The Malay Peninsula: Crossroads of the Maritime Silk Road (100 BC-1300 AD)

The Malay Peninsula: Crossroads of the Maritime Silk Road (100 BC-1300 AD)

The Malay Peninsula: Crossroads of the Maritime Silk Road (100 BC-1300 AD)

The Malay Peninsula: Crossroads of the Maritime Silk Road (100 BC-1300 AD)


This book attempts to evaluate the role of the Malay Peninsula as a crossroads in the great wave of commercial relationships along the maritime Silk Road from the first centuries of the Christian era to the 14th century. Through these exchanges, representatives of all the civilizations of Asia entered into contact along its shores. They left in this place a part of themselves, as can be seen in the great stylistic diversity of the religious and commercial artefacts which have been found in the area. These artefacts have been analysed and categorized afresh in the light of more precise information provided in Chinese texts concerning the nature of the political entities developing at the time: often dynamic city states or more modest chiefdoms.


No doubt it was ambitious to undertake a study on a subject that so many researchers before me had laboured to clarify through diligent work and from differing points of view; but I have not felt presumptuous in doing so, since it has come about as the natural outcome of my research. Certain opportunities led me to begin this study in South Kedah almost ten years ago, and once the work was completed, it seemed a logical next step to go to Southern Thailand to see what I might find there that would correspond to the picture that had emerged in this part of Malaysia: a civilization of entrepot ports developed within the framework of a movement of international trade involving every Asian culture beginning in the first centuries of the Christian era. I found elements that were very similar to those I had just studied, and others that were very different; I believe that including these in the study adds depth and richness to the subject.

I realized at the very outset of this project that the centres of commercial exchange that had evolved from this international trade were so diverse and so unevenly distributed that the civilization as a whole could not be explained without recourse to both physical and climatic geography. Their only common denominator was the entrepôt ports that received the ships. I therefore focused my study on archaeological remains of a commercial order linked to these ports.

Because the second important type of remains encountered in this study consists of a jumble of religious works of entirely Indian inspiration, it seemed necessary at a later stage to specify what is intended here by the use of the overworked and variously interpreted word 'Indianization'.

It was then appropriate to undertake a stylistic and chronological assessment of these remains, placing them within the framework of the political entities that either created or received the original works. In this connection, the Chinese texts provided some useful information. This investigation then made it possible to examine different sites, one by one, considering periods which, though sometimes relatively long, reveal historic rhythms. These rhythms, while totally foreign to the Peninsula itself, since they are related to the succession of Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern dynasties, were nonetheless . . .

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