The Silk Roads: A New History

We in the west study Western European history. There is nothing wrong with this, it brings the epic story of mankind into manageable chunks, into which we can then delve deeply. And western history is our history, America was made mostly by western Europe – England and Denmark and Germany. Spain and France before. To be sure there are plenty of Russians and Hondurans and Nigerians here, but they participate in a project, as we do, designed out of the West. Specifically out of western philosophical enlightenment (Locke and Hume and Smith) and Anglo-Saxon ideas of consent and order (mostly our justice system, which is the most important aspect of American governance) meeting Roman martial ideas and Greek experience of debate.

However, as Europe disappears and Eurasia coheres (as Robert Kaplan has eloquently written) it’s essential to remember that Western Europe and Eastern Europe and Eurasian history all flow together, across the great steppes into Ukraine or down the Danube and the Volga into the Black and Caspian seas to meet with traders connected by the Silk Roads. That European history could not be written absent the Visigoths (who were Vikings), the Huns (the original steppe nomads), the extraordinary Mongols on the march (the greatest story in history not told very well) and their interactions with the Romans and the Islamic Caliphs, the Persians and the Ottomans.

“The Silk Roads: A New History of the World” is about this interaction. It is epic and sweeping, starting in the Common Era (anno domini for those who still respect history) and marching steadily forward from the ancients into the present, laying out the interactions of Asia and Europe that molded our modern world.

We forget often, at least I do, that Europe was always a backwater to the real story out of the Eastern Mediterranean east into the holy lands and the fertile crescent into central Asia. Constantinople, the crossroads of empire, with a longer and even more prosperous story than Rome – to say nothing of London or Berlin or Paris which came only later. I myself got a sense for this while living in Yerevan, in a land just east of where Hadrian stopped the advance of his armies. Lands where before Alexander the Great had marched (east, not west, toward the wealth). You get a better feel of the interplay of empires when you live in a place that has had waves of armies crash upon its fragile shores and – when your neighbors talk of history – talk of Urartu and Parthians and Persians and Mongols and Romans and Greeks and Ottomans and Caliphs with the familiarity of “they were also here”.

The actual silk road – Armenian highlands

You should read this book. It is important, perhaps now more than at any time in recent history, we need to know these stories. They are being relived and re-litigated, and we should be familiar with what people are talking about.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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3 Responses to The Silk Roads: A New History

  1. Rod Smothers says:

    Joel: This is a perfect example of why I love reading your stuff. Your vision encompasses entire epochs that few of us see. I think that an understanding of the interplay of these empires would light our way forward and although the end is already written, we might extend our time a little and provide an example for those who come after us.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Silk Roads and Slavery | Joel D. Hirst's Blog

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