Monday, 27 April 2020

The Cumans and Magyars

  • The History and Legacy of the Steppe Nomads Who Raided Europe Throughout the Late Middle Ages

  • Paperback: 135 pages
  • Publisher: Independently published (8 April 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 979-8635405147

Before the Mongols rode across the steppes of Asia and Eastern Europe, the Cumans were a major military and cultural force that monarchs from China to Hungary and from Russia to the Byzantine Empire faced, often losing armies and cities in the process. The Cumans were a tribe of Turkic nomads who rode the steppes looking for plunder and riches, but they rarely stayed long after they got what they wanted. 
From the late 9th century until the arrival of the Mongols in 1223, there was virtually nothing that could be done to stop the Cumans. Old Russian chronicles, Byzantine texts, Western European chronicles, and travel diaries of Islamic scholars all reveal that the Cumans were a threat to any kingdom in their path. Some kingdoms chose to fight the Cumans and often suffered heavy destruction, while others believed buying them off was the more reasonable course of action. The latter course often brought them into intimate contact with the most powerful kingdoms of medieval Eastern Europe before the Cumans were eventually replaced by the Mongols, with the remaining Cumans dispersing and integrating into various European and central Asian kingdoms in the 13th century. Many Cumans joined the Mongol Golden Horde and later became Muslims, while some helped found dynasties in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. 
The Cumans came from somewhat mysterious origins before they became the western vanguard of a massive nomadic horde that grew in ferocity and effectiveness as the centuries passed, but they were far more than mindless barbarians interested in violence alone. Although violence did play a major role in early Cuman culture, sources reveal they were also interested in diplomacy and eventually integrated with their sedentary neighbors. Archaeological discoveries further indicate that their culture was unique, complete with mythology and some art, but in the end, the Cumans disappeared as quickly as they appeared on the historical scene, much like other nomadic peoples before and after them.
Of all the steppe peoples in the medieval period, perhaps none were more important to European history than the Magyars. Like the Huns and Avars before them and the Cumans and Mongols after them, the Magyars burst into Europe as a destructive, unstoppable horde, taking whatever they wanted and leaving a steady stream of misery in their wake. They used much of the same tactics as the other steppe peoples and lived a similar, nomadic lifestyle. The Magyars also had many early cultural affinities with other steppe peoples, following a similar religion and ideas of kingship and nobility, among other things. 
That said, as similar as the Magyars may have been to other steppe nomads before and after them, they were noticeably different in one way: the Magyars settled down and became a part of Europe and Western Civilization in the Middle Ages. The Magyars exploded onto the European cultural scene in the late 9th century as foreign marauders, but they made alliances with many important kingdoms in less than a century and established their own dynasty in the area, roughly equivalent to the modern nation-state of Hungary. After establishing themselves as a legitimate dynasty among their European peers, the Magyars formed a sort of cultural bridge between the Roman Catholic kingdoms of Western Europe and the Orthodox Christian kingdoms of Eastern Europe. Ultimately, the Magyars chose the Roman Catholic Church, thereby becoming a part of the West and tying their fate to it for the remainder of the Middle Ages. 
The Cumans and Magyars: The History and Legacy of the Steppe Nomads Who Raided Europe Throughout the Late Middle Ages examines how the Cumans and Magyars became influential players in the region, and the influence they had.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

The Last Journey of the San Bao Eunuch, Admiral Zheng He

By Sheng-Wei Wang

Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Proverse Hong Kong (17 Nov. 2019)
Language: English

ISBN-10: 9888491814

From 1405, in order to maintain and expand the Ming Dynasty’s tributary system, Yongle Emperor Zhu Di (reigning 1402-1424) and Xuande Emperor Zhu Zhanji (reigning 1425-1435) ordered eunuch Zheng He to lead giant fleets across the seas. But soon after Zheng He’s seventh and last voyage in the 1430s, the Ming emperors put an end to this activity and ordered all records of previous voyages to be destroyed. Chinese writer Luo Maodeng (罗懋登), knowing the history of some of these voyages, wished to preserve a record of them, but, conscious of the possible penalty, decided to record the facts “under a veil”, in his 1597 novel, An Account of the Western World Voyage of the San Bao Eunuch (《三宝太监西洋记》). This is what Dr. Sheng-Wei Wang has concluded after reading and analysing Luo’s novel. Her book, The last journey of the San Bao Eunuch, Admiral Zheng He, shows the methodology and evidential arguments by which she has sought to lift the veil and the conclusions she suggests, including the derivation of the complete trans-Atlantic navigational routes and timelines of that last journey and the idea that Zheng He’s last expedition plausibly reached the ancient American Indian city, Cahokia, in the U.S. central Mississippi Valley in late autumn, 1433, long before Christopher Columbus set foot for the first time in the Americas. She supports the hotly debated view that Ming Chinese sailors and ships reached farther than previously accepted in modern times and calls for further research. She hopes this book will become an important step in bridging the gap in our understanding of ancient China-America history in the era before the Age of Discovery. An interesting contribution to an ongoing debate. This edition has 48 scattered b/w illustrations and 8 b/w plates.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Empire of Horses by John Man

The First Nomadic Civilization and the Making of China 

by John Man 

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus (3 Mar. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1643133276

The author of landmark histories such as Genghis Khan, Attila, and Xanaduinvites us to discover a fertile period in Asian history that prefigured so much of the world that followed.
The people of the first nomadic empire left no written records, but from 200 bc they dominated the heart of Asia for four centuries, and changed the world in the process. The Mongols, today's descendants of Genghis Khan, see these people as ancestors. Their rise cemented Chinese identity and inspired the first Great Wall. Their descendants helped destroy the Roman Empire under the leadership of Attila the Hun.
We don't know what language they spoke, but they became known as Xiongnu, or Hunnu, a term passed down the centuries and surviving today as "Hun," and Man uncovers new evidence that will transform our understanding of the profound mark they left on half the globe, from Europe to Central Asia and deep into China.
Based on meticulous research and new archaeological evidence, Empire of Horses traces this civilization's epic story and shows how this nomadic cultures of the steppes gave birth to an empire with the wealth and power to threaten the order of the ancient world.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Walking to Samarkand

The Great Silk Road from Persia to Central Asia

Monday, 13 April 2020

Lecture of an hour on Buddhist Art by Mimi Gardner Gates (April 2019)


Caves of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road 

Mimi Gardner Gates, Director Emerita, Seattle Art Museum
Sunday, April 14, 2019, 2:00 p.m.
Gartner Auditorium
The spectacular Buddhist caves of Dunhuang, on the Silk Road in the Gobi Desert in northwest China, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. This lecture presents the sites’ sculptures and wall paintings, among the finest and earliest examples of Buddhist art in China. 
Used by Buddhist monks since the AD 300s, the caves were the focus of worship and cultural interaction for thousands of years; they also served as a rich repository for precious art treasures and manuscripts that were rediscovered in the early 1900s. 
Dr. Mimi Gardner Gates, president of the American Friends of the Dunhuang Foundation, addresses the challenges of preserving the site today, as undertaken by the Dunhuang Academy in collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles.

Mimi Gardner Gates: A Chinese art history scholar, Mimi Gardner Gates earned a BA from Stanford University and a PhD from Yale University. Now director emerita, she was director of the Seattle Art Museum for 15 years (1994–2009). Under her leadership, the Olympic Sculpture Park was created, the downtown museum was expanded, and the artistic program achieved a high level of excellence. Prior to moving to Seattle, she was curator of Asian art (1975–1986) and director (1987–1994) of the Yale University Art Gallery. Among the numerous exhibitions she has organized, Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Roadwas held in 2016 at the Getty Center, Los Angeles. 
She currently chairs the Dunhuang Foundation and the board of managers of the Blakemore Foundation. She is a member of the board of the Terra Foundation for American Art, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Northwest African American Museum, and Copper Canyon Press. Gates is a former fellow of the Yale Corporation and the founder of the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas at the Seattle Art Museum. 

The Metal Road of the Eastern Eurasian Steppe

The Formation of the Xiongnu Confederation and the Silk Road 

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Lives of Sogdians in Medieval China

  • By Moritz Huber

  • Hardcover: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Harrassowitz (31 Mar. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3447113804

Sogdians, a group of Central Asians based between the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, played a significant historical role at the crossroads of the Silk Roads. Travelling the world as caravan leaders, organised in trading networks, they were found from Byzantium to the Chinese heartland. The Sogdian language was a candidate for the lingua franca of the Silk Roads for some hundred years and Sogdians acted as polyglot mediators at courts and prominent translators of Buddhist texts. In the Chinese capitals, fire temples were erected for their use and the exotic products they imported were cherished by the people and the court.
This socio-historical study by Moritz Huber provides a translation of the transmitted Chinese records on Sogdians in Sogdiana and China and combines them with archaeological evidence to present a differentiated picture of their presence in China from the 3rd to 10th century CE. Besides the transcription and translation of all epitaphs of Sogdians from an archaeological context, used to tell their interconnected biographies, as well as a detailed discussion of their political organisation in China under the sabao 薩保/薩寶, this publication further includes a case-study of the Shi 史 families in Guyuan 固原, Ningxia 寧夏 Province.

Along the Silk Roads in Mongol Eurasia

Generals, Merchants, and Intellectuals