China and Rome

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In preparing a new edition of Friedrich Hirth's venerable China and the Roman Orient: Researches into Their Ancient and Medieval Relations as Represented in Old Chinese Records (1885) (CRO), for the sake of comparison I included in my introduction a section on Frederick J. Teggart's Rome and China:  A Study of Correlations in Historical Events (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1939), written 54 years later.  Superficially, the two books share similar titles and topics, but they could hardly be more different in their orientations and goals.  Whereas Hirth was determined to identify the names of places, peoples, and things from the far west of Eurasia that were Sinographically transcribed in ancient Chinese – an extremely difficult philological task, Teggart's aim was far more theoretical.  Teggart strove to demonstrate that battles, movements of peoples, and other events that occurred in western Eurasia, Central Asia, and East Asia for half a millennium during the Roman Empire were intimately interrelated, although in Rome and China, he focuses intensely on the period from 58 BC to AD 107.

We may note that so much of the activity studied by Teggart centered on the Tarim Basin (the geographical hub of Central Eurasia) and the Tängri Tagh / Tianshan / Heavenly Mountains to the north, including Kucha and Turfan as key nexuses of east-west interaction along the so-called Silk Road.  Note especially that both Kucha and Turfan were major centers of Tocharian language and culture.  Although, as the easternmost Indo-European group who, moreover, interacted with the Chinese already by BC times, the Tocharians have become essential for understanding the development of civilization in Eurasia, it would have been impossible for Hirth to know about them when he wrote CRO because the manuscripts and cultural remains associated with them had not yet been discovered.  Furthermore, it should be emphasized that, before the coming of the Turkic peoples in large numbers from the northeast beginning around the 8th century AD, most of the inhabitants of the Tarim Basin and surrounding areas were Indo-European speakers, primarily Iranians and Tocharians, plus Chinese military garrisons sporadically in place from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) on.  After reading Teggart's persuasive work of historical analysis and synthesis, it is impossible to view western, central, and eastern Asia as in any way isolated.

Relying on a massive accumulation of data concerning wars that took place across Eurasia, "for every country from Britain to Cambodia", close analysis of the times and results of their occurrences revealed that every "barbarian uprising in Europe followed the outbreak of war either on the eastern frontiers of the Roman empire or in the 'Western Regions' of the Chinese" (p. vii).  Hence, we may say that Hirth established the raw data and Teggart accumulated, applied, and interpreted them.  That is the difference between history and philology.

The takeaway for our ongoing series of discussions on linguistic interaction across Eurasia is that the entire supercontinent of Eurasia, from west to east, was intimately interrelated, so that it should not be at all considered strange if words (Wanderwörter and otherwise) flowed in various directions from people to people, e.g., the Iranian word for "magus" in Sinitic by 1200 BC, the Tocharian words for "honey" and "lion" in Sinitic already by at least the Han Dynasty.  And think how many cities were named after Alexander the Great by the 4th century BC, including the one in Afghanistan now known as Kandahar (a contraction of Iskandahar), Alexandria Eschate at the western entrance of the Ferghana Valley, Lijian in the Gansu / Hexi Corridor, and there were many others in Central Asia.  These are not "look-alikes", so we don't need to keep beating that dead horse.



21 Comments

  1. Stephen Goranson said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 8:53 am

    Prof. Mair, I have a question, and of course it's merely optional if you wish to address it. First, let me note that this is one of my favorite blogs (and if it needs disclosure, I have had three guest posts here, on etymology), and that much recent discussion is in areas in which I have no expertise. That said, given the theme of how much early East-West borrowing occurred, and what counts as proof, I keep remembering another discussion from many years ago, though I lost the relevant email in a computer crash also years ago. (Also, a member of the old ioudaios list may have posted an online report which I failed to find, though I haven't gone through all my papers yet.)

    If I recall correctly, you were shown photos of one or more Dead Sea Scrolls (from Qumran caves) and wrote that marginal notes there were Chinese characters from medieval times. (This was then publicized by someone who–for mostly unrelated reasons–argued that these scrolls were medieval, not ancient.)

    I am relatively well informed and have published on Dead Sea Scrolls and the archaeology of the area; I do not know Chinese. That these marginal inkings could be Chinese seems to me prima facie quite improbable, given that the skins were deposited in jars in a cave in ancient times and found circa 1947. Yes, some scrolls in the area were reportedly found in medieval times and taken to Jerusalem, but these mss in the photos were evidently in situ throughout that era.

    Do you still maintain that some of the marginalia is in medieval Chinese?

  2. Stephen Goranson said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 9:24 am

    To be fair, let me rephrase one part. I wrote that these scrolls were "evidently in situ throughout that era." More precisely, these particular scrolls were found by bedouin, not archaeologists, and that they are widely thought to have remained in place throughout that era.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 10:52 am

    @Stephan Goranson:

    Thank you for your inquiry.

    The short, sweet, and simple answer is that I never did say those marginalia were in medieval Chinese. I did prepare a private communication for a person who was intensely interested in those unusual marks on some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and I compared a few of them with Chinese characters that they seemed to resemble, but I never said that they were in fact Chinese characters, nor did I take a position on how and when those unusual marks got on the Qumran scrolls nor what they meant.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 10:53 am

    From a classicist colleague:

    I suspect, or at least am hopeful, that Greco-roman historians today acknowledge the linguistic and cultural fluidity these books were trying to highlight!

  5. David Marjanović said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 11:41 am

    and think how many cities were named after Alexander the Great by the 4th century BC, including the one in Afghanistan now known as Kandahar (a contraction of Iskandahar), Alexandria Eschate at the western entrance of the Ferghana Valley, Lijian in the Gansu / Hexi Corridor, and many others were in Central Asia.

    This sentence looks like it was incompletely edited (lowercase letter at the beginning, extra "were" near the end). Did you really mean to say that there's a city in Gānsù named after Alexander the Great, even though it's on the other side of the Tibetan Plateau from the known northeastern fringe of Alexander's empire?

    Or did you mean to bring up Líqián, a place in Gānsù where some have thought a Roman legion once ended up?

    (At the bottom of that article, there's a link to a long, informative article on "Sino-Roman relations".)

    ==================

    On "magus", I for one will have to wait for Chris Button to publish why he reconstructs *-ɣ on the Sinitic side. Without that, we barely even have a lookalike – just *ma.

  6. Sally Thomason said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 11:42 am

    I'm not sure why you say that the issue of look-alikes is a dead horse, Victor. Surely you don't mean to claim that multiple long-term interactions among peoples, sometimes resulting in lexical borrowing, rule out the possibility that some words that look alike across the languages are accidentally similar — mere look-alikes — rather than historically linked by borrowing. Each individual case needs to be evaluated on its own terms. Sometimes sound changes between estimated time of borrowing and appearance in the documentary record can help make the distinction between look-alike and loanword; other times the existence of an object or creature in one area but not in another can help; on still other occasions there may be cultural or linguistic patterns of borrowing that will help. But even in such cases it may well be the case that some instances of similar-looking words are indeterminate: maybe historically linked, maybe not.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 1:23 pm

    It's a dead horse in the sense that we all agree with you, Sally.

    See the first clause of my last sentence, which indicates that I was talking specifically about the words mentioned in the preceding sentences of that paragraph.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 1:47 pm

    ☩ > 巫

  9. Scott P. said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 3:35 pm

    Did you really mean to say that there's a city in Gānsù named after Alexander the Great, even though it's on the other side of the Tibetan Plateau from the known northeastern fringe of Alexander's empire?

    The name for that city, Lijian or Liqian, is the name that the Chinese gave to Alexandria in Egypt, which is what I think VM is referring to.

  10. Chris Button said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 4:08 pm

    @ David Marjanović

    I for one will have to wait for Chris Button to publish why he reconstructs *-ɣ on the Sinitic side

    I'm just following Pulleyblank who later writes /ɰ/. But you should already know that since I've posted about it numerous times on LLog sometimes directly in response to your comments. For example…

    The /ɣ/ or /ɰ/ corresponds to Li Fang-Kuei's /g/. I posted about this on a separate LL thread. While there were clearly no voiced stop codas in Old Chinese, its complete removal in reconstructions like Baxter&Sagart's is really a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water since some kind of velar fricative/approximant is still needed. Take for example 來 *rə́ɣ (whose /j/ coda in Middle Chinese would incidentally then go unexplained) and its undeniable association with 麥 *mrə̀k and 賚 *rə́ks…

    … Just so as not to make Pulleyblank seem like an outlier and to give fair credit to Li Fang-Kuei, Li (1945 – OC loanwords in Tai) is approvingly cited by Pulleyblank (1995 – Role of Glottal Stop) regarding a shift of -əg > -əɣ > -əɯ (note Li's /ɯ/ here is the vowel rather than Pulleyblank's glide /ɰ/)

  11. Chris Button said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 4:15 pm

    Without that, we barely even have a lookalike – just *ma.

    By the way, Baxter & Sagart are even further removed with a reconstruction of 巫 as *C.m(r)[o]. I prefer *màɣ.

  12. ColoState.edu - Richard said,

    February 24, 2019 @ 9:02 pm

    Hirth and Teggart have opened our eyes that, a number of important events in the European region have had a major impact on "almost fundamental" changes to the Asian region.

    regards.
    Richard.

  13. David Marjanović said,

    February 25, 2019 @ 4:08 am

    I'm just following Pulleyblank who later writes /ɰ/. But you should already know that since I've posted about it numerous times on LLog sometimes directly in response to your comments. For example…

    Oh, sorry. So you reconstruct it when MC open or j-final syllables are associated with k-final syllables?

  14. Chris Button said,

    February 25, 2019 @ 6:39 am

    I follow Pulleyblank in reconstructing the Yin category codas as -l, -j, -ɣ/ɰ, -w, -ʁ. Whether we treat -ɣ/ɰ and -ʁ phonologically as approximant or fricative is a question of surface phonetics and broadly immaterial.

  15. AG said,

    February 25, 2019 @ 11:19 am

    Slightly off topic: I recently had a Silk Road-related epiphany when trying to walk for several kilometers along a canal in Bangkok: No Thai person in their right mind has ever tried to walk the entire length of this canal. There has clearly not been a government program to pedestrianize the canalside walkways. Some of them are just rotted pilings. BUT everyone wants a clear path to the nearest boat stop, which inadvertently and utterly without plan created a kilometers-long series of pathways along this canal. Scale that up, and you've got the Silk Road. No single person need ever have traveled the entire distance, they just needed to get to the closest "bus stop", which organically created a continent-wide network of paths. (And, thankfully, as with the actual Silk Road, there were many Muslim communities along the way, which lessened the chances that I would be bitten by soi dogs.)

  16. Chris C. said,

    February 25, 2019 @ 5:50 pm

    It's been noted by some in the science-based medicine community that the concepts in traditional vitalistic medicine both West (four humors) and East (five elements) are not all that different in essence, and that premodern acupuncture may have been more like bloodletting. Is there any evidence for cultural transfer in this area?

  17. Pierce Salguero said,

    February 26, 2019 @ 11:25 am

    @Chris, pardon the self-promotion, but on medical exchange, you might like to consult my book:

    C. Pierce Salguero, 2014, Translating Buddhism Medicine in Medieval China (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press).

    It focuses on the translations strategies/tactics utilized in the introduction and assimilation of Indian medicine in medieval China. (Incidentally, I should also mention that it's part of a series edited by Victor.) I've written a lot of articles on other facets of this subject too, listed at http://www.piercesalguero.com.

    Finally, on acupuncture and bloodletting, see the classic article:

    Dean C. Epler, 1980, "Bloodletting in Early Chinese Medicine and Its Relation to the Origin of Acupuncture," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 54.3: 337–67.

    Cheers!

  18. Chris C. said,

    February 27, 2019 @ 9:12 pm

    @Pierce Salguero Thank you! It's now on the list.

  19. Stephen Goranson said,

    March 3, 2019 @ 8:58 am

    In case anyone is interested in Dead Sea Scroll (Qumran) marginalia, I refound in Wayback Machine a 1997 discussion by Jay C. Treat of UPenn, drawing on remarks by Emanuel Tov of Hebrew U,
    "Scribal Marks in the Dead Sea Scrolls"
    https://web.archive.org/web/19981205115309/http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rs/dss/marks/review.html

  20. Victor Mair said,

    March 3, 2019 @ 9:15 am

    @Stephen Goranson

    Thank you very much for posting that documentation.

    Jay Treat, who just retired from Penn last month, was my valued colleague. Note that, in the second paragraph of his discussion, Jay refers to my report in a completely responsible manner, for which I am eternally grateful.

  21. Chris Button said,

    March 3, 2019 @ 10:10 pm

    @ Stephen Goranson

    Yes – thank you for ferreting that out.

    @ Victor Mair

    Would now be a good time to request a LLog post comparing the ganzhi and the Phoenician alphabet? I did, after all, just mention Pulleyblank's "Ganzhi as Phonograms" article here (granted he had by that time abandoned any possible Phoenician association):

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=41964#comment-1561124

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