Thursday, 31 October 2013

China and the Ancient Mediterranean World: A Survey of Ancient Chinese Sources


Number 242 November, 2013

China and the Ancient Mediterranean World: A Survey of Ancient Chinese Sources

YU Taishan 

A Study of the Relationship between the Ancient Mediterranean World and China 

1. Tiaozhi, Lixuan, and Da Qin,
and Their Geographical Location in the Western Regions

Determining the geographical location of Tiaozhi, Lixuan and Da Qin is one of the problems in which the historians of the relations of East and West have taken the most interest. This discussion has been going on for more than three centuries. The core of the problem is the location of Da Qin in the Han–Wei period. The various theories can be divided roughly into five types; in these, Da Qin is identified respectively with:
(1) the Roman Empire,1 (2) Macedonia,2
(3) Syria,3
(4) Egypt,4

(5) Arabia.5
Of these, the first, third, and fourth theories have had the greatest influence.

The identity of Tiaozhi and Lixuan is closely related to the problem of Da Qin. Regarding Tiaozhi, the various theories can be divided roughly into three types. Their basic bifurcation is the location of the “Western Sea” seen in the Chinese historical books in Han–Wei times. These types posit respectively that:
  1. (1)  The “Western Sea” is identified with the Caspian Sea, thus Tiaozhi is looked for in the Caspian Sea littoral region.
  2. (2)  The “Western Sea” is identified with the Persian gulf, thus Tianzhi is looked for in the Persian gulf littoral region.
  3. (3)  The “Western Sea” is identified with the Mediterranean, thus Tianzhi is looked for in the Mediterranean littoral region.
    Of these, the various theories belonging to the first type no longer are considered

seriously.6 Those that are relatively influential are the Fars theory,7 the Chaldaea theory,8 the Hira theory,9 the Charax theory,10 the Susiana theory,11 all of which belong to the second type, and the Syria theory,12 which belongs to the third type.
Regarding Lixuan, because in the “Xiyu Zhuan” of the Hou Hanshu the comment is made: “the state of Da Qin 大秦: it is also called Lijian 犂鞬,” many scholars examine the implications of this statement and base their positions on it when considering the Da Qin problem. Of the various theories, the proposed identifications with Relem,13 with Alexandria in Egypt,14 with Rhages15 and with other sites are quite influential. Other geographical problems regarding the Western Regions relevant to Tiaozhi, Lixuan, and Da Qin thus unavoidably are subject to many various theories.
Since opinions vary greatly, one cannot analyze and criticize them individually in a single paper. Therefore, here I directly elaborate only my own opinions. Unless it is necessary for my argument, the many various theories generally are not confirmed or contradicted in this discussion. Where I adopt the results of other scholars’ research, in all cases I indicate the source. The purpose here is to carry the work a step forward based on previous studies.
Tiaozhi 條枝 and Lixuan 黎軒 are first recorded in the “Dayuan Liezhuan” of the Shiji (ch. 123). These were two large states that Zhang Qian 張騫 heard about during his first mission to the Western Regions. This significant record must certainly be taken into account in any review of the history of Central Asia, West Asia and related regions, whether before or after this mission,
with the aim of inferring the geographical locations of the two states.
As we know, the Macedonian Alexander the Great died in
B.C. 323. The great empire
built by him was dissolved shortly afterwards. The Macedonian generals fought continuously among themselves, each dominating a particular region. The final result was the formation of three independent kingdoms in roughly the domain of the original empire: the Antigonid Kingdom, the Seleucid Kingdom and the Ptolemaic Kingdom, the Hellenic kingdoms so-named by historians. Of these, those relevant to this paper’s subject are mainly the latter two kingdoms.

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was established by Ptolemy (r. 306–285 B.C.), a general under Alexander the Great. Its center of rule was Egypt, thus it was called the Egyptian Kingdom. At its height, besides Egypt, the territory included Palestine, Southern Syria, the coastal region of Asia Minor, Cyprus and Crete. Afterwards, its territory gradually became smaller, finally being reduced to merely a Roman province in B.C. 30.
The Seleucid Kingdom was established by Seleucus (r. 306–280 B.C.), also a general under Alexander the Great. Its center of rule was in Syria, thus it was called the Syrian Kingdom. At its height, its territory included Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia, Iran, and a large area in the Indus River Valley, but the territory was quickly reduced in successive events. In B.C. 304 the rising Maurya dynasty in Southern Asia occupied the Indus River Valley. In the mid-third century B.C., Bactria, situated in the northeastern border area of the kingdom, and Parthia, in the southeastern corner of the Caspian Sea, successively declared their independence. The loss of the eastern territory led to the eventual dissolution of the entire kingdom. In 190 B.C. Asia Minor also was annexed by Rome. After this, the remaining kingdom was quite weak, occupying a small area in the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea. At last it was destroyed by the Roman general Pompey in B.C. 64.
When Zhang Qian 張騫 was sent on a mission to the Western Regions for the first time, the Antigonid kingdom had disappeared (B.C. 146), but the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms still survived. At that time the strongest state was Parthian Persia in the Middle East. Its territories extended from Bactria in the east to the Euphrates River in the west, from the Caspian Sea in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south. Zhang Qian arrived in Central Asia when the Parthian Empire was in the latter part of the reign period of Fraates II (r. 139/8–128 B.C.), an extremely prosperous time.
According to the “Dayuan Liezhuan” of the Shiji 史記, when he went on his mission to the Western Regions, the great states reached by Zhang Qian 張騫 in person comprised Dayuan 大宛, Da Yuezhi 大月氏, Daxia 大夏, and Kangju 康居, and “those of which he heard tell included five or six large states bordering them.” Those states of which he had heard, according to the chapter, were Wusun 烏孫, Kangju 康居, Anxi 安息, Tiaozhi 條枝, Lixuan 黎軒, and Shendu 身毒. Of these, Anxi 安息 must have been the name given to the Persians under the .......

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