By Prof. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
The historical silk roads did not start with the beginning of History. However, when we refer to the very existence of the silk roads and to the developments that were unfolded because of them, we often forget that this remarkable affair that shaped the World History is merely a continuation and a prolongation of the earlier existed commercial roads that linked Central Asia, Siberia and India to Mesopotamia.
On the other hand, due to other early commercial roads, Mesopotamia was also connected with the Caucasus region, Anatolia and the Balkans, and the Horn of Africa. Last, since the Dawn of the Civilization, the Valley of the Twin Rivers was densely linked with the Valley of the Nile, via the Syro-Phoenician – Palestinian corridor.
I. The Historical Silk Roads
Although widely used to describe a “network of trade routes which connected the East and West”, the term is very inaccurate indeed; this is so because the silk trade in itself was a minor part of the trade exchanged between ‘East’ and ‘West’. The historically correct and exact term is “Silk-, Spice-, and Perfume-Routes via Land, Desert and Sea” or alternatively “Land-, Desert- and Sea-Routes of Silk-, Spice-, and Perfume-Trade”. Perfume stands for all types of incense. At this point, one has to point out that the multivalent geographical terms ‘East’ and ‘West’ mean diverse lands and localities to different audiences at all times.
The earliest form of the aforementioned network of trade routes consisted of two commercial roads that linked 4th millennium BCE Mesopotamia, i.e. Sumer and Elam, with Central Asia and the Indus Valley; in the second case, we also have plenty of indications of sea trade. This means that we can already speak of land-, desert- and sea-routes as early as the beginning of the Bronze Age. Findings at Tepe Yahya, Iran fully document the Mesopotamian – Indian trade that dates back in the middle of the 4th millennium BCE. Similarly, impressive findings, such as Proto-Elamite tablets, excavated at Tepe Sialk, Iran bear witness to the developed form of trade that Mesopotamia had with Central Asia at the end of the 4th millennium BCE. The same is also valid for Tureng Tepe, near Gorgan, and further on for Yarim Tepe, near Gonbad-e Kavus, in NE Iran. This brings the kingdoms and the empires of Mesopotamia in direct contact with Siberian cultures, such as Andronovo and Karasuk, that ranged from the Caspian Sea to Aral to Yenissei and maintained evident contacts with Dzungaria and China in the 2nd and the 1st half of the 1st millennium BCE. Across these early trade roads, the movements of Scytho–Siberian nations generated a turmoil that the Achaemenid shahs of Iran spent time to contain.
The real establishment of the network of trade routes that we now call ‘silk road’ is entirely attributed to Achaemenid Iran. Having understood the enormous benefits that would derive from the systematization of the earlier existed networks of trade routes, the early Achaemenids dedicated a great effort to set up safe imperial roads across their immense empire. The ‘Royal Road’ was the original part (Susa to Sardis; 2700 km), but soon after the entire empire was endowed with a great network of sea, desert and land routes.
As a matter of fact, the establishment of the Silk Road was the mere consolidation, improvement, interconnection and imperial administration of the earlier existed trade routes. Egypt had established a maritime connection with Somalia and Eastern Africa as early as the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE or even earlier; with Egypt as Achaemenid Iranian province, Iran benefited enormously from this trade. Furthermore, the circumnavigation of the Arabian Peninsula would permit the imperial administration to bypass Babylonia, when ensuring transportation of products, services and armies between mainland Iran and Egypt.
For this purpose, Darius I reopened the Old Suez Canal (from the area of today’s Zagazig and the Bubastite branch of the Delta to the Timsah Lake, which was connected at the time with the Red Sea by means of a natural canal) that had fallen in desuetude for centuries; this is solemnly stated in the Achaemenid Shah’s quadrilingual inscription (in Old Achaemenid, Babylonian, Elamite and Egyptian Hietoglyphic), e.g. the so-called Shaluf stele.
Darius stele with the quadrilingual inscription about the reopening of the Old Suez Canal
It is on this background that silk products started moving across the aforementioned network of trade routes and also across extra roads appended to this network; thanks to the Pazyryk culture, silk was found as west as the kurgans of Ukraine or Heuneburg and Rheingoenheim in Germany and as early as the middle of the 1st millennium BCE. Exchanges, silk tributes and silk trade were only intensified after the 3rd c. BCE, and more specifically after the Battle of Baideng (白登之戰), when Gaozu of Han (漢高祖) was defeated and had to pay a heavy tribute to Motun (冒頓單于), the founder of the Hun (Xiongnu) Empire.
The enormous trade development, which ensued, was certainly due to numerous parameters other than the establishment of the Achaemenid trade network, the construction of royal roads across Iran, and the annual tributes of the Han emperors to the Xiongnu. The role of the Aramaeans, the Sogdians and the Khotanese in terms of product diversification, road bifurcation, linguistic impact, spiritual influence, and cultural exchange was outstanding; this shows that, despite the importance of states, the catalytic activity of private entrepreneurs was unmatched. The states extracted benefits and levied customs duties, but the pioneering practice and spirit were private. This is how Buddhism, Manichaeism, and Nestorian Christianity made their way to China.
One of the most famous Aramaean capitals, Tadmor – Palmyra
Sogdians depicted on wall paintings from Afrasiab, Samarqand
The King of Khotan as depicted in the Mogao Caves, Dunhuang
The State of the Middle (中國/中国) was late to expand to the West, in Central Asia and further on. Only at the times of Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), Zhang Qian (張騫) was tasked (138 BCE) to effectuate a trip to establish contacts with the Yuezhi and other Central Asiatic states; however, he and his guards had to spend ten years in Xiongnu prisons, before returning (125 BCE) to Chang’an (Xi’an) and writing his reports about countries he visited (Dayuan kingdom in Ferghana, Yuezhi kingdom in Transoxiana, Tokharian kingdom of Daxia in Bactria, and Kangjiu kingdom in Sogdiana) and he did not visit (Anxi kingdom of Arsacid Parthian Iran, Tiaozhi kingdom of Seleucid Syria, Shendu kingdom of Indo-Scythians in Southern Pakistan, and Wusun kingdom in the Tarim Basin).
It is only at the end of the 2nd c. BCE (104-102) that Li Guangli (李廣利) and Chinese army undertook an expedition to Ferghana (Dayuan) and successfully besieged Osh (in today’s Kyrgyzstan). Finally, the Tarim Basin became Chinese imperial territory (Protectorate of the Western Regions: 西域都護府) only during the 1st c. BCE. However, the Hexi Corridor to Dunhuang and the Western Regions remained unstable for many long centuries.
A Chinese embassy may have reached Rome at the times of Octavian, if we take into account the text of Florus, an African Roman historiographer of the 1st – 2nd c. CE. And around the end of the 1st c. CE, General Ban Chao (班超), the imperial administrator of the ‘Western Regions’ (basically the Tarim Basin), advanced further in the West up to an undefined location in Central Asia; several Western Orientalists advanced the theory of Ban Chao reaching the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea, but there is no certainty in this. On the contrary, what is sure is that Ban Chao’s envoy, Gan Ying (甘英) reached the ‘Western Sea’ (which can be variably identified with the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea or the Mediterranean Sea); it is a matter of scholarly interpretation of few excerpts in the Hou Hanshu Annals.
Last, in the middle of the 3rd c. CE, Yu Huan writes in his illustrious Weilüe (魏略) about the Black River (Hei Shui: 黑水) that demarcates the Western territories of the Roman Empire (: Atlantic Ocean), pretty much like his contemporary Roman counterpart, the famous historian Ammianus Marcellinus, who wrote in the middle of the 4th c. CE about the Eurasiatic landmass’ easternmost confines only to use almost similar terms:
Ultra haec utriusque Scythiae loca, contra orientalem plagam in orbis speciem consertae, celsorum aggerum summitates ambiunt Seras, ubertate regionum et amplitudine circumspectos, ab occidentali latere Scythis annexos, a septentrione et orientali nivosae solitudini cohaerentes.
One page from Yu Huan’s Weilüe
As a matter of fact, moving across the Land-, Desert- and Sea-Routes of Silk-, Spice-, and Perfume-Trade, major religions, faiths and cults were diffused from Mesopotamia, Iran and India to China:
1. Buddhism reached China at the times of Han dynasty (first mention: 65 CE at the times of Emperor Ming, 明),
2. Manichaeism (明教: the bright religion, Míngjiào) appeared in China at the times of Tang dynasty in a completely sinicized form as the Dunhuang manuscripts sufficiently evidence, and
Manichaean texts in Chinese from the Dunhuang manuscripts
3. Nestorian Christianity was introduced in China also at the times of Tang dynasty (618-690 and 705-907). The first mention is found in the bilingual (Syriac – Aramaic and Chinese) Nestorian Stele (or Xi’an Stele), which dates in 781 and commemorates the Persian monk Alopen’s mission to China that occurred in 635 during the reign of Emperor Taizong, 太宗).
The Syriac-Aramaic inscription on the Nestorian stele – Aramaic was the most important and the most widely spread international language before Modern Times.
Nestorian Christianity: the most widely spread religion before Modern Times was taken by the Aramaean merchants to Yemen, India, Central Asia, Mongolia and China.
The indivisible Eurasiatic landmass eliminates all geopolitical pseudo-theories that tend to generate colonial divisions in parts of Eurasia: Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Iran, Turan, South Asia, China have historically formed a socio-cultural unit that can be divided only by ignorant forgers and criminal colonial liars.
Little time after the arrival of Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity in China, Islam reached the borders of Emperor Gaozong (高宗)’s state at the very middle of the 7th c., thanks to the zeal of Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas. As per various Hui Muslims’ legends, Gaozong (reign: 649-683) expressed certain sympathy for Islam, viewing in it a form of Confucian Morality.
Moving across the Land-, Desert- and Sea-Routes of Silk-, Spice-, and Perfume-Trade, early Muslim traders and navigators were present in China either in the Western provinces (Tarim Basin) or in the Eastern coast, and more particularly in Canton (Guangzhou), as early as the 7th and 8th centuries.
When it comes to religions diffused in China along the Silk Road, there is a tremendous difference between Buddhism, Manichaeism, and Nestorian Christianity from one side and Islam from the other side. The former three religions were never state religions of a powerful empire, whereas Islam was already the state religion of the Umayyad Caliphate, which – only 30 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad – stretched from Libya to Central Asia to the Indus Valley. The early Islamic expansion to the east (651) reached Rey, Nishapur and Khurasan in today’s NE Iran. The next stage of the expansion in Central Asia involved fierce clashes with the Kingdom of Sogdia and the Buddhist Turkic states in Central Asia and Siberia during the late 7th and the early 8th c. Following the Islamic conquest of Bukhara and Samarqand (706-712), the Chinese emperors took the case more seriously.
Chinese armies fought to stop the Islamic advance in very bloody battles across the famous Ferghana Valley in 715 only to be engaged in another battle two years later at Aksu, further to the east, in the Tarim basin. This was an early Chinese victory. The entire region between Kashgar and Samarqand became then a critical, frontal zone. However, for some time, the gradual decadence of the Umayyad dynasty prevented Muslim armies from further focusing on Central Asia. With the rise of the Abbasid dynasty, one of the major historical battles took place in the Talas River Valley (751). It was a major victory for the Abbasid forces and it marked the end of Chinese presence in Central Asia. Prevalence in that region ensured enormous benefits for Abbasid Baghdad.
However, the Abbasid – Chinese relationship took another course with the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763; An–Shi Disturbances: 安史之亂), when general An Lushan challenged the imperial throne; to successfully squelch the event, the embattled Emperor Suzong (肅宗) wrote a letter to the Abbasid Caliph Al Mansur, asking his help. The Caliph dispatched a force of 4000 Muslim soldiers, who helped reinstall the order in Chang’an. This event means that at the time one could encounter Abbasid soldiers in full control of territories that were located at a direct distance of almost 9500 km from one another (from the Maghreb coast of Northwestern Africa to Xi’an)!
An Lushan Rebellion
The infamous rebellion ended after much time passed and much blood was shed only to weaken the Tang monarchs. However, Tang dynasty marked an era of religious tolerance, cultural exchanges, Eurasiatic cosmopolitanism and numerous intermarriages. Sogdian merchants, Muslim soldiers and other foreigners significantly contributed to the Chinese civilization and became dignitaries of the imperial administration by learning Chinese, hiding their ethnic identity, and changing their names. The vicinity of Turan (the term denotes Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Siberia, Northern Asia, Mongolia and today’s NW China) with the world of Islam was the reason for a) the conversion of many Turanians to Islam, b) the rise of many Turanian Muslim rulers in various lands of the Caliphate as far as Africa, and c) the flourishing trade routes across Central and Northern Asia.
The formation and the magnificent expansion of the Turanian Islamic empires, which are falsely called ‘Mongol’ (the term denotes a military rank, not a historical nation) are not as spectacular and as fortuitous as depicted in the Western Orientalist bibliography. The Great State (Ulug Ulus) or ‘Golden Horde’ (Altın Urda) that controlled (1242–1502) all lands from Poland to the easternmost confines of Northern Asia is not the side effect of the division of the Turanian (: ‘Mongol’) Empire. It is the continuation of a millennium long Turanian prevalence across the said territories and the successor to numerous earlier empires involving the Xianbei Empire (93-234 CE), the Rouran Khaganate (330-555 CE), the Hunnic Empire (370–469), the Göktürk Khaganate (552-659 CE), the Eastern Turkic Khaganate (581-650 CE), the Western Turkic Khaganate (581–657), the Second Turkic Khaganate (682–744), the Uyghur Khaganate (744–840), the Yenisei Kyrgyz Khaganate (840-1207), the Liao Empire (916–1125) and the Khamag Empire (10th c. – 1206). During those ages, ‘silk road trader’, ‘Turanian’ and ‘Muslim’ became almost synonyms.
Muslims played a great role in China’s History at the times of Song dynasty (960-1279; 宋朝), whereas at the times of the Mongol dynasty (1271-1368; the Great Yuan -大元), following extensive intermarriages, they became a very important component of China’s economic, social and intellectual life. As the fratricidal wars among Turanian nations intensified, Muslims and Chinese fought against the Mongols and some of China’s most illustrious generals were Muslims indeed, like Lan Yu (藍玉). When the Mongols were finally kicked out of China, Hongwu (洪武), the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644; 大明), felt obliged to compose (1368) the celebrated Hundred-word Eulogy (bǎizìzàn: 百字讃) and thus express his great veneration of Prophet Muhammad, ‘the most noble sage’, as he described him. Hongwu found it also important to send a letter to John V Palaiologos and keep him informed about the rise of the Ming dynasty.
Hundred-word Eulogy (bǎizìzàn: 百字讃): the greatest words ever uttered by a non-Muslim in favor of Prophet Muhammad were said by Hongwu (洪武), the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, thus forging indissoluble ties between the Chinese and the Muslims for all times.
Quite contrarily, Chinese Muslims, as Ming loyalists, suffered enormous losses at the times of Qing dynasty, which originated from the Manchu, a minority; this period marks however the progressive decline of all major Asiatic empires: the Ottomans, the Iranians, the Mughal Gorkanian (of India), and the Chinese.
IV. The decline of the Islamic Empires and of China over the past four centuries
The advent of Qing dynasty (1636-1912) ushered China in a new era that proved to be the worst page of China’s 4000-year long History. Qing rulers’ major counterparts in Asia and Africa were found in the same situation either their dynasty’s origins go back to 1300 or their rule was established around 1500. Hong Taiji (皇太極), the founding emperor (1636-1643), was contemporaneous with
– Shah-Jahan-i-Azam (شاہ جہان اعظم: 1627-1658) of the Gurkanian Mongol (‘Mughal’) dynasty (who had the famous Taj Mahal mausoleum built),
– Shah Safi (شاه صفی: 1629-1642) of the Turkmen Safavid dynasty of Iran, and
– Sultan Murad IV ( مراد رابع: 1623-1640) of the Ottoman Empire.
Sultan Murad IV
A good indication of the minimal degree of threat discernment, friend-foe identification system, universal perspective, diplomatic diligence, and imperial preparation that characterized all four major Afro-Asiatic empires is the fact that Hong Taiji’s reign coincided with the end of the 16-year long Ottoman–Safavid War (1623–1639) which dramatically weakened both empires. The Ottomans won and prevailed in Mesopotamia, but short term gains proved to be useless, as they could not ensure enduring strength.
Hong Taiji’s reign was also marked by two major events in the North of Asia: the rise of the Romanov dynasty under Michael I Romanov (Михаил Фёдорович Романов: 1613-1645) of Russia and the Russian expansion across Northern Siberia, after the collapse of the Sibir Khanate in 1598. The Russians reached the Pacific Ocean in 1639, decimating indigenous nations (Buryats; Yakuts; in the case of Chukchis, Koraks, Itelmens and Yukagirs, we attested a planned genocide) and spreading diseases (smallpox). Of course, the Kazakh Khanate was still strong under Salqam-Jangir Khan (1629–1680), but again the incessant wars among the Central Asiatic khanates (Bukhara, Tashkent, etc) created a worrisome situation not far from China’s western borders.
Another even graver problem for China and for the Central Asiatic khanates was the rise of the Buddhist Dzungar Khanate (1634) and the dreams of their ruler Erdeni Batur, who attempted to revive the gigantic state of Genghis Khan. The ceaseless wars between the Kazakhs and Dzungaria (1643–1756), as well as between Qing China and the Dzungars (1687–1757), ended with the Dzungar defeat and genocide but paved the way for Russian predominance across Northern Asia. No Asiatic empire benefited from these developments.
Similar situations were attested in Southern Asia whereby the three Muslim emperors did not have the foresight to avoid divisions and fratricidal wars and to set up a common front against the seafaring empires, namely the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the English. It is true that the emergence of the Turkmen Safavids in Iran (with Shah Ismail I in 1502), the advent of the Mongol Gurkanian (with Babur in 1526) and the Ottoman rise in the East and expansion in Africa (from Egypt to Somalia to Algeria) under Yavuz Sultan Selim I (1512-1520) and his successors occurred only on an extremely divided and diversified, almost millennium-long, background of Islamic faith and power.
Only in its very early period, the Islamic Caliphate proved to be a centripetal force. However, when the Caliphs expanded beyond the borders of the Sassanid Empire (224-651) under Khusraw II (590/591-628), centrifugal forces prevailed only to prove that Central Asia and Carthage can never belong to the same empire – as already Darius I, the Achaemenidian (522-486), dreamt of but failed to implement.
Furthermore, the prevalence of centrifugal forces within the immense Abbasid Empire was only a normal, historical phenomenon, because Islam was diffused among nations very far away from one another, with very different spiritual, cultural and historical backgrounds with which the proponents of the new faith were forced to interact in many dimensions. As early as the 10th century the contrast was enormous among Muslims in Andalusia, Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, India and Central Asia. To this testifies the enormous number of mystic brotherhoods, religious tariqas, philosophical doctrines, academic – scientific schools, literary styles, artistic and architectural rhythms, theological dogmas and systems of jurisprudence, which grew like mushrooms from Andalusia to Yemen to Central Asia, during the first 300 years of Islamic rule. Consequently, further divisions were to ensue.
At the beginning of the 16th c., most of the Dravidian Deccan (Modern India’s southern part) was divided among the Golconda Sultanate (Qutb Shahi dynasty / Shia), the Bijapur Sultanate (Adil Shahi dynasty / Shia), the Ahmednagar Sultanate (Nizam Shahi dynasty / Shia) and the Brahmani Sultanate (Barid Shahi dynasty / Sunni and Shia). This was not a particularity of the subcontinent only.
The same multidivisional structure of the Deccan was attested across the Ocean in the Eastern African coast; the Sultanate of Ifat, the Adal Sultanate, the Warsangali Sultanate, the Sultanate of Mogadishu, the formidable Ajuran Sultanate, the Geledi Sultanate, the Kilwa Sultanate (whose seafarers were the first known to have reached Australia long before the English) and other smaller Eastern African principalities (Mombasa, Pemba, Zanzibar, Mafia, Comoro, Mozambique Island, etc.) existed and prospered for centuries, having always fully recognized the Caliph’s authority without however becoming incorporated in the Caliphate stricto sensu. Some of the Somali sultanates were strong enough to oppose the Portuguese, and the history of Ajuran – Portuguese wars (16th – 17th c.) marks the first and perhaps the most epic page of the illustrious African anti-colonial fights.
In many among the aforementioned cases, a Yemenite, an Iranian or a Turanian arrived in either the Deccan or Eastern Africa and they were easily accepted as rulers among the local Muslims. It was only after many decades and numerous wars that the Mongol Gurkanian authority managed to incorporate the Deccan sultanates in the Empire. And after Aurangzeb (اورنگزیب: 1658-1707) the decline started.
Many consider the Iranian invasion of the Mongol South Asiatic Empire, which was undertaken by the Turkmen Afshar Nader Shah (نادر شاه افشار: 1736-1747) in 1739, as the main reason for the subsequent collapse of the vast state of the Gurkanian whose formidable empire is fallaciously called ‘Mughal India’ by English Orientalists and historical forgers. The Iranian invasion, as well as the sack and the plunder of the Old Delhi, were a terrible hit, but they were not the main reason for the demise of the Gurkanian.
As a matter of fact, the concessions made to the British East India Company and the farman issued by Farrukhsiyar (فرخسیر: 1713-1719), who allowed to English colonials the right to reside and trade in the Mughal Empire, were an inane and ominous decision. It was that cruel and criminal company that prepared the final collapse of the greatest South Asiatic Empire of all times and deposed Bahadur Shah II, the last Mongol Emperor, in 1862, i.e. 145 years after his idiotic and pathetic predecessor offered them the aforementioned privileges. As the Gurkanian Mongol power was dissolved, it was easy for the criminal colonials of England to start the Opium Wars (1839-1860) against China.
However, all major Afro-Asiatic empires, the Ottomans, the Safavids, the Gurkanian and the Qing failed to assess – already in the 17th c. as they should have had – the real nature, the scope, the targets, the profits and the consequences of the phenomenal company, which was incorporated in 1602 and started being active from India to Japan as early as 1608-1609: the Dutch East India Company. Seeking concessions and imperial protection, safe passages, and legal presence, the Dutch generated enormous profits, which if known and analyzed would surely be perceived as a threat for the Mughal durbar.
The Dutch were present in Gujarat (Suratte, 1616), Malabar (1661), Coromandel (1608), Bengal (1627) and also in Sri Lanka (1640), but their enormous benefits and the ensued antagonism with other powers (Denmark, France and England) were not perceived as real threats by the Mongol Gurkanian. Quite contrarily, they willingly entered into compromises with the company, only because they were not strong on the sea. Even worse, they failed to monitor, examine and assess the groundbreaking company’s potentialities, the real intentions behind it, the wealth accumulated due to multiple factors (the spice trade monopoly being only one), and the deriving threats for the Mughal Empire. Each and every time, the Mughal palatial administration dealt with the symptoms and not with the root causes, which they had not even imagined, let alone identified. The same attitude characterized the Qing, the Safavids and the Ottomans in their relations with either this company or other Western European corporations and schemes.
As a matter of fact, the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) consisted in a hitherto unknown form of expansion in which individual zeal, personal risk, human fascination with extraordinary material wealth, private entrepreneurship, and corporate systematization preceded all forms of military aggression and state conflict; this concept spearheaded a new type of expansionism that had cataclysmic impact and deteriorated all aspects of military conflict and cruelty. In fact, it was a state within a state or, if you want, a CorporNation. Even worse, it weaponized knowledge, thus totally altering and distorting the foundations of scholarly research, academic study, and human exploration that were historically accepted by all cultures and civilizations worldwide until that time. Quite unfortunately, this was not noticed by any Afro-Asiatic imperial establishment – even at a moment they were still omnipotent.
The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (1658–1707) is an excellent example in this regard; he was contemporaneous with
– the Ottoman sultans and Caliphs Mehmed IV (1648-1687), Suleyman II (1687-1691), Ahmed II (1691-1695), Mustafa II (1695-1703), and Ahmed III (1703-1730),
– the Safavid shahs of Iran Abbas II (1642-1666), Suleyman I (1666-1694), and the last Safavid, Sultan Husayn (1694-1722), and
– the Qing Emperors Shunzhi (1644-1661) and Kangxi (1662-1722).
None of these imperial establishments, which were still quite powerful, was able to either be informed about the publication in Holland of the monumental series of volumes of Hortus Malabaricus (1678–1693) or grasp its real meaning and grave consequences. Never before had specialized knowledge acquired such pre-eminence among a state’s priorities in view of future profit. Detailed and exact science was not anymore a scholarly endeavor but a corporate, entrepreneurial task. And who was the author of the grand opus? None other than Hendrik van Rheede (1636–1691), the Governor of Dutch Malabar at the time!
I can understand that the Ottomans, the Safavids and the Qing were not directly involved; but the highly educated Aurangzeb whose name means “the Ornament of the Throne” and whose royal title was Alamgir (“Conqueror of the World” in Farsi) should have got due information about this great work and should have assessed it as a real weapon against his own throne. Hortus Malabaricus is an enormous treatise about the flora of Malabar, a territory that corresponds to present day India’s Kerala and Karnataka. With this treatise, an average Dutch in Amsterdam would know the flora of Kerala better than the emperor in whose state Kerala belonged. Thus, Natural Sciences became a tool for further corporate profit.
Weaponized knowledge and far-fetched explorations, pioneering fieldwork, archaeological excavations, antiques collections, a great number of monument purchasing diplomats, and entire armies of ‘arrogant connoisseurs’ would soon be unleashed against the four Afro-Asiatic empires. A real scramble for manuscripts, inscriptions, bas-reliefs, coins and bronzes would then take place. This would bring forth a hitherto unseen form of conquest and occupation.
That’s why modern historians, who focus on 18th c. and 19th c. Ottoman –Iranian wars (1730-1736 between the Ottomans Ahmed III and Mahmud I and the last Safavid shah Tahmasp II, Abbas III, and Nader Shah of Iran; 1743-1746 between Mahmud I and Nader Shah; 1775-1776 between Abdulhamid I and Karim Khan Zend; 1821-1823 between Mahmud II and Fath Ali Shah of the Turkmen Qajar dynasty) to find the reasons of the Western European powers’ meteoric rise at the world stage during the 19th and the 20th centuries, really miss the point.
As a matter of fact, the real battles were engaged not in the war fronts but in caves, archaeological sites, libraries, museums, European universities’ Oriental departments, and the personal cabinets of professors and decipherers who decoded ancient signs that were tragically meaningless and disastrously useless to the Sultans, the Shahs, the Gurkanian and the Qing. The decipherment of ancient scripts was completed with the formulation of a fallacious World History, which was meticulously preconceived as per the arrogant connoisseurs’ interests, worldview and discriminatory attitude toward the rest. Then, colonial diplomats, military regiments, various agents, indigenous traitors, corrupt businessmen, and local puppets undertook the enduring work of imposing this fallacious World History on local populations by means of Education, Culture, Publications, and Mass Media.
Indiscriminately, from Morocco to China, all alternatives were used to alter natives.
(to be continued)
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The Historical Silk Roads, China and Islam
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