Is there any evidence for Europeans or sub-Saharan Africans in east Asia before Marco Polo? Honestly, your blog does seem like revisionist history.
It’s funny how you ask that as if you already know the answer. Hmm, could it possibly be because you’ve already decided any evidence that exists is insufficient before you’ve even seen it? No wonder, if you’re also using “revisionist” as an unqualified pejorative.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. History is constantly being revised. Revision is the only way it can lay any claim to truth in the long term, since we are always finding new objects, new information is being discovered, and new scholars are entering the discipline with diverse perspectives and making new connections. Revision also means we need to unearth the prejudices of the past, as well as those of the present, and analyze the way it affects how we write and think about our histories. Who we are affects what we believe is “relevant”; our lived experiences and culture affect what we believe has value and importance.
Acting like histories written fifty or a hundred years ago should remain carved in stone as if they’re sacred is patently ridiculous. We don’t believe that for medicine, or law. There are always new discoveries, new evidence, new people working today to take into account, and adjust our knowledge accordingly in order to serve society better. The problem is that most of what I post is known to academia, it’s just dispersed throughout several different disciplines and sub-disciplines, and pushed aside as exceptions to a dominant narrative that is preserved, not in academia, but in popular culture and the media we produce and consume.
If you’d looked at the bibliography for this blog, or the link dumps, or the resources tag, or the static resources page, or just used google instead of scoffing in my inbox with ideas you’re soooo suuure are completely ridiculous, you’d have seen there is evidence, plenty of it, and it’s becoming a more explored and documented topic every day.
You can read about trade routes between the Roman Empire and Asia in Antiquity here:
Long-distance trade played a major role in the cultural, religious, and artistic exchanges that took place between the major centers of civilization in Europe and Asia during antiquity. Some of these trade routes had been in use for centuries, but by the beginning of the first century A.D., merchants, diplomats, and travelers could (in theory) cross the ancient world from Britain and Spain in the west to China and Japan in the east.
You can read more about the actual routes used and their accessibility here:
You can read even more about trade and cultural exchange between various Empires in the East and the West here:
By the end of the first century B.C., there was a great expansion of international trade involving five contiguous powers: the Roman empire, the Parthian empire, the Kushan empire, the nomadic confederation of the Xiongnu, and the Han empire. Although travel was arduous and knowledge of geography imperfect, numerous contacts were forged as these empires expanded—spreading ideas, beliefs, and customs among heterogeneous peoples—and as valuable goods were moved over long distances through trade, exchange, gift giving, and the payment of tribute. Transport over land was accomplished using river craft and pack animals, notably the sturdy Bactrian camel. Travel by sea depended on the prevailing winds of the Indian Ocean, the monsoons, which blow from the southwest during the summer months and from the northeast in the fall.
You can read an exploration of a relatively new translation from a 3rd Century Chinese explorer who called the Roman Empire “a land ruled by minor kings” here:
This country (the Roman Empire) has more than four hundred smaller cities and towns. It extends several thousand li in all directions. The king has his capital (that is, the city of Rome) close to the mouth of a river (the Tiber). The outer walls of the city are made of stone.
…The ruler of this country is not permanent. When disasters result from unusual phenomena, they unceremoniously replace him, installing a virtuous man as king, and release the old king, who does not dare show resentment.
The common people are tall and virtuous like the Chinese, but wear hu (‘Western’) clothes. They say they originally came from China, but left it.
I mean, you’re talking about people moving from east Asia to Europe, which can be achieved simply by walking far enough. The Silk Road has been in use for millennia, and before that, its prehistoric version, the Steppe Road, has evidence for even earlier travelers buried deep under it.
This isn’t new, and it isn’t some kind of secret. From the perspective of World History, the ease and ubiquity of trade between Europe, Asia, and Africa means we should consider the development of those areas as an interdependent network:
World historians are becoming increasingly aware of the underlying unity of Afro-Eurasian history. Andre Gunder Frank and Barry Gills have argued that the entire Afro-Eurasian region belonged to a single “world-system” from perhaps as early as 2000 B.C.E. And William McNeill and Jerry Bentley have recently restated the case for a unified Afro-Eurasian history. But Marshall Hodgson had made the same point as early as the 1950s, when he argued that “historical life, from early times at least till two or three centuries ago, was continuous across the Afro-Eurasian zone of civilization; that zone was ultimately indivisible… The whole of the Afro-Eurasian zone is the only context large enough to provide a framework for answering the more general and more basic historical questions that can arise.”
If you’re concerned with the logistics of travel, well, there’s actually an entire interactive map for that. ORBIS is the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, and you can input where you’d like to go and your modes of travel, and it can give you a route and how long it would take you, depending on how much money you have to spend versus how much effort you’re willing to put forth.
As for “sub-saharan Africa”, Mediterranean Europe became rather dependent on the wealth of gold and salt that came from Ghana and Western Sudan. If you’re curious about the history of the Tran-Saharan Gold trade, you can read more about it here:
From the eighth century onward, annual trade caravans followed routes later described by Arabic authors with minute attention to detail. Gold, sought from the western and central Sudan, was the main commodity of the trans-Saharan trade. The traffic in gold was spurred by the demand for and supply of coinage. The rise of the Soninke empire of Ghana appears to be related to the beginnings of the trans-Saharan gold trade in the fifth century.
From the seventh to the eleventh century, trans-Saharan trade linked the Mediterranean economies that demanded gold—and could supply salt—to the sub-Saharan economies, where gold was abundant. Although local supply of salt was sufficient in sub-Saharan Africa, the consumption of Saharan salt was promoted for trade purposes.
This is an image of Mansa Musa, ruler of the Malian Empire. He made that particular journey himself, as far as Cairo, where his exorbitant wealth broke the local economy just from his presence:
The flow of sub-Saharan gold to the northeast probably occurred in a steady but small stream. Mansa Musa’s arrival in Cairo carrying a ton of the metal (1324–25) caused the market in gold to crash, suggesting that the average supply was not as great. Undoubtedly, some of this African gold was also used in Western gold coins. African gold was indeed so famous worldwide that a Spanish map of 1375 represents the king of Mali holding a gold nugget. When Mossi raids destroyed the Mali empire, the rising Songhai empire relied on the same resources. Gold remained the principal product in the trans-Saharan trade, followed by kola nuts and slaves. The Moroccan scholar Leo Africanus, who visited Songhai in 1510 and 1513, observed that the governor of Timbuktu owned many articles of gold, and that the coin of Timbuktu was made of gold without any stamp or superscription.
So…are we still just gonna say I’m making stuff up? Because the fact is, I could keep going. In fact, I have been for more than two years now. The Tumblr alone here has more the 5,000 posts, because I keep finding more evidence that the dominant narrative of racial and cultural isolation in the past, especially the middle ages, is blatantly false. That this dominant narrative is perpetuated through whitewashed media, wildly mis-cast films, popular fiction and even textbooks that have been subject to financial and political pressures to conform to a white supremacist narrative, rather than showing a broad perspective of world history, especially in the case of Europe’s involvement in an interdependent global history.