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The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes

The Ancient World Economy and the Empires of Parthia, Central Asia and Han China
Narrated by: James Cameron Stewart
Length: 14 hrs and 21 mins
Categories: History, Ancient
4 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

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Summary

The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes investigates the trade routes between Rome and the powerful empires of inner Asia, including the Parthian regime which ruled ancient Persia (Iran). It explores Roman dealings with the Kushan Empire which seized power in Bactria (Afghanistan) and laid claim to the Indus Kingdoms. Further chapters examine the development of Palmyra as a leading caravan city on the edge of Roman Syria and consider trade ventures through the Tarim territories that led Roman merchants to Han China.

The Han Empire of ancient China matched that of Rome in scale and possessed military technology surpassing that of Roman legions. The Han established a system of Central Asian trade routes known as the Silk Road that carried eastern products as far as Persia and the frontiers of the Roman Empire.

This is the first audiobook to address these subjects in a single comprehensive study. It explores Rome's impact on the ancient world economy and reveals what the Chinese and Romans knew about their rival Empires.

©2016 Raoul McLaughlin (P)2019 Tantor

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  • Eternl Rayne
  • 27-12-19

An arduous trek through Eurasia

The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes is a different kind of ancient history book. Instead of discussing battle, sieges and the rise and fall of empire, this book focuses on trade, commerce, and economy.

First, the narration. The narrator, Stewart is one of the slower narrators I have heard in recent memory. His pronunciations are proper and easy to follow, but his pacing is often jagged and jarring. I found myself rewinding several times as I lost my train of thought due to his ill-timed pauses. While he is an adequate narrator, I believe this book would have been more enjoyable with a different voice, one that is less rigid and academic.

Second, the book. This is not a book for someone looking to get into Roman or ancient history. The author makes it clear throughout the book that he expects you to understand and know about many of the people and places he discusses. There is no backstory on the Roman side, so if you are not familiar with many of the Roman emperors and policies, then you will be left behind during some sections. The book starts off with its primary point; understanding silk and how it influenced ancient economy and trade. The author spends a good amount of time explaining how silk (and iron) were manufactured, and how/why the East was superior in crafting both these commodities. You will definitely learn about not only how silk is made, but why some silk garments sold for more than the average Roman laborer made in a year. This section takes about a fourth of the book and is the section I greatly enjoyed.

The next section introduces the real star of the book; Han China. Yes, the book is called The Roman Empire and the Silk Roads, but in actuality, it should be titled Trade During the Time of the Han Dynasty. While you cannot, of course, have trade in the ancient world without mentioning China in some capacity, Han China is the focus of the book. Rome is mentioned in the earlier and later sections, the bulk of the book deals with Han China. How it was created, how its government operated, and how its trade delegations made it across the mountains of central Asia. The book does bring in other civilizations that impacted trade from the 5th century B.C. to about the 5th century A.D. It discusses their rise and their impact on trade from east to west. If you are not interested in learning about Han China or other civilizations that came to power in India, Afghanistan and the Caucasus, this book is not for you.

The final section is a strange hodgepodge of different civilizations and stories that relate to trade. It is also the only time that battles of any kind are described in detail. They are explained well enough (one is about the disastrous march of Crassus and what befell his Roman legions) but they seem to fit in the context of another book. They are tied into trade and commerce in the back end, but it’s a little too late for their addition to have any merit or any reason to be in the book. In fact, the book finishes on an even stranger note; introducing a new empire on the stage in the last chapter, only to give the book a few pages to wrap up and reiterate its points.

Conclusion. The Roman Empire is a difficult book to read. Not a bad one, by any means, just difficult. This is in part because of the subject matter. It focuses on commerce and trade through numerous passes and cities. One needs a map to find and recollect them all. Then there is Han China. I was not expecting the bulk of the book to be focused on this civilization, with the Roman empire taking a back seat. Finally, there are the inconsistencies of the last section of the book. It bounces around civilizations and battles and cities without the focus of the previous sections. The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes is a book that will teach you about a very niche subject. If you are curious as to how trade worked in the ancient world and are versed in the civilizations of the time, then this book is for you. But it is not an easy read and is not for the faint of heart or novice historian.

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  • Tim M
  • 21-01-20

Spends too much time on wars

Overall this is an interesting glimpse into the contact between Han China and the Roman Empire and the people’s between them. It reveals a connected world that surprised and intrigued me.

As a history it ends up falling back on the old crutches of the material that is most available which is records of invasions, planned invasions, army compositions etc. The result is a long litany if conquests and raids. Which, to be sure, must have been a key part of life. But I wanted to know more about how trade was conducted what daily life was like for the various classes of people living along the silk route and all the rest of how this long trade network worked and was administered.