped as a result.
Table of Contents
The Maritime Silk Road: An Introduction (pp. 11-24)Franck Billé, Sanjyot Mehendale and James Lankton
The term “Maritime Silk Road” (MSR)—just as its terrestrial counterpart “Silk Road”—is highly fraught and politically laden. In recent years it has been actively mobilized by China in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a powerful narrative framing and underlying China’s global economic clout (see Frankopan 2018; Winter 2019; Zheng et al. 2018). As a result, academics have largely been reluctant to use the notion of Silk Road as a framework for their research. Indeed, even before its recent political reactivation, the term was seen as a romantic and orientalist construct, as well as…
- Eivind Heldaas Seland
Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius (1527–1598) lived at the height of the early modern cartographic revolution. Spending most of his professional life in the service of the Spanish Habsburg monarchy, he became a key actor in the process of measuring, recording, and depicting the world, known as the cartographic revolution, through European eyes (Buisseret 1992; Parker 1992). Toward the end of his career, he gradually developed his Parergon (embellishment), a historical atlas consisting of maps of the ancient world to supplement his more famous world atlas Teatrum Orbis Terrarum. One of the historical maps covered the Indian Ocean (Ortelius 1597)….
- 2 Open Space and Flexible Borders Theorizing Maritime Space through Premodern Sino-Islamic Connections (pp. 45-69)Hyunhee Park
Afro-Eurasia’s southern maritime zone, defined by the Indian Ocean, has provided a space through which societies have connected through cross-border and cross-cultural interaction since ancient times. In this space, the seas were open to those who were willing to travel great distances in search of new contacts and exchanges, and to those who could develop the shipbuilding and navigational technologies that enabled voyagers to undertake such adventures, as the other chapters of this volume attest. By the eighth century CE, an entire transoceanic route spanned the Indian Ocean to become the longest, most regularly, and most heavily traveled sea route…
- James W. Lankton
By studying material culture, particularly the objects and commodities whose transfer from one place to another provided the raison d’être for all the interlocking systems of the Maritime Silk Road (MSR), we gain insight into not only what was traded but also the lives affected by exchange in objects, technologies, and ways of understanding the world. This chapter will follow the glass trail to explore the early development of the MSR, going from regional circuits in the second half of the first millennium BCE to the first phase of exchange along the full expanse of ancient maritime routes from the…
4 Archaeological Evidence of Shipping and Shipbuilding Along The Maritime Silk Road (pp. 97-127)
Shipwreck archaeology examines the physical remains of ships from the past. In this case, it is to understand the long-distance trade networks of the Maritime Silk Route (MSR) and to evaluate the processes of their formation. By investigating a sunken or abandoned ship and its cargo, archaeologists can reveal the unique value of the wreck site related to the production and consumption of these cargos. Maritime archaeologists can thus demonstrate the material culture and human societies that developed along coasts with commercial shipping. The timbers of even a poorly preserved wreck site, even without cargo, offers clues on shipbuilding techniques…
- 5 Networks and Cultural Mapping of South Asian Maritime Trade (pp. 129-147)
Ariane de Saxcé
The routes of the Maritime Silk Road in the western part of the Indian Ocean have mainly received the attention of ancient and modern writers because of the direct sailing between its two shores, from the southern Arabian Coast and the northeast tip of Africa (e.g., Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia) to the west coast of India during the early centuries of the Common Era. Recent research, however, has increasingly shown how commercial and cultural exchanges taking place in this area benefited from an intense network of regional nodes. This chapter focuses on these networks at the beginning of the first millennium…
A significant amount of intellectual disquiet continues to bubble around the observation that knowledge about ancient African societies and their interactions with each other and with other parts of the world remains fundamentally colonialist in texture (Manyanga and Chirikure 2017; Mavhunga 2017; Mbembe 2000; Mudimbe 1998; Ndlovu 2016; Ogundiran 2016; Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2018). In southern Africa, this is a result of several factors, the most important being the unmitigated legacies of colonialism—especially a stubborn refusal to let go of colonial privileges by some archaeologists—long after the achievement of political independence (Hall 1983, 2005; Shepherd 2002). During colonialism, archaeology had…
7 Chinese Ceramics on the Maritime Silk Road The Importance of Context (pp. 179-213)
John N. Miksic
For many years, the study of Chinese ceramics exported to Southeast Asia during the Song to Ming Dynasties (960–1643 CE) was the domain of art historians. Archaeologists are now beginning to exploit the potential of this material to reconstruct patterns of trade. This chapter has three main aims. The first aim is to summarize data available to describe the fluctuation in the amount of Chinese ceramics exported to the region over this period of almost seven hundred years, with reference to the cultural and historical geography particular to Southeast Asia. The second aim is theoretical: to explore the potential…
The Maritime Silk Road (MSR) that traversed Asia has been, throughout history, a unique network of commercial linkages, diasporic movements, sociocultural flows, and material consumption and production patterns. Unlike the land Silk Road across Central Asia, which saw pack caravans as the sole mode of transportation (Hansen 2012), the use of ships along the MSR as the key mode of transport resulted in high-volume distribution of mass-produced items and products from a number of key economies, including China, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Middle East, and East Africa (Abu-Lughod 2013; Hall, 2011; Heng 2012).
While there was clearly a wide…
9 Indian Ocean Trade through Buddhist Iconographies (pp. 243-266)
Both maritime and inland trade brought together peoples of many cultures, languages, beliefs, and aesthetic aspirations. Traders were, to a certain extent, the mediators of these cultural interactions, as were Buddhist monks and nuns, philosophers, artists, and diplomats who traveled across merchant networks. As a result, not only goods but also philosophical thoughts, ideas, and artistic traditions were exchanged.
Buddhism, like Jainism, favored profit-based trade more than Hinduism, which actively discouraged seafaring. For example, the Baudhāyana sūtra, one of the Dharmasūtras (texts that deal with law and conduct) quite explicitly states that “making voyages by sea” and “trading in all…