The Roman Empire according to the Ancient Chinese Sources

The Roman Empire according to the Ancient Chinese Sources

By Krisztina Hopp

Acta Antiqua Hungarica Vol. 51 (2011)

Abstract: Through a careful examination of the accounts of Daqin ( 大秦 ) – presumably the RomanEmpire – and Fulin ( 拂菻 ) – Byzantinum –, we can depict a picture of how the Chinese imagined another ancient empire far away in the West. The Chinese annals not only give information on and the interpreta-tion of the name of that mysterious country but also add details about its geography, administration, economy – including agriculture, domesticated animals and products –, trade and the envoys sent by Daqin ( 大秦 ) people. Such a description could be remarkable on its own but the accounts also emphasise thesimilarities between the two great empires that might have originated in their same cultural level.

Introduction: In the present paper I would like to give a brief introduction of five classical Chinesesources, namely the Hou Han shu ( 後漢書 ), the Wei lüe ( 魏略 ), the Jin shu ( 晉書 ),the Wei shu ( 魏書 ), and the Song shu ( 宋書 ), that provide us more or less informationabout the Roman Empire. As compared to the description of Daqin ( 大秦 ), probablythe Roman Empire in the Chinese records, with the Roman auctors’ descriptions of the Eastern part of the Empire, we can discover a large number of similarities.

Since the early 19th c. Sino-Roman relations and the ancient Chinese sourcesof Daqin have been considerably popular fields of research. Although most of theseworks give a useful translation of the Chinese chronicles, they mostly emphasiselinguistic problems. For this reason these publications do not give a complete pictureof the connections between Daqin and the Roman Empire.

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