Sino-Roman diplomatic relations

(To Federico Gozzi)

The ancient Rome and ancient China are still regarded as eternal symbols of order, power, and wisdom, indisputable values ​​that have supported for both centuries and western civilization. Many historians and rulers have been inspired by the companies and inventions of the two Empires to build or define their states and their actions.

Rome and China followed a path that had many similarities: both of them were formed by the unity of many peoples, they had a solid state, tax and military apparatus, developed arts and sciences, and then followed both philosophies - in Rome Stoicism, Confucianism in China - which exalted the work of men who made their moral integrity and ethics their reason for living.

However, the Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire had several differences, such as the economic system, which in the West was based on the practice of slavery while in the Far East was not contemplated. Or in the East, the concept of the Emperor was related to the divinity, or the Emperor was considered a God on Earth, while in Rome the Prince ruled together with the Senate and only after his death knew a process of deification. Moreover, the Romans had to face and subjugate advanced populations, which had numerous technological and cultural innovations, unlike China, which did not initially expand but rather had to unify all the territories occupied by the Chinese ethnic groups, and then subjugated populations that had a degree technology equal to invaders or even lesser.

In spite of the common belief, the Romans knew of the existence of China, which was called "Serica", literally "Land of Silk". This name is due to the fact that silk was the main Chinese export product, which was sold to Roman merchants who crossed the Silk Road to buy that precious fabric and then take it to Western markets, selling it to matrons and patricians, who greatly appreciated the silk. It was so appreciated that the Senate of Rome had to issue many laws to ban its use, as according to many intellectuals (such as the historian and writer Pliny the Elder) and Senate members, silk was a symbol of softening society and did not respect public decor, given its thickness, which became the nickname of "transparent dress". In addition, it was a common belief that was born on the trees. This did not stop the use of fabric or Sino-Roman trades. The economic relations were so constant that it would also allow the reciprocal sending of embassies by the two states.

The first official delegation that arrived in the territories under the control of the Roman Empire dates back to 97 AD during the reign of Emperor Nerva, as reported by the writer Floro, and was led by a Chinese correspondent of General Ban Chao, victorious against the Huns , named Gan Ying. Although disillusioned by the Parties, who wanted to prevent the two civilizations from coming into contact, he succeeded in his intent and described in detail the Roman State, defined by the Chinese as "Da Qin" or "Greater China", allowing another to report these first-hand news in the Chinese territory some thirty years later. To tell the truth, some Roman testimonies also refer to an embassy coming from the Far East arrived in the territories of Rome after Augustus's victory over Marco Antonio and Cleopatra, who brought several gifts, including the aforementioned silk.

About 70 years later, in the 166 dc, the Romans sent an ambassador to Serica, referring to the name of "Antun", probably referring to Emperor Antonino Pio (dead in 161), but it is not excluded either that he was referring to Marco Aurelio, since it was customary to bring the Roman Principle to the predecessors by assuming their name.

This delegation was possible thanks to the expansion of maritime and land trade in Rome, which extended to the Indian Ocean. It brought gifts from the Roman territories to the Emperor of China and also delivered an astronomical treaty for his people. Moreover, in the 116 dc the two Empires were very close to having direct contact, as Trajan defeated the Parthians and occupied their capital, Ctesiphon. The Chinese had set up their military bases near the city, following their military alliance with the parties, to take control of the trade routes that flowed into the Near East, a situation the Parties tried to avoid with all their forces and finally succeeded in their own intent. In fact, the opportunity that could allow another sequel to History and a total upsurge in political and military equilibrium in the then world did not come as the two armies did not meet.

The dream of a meeting between the two empires was broken as Adriano inaugurated a defensive policy, leading the legionaries back to the Sirian Limes, while the Chinese limited themselves to controlling the commercial routes present in Ferghana, withdrawing from Partia.

The failure to meet and the subsequent alliance between the two empires was one of the causes of their decadence, and of the fall of the Roman State, since they could have curbed the problem of the barbarian peoples coming from Asia, like the Huns, allowing the maintenance of trade with the East, which was made difficult by the growing tensions in Central Asia, the never-ending tensions that forced Rome to definitively close economic relations with the Far East, effectively reducing international trade.

If there had been a direct meeting between China and Rome, would history have taken a different turn?

(photo: web)