Commodity

their effects on the transcontinental connections

Introduction:

The Mongol empire expanded its territories rapidly and efficiently, and by 1279[1], it had conquered most of the land in Eurasia, including China, central Asia, Russia, and Iran. One of the most important periods, Pax Mongolica, was between the 13th and 14th century when the Mongols had complete control of most of the Eurasian land and its commercial routes. More importantly, the merchants could travel and trade more safely within the Eurasian continent and along the trade routes under Mongol’s control[2]. This peaceful period resulted in a revival and expansion of old trade routes and sudden growth of trade activities within Eurasian land. The vastness of the empire enabled the people to travel freely from one region to another region. Mongol’s domination of the Eurasian land and the commercial routes were secured, which enabled various goods and services exchange within Eurasia. There were two categories of goods very popular among merchants, the horses and silk. In terms of transcontinental connections, the exchange of these two kinds of commodities can illustrate this concept, as goods were delivered from the East to the West and vice versa. Inhabitants of the one region gained opportunities to obtain and use goods originated and made in other regions. This phenomenal experience enabled more connections among various regions and created closer relationships among regions in Eurasia.

Why would Commodity Affect kingdoms’ relationship in Eurasia?

Transcontinental connections provide paths for merchandise to be delivered to anywhere along the trade routes within Eurasia during Mongol’s domination. Horses and silk were two categories of commodities that the merchants often traded within Eurasia. In Marco Polo’s account in The Description of the World, horses were most desired by the Indians, and silk was popular and desired by the western kingdoms. As trade was an integral part of the Pax Mongolica period, the commodities being traded by merchants were crucial elements to be considered when examining the aspects that shaped the transcontinental connections within Eurasia.

Commodity: Horses

Travel purpose

The Mongol empire, known as the kingdom on horse backs, view horses as the most important medium for travel. Horses were especially important to the Mongol culture because they were Mongol’s vehicle used in warfare and in everyday life. Among all the animals in Mongol, horses have the highest status[3] because the Mongols cannot live without horses. When Qubilai’s envoys went on an embassy to the Pope, they would need to prepare horses, escorts, and other things needed in all countries they would travel to[4]. Horses were essential items to them because they need them to travel for such a long distance. Moreover, the Mongols were known for their supreme military techniques and their strength in horse riding, which assisted them to move agilely and quickly. With the assistance of horses, the envoys could travel to foreign land using less time. As such, horses were significant for the Mongols, as well as kingdoms in Eurasia, as they were efficient for traveling purpose. In Marco Polo’s account, the Indians wanted horses from Arab because they lack good horses in India. In Aden, Marco Polo found that “merchants also carry from this port to India many handsome Arabian warhorses of great value and the merchants sell a good horse in India for a good 100 silver marks and more[5]”. Kingdoms like India purchased horses as one of the most common commodities from the western steppes. As the “vast western steppes sustained an extremely large equine population, drovers brought a few thousand high-quality warhorses annually from the Jochid territories to be sold to Delhi Sultan[6]”. Horses then were used as vehicle of travelling and also commodity to be sold to foreign kingdoms. As such, these can be concluded that the Mongols rode on horses to travel, and the horses carried them to exotic land, indicating the occurrence of transcontinental connection.

Importing good breeds of horses

Importing horses into regions where horses were not abundant, these kingdoms were able to gain strong warhorses and get new breeds of horses. As in some regions, the environment was not suitable for raising horses. One solution for them to get horses was by importing horses from foreign kingdoms. In Marco Polo’s observation, Hormuz, Kish, Dhofar, al-Shihr, and Aden were provinces that had many horses, warhorses and other horses. The abundance of horses attracted merchants from other regions to purchase these horses, and the provinces previously mentioned also buy good horses[7]. The import and export of horses allowed good breeds of horses enter kingdoms that lack these horses. For example, the horse that gained fame in Asia known as Turkman actually came from the east of the Caspian, which was a result of a privileges granted by Leon II, King of Lesser Armenia, allowing export of horses and mules from Ayas[8]. The interconnections among kingdoms in Eurasia were reflected in the trade of horses, which enabled different breeds of horses enter foreign land and allowed good breeds of warhorses enter kingdoms that lack these breeds.

 

In addition to trade in horses on land between China and Iran, there were also trade in horses by sea between the Rea Sea and the Gulf[9], a result of Pax Mongolica that ensured trade routes among kingdoms in Eurasia were secure and increased transcontinental connections in Eurasia.

Commodity: Chinese Silk

In Yuan Shi, Qubilai ordered that agriculture and sericulture were the foundation of food and clothing in Mongol empire, indicating the importance of silk in the empire[10]. Chinese silk had been a lucrative item to trade for merchants because it was usually delicate and representative of the Chinese culture. It had been traded in ancient times, but as the Mongol empire expanded its territory and secured land in Eurasia, leading to the Pax Mongolica period, the trade routes and commercial activities revived.

 

Fusion of culture through silk

The popularity of Chinese silk and the relationship between trade and transcontinental connection can be found in the evidence of Chinese silk discovered in the Egypt. These five pieces of silk were “the earliest evidence of Chinese silk in the West” and were discovered in “an Egyptian tomb dated to 1000 BCE and from the early medieval times several pieces have been discovered in Church treasures and as funeral wrappings for the elite[11]. Using the trade route, the merchants were able to deliver Chinese goods to Egypt and provided for the elites. These pieces of silk can illustrate the concept of transcontinental connections because it incorporated designs and styles from China and Egypt. The Egyptian style of design in the Mamluk period used the “blue and white color scheme, often using two shades of blue11”. However, there were Chinese characters and Arabic inscriptions woven on the silk[12]. The inscription read “nâsir al-dunya wa al-din muhammad ibn qalawun” giving the name and title of a Mamluk sultan12. The impact of transcontinental connections was shown on this silk, containing a mixture of Chinese, Arabic, and Egyptian culture and various elements. The item silk, being brought from China to Egypt, allowed the elite and other Egyptians to use Chinese made goods and elaborate with local elements, resulting in an item representing the fusion of culture.

 

Silk in diplomacy

When Marco Polo traveled in Asia, he witnessed many phenomenal things and visited various regions. One finding he wrote in his work was about silk being used with gold to make cloth. Especially he saw that “in Baghdad, many kinds of cloth of gold-and-silk are produced” and “this silk brocaded with ornamental gold threads was the ‘Tartar cloth’ so prized in Europe in the late Middle Ages[13]” Even the Indian merchants knew this cloth made of silk and gold was precious, which they sold to the merchants of Hormos[14]. Mongol Khans also liked the cloth made of silk and gold, as it indicated their status as royalty. This kind of textile was used by khans, their wives, members of military elites and even was used as linings for large tents for the royalty[15]. When the Uighur iduq-qut showed submission to Chinggis Khan, he presented Chinggis Khan with gold brocade, and the Mongols took measures to ensure a ready supply, listing it among the tribute they required and employing enslaved weavers to produce it in prodigious quantities15.

 

Silk was not only a delicate merchandise to use but was also a gift given in diplomacy. One example of silk being given as a gift in diplomacy was “as early as the second century BCE, an envoy dispatched by the Han emperor Wu Ti reported that the peoples around Fergana and Soghdiana (in what would become the heart of the Silk Road) ‘could be won over by gifts’ – especially silk, which became the currency of choice in exchange for prized Central Asian horses[16]”. Silk as a commodity had an important role in transcontinental connections because it effectively linked the western world with Chinese culture, attracting more western merchants travel to China for purchasing silk.

Importing good breeds of horses

Importing horses into regions where horses were not abundant, these kingdoms were able to gain strong warhorses and get new breeds of horses. As in some regions, the environment was not suitable for raising horses. One solution for them to get horses was by importing horses from foreign kingdoms. In Marco Polo’s observation, Hormuz, Kish, Dhofar, al-Shihr, and Aden were provinces that had many horses, warhorses and other horses. The abundance of horses attracted merchants from other regions to purchase these horses, and the provinces previously mentioned also buy good horses[7]. The import and export of horses allowed good breeds of horses enter kingdoms that lack these horses. For example, the horse that gained fame in Asia known as Turkman actually came from the east of the Caspian, which was a result of a privileges granted by Leon II, King of Lesser Armenia, allowing export of horses and mules from Ayas[8]. The interconnections among kingdoms in Eurasia were reflected in the trade of horses, which enabled different breeds of horses enter foreign land and allowed good breeds of warhorses enter kingdoms that lack these breeds.

 

In addition to trade in horses on land between China and Iran, there were also trade in horses by sea between the Rea Sea and the Gulf[9], a result of Pax Mongolica that ensured trade routes among kingdoms in Eurasia were secure and increased transcontinental connections in Eurasia.

Conclusion

Horses and silk were two frequently traded commodities within Eurasia during Mongol’s domination, and they influenced the relationship between two continents, forming transcontinental connections. Warhorses were abundant in the steppe region, but as Mongol controlled the trade routes in Eurasia, regions that did not have good horses could trade with the merchants for strong warhorses. By the time Marco Polo and Rustichello composed The Description of the World, silk had become a luxury good in Latin Europe, indicating the value of silk and the effect of long-distance trade. Silk was not only a commodity people purchased as a material to make clothes, but its value in diplomacy was important as well. Everyone loved silk, the touch, the artistic value, and the cultural value. As a commodity, it effectively illustrated how transcontinental connections were formed. Seeing various cultures fused together on one piece of silk, and how it was given as a gift to foreign kingdoms, we are sure that silk had completed its mission to bring different regions and their cultures together, regardless of the locations. As such, the commodity functioned as the medium that delivered exotic culture and goods to other locations within the Mongol territory. Forming the connections among various regions, the merchandise influenced and shaped the transcontinental connections in Eurasia during the Pax Mongolica period.

References

  1. Büntgen, Ulf, and Nicola Di Cosmo. “Climatic And Environmental Aspects Of The Mongol Withdrawal From Hungary In 1242 CE”. Www.Nature.Com/Scientificreports, 2016, https://www.academia.edu/25640560/Climatic_and_environmental_aspects_of_the_Mongol_withdrawal_from_Hungary_in_1242_CE. Accessed 23 Dec 2020.
  2. Jacques Gernet, A History of Chinese Civilization, rev. edn. (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  3. Kinoshita, Sharon. Silk in the Age of Marco Polo. Founding Feminisms in Medieval Studies: Essays in Honor of E. Jane Burns, edited by LAINE E. DOGGETT and DANIEL E. O’SULLIVAN, NED – New edition ed., Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK; Rochester, NY, USA, 2016, pp. 141–152. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt18gzf9k.16. Accessed 23 Dec. 2020.
  4. Lian, Song. Yuan Shi, Beijing, Zhonghua shuju, 1976
  5. PAX MONGOLICA AND A TRANSCONTINENTAL TRAFFIC. The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion, by Peter Jackson, Yale University Press, NEW HAVEN; LONDON, 2017, pp. 210–241. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1n2tvq0.16. Accessed 23 Dec. 2020.
  6. Persson, Helen. Chinese Silks in Mamluk Egypt. Global Textile Encounters, edited by Marie-Louise Nosch et al., Oxbow Books, Oxford; Philadelphia, 2014, pp. 107–118. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvh1dpz7.14. Accessed 23 Dec. 2020.
  7. Polo, Marco. The Description of the World (p. 159). Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  8. Polo, Marco et al. The Travels Of Marco Polo. Dover Publications, 1993.
  9. Rachewiltz, Igor de, “The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century” (2015)

Notes

1.Climate and Mongol Invasion, p1, Di Cosmo discussed the reasons for Mongol withdrawal from Hungary in 1279.

2.Black Sea Emporia and the Mongol Empire p1, Di Cosmos discussed the concept of Pax Mongolica and specifically the trade routes are safe under Mongol’s control.

3.The Secret History of the Mongols, p.126

4.The Travel of Marco Polo p.410

5.The Description of the World, p.187, horses were significant for the kingdoms where horse did not naturally live in. This also indicated the monetary value of horses in specific regions that a good horse could be sold to more than 100 silver.

6. Pax Mongolica and Transcontinental Traffic p.214, explaining that the western steppe has many high-quality warhorses that other kingdoms desired.

7.The Description of the World, p.58

8. The Travel of Marco Polo, p.44

9.Pax Mongolica and Transcontinental Traffic p.214

10. Yuan Shi,Beijing, Zhonghua shuju, 1976

11.Chinese Silks in Mamluk Egypt p.108

12. Chinese Silks in Mamluk Egypt p.115

13.Silk in the Age of Marco Polo p.143

14.The Travel of Marco Polo p.107

15.Pax Mongolica and Transcontinental Connections p.212

16.A History of Chinese Civilization p.120, 250

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