East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Because it’s cool!

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During lunch-break, my friend Emanuele came visiting – we are planning a vegetable garden, and we surveyed the area and made a few plans, throwing around a few ideas.
Then my brother made coffee, and Emanuele explored the shelves of my library, and he asked a question…

Why are you so fascinated by the Silk Road?

And the answer was, of course,

Because it’s cool!

And really, I stand by this definition. But let me expand a little.

And to expand, let me start with the recent news that the remains of a South-East Asian woman were found in a Roman graveyard in southern Italy. The burial dates back to the II or III century aD. The woman was apparently an artisan of some kind, a free member of the late Roman society.

There was this conveyor belt, you see, working two ways between the Mediterranean and the Far East – a series of roads and stations that much later a guy called Von Richtofehn (actually the uncle of the Red Baron) decided to call “Seidenstrasse” – the Silk Road.

And now I do not know how it is there where you are sitting, but here, in school, the Silk Road gets mentioned in passing – there was this “road”, Marco Polo followed it to go to the court of Kublai Kahn, and then the monks that smuggled silkworms in their walking sticks. End of story.
And not a word about centuries of travels and exchanges of goods and ideas. Not a word about a world that was much more cosmopolitan and rich and diverse than we are led to believe. A world of empires, yes, and of different peoples, but not a world of closed boxes.

As a kid, I was lucky enough to read a few books that stressed how the Silk Road was a place of adventure – that was the gateway for me. But then, going on, the communication and exchange of ideas, the history of these peoples, became my main interest.
Because it’s cool, and because it gives us a very different – and much better – view of where we come from.

It is a fascinating subject, and I’ve accumulated a few dozen books, and followed a pair of University-level courses – because when I like something, I tend to take it seriously. And really, this is the 21st century, and there’s so much to learn, and it’s so easy to learn it.

And all of this leads me in this very moment, as I am typing this, to express here my gratitude to my history teacher in high school, profesor Baltieri.
He encouraged our curiosity, and always strove to show us a world that was wider and more interesting than what the school programme implied.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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