The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

By Peter Frankopan

Published by Bloomsbury, August 2015 (657 pages)

A review by John Gaye (first published in the Sherborne Times)

 

Quantitative easing, credit crashes, currency controls, globalisation – all terms which trip off the tongue today and seem a very modern malaise of the 21st century. But they have been around for at least 2,000 years, for as long as trade has taken place between peoples and nations. While we in Britain were still swinging in the trees and rolling rocks for strange ceremonies on Salisbury Plain in our glorious island isolation, the sophisticated developed world was centred further to the east and to the south: around the periphery of the Mediterranean Sea, in that huge area we now call the Middle East and throughout the length and breadth of Asia.

This book, published last year but still featuring in the best-seller lists, is a wonderfully easy read as it romps through the history of the developed world which, until relatively recently, was centred around the many and varied trade routes known loosely as the Silk Roads.

The Silk Roads were the conduit for trade between nations and brought enormous wealth to all those peoples involved. Not just at the supply and demand ends of those routes but also for every nation and people through which trade flowed. Every city between eastern China and southern Europe benefited, not least centres such as Samarkand, Palmyra, Merv, Baghdad, Damascus, Isfahan and Constantinople. So also Venice, Genoa, Dubrovnik, Alexandria, many maritime cities in India and along the east coast of Africa were huge beneficiaries of this trade.

Wealth and trade also brought about other huge advantages in spreading and developing scientific knowledge. Eastern Europe and the Middle East were incredible founts of knowledge in all the sciences such as medicine, algebra, astronomy and chemistry. The first alphabet was developed in present day Syria and amazing artistic skills were brought on as nations could afford to pay artists for their skills. Trade routes also brought about a few major disadvantages such as plague, pestilence and the Mongols. Did you know that the Mongols got as far as Western Europe before fortuitously being called home for what might be called loosely a general election on the timely death of their leader?

Another fascinating consequence of this international movement was the spread of, and demand for, religious knowledge. As empires waxed and waned throughout the regions so too did the three main religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which were all competing for influence from the Pacific Ocean through to Spain. Frequently they co-existed in harmony although there were often disputes within each belief as schisms developed which continue to exist today.

This book should be required reading for all those who are involved in our country’s negotiations for Brexit. It demonstrates the vital importance of global trade, not only to benefit our nation but also to ensure the development of those nations less fortunate.

This book will broaden the mind considerably. I am not at all surprised that it continues to be so popular. 

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