Silk Roads – In the Footsteps of the Nomads

Episode 14: Silk Roads – In the Footsteps of the Nomads

Foundations of Eastern Civilization

Dr Craig Benjamin

Film Review

Benjamin begins this lecture by outlining the significant “revolutions” (ie leaps) in the progress of human beings towards “modernity”:

  • 50,000 years ago – Upper Paleolithic Revolution produced technologies enabling humans to survive the Ice Age, eg tools and weapons to hunt large mammals, cave art and symbolic language.
  • 11,000 years ago – Agricultural Revolution.
  • 5,000 BC – Urban Revolution (first cities and states

Benjamin views the development of the Silk Road trading network in the 2nd century BC (linking all of Afro-Eurasia with the Roman and Han Empires ) the fourth major human “revolution.”

He believes the first Silk Road paths probably used the same paths early hominids used to migrate from Africa to Asia. He credits their development into a major trading network to two main factors: 1) the presence of four stable empires (Roman, Han, Kushan, Parthian and Roman) across the Middle East and Asia and 2) the Secondary Products Revolution on the Steppes.

The latter he attributes to the discovery by steppes nomads that domesticated animals could provide a number of secondary products (eg milk, fur, transportation and load bearing) that improved human beings’ quality of life. On the steppes, this discovery led to nomadic pastoral herding and the eventual colonization (by nomads) of all the deserts and steppes of Africa and Eurasia.

Benjamin goes on to describe in some detail the “lifeways” of the Xiongnu nomads to the north of China. In addition to pastoral nomadism and booty raids on the Chinese, the Xiongnu also engaged in rug weaving, leather making and the forging of bronze, gold and iron tools and artwork. A small segment of Xiongu also engaged in farming in fortified settlements in Noin-Ula (modern day Mongolia) and Ivolga (on the Russian steppes).

Film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a library card.

 

https://www.kanopy.com/en/pukeariki/video/5808608

The Intertwined Role of Steppes Nomads and Early Chinese Civilization

 

Episode 2: Journey to the East

The Foundations of Eurasian Civilization

Dr Craig Benjamin (2013)

Film Review

This lecture is an introduction to the Benjamin’s 48 episode course The Foundations of Eurasian Civilization.

About half the course is devoted to China, considered the cradle of Eastern civilization. However it will also cover China’s immense influence on the West, beginning with the Confucian about efficient bureaucracy,* and the essential role of numerous Chinese inventions in the  industrialization of western society.

By the fall of the Tang dynasty in 740 AD, China had created the wealthiest and most powerful state (population two million) the world had ever seen, thanks to Chinese peasants creating the world’s most successful commercial farming system.

At the same time, the steppes nomads to the north of the first Chinese cities (and their ferocious horse archers – see Barbarian Empires of the Steppes) also had a massive influence on early Chinese civilization. Their repeated booty raids on China would lead the first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (founder of the Qin/Ch’in Dynasty) to build the first border length wall in 221 BC.

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers were conscripted to build the wall, with tens of thousands losing their lives. The wall failed to stop the raids.

It would be the steppes nomads, and their domestication of the Bactrian camel, that made possible the Silk Roads, the first overland network of international trade.


*American founding father Benjamin Franklin was a big fan of Confucius and adopted many of his ideas in developing his approach to democratic government.

Film can be viewed free with a library card at Kanopy.

https://www.kanopy.com/en/pukeariki/video/5808608/5808610