Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present

Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present

Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present

Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present


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, Beckwith 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.


This book presents a new view of the history of Central Eurasia and the other parts of the Eurasian continent directly involved in Central Eurasian history. Originally I planned to write a sketch of the essential topical elements of a history of Central Eurasia, without much of a chronological narrative. Having in mind the French tradition of writing professionally informed but readable essays for an educated general audience, with minimal annotation, I imagined it with the title Esquisse d'une histoire de l'Eurasie centrale. in the actual writing, the people and events insisted on following their proper order and I found myself giving a basic outline of the political and cultural history of Central Eurasia within the context of a history of Eurasia as a whole, sometimes with extensive annotation, only occasionally involving reexamination of primary sources.

Nevertheless, I have kept my original main goal foremost in my mind: to clarify fundamental issues of Central Eurasian history that to my knowledge have never been explained correctly or, in some cases, even mentioned. Without such explanation, it would continue to be impossible to understand the ebb and flow of history in Eurasia as anything other than the fantasy and mystery that fill most accounts. Mysteries are intriguing, and sometimes they must remain unsolved, but enough source material is available to explain much of what has been mysterious in Central Eurasian history without resorting to the “usual suspects.”

In this connection there is a widespread opinion that few sources exist for Central Eurasian history and consequently little can be said about it. That is a misconception. An immense body of source material exists on the history of Central Eurasia, especially in its connections with the peripheral civilizations. Because that history covers a span of four millennia, and as there is a

On the meaning of “primary sources” in the history of premodern periods, see endnote 1.

the history of Central Eurasian interaction with the Indian subcontinent (and, to a slightly
lesser extent, the pre-Islamic history of Persia and southern Central Asia) is very poorly docu
mented until fairly recent times. Due partly to this fact, and partly to my own failings (includ
ing lack of interest in South Asia), I have paid less attention to the topic. However, much im
portant and interesting work is currently being done on the history of the region from Mughal
times to the nineteenth century, and it is to be hoped that more will soon be learned about the
earlier periods as well.

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