Reading progress update: I've read 136 out of 636 pages.

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

"The Rus' were ruthless when it came to enslaving local populations and transporting them south. Renowned for 'their size, their physique and their bravery', the Viking Rus' had 'no cultivated fields and they live by pillaging', according to one Arabic writer. It was the local population that bore the brunt. So many were captured that the very name of those taken captive - Slavs - became used for all those who had their freedom taken away: slaves."

Right, so now the book is becoming more interesting ... and it only took 100 pages to get there. *rolls eyes*


I'm still having problems with the writing. Frankopan throws in new names and references without any explanation whatsoever. So, I've spent a fair amount of time reading this with my search engine open. 


For example, the mention of the "Rus' " in the above paragraph is the first time that he mentions them. No background is given. I am either expected to know that they are a tribe of Vikings originally based in what is now Sweden and that they had turned landward (and over time end up - apparently - founding what we later call "Russia") or I am expected to look it up.

This same thing has happened all the way through the book.

I am by no means expecting to be spoon-fed background information on everything, but other than references to literature, there are literally no footnotes in this book. It really makes for frustrating reading - and I am guessing also that this book may have made the 

bestseller lists but it probably is one that a lot of people will not actually have read after buying it. 


The last section was in fact the first section that talked about the trade network and the establishment of trade posts and routes and the impact this had on the growth of towns and cities. 

As such it was quite interesting, even tho reading about the slave trade is never easy reading.


It seems, tho, that chronologically speaking slaves were the first, ... erm, commodity ... for which there was enough demand and that made enough profit to create a thriving industry of trade.  

"Eventually, the slave trade began to dwindle - at least from eastern and central Europe. One reason for this was that the Viking Rus' shifted their focus from long-distance trafficking to to the business of protection rackets. Attention focused on the benefits that the Khazars enjoyed from the trade that passed through towns like Atil, thanks to the levies raised on all merchandise transiting Khazar territory. The famous Persian geographical treatise Hudud al-Alam states that the very basis of the Khazar economy lay in its tax revenues: 'the well-being and wealth of the king of the Khazars are mostly from maritime duties'. Other Muslim commentators repeatedly note the substantial tax receipts collected by the Khazar authorities from commercial activities - which included levies charged on inhabitants of the capital.

Inevitably, this caught the attention of the Viking Rus', as did the tribute paid to the khagan [king of the Khazars] by the various subject tribes. One by one they were picked off and their loyalties (and payments) redirected to the aggressive new overlords. By the second half of the ninth century, the Slavic tribes of central and souther Russia were not only paying tribute to the Scandinavians, but were being forbidden to make any further payments 'to the Khazars, on the grounds that there was no reason for them to pay it'. Payment was to be made to the Rus' leader instead. This mirrored practices elsewhere - such as in Ireland, where protection money gradually replaced human trafficking after being attacked year after year, records the Annals of St Bertin, the Irish agreed to make annual contributions, in return for peace."

Btw, you may have noticed that the book is still mostly about Europe. Sure the trade routes affected the Middle East and Persia, but mostly this book is not about the Silk Roads any further beyond the the Caspian Sea. I have kind of given up on reading anything about the trade or history of central, east, or south Asia.


Oh, and the next section is about the Crusades arising out of Constantinople's and the Pope's envy of the flourishing wealth in the east.