• The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes

  • The Ancient World Economy and the Empires of Parthia, Central Asia and Han China
  • By: Raoul McLaughlin
  • Narrated by: James Cameron Stewart
  • Length: 14 hrs and 21 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Ancient History
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (89 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes investigates the trade routes between Rome and the powerful empires of inner Asia, including the Parthian regime which ruled ancient Persia (Iran). It explores Roman dealings with the Kushan Empire which seized power in Bactria (Afghanistan) and laid claim to the Indus Kingdoms. Further chapters examine the development of Palmyra as a leading caravan city on the edge of Roman Syria and consider trade ventures through the Tarim territories that led Roman merchants to Han China.

The Han Empire of ancient China matched that of Rome in scale and possessed military technology surpassing that of Roman legions. The Han established a system of Central Asian trade routes known as the Silk Road that carried eastern products as far as Persia and the frontiers of the Roman Empire.

This is the first audiobook to address these subjects in a single comprehensive study. It explores Rome's impact on the ancient world economy and reveals what the Chinese and Romans knew about their rival Empires.

©2016 Raoul McLaughlin (P)2019 Tantor

What listeners say about The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

An arduous trek through Eurasia

The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes is a different kind of ancient history book. Instead of discussing battle, sieges and the rise and fall of empire, this book focuses on trade, commerce, and economy.

First, the narration. The narrator, Stewart is one of the slower narrators I have heard in recent memory. His pronunciations are proper and easy to follow, but his pacing is often jagged and jarring. I found myself rewinding several times as I lost my train of thought due to his ill-timed pauses. While he is an adequate narrator, I believe this book would have been more enjoyable with a different voice, one that is less rigid and academic.

Second, the book. This is not a book for someone looking to get into Roman or ancient history. The author makes it clear throughout the book that he expects you to understand and know about many of the people and places he discusses. There is no backstory on the Roman side, so if you are not familiar with many of the Roman emperors and policies, then you will be left behind during some sections. The book starts off with its primary point; understanding silk and how it influenced ancient economy and trade. The author spends a good amount of time explaining how silk (and iron) were manufactured, and how/why the East was superior in crafting both these commodities. You will definitely learn about not only how silk is made, but why some silk garments sold for more than the average Roman laborer made in a year. This section takes about a fourth of the book and is the section I greatly enjoyed.

The next section introduces the real star of the book; Han China. Yes, the book is called The Roman Empire and the Silk Roads, but in actuality, it should be titled Trade During the Time of the Han Dynasty. While you cannot, of course, have trade in the ancient world without mentioning China in some capacity, Han China is the focus of the book. Rome is mentioned in the earlier and later sections, the bulk of the book deals with Han China. How it was created, how its government operated, and how its trade delegations made it across the mountains of central Asia. The book does bring in other civilizations that impacted trade from the 5th century B.C. to about the 5th century A.D. It discusses their rise and their impact on trade from east to west. If you are not interested in learning about Han China or other civilizations that came to power in India, Afghanistan and the Caucasus, this book is not for you.

The final section is a strange hodgepodge of different civilizations and stories that relate to trade. It is also the only time that battles of any kind are described in detail. They are explained well enough (one is about the disastrous march of Crassus and what befell his Roman legions) but they seem to fit in the context of another book. They are tied into trade and commerce in the back end, but it’s a little too late for their addition to have any merit or any reason to be in the book. In fact, the book finishes on an even stranger note; introducing a new empire on the stage in the last chapter, only to give the book a few pages to wrap up and reiterate its points.

Conclusion. The Roman Empire is a difficult book to read. Not a bad one, by any means, just difficult. This is in part because of the subject matter. It focuses on commerce and trade through numerous passes and cities. One needs a map to find and recollect them all. Then there is Han China. I was not expecting the bulk of the book to be focused on this civilization, with the Roman empire taking a back seat. Finally, there are the inconsistencies of the last section of the book. It bounces around civilizations and battles and cities without the focus of the previous sections. The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes is a book that will teach you about a very niche subject. If you are curious as to how trade worked in the ancient world and are versed in the civilizations of the time, then this book is for you. But it is not an easy read and is not for the faint of heart or novice historian.

22 people found this helpful

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Great book on a hard to find period of history

I loved this book and devoured it. The silk and spice roads are of great interest to me, but finding any information on them that isn't geared toward a 1st grader at the very least to non existant at best.

4 people found this helpful

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A good listen

Im an armchair historian who mostly watches documentaries and does some limited reading. In my studies about Ancient Rome, I’ve often wondered what Rome and China knew about each other and how events would unfold if they had conflict. Thankfully, the regions were too far apart to ever have any real conflict. The two civilizations surely would have been enemies. I’m not 100% sure that classic culture would survive today had there been any real conflict with ancient China.

The author does a good job explaining both Rome and China’s vague awareness of the other and their many failed attempts at diplomacy. Of particular interest to me was the story of the Chinese envoy that attempted to sail to Rome from the Red Sea, thinking that the Red Sea was the Mediterranean. We know the geography of earth well now, but what would it have been like to live in a time when you truly didn’t know what was beyond the horizon? From such situations arise the tantalizing and exciting mystery of the unknown that men no longer experience.

A well written and interesting read. The book answers some questions I’ve long wondered about. It would seem that during the time written about, the Chinese kept better records than the Romans. I enjoy learning things that shatter incorrect assumptions. I had always assumed that Rome was unrivaled in the ancient world for historical record keeping. This book is full of good stuff like that.

I spend a lot of time on the road for work. I’ll be listening to the entire thing again eventually.

3 people found this helpful

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Good if you are already interested

I wanted to know more about China and Rome. This is well researched and I am happy with that. The writing won't draw you in if you do not already care. The narrator mostly sounds bored.

1 person found this helpful

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Spends too much time on wars

Overall this is an interesting glimpse into the contact between Han China and the Roman Empire and the people’s between them. It reveals a connected world that surprised and intrigued me.

As a history it ends up falling back on the old crutches of the material that is most available which is records of invasions, planned invasions, army compositions etc. The result is a long litany if conquests and raids. Which, to be sure, must have been a key part of life. But I wanted to know more about how trade was conducted what daily life was like for the various classes of people living along the silk route and all the rest of how this long trade network worked and was administered.

1 person found this helpful

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Loved it!

While it can be difficult to keep all the peoples straight, the story explains the importance of trade to the ancient world and how connected everything was.

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A must have if you want to study the Roman Economy

Really well done book on the Roman Economy. If you get McLaughlin's second title The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean, you will get the full picture of the Ancient Roman Economy and how Raoul argues that Roman wealth was exported to the East while Rome did not take in the same amount of money on goods they exported resulting in the eventual collapse of the Roman Economy. There are many reasons for the Fall of the Roman Empire but Raoul does a great job in laying out his thesis that it was Rome's lust for luxury items that did them in. Anyone who understands the US trade deficit would recognize what this book clearly lays out.

I believe this is your thesis to graduate and you polished it to be your first book. I liked both books equally. Your book is essential for me to understand the Roman economy enough to develop characters in a novel series and I have a background in TV & Film and I will suggest you put in your resume to production houses for them to see about you being a fact checker on TV shows and movies. If you get in the loop, writers will want to pick your brain.

This title is worth listening to more than once and reading along with it making notes. If you are a student in college with a major in History, this should be added to your Roman Historians so you understand what goes into researching History.

The really enjoyed both of these books. I believe I bought both kindle copies too if they weren't on kindle unlimited. I will be buying these in print for my future library.

Seriously man, great job.

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Great, colorful details from across the era

The back and forth Meandering between east and west might not be enjoyable for all, but I thought it was an awesome read in this day and age of tightening globalism

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Worth It

Very interesting. Once you get familiar with nations and leaders, the stories are engaging.

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unique insight

This was a great book. very interesting information. the connection between Rome and China is always fascinating.