The Seljuk Han of Anatolia
ROADS AND ROUTES
Anatolia is an area with a strategic geographic position teeming with natural resources. As such, it was destined to be a crossroads of commerce since the beginning of time. From the wheeled carts of the Third Millennium BC to Seljuk camels to the semi-trucks (TIR) of the Republic of Turkey, the stones of these roads have seen much traffic over the millennia. The footprints of history are literally scored across the surfaces of the roads of Anatolia. These roads linked seas to lakes and plains and crossed mountains from north and south and east and west. Shortcuts and passages were created through difficult spots, such as in the Taurus Mountains. When political administrations changed and the geopolitical axes of the world were reconfigured over the centuries, these roads both remained and were renewed along with these changes. Turkey offers some of the richest traces of ancient routes, roads and tracks in the entire world.
Roads are more than routes; they create and foster human landscapes. The prehistoric world, much like the modern world in which we live was one of movement, albeit at a slower pace. Connections between communities took place on routes which were created to make the fastest and easiest connections for trade, no matter what goods were sold. Roads were not random endeavors, but rose throughout Anatolia like naturally-occurring shortcuts across a college campus. Ideas, alphabets, information, mores, religions, and culture were by-products of the commercial trade along the stretches of ancient roads. Material culture and human geography were also loaded in the bundles of pack animals. Although roads evolved in Anatolia over the years, it is likely that newer roads and routes were built atop ancient ones, in palimpsest style. The geographical conditions of Anatolia include areas of impassable topography, forcing roads to follow specific paths according to the topographical realities of the landscape. Natural routes and mountain passes complemented built roads, as well as river routes. All joined to connect the dots of societies in this landscape of culture and commerce.
Anatolia upon the arrival of the Seljuks in 1071 was ripe for the development of commerce and trade. A corridor of centuries-old trade routes was already in full operation and was ready for further expansion. Long before the arrival of the Seljuks in the 12th century, the lands of Anatolia were crisscrossed by important trade routes which ensured a vital commercial trade activity between Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
A word on silk….
Everyone thinks of the poetic “Silk Road” as one continuous road linking China with the West, but it must remembered that this is a concept invented to convey the idea of a vast web of routes in the East.
The Assyrian Trade Colonies Tin Route became the predecessor of the much later, and more famous Silk Road network, over which merchants traveled to and from China. The 7,000 mile Silk Road network spanned China, Central Asia, Northern India, and the Parthian and Roman Empires. It connected the Yellow River Valley to the Mediterranean Sea and passed through the Chinese cities Kansu and Sinkiang and the present-day countries of Iran, Iraq and Syria. By 760 AD, during Tang Dynasty China, trade along the Silk Road declined. It substantially revived under the Sung Dynasty in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when China became largely dependent on its silk trade. In addition, trade to Central and Western Asia, as well as to Europe, recovered for a period of time from 1276-1368 under the Mongol Yuan Dynasty of China. The Chinese traded silk against medicines, perfumes, and slaves in addition to precious stones. As overland trade became increasingly dangerous, and overseas trade became more popular, trade along the Silk Road declined after this period. While the Chinese continued to deal in silk and furs with the Russians north of the original Silk Road, trade and travel along the road substantially decreased. It must be understood that the Silk Road is more of a concept than a real road that can be drawn on a roadmap. The name was invented in 1877 by Ferdinand von Richthofen to describe the network of trade routes which linked China with the Mediterranean until they were made redundant by the European maritime discoveries of the late 15th c. The name was picked up again in the 1980s by UNESCO, and now signifies a larger concept for East-West trade rather than one specific highway. Scholars debate its exact configuration, and varying descriptions of the route are encountered in texts.
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