History in the Making

Document Type



History has repeatedly proven that the nation, country, or region that controls the most key raw materials will dominate the surrounding global networks, be they economic, diplomatic, or political. When narrowing this focus to ancient Eurasian cultures, there are two obvious global powers: The Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the West and the Chinese Empire in the East (the Han Dynasty). While the scholarly independent research conducted on these powers is incredibly rich, what is understood about their interactions is limited and constantly evolving. Evidence explained later in this article shows that there was little more than an awareness of one another. Despite this, there are a rich number of parallels between these two powers concerning politics, diplomacy, and the general trajectory of their development. This minimal relationship and how it influenced the modern division of the East and West will be explored using trade goods traveling on the Silk Road (130 BCE–1453 CE), primarily silk and foreign coins used in burial rituals. The Silk Road consists of a vibrant history that eventually culminated in an unprecedented event of international industrial espionage. The often-overlooked affair, referred to as the Byzantine Silk Scandal (mid-sixth century), follows the exposure of the carefully guarded Chinese silk production, which ended their monopoly held for multiple millennia. This article will recount the context needed to understand the magnitude of this event while exploring and explaining its significance.