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Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 18. April 2011

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Winner of the 2009 PROSE Award in World History & Biography/Autobiography, Association of American Publishers "Christopher I. Beckwith, professor of Central Eurasian studies at Indiana University, suggests in his recent book, Empires of the Silk Road (Princeton University Press), that 'the most crucial element' of societies all through Central Eurasia--including the ones analyzed by this exhibition--was the 'sociopolitical-religious ideal of the heroic lord' and of a 'war band of his friends' that was attached to him and 'sworn to defend him to the death.' This idea, he suggests, affected the organization of early Islam as well as the structure of Tibetan Buddhist devotion. In fact, this 'shared political ideology across Eurasia,' Mr. Beckwith suggests, 'ensured nearly constant warfare.' The region's history is a history of competing empires; trade became part of what was later called the Great Game."--Edward Rothstein, New York Times "[T]his is no mere survey. Beckwith systematically demolishes the almost universal presumption that the peoples and powers of Inner Asia were typically predatory raiders, and thus supplied themselves by extracting loot and tribute from more settled populations... With his work, there is finally a fitting counterpart to Peter B. Golden's magnificently comprehensive An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples: Ethnogenesis and State Formation in Medieval and Early Modern Eurasia and the Middle East, based on Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Greek, Latin, and European medieval sources. By reading just two books anyone can now sort out Charlemagne's Avar Ring, the Golden Horde, modern Kazakhs and Uzbeks, ancient Scyths, Borodin's Polovtsian dances (they were Cumans), present-day Turks, Seljuks, Ottomans, early Turks, and Bulghars and Bulgarians, among many less familiar states or nations."--Edward Luttwak, New Republic "[E]rudite and iconoclastic, [Empires of the Silk Road] provides a wealth of new ideas, perspectives, and information about the political and other formations that flourished in that large portion of the world known as Central Eurasia... [A] major contribution to Central Eurasian and world history."--Nicola Di Cosmo, Journal of Global History "[T]his volume is certain to provoke lively discussion across the field."--Scott C. Levi, American Historical Review "This book demands our attention and will stimulate interest and debate in many circles. The author is to be congratulated on a book that is both thoughtful and provocative in its call for a reassessment of Central Eurasia and its role in world history."--Michael R. Drompp, Journal of Asian Studies "In the process of illuminating this essential piece of the human past, Beckwick constructs a scrupulously researched narrative that is wholly accessible, and demands close attention."--Nicholas Basbanes, "[Beckwith] is quite a feisty writer, as in his hot-tempered preface excoriating post-modern thought... Prof. Beckwith is one of those scholars whose almost innumerable footnotes can be relished for their wonderfully obscure detail."--George Fetherling, Diplomat & International Canada "Beckwith is the first to have carried off the feat of actually writing a history of this whole expanse of time and space in a way stimulating enough to make the reader think about it from start to finish. There is certainly something heroic about that, and this book deserves therefore to go into paperback very much as it is, uncompromised by any retractions that may be forced upon its author by others."--T. H. Barrett, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies "The result of a lifetime's work on Central Asia and a complete overturning of many of our preconceptions... Essential."--Hugh Andrew, Glasgow Herald (UK) "Beckwith's arguments are persuasive, and backed by considerable empirical evidence. He is scrupulous about noting where the evidence is murky and noting where further research is needed. Beckwith provides an interesting Central Eurasian perspective on world history... Empires of the Silk Road is work that any scholar who seeks to write about Central Eurasia will need to address closely. It is a benchmark--indeed a high one--for Central Eurasian, and indeed, world history."--Thomas D. Hall, Cliodynamics "Empires of the Silk Road is never boring, despite its involved detail. I would recommend it to anyone with enough of a background in world history and linguistics to be able to cope with a mix of outright speculation, grounded contrarianism, and straightforward history, and willing to pass over, or be entertained by, chunks of politico-aesthetic moralising."--Danny Yee, Danny Reviews "Beckwith, like the nomadic warriors he so admires, does not shy from a battle; indeed he seems to take delight in aggressive verbal swordplay. Many readers will be disappointed or even offended by his choices and preferences, and he will surely not mind in the least. His arguments in any case have the merit of inviting engagement, and his curmudgeonly writing style makes for an entertaining reading experience whether one agrees with his assessments or not. All in all, this book is a must read for students of world history."--Richard Foltz, Journal of World History "This is an interesting readable book, and one that keeps the reader's interest through all of its 472 pages... It is not by any means an encyclopaedia but the author is very thoughtful, and the book is a creative whole, and for this view alone the book is worth our attention, but with the extensive appendices and endnotes a place should be found for it in our libraries."--Roger Bantock, Middle Way


The first complete history of Central Eurasia from ancient times to the present day, "Empires of the Silk Road" represents a fundamental rethinking of the origins, history, and significance of this major world region. Christopher Beckwith describes the rise and fall of the great Central Eurasian empires, including those of the Scythians, Attila the Hun, the Turks and Tibetans, and Genghis Khan and the Mongols. In addition, he explains why the heartland of Central Eurasia led the world economically, scientifically, and artistically for many centuries despite invasions by Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Chinese, and others. In retelling the story of the Old World from the perspective of Central Eurasia, the author provides a new understanding of the internal and external dynamics of the Central Eurasian states and shows how their people repeatedly revolutionized Eurasian civilization.

Beckwith recounts the Indo-Europeans' migration out of Central Eurasia, their mixture with local peoples, and the resulting development of the Graeco-Roman, Persian, Indian, and Chinese civilizations; he details the basis for the thriving economy of premodern Central Eurasia, the economy's disintegration following the region's partition by the Chinese and Russians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the damaging of Central Eurasian culture by Modernism; and, he discusses the significance for world history of the partial reemergence of Central Eurasian nations after the collapse of the Soviet Union. "Empires of the Silk Road" places Central Eurasia within a world historical framework and demonstrates why the region is central to understanding the history of civilization. -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.

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150 von 168 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
black hole between 500 b.c. and 1500 a.d. 22. August 2009
Von DaLaoHu - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I don't know where to start in reviewing this book. Perhaps the beginning is a good place. This book starts off well. The prologue concerning the hero myths and the origin of the comitatus seems curious at first but makes sense as the book goes on. The first chapter on the Hittites and the origin of the chariot I found fascinating. The second chapter was not quite as good, but the musings on the origins of philosophical thought and its possible diffusion via the Silk Road between China, India, and Greece was good food for thought. Which brought us up to about 500 b.c., at which point ...

The book just seemed to fall off a cliff. For the next two thousand years, the time period the majority of us are probably most interested in, all we get is a seemingly endless succession of names and dates, which tribal leader raided which tribal group, tra la tra la, with no maps and little indication of what is important out of all of this and what is not. One small example should suffice. On page 168 we encounter the sentence: "There Alp Arslan resoundingly defeated an army of the Byzantine emperor Romanus at the Battle of Mantzikert in 1071." That's it. No further reference.

Hello!!! Wasn't that the battle that initiated the papal call for the first Crusade, one of those seminal events in world history whose repercussions are still affecting the societies of Central Asia and indeed the whole world even today, almost a thousand years later? (Afghanistan, anyone?) You would think this might be a ripe field for discussion, but in fact there is not one single mention that the Crusades even happened. The Battle of the Bulge is in this book. Pearl Harbor is in this book. But not one single mention of the Crusades. Umm, wasn't that minor Central Asian group the Turks involved?

And historical personages. What we learn about Attila the Hun is that he must have had his reasons. Oh, really? (Or as my daughter would say: "No duh!") Of course he had his reasons! Hitler had his reasons as well. The question is: what were those reasons? And were those reasons good reasons? You won't find out here.

Tamerlane. Now there's a person I'd like to learn more about. Didn't he rule during some sort of golden age in Central Asian history? I've often heard about him over the years, but never truly learned much in detail. And now I can honestly say that I still haven't. After one quick paragraph outlining all his major and minor victories and defeats, we are given this:"The legacy of Tamerlane and the Timurids was to be in patronage of the arts." That's it? Yep, that's it.

The book does get interesting again in chapter 9, when he gets into a discussion of the littoral system and how the newly opened up European sea trade to the Far East affected the Silk Road economies, but then ...

The book falls right off the cliff again, and is a jumble right through to the end. I won't go into his extended rant against Modernism because other reviewers have already done that. He has some valid points, but mostly he just sets up straw men and tears them down as easy targets, rarely focusing on the larger picture. His prescription seems to be that if only the central Asian countries could unite and form some kind of European Union-type organization, and reinstitute a Victorian Era-style noble aristocracy based on the comitatus system (see, we did get back to it in the end), then the world might suddenly find itself living in peace and harmony.

Yeah, right.

A good book deserves to be written about the empires of the Silk Road. Unfortunately, this is not it.
80 von 93 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
A book I wanted to like more than I did 24. Juni 2009
Von A. Mauer - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I purchased this book thinking I had found a Central Eurasian companion to Norman Davies' magisterial "Europe." Alas, "Empires of the Silk Road" is too strange to fit comfortably on the same shelf.

Though Beckwith makes many interesting points, particularly at the beginning of the book (the sections on national founding myths and the comitatus are worth a glance), one senses trouble on the horizon when Central Eurasia is defined, not geographically, but rather as any place where the "Central Eurasian culture complex" took root. Though there are doubtless merits to this approach, the result is that, instead of a history of the "Empires of the Silk Road," Beckwith has attempted to write a history of the entirety of Eurasia.

This approach becomes particularly problematic in the last third of the book, when Beckwith more or less abandons his supposed topic for meager summaries of 20th century events. Casting the 20th century in terms of the rise of "Modernism," the reader is given 1-2 page summaries of the Great Depression, First and Second World Wars, and Communist takeovers of Russia and China. Presumably, anyone interested in purchasing this book will have at least a passing interest in world history and therefore possess considerably deeper knowledge of these subjects than is presented; one is therefore left to conclude that these sections were included to allow the author space to snipe at Modernism, a movement that Beckwith never bothers to define but that he clearly loathes.

Furthermore, many of these summaries are risible. For instance, the Iranian revolution is cast as the overthrow of an innocent and benevolent monarch ("the young shah gradually began a wide-ranging liberalization and modernization of Iran...[leading to] prosperity, stability, and... growth"). Though Khomeini and his ilk deserve only contempt, to let the noxious Iranian monarchy off so lightly is a disservice to the reader.

In summary, the better parts of "Empires of the Silk Road" provide a useful and perhaps necessary corrective to Eurocentric bookstore shelves. The book will doubtless appeal to those interested in a quick overview of the Scythians, Sogdians, Tamerlane, and other fascinating cultures and notables. However, the peculiar final chapters will be off-putting to many, and make it difficult to recommend this uneven title.
54 von 63 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
A curious book 12. Juni 2009
Von History Reader - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Somewhere along the path to writing a history of the so-called Silk Road, Christopher Beckwith got lost in a diatribe about "Modernism" and all the accoutrements that accompany it. I'm not sure what the point was, other than to rail about the injustice of it all. That aside, there's much to commend here. Beckwith's mastery of the linguistics and philology of the Central Eurasia is impressive. Certainly his passion for the subject leaps off the page. And one can admire his efforts to rescue the peoples of Eurasia from obscurity and myth. The prologue and epilogue are worth reading in their own right. It's the detours into invective and moralizing that lead his caravan astray.
34 von 41 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Ambitious but Disappointing 21. Juni 2009
Von Adam Sivertson - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Writing a history of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the present is clearly an ambitious undertaking given the vast geographical region, the large number of people groups, and the length of time. I have to give Christopher Beckwith a great deal of credit for attempting such a history and compiling a short narrative (~360 pages) that is at least somewhat coherent.

Beckwith did an excellent job of explaining the "Central Eurasian Culture Complex" and how it affected ancient Central Eurasian sociopolitical development. Chapter 10, which adroitly explained how the Littoral system created by European colonialism effectively shut down the Silk Road, was also particularly informative.

The rest of the book was difficult to follow without prior knowledge of the geography of Central Asia, the major people groups mentioned in the book, and how linguistics can be used to determine the movements of ancient peoples. The first five chapters were so littered with names of ethnic groups and their movements that it was virtually impossible to assimilate enough of the information to develop a general picture of what happened during those periods. Subsequent chapters referenced some of these groups, seemingly at random, so even though the history itself was easier to follow in those chapters, the obscure references made for difficult reading.

Unfortunately, the end of the book disintegrated into a lengthy diatribe about the deleterious effects of "modernism" and "populism" upon Central Eurasia. Because neither term was well-defined, it left the conclusions of the book in an unnecessary state of ambiguity. The diatribe was even more confusing because the book said almost nothing about the culture of these Central Eurasian groups. It is difficult to argue that "modernism" destroyed a vibrant culture when the value of that culture was never communicated.

Also, the end of the book spent so many pages explaining the developments of surrounding areas(Russia, Europe, China, and India), that the history of Central Eurasia was essentially lost in the mix.

Overall, this book presented a great deal of information about an area of history that has very little written about it and managed to get all of it into one book. However, the book was hard to follow and deviated significantly from its intended purpose at several critical junctures and was, therefore, not terribly useful to someone (like me) who was looking for a solid general history of the region.
20 von 25 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Updated synthesis 15. September 2009
Von inner exile - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
recounting the history of what the author terms 'Central Eurasian [henceforth CEA] Culture Complex,' which - geographically speaking - spread from Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula (i.e., Koguryo kingdoms) in the East to as far as the Pannon Plain/Carpathian Basin in the West, and in some respects even beyond those frontiers. One of the central themes connecting diverse peoples in this diachronic-synchronic/vertical-horizontal study is the presence of the oath-sworn guard corps (Latin 'comitatus') that gradually grew in number and formed the heart of CEA nations until the adoption of world religions in the Middle Ages (p. 15 passim). Maintaining the steady flow of luxury goods so as to reward their services played no small part as the raison d'etre for commerce along the Silk Road.

You can read about the war charioteer Hittites, Ashvins/Wu-sun-s, Mycaneans; the state foundation struggles regarding Scythians vs. Cimmerians, Hsiung-nu-s vs. Tokhars, Huns vs. Goths, Turks vs. Avars, Mongols vs. Jurchens; as well as about the Arab conquest in Central Asia, the Khazar kaganate, imperial Tibet, Uighurs, and sundry. By extending the analysis to maritime-based trade (littoral systems) and subsequent European (Portuguese, Dutch, British, Russian) expansion/colonization in Asia, the Orientalist scholar may have cast his net far too wide. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the last two chapters (pp. 263-319, concerning 19-20th centuries), which, as other reviewers have already noted, are way too sketchy, overly generalizing, at times propagandistic, and even off tangent. Don't ask me what importance T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" or Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" holds for CEA history. Rather, the author could have breathed a word or two, say, about the Manchu-Chinese/Tibetan conflict vis-á-vis the Gurkha-ruled Nepal, the Opium Wars, the Crimean War, the 'Great Game' b/w Russia and Britain for the control of Central (and Inner) Asia, etc.

Nitpicking or not, allow me to make a slight correction at this point w/ regard to the following assertion: "[After the demise of the Sakyapa overlordship, circa 1357, w]ith the partial exception of brief interregnum periods, Tibet continued to be largely unified under the rule of one or another Mongol state down to the defeat of the Junghars by the Manchu-Chinese (p. 258 fn. 80)." This is clearly untrue. There was almost zero Mongol influence in Central Tibet (ÜTsang), let alone their central authority, during the Pakmodrupa priest-kings (1358-, nominally, 1618) and the Rinpungpa governors/castellans (roughly, 1491-1566). Under the reign of the Tsangpa rulers (1567-1642) certain Tibetan factions, mainly but not exclusively the Gelukpas, sought contact w/ various Mongol tribes in order to secure their military aid. The Mongols' role during the early stage of the Dalai lama's regime (1642-1720) was that of a hired sword to subdue internal and external opposition.

The main corpus is best read simultaneously with the endnotes, of which there are 111 (pp. 385-426), that offer some real insights and marshal relevant evidences. The same is true for the epilogue entitled 'The Barbarians' (pp. 320-62), which goes a long way to dispel a host of long-held misconceptions, and the two appendices ('The Proto-Indo-Europeans and their Diaspora,' pp. 363-74; 'Ancient Central Eurasian Ethnonyms,' pp. 375-84). As a methodological tool, turning the ruling paradigm of centre-periphery inside out facilitates bringing some well-deserved 'historical justice' to this marginalized region in crucial observations, such as:

+ "In every recorded case when the traditional Graeco-Roman, Persian, or Chinese empires of the periphery [!] became too powerful and conquered or brought chaos to the Central Eurasian nomadic states, the result for Central Asia, at least, was economic recession. The Han Dynasty destruction of the Hsiung-nu resulted in was several centuries before the Türk, the next nomadic people who understood the Silk Road, could restore the system...When the Chinese and Arab alliance against Tibetans and the Western Turkic empire...succeeded...the result was chaos..., bringing with it severe recession, followed by rebellions and revolutions led by Sogdians and other merchant people [740-60s CE] that affected most of the continent. Finally, when the Manchu-Chinese and Russians partitioned Central Eurasia and the Ch'ing Dynasty destroyed the Junghar Empire [1755]...the economic devastation they wrought...was so total that even at the turn of the millennium in AD 2000 the area had not recovered (pp. 257-8)."
+ "There was a constant drain of people escaping from China into the realms of the Eastern Steppe, where they did not hesitate to proclaim the superiority of the nomadic life-style. Similarly, many Greeks and Romans joined the Huns...where they lived better and were treated better (p. 76)."
+ The primary goal of fortifications along the borders of peripheral empires from China through Persia to Rome ('limes' network or the Byzantine military governorships called 'theme') was offensive in nature, "to hold territory conquered from neighbouring states and to prevent loss of population to them (p. 330)."
+ "[T]he vast majority of the silk possessed by the Central Eurasians in the two millennia from the early Hsiung-nu times [4-3rd c. BCE] through the Mongols down to the Manchu conquest was obtained through trade and taxation, not war or extortion (p. 23)."
+ Raids of steppe people were, in many cases, triggered by the breaches of treaties, or were made at the request of some peripheral power against local enemies (divide et impera), e.g., the Manchus were called upon by the Chinese Ming dynasty to crush rebellion; the Mongols' aim was to uproot their Jurchen (Chin dynasty) adversaries (p. 335); Uighur Turks (757 CE) were invited to quell the An Lu-shan revolt -- their sacking of Loyang (762) "was authorized by the financially strapped T'ang court as a reward or payment (p. 338)."

For reasons unknown, the following essays by the same author of the present tome have not found their way to the bibliography (pp. 427-55): 'Tibet and the Early Medieval Florissance in Eurasia,' in: Central Asiatic Journal 21 (2), 1977: pp. 89-104; in collaboration w/ Michael Walter: 'Some Indo-European Elements in Early Tibetan Culture,' in: Tibetan Studies 7, Vol. 2: pp. 1037-54, Vienna 1997.
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