THE SILK ROAD SERIES: WELCOME TO MARCO POLO'S WORLD
It took me twenty years to dig out the stories of the career of the military genius known as The Conqueror, Chinggis Khan. But this was where the modern period begins.
One man, Chinggis Khan, was the political master of the largest land-based empire in history. Under the rule, trade between China and Europe prospered for the first time since antiquity. For the first time, Europeans could enter the lucrative China trade. The European merchant princes, such as the Medicis, built the fortunes that financed the Renaissance and the rebirth of science in Europe.
The empire of the Supreme Khan founded forged the first link between China and Rome since antiquity, the old Silk Road, when the Coliseum was covered in Chinese silk during a rainstorm.
The Mongol Empire brought all of Asia, the Middle East and Russia under the sway of one ruler--he ended the wars and established the peace and opened the trade across the Silk Road.
His rule ushered in a century of peace, prosperity and religious toleration, the first period of global history. Yet the story has been lost to the West.
Call it the Pax Mongolica. Global trade commenced. Fortunes were made. Cultures intermingled. Cultures influenced each other across the world.
Why did the Supreme Khan build roads? He valued intelligence from the far corners of his empire. To facilitate the flow of information, he invented a pony express system. This was a system of post stations twenty-five miles apart. there the men designated as his Near and Far Arrows, his messenger service, could rest, eat and acquire fresh mounts. The imperial roads allowed them to go about the Supreme Khan's business unimpeded, delivering the latest intelligence and information. They wore insignia stating that they were on the emperor's business. The roads were safe from robbers and brigands.
China had the biggest and most advanced economy in the world. Europe was in the infancy of its development, and lagged behind, still recovering from the invasion of its own barbarians, the Huns and Visigoths, and the fall of the Roman Empire.
Marco Polo began his epic journey to China (he remained at the court of Khubilai Khan for seventeen years). from the port of Venice, the great trading port on the Adriatic. Young Marco found opportunity in China. As a European, he had no interest in the factions at court. He was Khubilai Khan's spy, because he spoke the various languages of the court, learned on his long journey to the East.
Khubilai Khan did the Chinese the favor of uniting North and South for the first time in 400 years. Young Marco had had experience in the Salt Monopoly of Venice and was employed by Khubilai Khan as a government official in the Salt Monopoly of Southern China, a big source of revenue for the Yuan imperial government.
The story of Marco Polo and Khubilai Khan is one of the world's great stories in inter-cultural relations and it begins with the opening of the roads across the world, for although the world thinks of Chinggis Khan as a warrior, he was a promoter of free trade. The story of the Mongol Empire is one of the greatest stories in global history. Yet the West does not know much about it for a simple reason.
The Mongols had not had writing for more than twenty years at the time of the conquests and they had no knowledge of the writing of history. The tale was told by his enemies, the greatest civilizations of their time, China and Persia, as well as medieval Russia, and many others besides. The tale was told in so many languages that it would take a lifetime to master them. That is why the story I tell in my series is a scoop, even after seven centuries. I became like an archaeologist, sifting through the record. I was the Indiana Jones of the Mongol Empire.
I had no idea of the scale of the story when I began my work. I took the word of a master. One of the greatest sinologists of the twentieth century told his students that if we wanted to make a reputation for ourselves, this was the period to work in. Nothing had been done. He wasn't kidding when he said nothing had been done. The field was a vast expanse of open prairie.
The story became my white whale, my Everest. I wanted to know what happened to the empire after The Conqueror died. How could it be that this man changed history and no one knew anything about it?
The Chinese histories were silent, because they considered the period a Dark Age. The Mongols conquered the world and no one knew anything about them. Thanks to a conference for teachers sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the first era of global history will be taught in American schools, from grades K through 12.
It took years of detective work for the story to emerge. Finally. I got a scoop, after 700 years. I found out what happened and I wrote it down in the Silk Road Series.
Why should the reader care? The world we live in is in the second period of global history, but we have been in a period of global history before and this is it. This era forms a distant mirror. It tells us how we got to where we are.
It would have taken a lifetime to master all the languages to get the whole story, so each specialist stuck to her region. Only in the post-World War II period, has enough come into English so that a storyteller could go beyond her specialty to tell the whole tale.