CHINESE ACCOUNTS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, MAINLY ROMAN SYRIA

CHINESE ACCOUNTS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, MAINLY ROMAN SYRIA

F Hirth wrote: “It is well known that Zhongguo [China] is fortunate enough to possess a series of historical works comparing most favorably, in some of its parts, with the historical literature of any nation in the West. Since the Han, each dynasty has had its own history, compiled from its court chronicles, or Jih-li, during the succeeding reigns. The Jih-li, lit. "Daily Chronicles," must be considered the prime source of all the information contained in these histories. Whether these latter were impartial in the treatment of historical characters, whether they did not "turn black into white, or right into wrong, would, of course, depend greatly on the entries made in the Jih-li; but also upon the neutrality of the historian himself. If the assumption could be justified that a new dynasty, having by conquest gained the ascendency, regarded the succumbing dynasty as the enemy of its cause, we might perhaps expect but scant justice from those who had power over both the Chronicles and the compilers. There is, however, no ground for this suspicion when a lifetime has elapsed between the period described and that during which the history was written. [Source: F. Hirth, “China and the Roman Orient: Researches into their Ancient and Mediaeval Relations as Represented in Old Chinese Records” (Shanghai & Hong Kong, 1885), pp. 35-96, East Asian History Sourcebook:, Chinese Accounts of Rome, Byzantium and the Middle East, c. 91 B.C.E. - 1643 A.D. washington.edu/silkroad/texts ]

“The Erh-Shih-ssu Shih or "Twenty-four Dynastic Histories," contain in all over 3,000 books, and a European scholar who would think of extracting from them notes on a subject similar to ours, would find this to be a Herculean labor were it not that the methodical mind of the Chinese writers had carefully put aside all he wants into special chapters regarding foreign countries. Thus we find chapters on the Hsiung-nu; on the South-Western barbarians (Man); on the country of Ta-wan, generally identified with the present Ferghana, in the Shih-chi of Ssu-ma Ch'ien, whose work opens the series of the Erh-shih-ssu Shah. Ssu-ma Ch'ien (d. c. 85 B.C.E.) did not attempt to carry his geographical notes farther than the countries with which Zhongguo had then come into immediate contact. His successor, Pan Ku, who, with his sister Chao, compiled the Ch'ien-han-shu [ "History of the Former Han Dynasty,"] and who died 92 A.D., knows considerably more about the countries of Central and Western Asia. His geographical chapters, of which we possess a translation, betray the interest which had been taken in geographical enterprise since the death of Ssu-ma Ch'ien, and which must have naturally been increased in the author from the fact of his being the elder brother of Pan Ch'ao, the famous military traveller of that period. Pan Ku may have heard of his brother's expedition to the foreign territories in Western or Central Asia but he was no longer alive when Pan Ch'ao returned to Zhongguo in 102 A.D.. This may account for the fact that much of the information for which the Han must have been indebted to Pan Ch'ao's last expedition found its way into the Hou-han-shu, or "History of the After Han Dynasty," and not into Pan Ku's work.

“The Hou-han-shu, compiled by Fan Yeh of the earlier Sung Dynasty (420-477 A.D.), is the first authority which gives us a certain number of details regarding the countries in the extreme west of Asia. The Hsi-yu-chuan, i.e., "Traditions regarding Western Countries," then became a regular feature in the dynastic histories, and is found under this or some similar designation in most of the subsequent Shih.

“The Hsi-yu-chuan of the Hou-han-shu contains for the first time a description, consisting of 589 characters, of the westernmost amongst the countries described in Han literature previous to the Ming dynasty, the country of Ta-ts'in. In this description we find quite a number of facts regarding the situation of the country, its boundaries, capital, people, products, and industries, which would, apart from any collateral information derived from later histories, have furnished a sufficient basis for the identification of the country, had not an unfortunate prejudice at once taken possession of those European sinologues who investigated the subject, for they held to the opinion that Ta-ts'in, being the most powerful country described in the Far West, must necessarily be the Roman Empire in its full extent, with Rome as its capital. This theory has been especially defended by Visdelou and de Guignes, and recently by Bretschneider, Edkins, and von Richthofen. I must confess that I once shared that prejudice, and that when, two years ago, I commenced to collect the passages relating to this question, I did so for the purpose of supporting the arguments in favor of Rome and Italy. I soon found, however, that a close examination of the Han accounts, instead of substantiating my original views, induced me to abandon them altogether. In these records mention is made of the manufacture of storax, which has been shown by Hanbury to have been at all times confined to the Levant; of the use of crystal (glass) and precious stones as architectural ornaments; of foreign ambassadors being driven by post from the frontier to the capital; of the military system of the country, which was based on the division of ten and three; of the dangerous travelling, the roads being infested with tigers and lions, thus compelling wayfarers to resort to caravans. A consideration of this among other testimony forcibly suggested the idea that Ta-ts'in was not Rome itself, but one of its eastern provinces.

“The prime source of the text of the Hsi-yu-chuan should, like that of the chronological chapters, been sought for in the daily notes made by the contemporaneous Court chroniclers. These, like the Tu-ch'a-yuan or Censors of the present dynasty, were allowed to have their own opinion on the actions of their government, and enjoyed the additional advantage of not having to openly remonstrate with their monarch, but keeping their historical records secret. When these were handed to the historian for publication, the monarchs whose actions were described were no longer alive or in power, and their family was excluded from government. Neither the Emperor nor any of his ministers had access to this part of the state archives. Such, at least, was the principle on which the daily chronicles were based, whatever transgressions of the rule may have taken place.

“The information regarding foreign countries, we must assume, was entered in the chronicles from depositions made by the various foreigners arriving at the Court of China. Whether these were in the possession of credentials from their own monarchs, and if so, whether their credentials were, or could be, properly scrutinized, is an open question. It appears that the Han Courts were only too much inclined to look upon the presents brought to the capital as the essential part of a foreign mission, and that foreigners, especially foreigners coming from distant countries and arriving with curiosities of a certain value, were readily received as tribute-bearers adding to the glory of the most powerful empire. The accounts of the countries of Central and Western Asia contained in the dynastic histories exhibit a certain uniformity inasmuch as certain classes of geographical facts are represented in them with some regularity. It looks as if the foreigner, on or before being introduced at Court, was subjected to a kind of cross-examination, and that a uniform set of questions was addressed to him by means of one or several interpreters. Thus, if a merchant came from Ceylon to Annam, accompanied by a Ceylonese interpreter who understood Greek, the trading language of the Indian ports visited by western merchants, and thence proceeded to Chang-an (or Hsi-an-fu) with an Annamese who was familiar with the language spoken at Ceylon, and another Annamese who understood Han, these three interpreters would have been able to mediate at the examination. The questions asked were perhaps, of the following kind: (1) What is the name of your country? (2) Where is it situated? (3) How many li does it measure? (4) How many cities has it? (5) How many dependent states? (6) How is the capital built? (7) How many inhabitants live in the capital? (8) What are the products of your country? etc., etc., and finally, (9) What else can you tell us about your country? This, I presume, is the origin of the notes in the Jih-li; which we must assume to have been the basis of our Hsi-yu accounts.

“The historical writers did not, of course, confine their work to copying these chronicles. They were men of literary merit and, as masters of the historical style, had to arrange the facts they found simply stated into a sort of narrative. This involved that reports derived from other sources should not be despised. Hence the occasional episode commencing with "yu-yun", "it is said by some that, etc." The Ta-ts'in account in the Hou-han-shu especially, as I have already suggested, may have been enlarged by what was then known of the results of Kan Ying's enquiries, who had, in 97 A.D., been sent on a mission to Ta-ts'in by his chief, the general Pan Ch'ao. Kan Ying, it will be seen hereafter, only reached T'iao-chih [Babylonia], on the coast of the Persian Gulf,whence a regular traffic by sea was carried on to the Syrian port Aelana, in the Gulf of Aqaba, at the head of the Red Sea. Kan Ying, who came into immediate contact with the sailors who were in the habit of making that journey, has certainly had the best opportunity for collecting information regarding the object of his mission. But apart from this, it is very likely that at the Court of Parthia which, prior to the Romans taking possession of Syria again in 38 B.C.E., i.e., just 135 years before Kan Ying's journey, had ruled over that country for several years, information regarding Ta-ts'in could be easily obtained. This must have been prominently the case with Ta-ts'in products and articles of trade which came to Zhongguo [China] through Parthian hands.

Shih-Chi, ch. 123, 91 B.C.

From the Shih-Chi, ch. 123, (91 B.C.): “When the first embassy was sent from Zhongguo [China] to Ar-hsi [Arsacids, or Parthia], the king of Ar-hsi ordered twenty thousand cavalry to meet them on the eastern frontier. The eastern frontier was several thousand li distant from the king's capital. Proceeding to the north one came across several tens of cities, with very many inhabitants, allied to that country. After the Han [Chinese] embassy had returned they [the Parthians] sent forth an embassy to follow the Han embassy to come and see the extent and greatness of the Han Empire. They offered to the Han court large birds'-eggs, and jugglers from Li-kan [Syria].

Ch'ien-han-shu, ch. 96A, (written c. A.D. 90) for 91 B.C.

From the Ch'ien-han-shu, ch. 96A, (written c. A.D. 90 for 91 B.C.): “When the emperor Wu-ti [140-86 B.C.E.] first sent an embassy to Ar-hsi [Arsacids, or Parthia], the king ordered a general to meet him on the eastern frontier with twenty thousand cavalry. The eastern frontier was several thousand li distant from the king's capital. Proceeding to the north one came across several tens of cities, the inhabitants of which were allied with that country. As they sent forth an embassy to follow the Han [Chinese] embassy, they came to see the country of Zhongguo [China]. They offered to the Han court large birds'-eggs, and jugglers from Li-kan [Syria], at which His Majesty was highly pleased. The king of the country of Ar-hsi rules at the city of P'an-tou [Parthuva, or Hekatompylos]; its distance from Ch'ang-an is 11,600 li. The country is not subject to a tu-hu [governor]. It bounds north on K'ang-chu, east on Wu-i-shan-li, west on T'iao-chih [Babylonia]. The soil, climate, products, and popular customs are the same as those of Wu-i and Chi-pin. They also make coins of silver, which have the king's face on the obverse, and the face of his consort on the reverse. When the king dies, they cast new coins. They have the ta-ma-ch'uo [ostrich]. Several hundred small and large cities are subject to it, and the country is several thousand li in extent, that is, a very large country. It lies on the banks of the Kuei-shui [Oxus River]. The carts and ships of their merchants go to the neighboring countries. They write on parchment, and draw up documents in rows running sideways. In the east of Ar-hsi are the Ta-yueh-chih.

Hou-Han-Shu, chs. 86, 88 (written in the A.D. 5th Century about A.D. 25 - 220)

From the Hou-Han-Shu, chs. 86, 88 (written in the A.D. 5th Century about A.D. 25 - 220): “During the 9th year [of Yung-yuan, 97 A.D.] the barbarian tribes outside the frontier and the king of the country of Shan [Armenia], named Yung-yu-tiao, sent twofold interpreters, and was endowed with state jewels. Ho-ti [Emperor, 89-106 A.D.] conferred a golden seal with a purple ribbon, and the small chiefs were granted seals, ribbons, and money. During the 1st year of Yung-ning [120 A.D.] the king of the country of Shan, named Yung-yu-tiao, again sent an embassy who, being received to His Majesty's presence, offered musicians and jugglers. The latter could conjure, spit fire, bind and release their limbs without assistance, change the heads of cows and horses, and were clever at dancing with up to a thousand balls. They said themselves: "We are men from the west of the sea; the west of the sea is the same as Ta-ts'in [Roman Syria]. In the south-west of the country of Shan one passes through to Ta-ts'in." At the beginning of the following year they played music at court before An-ti [Emperor, 107-126 A.D.], when Yung-yu-tiao was invested as a Ta-tu-wei [tributary prince] of the Han [Chinese] empire by being granted a seal and a ribbon with gold and silver silk embroidered emblems, every one of which had its own meaning.

“The city [Hira] of the country of T'iao-chih [Babylonia] is situated on a peninsula; its circumference is over forty li and it borders on the western sea [Persian Gulf/Indian Ocean]. The waters of the sea crookedly surround it. In the east, and north-east, the road is cut off; only in the north-west there is access to it by means of a land-road. The country is hot and low. It produces lions, rhinoceros, feng-niu [Zebu, Bos indicus], peacocks, and large birds [ostriches?] whose eggs are like urns. If you turn to the north and then towards the east again go on horseback some sixty days, you come to Ar-hsi [Arsacids, or Parthia], to which afterwards it became subject as a vassal state under a military governor who had control of all the small cities. The country of Ar-hsi has its residence at the city of Ho-tu [Hekatompylos], it is 25,000 li distant from Lo-yang. In the north it bounds on K'ang-chu, and in the south, on Wu-i-shan-li. The size of the country is several thousand li. There are several hundred small cities with a vast number of inhabitants and soldiers. On its eastern frontier is the city of Mu-lu [Avestan "Mouru", modern Merv], which is called Little Ar-hsi [Parthia Minor]. It is 20,000 li distant from Lo-yang. In the first year of Chang-ho, of the Emperor Chang-ti [87 A.D.], they sent an embassy offering lions and fu-pa. The fu-pa has the shape of a lin [unicorn], but has no horn.

“In the 9th year of Yung-yüan of Ho-ti [97 A.D.] the tu-hu [governor] Pan Ch'ao sent Kan-ying as an ambassador to Ta-ts'in [Roman Syria], who arrived in T'iao-chih [Babylonia], on the coast of the great sea [Persian Gulf]. When about to take his passage across the sea, the sailors of the western frontier of Ar-hsi told Kan-ying: "The sea [Indian Ocean] is vast and great; with favorable winds it is possible to cross within three months---but if you meet slow winds, it may also take you two years. It is for this reason that those who go to sea take on board a supply of three years' provisions. There is something in the sea which is apt to make man home-sick, and several have thus lost their lives." When Kan-ying heard this, he stopped. In the 13th year [101 A.D.] the king of Ar-hsi, Man-k'u, again offered as tribute lions and large birds [ostriches] from T'iao-chih, which henceforth were named Ar-hsi-chiao [Parthian birds]. From Ar-hsi you go west 3,400 li to the country of Uk-man [Ecbatana, modern Hamadan]; from Uk-man you go west 3,600 li to the country of Si-pan [Ktesiphon]; from Si-pan you go south, crossing a river [or by river], and again south-west to the country of Yu-lo, 960 li, the extreme west frontier of An-hsi; from here you travel south by sea, and so reach Ta-ts'in [Source: Aelana, modern Elat]. In this country there are many of the precious and rare things of the western sea [Red Sea/Indian Ocean].

“The country of Ta-ts'in is also called Li-kan and, as being situated on the western part of the sea, Hai-hsi-kuo [i.e., "country of the western part of the sea"]. Its territory amounts to several thousand li; it contains over four hundred cities, and of dependent states there are several times ten. The defences of cities are made of stone. The postal stations and mile-stones on the roads are covered with plaster. There are pine and cypress trees and all kinds of other trees and plants. The people are much bent on agriculture, and practice the planting of trees and the rearing of silk-worms. They cut the hair of their heads, wear embroidered clothing, and drive in small carriages covered with white canopies; when going in or out they beat drums, and hoist flags, banners, and pennants. The precincts of the walled city in which they live measure over a hundred li in circumference. In the city there are five palaces, ten li distant from each other. In the palace buildings they use crystal [glass?] to make pillars; vessels used in taking meals are also so made. The king goes to one palace a day to hear cases. After five days he has completed his round. As a rule, they let a man with a bag follow the king's carriage. Those who have some matter to submit, throw a petition into the bag. When the king arrives at the palace, he examines into the rights and wrongs of the matter. The official documents are under the control of thirty-six chiang [generals?] who conjointly discuss government affairs. Their kings are not permanent rulers, but they appoint men of merit. When a severe calamity visits the country, or untimely rain-storms, the king is deposed and replaced by another. The one relieved from his duties submits to his degradation without a murmur.

“The inhabitants of that country are tall and well-proportioned, somewhat like the Han [Chinese], whence they are called Ta-ts'in. The country contains much gold, silver, and rare precious stones, especially the "jewel that shines at night," "the moonshine pearl," the hsieh-chi-hsi, corals, amber, glass, lang-kan [a kind of coral], chu-tan [cinnabar ?], green jadestone [ching-pi], gold-embroidered rugs and thin silk-cloth of various colors. They make gold-colored cloth and asbestos cloth. They further have "fine cloth," also called Shui-yang-ts'ui [i.e., down of the water-sheep]; it is made from the cocoons of wild silk-worms. They collect all kinds of fragrant substances, the juice of which they boil into su-ho [storax]. All the rare gems of other foreign countries come from there. They make coins of gold and silver. Ten units of silver are worth one of gold. They traffic by sea with Ar-hsi and T'ien-chu [India], the profit of which trade is ten-fold. They are honest in their transactions, and there are no double prices. Cereals are always cheap. The budget is based on a well-filled treasury. When the embassies of neighboring countries come to their frontier, they are driven by post to the capital, and, on arrival, are presented with golden money. Their kings always desired to send embassies to Zhongguo [China], but the Ar-hsi wished to carry on trade with them in Han silks, and it is for this reason that they were cut off from communication. This lasted till the ninth year of the Yen-hsi period during the emperor Huan-ti's reign [166 A.D.] when the king of Ta-ts'in, An-tun [Marcus Aurelius Antoninus], sent an embassy who, from the frontier of Jih-nan [Annam] offered ivory, rhinoceros horns, and tortoise shell. From that time dates the direct intercourse with this country. The list of their tribute contained no jewels whatever, which fact throws doubt on the tradition. It is said by some that in the west of this country there is the Jo-shui ["weak water"--probably the Dead Sea] and the Liu-sha ["flying sands, desert"] near the residence of the Hsi-wang-mu ["mother of the western king"], where the sun sets. The Ch'ien-han-shu says: "From T'iao-chih [Babylonia] west, going over 200 days, one is near the place where the sun sets"; this does not agree with the present book. Former embassies from Zhongguo all returned from Wu-i; there were none who came as far as T'iao-chih. It is further said that, coming from the land-road of Ar-hsi, you make a round at sea and, taking a northern turn, come out from the western part of the sea, whence you proceed to Ta-ts'in.

“The country is densely populated; every ten li [of a road] are marked by a t'ing; thirty li by a chih [resting-place]. One is not alarmed by robbers, but the road becomes unsafe by fierce tigers and lions who will attack passengers, and unless these be travelling in caravans of a hundred men or more, or be protected by military equipment, they may be devoured by those beasts. They also say there is a flying bridge [the bridge over the Euphrates at Zeugma] of several hundred li, by which one may cross to the countries north of the sea. The articles made of rare precious stones produced in this country are sham curiosities and mostly not genuine, whence they are not here mentioned.

Wei-lio (written before A.D. 429 about A.D. 220-264)

“From the Wei-lio (written before A.D. 429 A.D. about A.D. 220-264): “Formerly T'iao-chih [Babylonia] was wrongly believed to be in the west of Ta-ts'in [Roman Syria]; now its real position is known to be east. Formerly it was also wrongly believed to be stronger than Ar-hsi [Arsacids, or Parthia]; now it is changed into a vassal state said to make the western frontier of Ar-hsi. Formerly it was, further, wrongly believed that the Jo-shui [Dead Sea] was in the west of T'iao-chih; now the Jo-shui is believed to be in the west of Ta-ts'in. Formerly it was wrongly believed that, going over two hundred days west of T'iao-chih, one came near the place where the sun sets; now, one comes near the place where the sun sets by going west of Ta-ts'in. The country of Ta-ts'in, also called Li-kan [Syria], is on the west of the great sea [Indian Ocean] west of Ar-hsi and T'iao-chih. From the city of Ar-ku [Uruku, modern Warka] , on the boundary of Ar-hsi one takes passage in a ship and, traversing the west of the sea, with favorable winds arrives [Source: Aelana, modern Elat, on the Gulf of Aqaba] in two months; with slow winds, the passage may last a year, and with no wind at all, perhaps three years. This country is on the west of the sea whence it is commonly called Hai-hsi [Egypt]. There is a river [the Nile] coming out from the west of this country, and there is another great sea [the Mediterranean]. In the west of the sea there is the city of Ali-san [Alexandria]. Before one arrives in the country one goes straight north from the city of U-tan [Aden]. In the south-west one further travels by a river which on board ship one crosses in one day [again the Nile]; and again south-west one travels by a river which is crossed in one day [still the Nile]. There are three great divisions of the country [Delta, Heptanomis, Thebaid]. From the city of Ar-ku one goes by land due north to the north of the sea; and again one goes due west to the west of the sea; and again you go due south to arrive there. At the city of Ali-san, you travel by river on board ship one day, then make a round at sea, and after six days' passage on the great sea [the Mediterranean], arrive in this country. There are in the country in all over four hundred smaller cities; its size is several thousand li in all directions of the compass. The residence of their king lies on the banks of a river estuary [Antioch-on-the-Orontes]. They use stone in making city walls. In this country there are the trees sung [pine], po[cypress], huai [sophora?], tzu [a kind of euphorbia?]; bamboos, rushes, poplars, willows, the wu-t'ung tree, and all kinds of other plants. The people are given to planting on the fields all kinds of grain. Their domestic animals are: the horse, the donkey, the mule, the camel, and the mulberry silk-worm. There are many jugglers who can issue fire from their mouths, bind and release themselves, and dance on twenty balls. In this country they have no permanent rulers, but when an extraordinary calamity visits the country, they elect as king a worthier man, while discharging the old king, who does not even dare to feel angry at this decision. The people are tall, and upright in their dealings, like the Han [Chinese], but wear foreign dress; they call their country another "Middle Kingdom" [probably from "Mediterranean" or "Middle of the Land"].

“They always wished to send embassies to Zhongguo [China], but the Ar-hsi [Parthians] wanted to make profit out of their trade with us, and would not allow them to pass their country. They can read foreign books. They regulate by law public and private matters. The palace buildings are held sacred. They hoist flags, beat drums, use small carriages with white canopies, and have postal stations like the Han. Coming from Ar-hsi you make a round at sea and, in the north, come to this country. The people live close together. They have no robbers and thieves; but there are fierce tigers and lions that will attack travellers, and unless these go in caravans, they cannot pass the country. They have several times ten small kings. The residence of their king is over a hundred li in circuit. They have official archives. The king has five palaces, ten li apart from each other. The king hears the cases of one palace in the morning till being tired at night; the next morning he goes to another palace; in five days he has completed his round. Thirty-six generals always consult upon public matters; if one general does not go to the meeting, they do not consult. When the king goes out he usually gets one of his suite to follow him with a leather bag, into which petitioners throw a statement of their cases; on arrival at the palace, the king examines into the merits of each case. They use crystal in making the pillars of palaces as well as implements of all kinds. They make bows and arrows.

“The following dependent small states are enumerated separately, viz., the kings of Ala-san [Alexandria-Euphrates, or Charax Spasinu], Lu-fen [Nikephorium], Ch'ieh-lan [Palmyra], Hsien-tu [Damascus], Si-fu [Emesa], and Ho-lat [Hira]; and of other small kingdoms there are very many; it is impossible to enumerate them one by one. The country produces fine ch'ih [hemp or hemp cloth]. They make gold and silver money; one coin of gold is worth ten of silver. They weave fine cloth, and say they use the down of water-sheep in making it; it is called Hai-hsi-pu [cloth from the west of the sea]. In this country all the domestic-animals come out of the water. Some say that they do not only use sheep's wool, but also the bark of trees [vegetable fiber?] and the silk of wild silk-worms in weaving cloth, and the Ch'u-shu, the T'a-teng, and Chi-chang class of goods [serge or plush rugs?] of their looms are all good; their colors are of brighter appearance than are the colors of those manufactured in the countries on the east of the sea. Further, they were always anxious to get Han silk for severing it in order to make hu-ling [damask, gauze?], for which reason they frequently trade by sea with the countries of Ar-hsi. The sea-water being bitter and unfit for drinking is the cause that but few travellers come to this country. The hills in this country produce inferior jade-stones of nine colors, viz., blue, carnation, yellow, white, black, green, crimson, red, and purple. The Chiu-se-shih[nine-colored stones] which are now found in the I-wu-shan belong to this category. During the third year of Yang-chia [134 A.D.] the king and minister of Su-le [Kashgar?] presented to the court each a golden girdle beset with blue stones [lapis lazuli] from Hai-hsi, and the Chin-hsi-yu-chiu-t'u says: the rare stones coming from the countries of Chi-pin [Afghanistan?] and T'iao-chih [Babylonia] are inferior jadestones.

“The following products are frequently found in Ta-ts'in: Gold. Silver. Copper. Iron. Lead. Tin. Tortoises. White horses. Red hair. Hsieh-chi-hsi. Tortoise shell. Black bears. Ch'ih-ch'ih.P'i-tu-shu. Large conches. Ch'e-ch'u. Carnelian stones. Southern gold. King-fishers' gems. Ivory. Fu-ts'ai-yu. Ming-yueh-chu. Yeh-kuang-chu. Real white pearls. Amber. Corals. Ten colors of opaque glass, viz., carnation, white, black, green, yellow, blue, purple, azure, red, and red-brown. Ch'iu-lin Lang-kan. Rock crystal. Mei-kuei [garnets?]. Realgar and orpiment. Five colors of Pi. Ten kinds of Jade, viz., yellow, white, black, green, a brownish red, crimson, purple, gold, yellow, azure, and a reddish yellow. Five colors of Ch'u-shu [rugs?]. Five colors T'ao-pu. Five colors of T'a- teng[rugs?]. Chiang-ti. Nine colors of Shou-hsia t'a-teng. Curtains interwoven with gold. Gold embroideries. Five colors of Tou-cHan [Chinese]g. Damasks of various colors. Chin-t'u-pu [Gold colored cloth?]. Fei-ch'ih-pu. Fa-lu-pu. Fei-ch'ih-ch 'u-pu. Asbestos cloth. O-lo-te-pu. Pa-tse-pu. To-tai-pu. Wen-se-pu. I-wei-mu-erh. Storax. Ti-ti-mi-mi-tou-na. Pai-fu-tzu. Hsun-lu. Yu-chin.Yun-chiao-hsun, in all 12 kinds of vegetable fragrant substances.

“After the road from Ta-ts'in had been performed from the north of the sea by land, another road was tried which followed the sea to the south and connected with the north of the outer barbarians at the seven principalities of Chiao-chih [Cochin China (South Vietnam)]; and there was also a water-road leading through to Yi-chou and Yung-ch'ang [in the present Yunnan]. It is for this reason that curiosities come from Yung-ch'ang. Formerly only the water-road was spoken of; they did not know there was an overland route. Now the accounts of the country are as follows. The number of inhabitants cannot be stated. This country is the largest in the west of the Ts'ung-ling. The number of small rulers established under its supremacy is very large. We, therefore, record only the larger ones. The king of Ala-san [Charax Spasinu] is subject to Ta-ts'in. His residence lies right in the middle of the sea. North you go to Lu-fen [Nikephorium] by water half a year, with quick winds a month; it is nearest to the city of Ar-ku [Uruk, modern Warka] in Ar-hsi [Parthia]. South-west you go to the capital of Ta-ts'in [Antioch-on-the-Orontes]; we do not know the number of li. The king of Lu-fen [Nikephorium] is subject to Ta-ts'in. His residence is 2,000 li distant from the capital of Ta-ts'in. The flying bridge across the river [the bridge over the Euphrates at Zeugma] in Ta-ts'in west of the city of Lu-fen is 230 li in length. The road, if you cross the river, goes to the south-west; if you make a round on the river, you go due west. The king of Ch'ieh-lan [Palmyra] is subject to Ta-ts'in. Coming from the country of Si-t'ao [Sittake] you go due south, cross a river, and then go due west to Ch'ieh-lan 3,000 li; when the road comes out in the south of the river, you go west. Coming from Ch'ieh-lan you go again straight to the country of Si-fu [Emesa] on the western river 600 li; where the southern road joins the Si-fu road there is the country of Hsien-tu [Damascus] in the south-west. Going due south from Ch'ieh-lan and Si-fu there is the "Stony Land" [Arabia Petraea]; in the soil of the Stony Land there is the great sea [Red Sea] which produces corals and real pearls. In the north of Ch'ieh-lan, Si-fu, Si-pan [Ktesiphon] and Uk-man [Ecbatana] there is a range of hills extending from east to west [the Taurus Mountains]; in the east of Ta-ts'in as well as of Hai-tung [the country on the eastern arm of the Great Sea, i.e., on the Persian Gulf] there are ranges of hills extending from north to south [the Zagros Mountains].

“The king of Hsien-tu is subject to Ta-ts'in. From his residence you go 600 li north-east to Si-fu. The king of Si-fu is subject to Ta-ts'in. From his residence you go to Ho-lat [Hira] north-east 340 li, across the river. Ho-lat is subject to Ta-ts'in. Its residence is in the north-east of Si-fu across the river. From Ho-lat north-east you again cross a river to Si-lo [Seleukia]; and north-east of this you again cross a river. The country of Si-lo is subject to Ar-hsi [Parthia] and is on the boundary of Ta-ts'in. In the west of Ta-ts'in there is the water of the sea [the Mediterranean]; west of this is the water of a river [the Orontes]; west of the river there is a large range of hills extending from north to south [the Lebanon]; west of this there is the Ch'ih-shui [Jordan River?]; west of the Ch'ih-shui there is the White Jade Hill; on the White Jade Hill there is the Hsi-wang-mu; west of the Hsi-wang-mu there is the rectified Liu-sha [the "Flying Sands"]; west of the Liu-sha there are the four countries of Ta-hsia, Chien-sha, Shu-yu and Yueh-chih. West of these there is the Hei-shui [Black or Dark River] which is reported to be the western terminus of the world.

Chin-shu, ch. 97 (written in the early A.D. 7th Century about A.D. 265-419)

From the Chin-shu, ch. 97 (written in the early A.D. 7th Century about A.D. 265-419): Ta-ts'in [Roman Syria], also called Li-kan, is in the western part of the western sea [Persian Gulf]. In this country several thousand li in all directions of the compass are covered with cities and other inhabited places. Its capital is over a hundred li in circumference. The inhabitants use coral in making the kingposts of their dwellings; they use opaque glass in making walls, and crystal in making the pedestals of pillars. Their king has five palaces. The palaces are ten li distant from each other. Every morning the king hears cases in one palace; when he has finished he begins anew. When the country is visited by an extraordinary calamity, a wiser man is elected; the old king is relieved from his duties, and the king so dismissed does not dare to consider himself ill-treated. They have keepers of official records and interpreters who are acquainted with their style of writing. They have also small carriages with white canopies, flags, and banners, and postal arrangements, just as we have them in Zhongguo [China].

“The inhabitants are tall, and their faces resemble those of the Han [Chinese], but they wear foreign dress. Their country exports much gold and precious stones, shining pearls, and large conches; they have the "jewel that shines at night," the hsieh-chi-hsi, and asbestos cloth; they know how to embroider cloth with gold thread and weave gold-embroidered rugs. They make gold andsilver coins; ten silver coins are worth one gold coin. The inhabitants of Ar-hsi [Arsacids, or Parthia] and T'ien-chu [India] have trade with them by sea; its profit is hundred-fold. When the envoys of neighboring countries arrive there, they are provided with golden money. The water of the great sea which is crossed on the road thither is salt and bitter, and unfit for drinking purposes; the merchants travelling to and fro are provided with three years' provisions; hence, there are not many going.

“At the time of the Han dynasty, the tu-hu Pan Ch'ao sent his subordinate officer Kan-ying as an envoy to that country; but the sailors who were going out to sea said, "that there was something about the sea which caused one to long for home; those who went out could not help being seized by melancholy feelings; if the Han envoy did not care for his parents, his wife, and his children, he might go." Ying could not take his passage. During the T'ai-k'ang period of the emperor Wu-ti [280-290 A.D.] their king sent an envoy to offer tribute.

Sung-shu, ch. 97 (written c. A.D. 500 about A.D. 420-478)

From the Sung-shu, ch. 97 (written c. A.D. 500 about A.D. 420-478): “As regards Ta-ts'in [Roman Syria] and T'ien-chu [India], far out on the western ocean [Indian Ocean], we have to say that; although the envoys of the two Han dynasties [Chang Ch'ien, and Pan Ch'ao] have experienced the special difficulties of this road, yet traffic in merchandise has been effected, and goods have been sent out to the foreign tribes, the force of winds driving them far away across the waves of the sea. There are lofty ranges of hills quite different from those we know and a great variety of populous tribes having different names and bearing uncommon designations, they being of a class quite different from our own. All the precious things of land and water come from there, as well as the gems made of rhinoceros' horns and king-fishers' stones [chrysoprase], she-chu [serpent pearls] and asbestos cloth, there being innumerable varieties of these curiosities; and also the doctrine of the abstraction of mind in devotion to the shih-chu ["lord of the world" or "the Buddha"---here meaning "the Christ"] all this having caused navigation and trade to be extended to those parts.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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