Asia is home to the world’s first civilizations whose heritage I have the awesome good fortune to be riding through. India, the Indus region (modern Pakistan) and China all have histories extending 3-4000 years. The first European travelers to Asia were not exploring a lesser culture it was rather the other way around. Many empires have risen and fallen here. Many conquerors have left their mark. Many religions have come and gone. Modern day Pakistan, India and China have been created over thousands of years. Today’s people are a complex people with a fascinating history and culture.
The Indus Civilisation (c 4000 BC)
Pakistan is the modern home of the ancient Indus civilisation which around 4000 BC was one of the first civilised societies on Earth. From nearby Persia, settlements sprang up along the Indus River being famous for its uniformity and the high quality goods such as pottery and copper objects. They also had a monopoly on Lapis Lazuli. The might of the civilization declined around 1800 BC as a result of rivers drying and disease.
Alexander the Great (c 356 – 323 BC)
One of the world’s most famous living generals. From his base in Macedonia, Alexander aimed to conquer all the way “to the edge of the known world”, by the river Ganges in India. He still conquered as far as the Indus valley, melding Greek religion with local ones. Greek became the common language and he founded 70 new cities, many called Alexandria. From the ashes, the Mauryan Empire emerged from a previously small powerful kingdom in North India.
Empire in India
The Mauryan Empire’s most famous ruler was Ashoka (272 – 231 BC) who gradually brought most of India under his control. After its collapse, India was once more subject to foreign invaders. These central Asian horse tribes (e.g. Sakas, Kushans and ferocious Huns) constantly invaded but never conquered further than the Ganges valley or Deccan region.
In India around 500 BC complex irrigation systems were built and hydraulic systems completed in Sri Lanka. Well-connected seaports in South India contained palaces, parks, and facilities for bathing. In mid-first millennium BC a number of religions appeared that were quickly adopted by the oppressed lower castes and businessmen. Bhuddism became dominant and spread to Sri Lanka where it has remained prevalent to this day. The Gupta empire (320 – 550 AD) rose and with time Hinduism was revived across much of India.
All the world’s great early civilisations had a great education system. Education gave order to civilise society and help it take advantage of others to spread its prowess across the Globe.
Egypt’s first great dynasties developed when hieroglyphs were created and administration centers established. The Shang dynasty in China (1700 BC) was China’s first literate civilisation. Chinese people were living in walled towns and cities and kept detailed records such as of a former capital called 'Yin'
The rise of the Chinese
After the Shang dynasty had finished in China, the Zhou took charge claiming their divine right to rule from the Shang, (the leaders of most civilizations regarded themselves as Gods. Alexander the Great proclaimed himself a God, as did the Pharaohs of Egypt. Genghis Khan justified his right to rule by his ‘mandate from heaven’).
During the 8th Century there were 8 warring states in China. Each of these asserted its independence and each fortified their borders against marauding barbarians and each other. The Qin (Chin) became the most powerful in 350 BC creating China’s first unified empire. They were succeeded by the Han (206 BC – 220 AD) who vastly expanded China’s borders and later joined the sections of walled defenses earlier states had built creating the Great Wall.
While the Europeans were languishing, the Chinese already had replaced chariots with cavalry. They had a true urban civilisation, with a standard currency, administration and high level of technology. The constant battle of China over the central Asian tribes led them to establish new connections across the continent. Their embassies in the far west help push through a major trade route from East to West. The true ‘Silk Road’ was born.
The Silk Road
In the 2nd Century BC. Xiongnu nomads were terrorizing central Asia. They drove the Yuezhi tribes from their homelands and they threatened China's Han dynasty in the East.
The Xiongnu set out to eliminate all their opponents. First they made an example of the Yuezhi by making their King’s skull into a cup. This worried the Han, who tried to convince the Yuezhi to join forces against their common foe. The Yuezhi didn’t see reason, but by that time the Han had reached the faraway lands of the Yuezhi and saw the commercial opportunities therein. The Han forged an important trade route indirectly linking China with the Roman Empire. Control of the Silk Road passed from the Han to the barbarian hoards who overran it. For the first three centuries AD the Kushan tribe controlled the Western portion.
The Bactrian camel was the principle form of transport along the Silk Road. It carried Chinese silk to North India and then on to the Roman Empire. Many Roman products along with “heavenly horses” of Ferghana and gems from India found their way to China.
Politics and military campaigns often determined the ‘route’ of the Silk Road. The Silk Road travelled from modern day Beijing to Kashgar in far NW China, before joining a plethora of other trade routes leading down to modern day Karachi and over to Istanbul and Europe.
History of Man and Horse
The Great grass Steppe of vast Central Asia opens its heart to the imagination. Nomadic tribes have for long roamed its interior and thus spawned the close relationship between man and horse. They were among the first to domesticate the horse, initially for meat, later they evolved wheeled vehicles, (even elaborately designed wheeled burial chambers appeared in South Russia in 4000 BC). Spoked wheels replaced the heavy wheel until horse-riding was adopted around 2000 BC by civilisations North of the Caspian Sea. By 1000 BC, nomadic horse-riding warriors had emerged to terrorize the world.
The Nomad Confederacies
The Xiongnu and Yuezhi formed two of the greatest confederacies of nomads known to man. The horse was so integrated into their lives that it would be sacrificed with its owner along, with much gold and silver.
The Xiongnu hailed from Mongolia. They often traded and harassed the Chinese along their borders. They developed powerful cavalry with advanced bows. The Xiongnu would surely give way to the even more terrifying Mongol hordes many centuries later.