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Travels along the Silk Routes

Travels along the Silk Routes Shapero Rare Books

This route has its origins in the pre-Christian era as a means for China to export silk, precious stones, and other valuables, and later paper and gunpowder, thus changing the cultural and political history of Europe. 

Travels along the Silk Routes Shapero Rare Books

Today we are most familiar with the Silk Routes through Chinese ‘soft power’ as exemplified by the Belt and Road Initiative to connect China with the Middle East and Europe via the Stans, developing trade and influence on the way.

This route has its origins in the pre-Christian era as a means for China to export silk, precious stones, and other valuables, and later paper and gunpowder, thus changing the cultural and political history of Europe. The start of all this is generally ascribed to the Han Dynasty, but Alexander the Great also used the so-called Royal Road to expand his empire into Persia at an even earlier date. One of the best histories of Alexander and his expansion east is found in Wallis Budge’s Life and Exploits of Alexander the Great, 1896. Our copy is most attractive, bound in the original cloth and hard to find thus.

This interaction between Asia and Europe continued for many years perhaps culminating in the arrival of the Venetian, Marco Polo, at the court of Kublai Khan in the late thirteenth century. His journey was also notable for being the first European venture into Persia since the Arab invasion in the seventh century. The standard account of his travels remains The Book of Ser Marco Polo. Originally published by Sir Henry Yule in 1876, the third edition of 1903, with additions by Henri Cordier, together with the 1920 supplement, is regarded as the best. Our copy is complete with all three volumes, including the supplement, and bound in the original cloth.

Within a couple of hundred years the Silk Routes lost favour as the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Western access began to impose taxes on trade along the routes. This led to an increase in seaborne trade to the Gulf and the East by the main traders such as the East India Company. One of the best visual records of some of the most important trading centres in the eighteenth century is found in Le Brun’s Reizen over Moscovie door Persia. This shows us Persepolis and Ispahan during the ‘Dark Ages’ of the Silk Routes. Our copy is a handsome example of the second edition printed in Amsterdam in 1714.

In the nineteenth century there was considerable activity along the route, although much of it was occasioned by Anglo-Russian rivalry in the area, with Bokhara being an important city. Joseph Wolff made a mission there in 1843 in a forlorn attempt to save some English prisoners. Narrative of a Mission to Bokhara proved very popular and went through several editions. Ours is probably a unique copy of the second edition with four of the plates specially hand coloured and a note in the book explaining how this came to be.

Merv was also an important destination on the Silk Routes and one of the best accounts is that of the Daily News journalist, Edmond O’Donovan whose The Merv Oasis, 1882, is an exciting account of his travels through Khorasan, and capture in Merv by the Turcomans who believed him to be a Russian spy.

One of the most impressive of all Silk Route books is Les Mosquees de Samarcande. Published by the Russian Archaeological Commission in 1905, this was intended to be a much larger work but only the first fascicule was ever published. This is on the mausoleum of Timur (Tamerlane) and his family, and is of a monumental size (76 x 55 cm) which not only does justice to its subject but provides a detailed record of one of the wonders of the Silk Routes.

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