Great Empires of Central Asia, Part 4: Lords of the Silk Road

This painting of the market in Samarkand dates from a few centuries later.

They brought together the best of Asia—then improved on it. Meet the merchant princes of the ancient East.

In the year 36 BCE, a Han Chinese expedition marched west across the Jaxartes River, in what’s now Kazakhstan — more than 4,000 miles west of their home in China, in the heart of the mountainous wilderness of Central Asia.

There on the forested riverbank, the Han horsemen and crossbowmen encountered a force of strange barbarians

Warriors in heavy iron armor, who fought with long spears and tall shields.

Chinese crossbows and arrows made quick work of these newcomers’ flimsy shields, and soon the spear-fighters were falling in droves. They died quickly, without making it anywhere near the Chinese line.
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