Did You Know? Myanmar’s Connection with the Silk Roads across Western Asia, Central Asia, and China

© Pyae Phyo Thet Paing - UNESCO Youth Eyes on the Silk Roads

The area of South East Asia that is today modern Myanmar has both a long coastline with the numerous ports as well as the Ayeyarwady River running through it, which reaches up to Yunnan in China. Through these, as well as through connections to Silk Roads land routes the region was open to a vast array of artistic influences spanning a substantial period from the 4th century BCE to the 13th century CE. It was connected to China by the Silk Roads, which linked China’s Sichuan Province to the Indian Subcontinent - specifically Sindh and Taxila -, the Eastern regions of the Iranian Plateau, and to parts of Mediterranean regions.

The earliest tangible evidence of the Burmese regions contact with other areas along the Silk Roads comes in the form of etched beads that have been uncovered at a number of archaeological sites. The designs on these round vertically striped etched beads suggests an association with Taxila, an ancient city in the North of the Indian subcontinent in modern Pakistan, where beads with very similar decorative patterns dated to the 3rd century BCE have been found. Additionally beads from Sri Ksetra, an ancient city in the North of the region, which flourished between the 7th and 9th centuries CE, depict a wide variety of decorative motifs from the natural world including birds, elephants, lions and scarab beetles among others. Artefacts with designs such as these are typically associated with Taxila from the period 180 BCE to 80 AD as well as with Egypt and Mesopotamia where beads featuring these types of animal motifs were commonly used as amulets. Other clear influences from the Hellenistic world include two ring heads, reportedly from Sri Ksetra, made of a blue glass. One features a trident whilst the other depicts Perseus and Medusa and is dated from sometime between the 2nd and 3rd century CE. Another artefact displaying Mediterranean influence is a terracotta Roman style lamp discovered at Bagan.

Furthermore, connections between China and the lower Burmese region are evidenced in the South East where a small grey bowl decorated with an abstract black design in the centre, has been found. It is believed to have been made at a kiln in South East China in the late Tang or early Song period (960 – 1279 CE). Indeed the south of the region appears not only to have been a market for Chinese ceramic wares in the latter part of the first millennium CE but also to have produced some of its own ceramic wares influenced by Chinese and Middle Eastern styles and designs fused with local styles. Examples include a small bowl with a metallic copper coloured glaze that appears to be an imitation of lusterware from the Abbasid Caliphate, which was a very popular good exchanged along the Silk Roads. In this case, the bowl shape seems to imitate Chinese wares whilst the glaze seems to be inspired by ceramics produced in Iraq and Iran.

Production of celadon ceramics in the Burmese region began sometime around the 13th century CE, and from this period, a grey-green monochrome bowl with a shape indicating a southern Song influence has been uncovered. It probably dates from around the same time as a finely detailed ceramic camels head found in Myanmar, and which suggests a Central Asian or Persian influence.

All of this, as well as other archaeological evidence, indicates the region served as a significant hub in the cross-cultural transfer of objects, traditions, techniques and artistic influences that flowed from China through Central Asia, Western Asia as far as Europe by both land and maritime routes. As trade developed, new routes were added, increasing the flow of ideas and objects via Myanmar. Archaeological finds of animal and bird-shaped beads, including a scarab, have clear origins in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Conversely, evidence of the use of a glazing technique that used tin oxide, which originated in the Burmese region, has been found as far away as modern Iraq. These reciprocal exchanges can also be detected in fashions and textiles, and in architectural styles and techniques that were shared along the Silk Roads in a broad network of intercultural exchange.

See Also

The Evolving Role of Merchants along the Land Routes of the Silk Roads

Traditional Strategy Games along the Silk Roads - Chess

The Butuan Archaeological Sites and the Role of the Philippines in the Maritime Silk Roads

The Exchange of Spices along the Silk Roads

The Maritime Silk Roads and the Diffusion of Islam in the Korean Peninsula

The Exchange of Technical Knowledge used to Craft Silk Roads Goods

Silk Roads exchange and the Development of the Medical Sciences

Silk Roads Exchanges in Chinese Gastronomy

Mathematical Sciences along the Silk Roads

The Role of Women in Central Asian Nomadic Society

Ancient Trading Centres in the Malay Peninsula

Sri Lankan Harbour Cities and the Maritime Silk Roads

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