Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia

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Maijishan Grottoes near Tianshui City are located in the western Qinling Mountains of Gansu Province in China. Many grottoes here were built as cliff pavilions. The clay and stone statues display the characteristics of sculpture art of various ages for more than 1,000 years, and systematically reflect the development and evolution of Chinese clay sculpture art. The Maijishan Grottoes are one of the four large grotto groups in China. Within the 194 caves, 7,200 clay sculptures and stone carvings have been preserved, along with more than 1,300 meters of frescoes.

Malabar Coast Many port cities such as Kannur (Cannanore), and Kozhikode (Calicut), Cochin, and Mangalore competed for the spice trade of the Malabar Coast, located along southwestern India. Since 3000 BC the Malabar Coast had been a major trading center, and linked commercial trade routes with Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Jerusalem and the Middle East. Because for centuries it served as a center of Indian Ocean trade, its orientation to the sea and to maritime commerce enabled the cities of the Malabar coast to host some of the first groups of Christians, Jews and Muslims in India.

Maluku (See Moluccas Islands)

Manas County is located in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, and is under the administration of the Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture.

Manchuria is a historical name given to a region of Northeast China, which is now referred to as the Northeast. It is the traditional homeland of several nomadic tribes, including the Manchu, Ulchs and Hezhen (also known as the Goldi and Nanai), as well as the Xianbei (鮮卑/鲜卑), Khitan (契丹), and Jurchen (女真), who built several dynasties in northern China. Manchuria  is also historically referred as Guandong (關東/关东), which literally means "East of the (Shanhaiguan) Pass/Mountain." More...

Manichaeism One of the major Iranian Gnostic religions, originating in Sassanid Persia. Manichaeism thrived between the third and seventh centuries. Manichaean churches and scriptures existed as far east as China and as far west as the Roman Empire. More...

Manichaean priests, writing at their desks, with panel inscription in Uyghur. Manuscript from Khocho, Tarim Basin.

Marco Polo (See Polo) Trader and explorer, the most famous of the Silk Road travelers. See also Mongol Empire Chronology.

Market A market is a place where parties (such as groups of merchants) engage in an exchange (of commodities, items, goods, products, and merchandise). Over the centuries, famous market towns emerged along the Silk Routes. More...

(Rabban Bar Sauma) and Markos.
Önggüd (Turkic) Nestorian monks who traveled from Tai-tu, Qubilai Khan's northern capital, to the Middle East, via the southern branch of the Silk Road (through Khotan and Kashgar). Although on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (which they never reached), they seem to have had official sponsorship from the Khan. Once in the Mongol Ilkhanid realms, they became involved in Nestorian church politics, and Markos eventually was elected head of the church as Patriarch Mar Yaballaha III. Bar Sauma was sent to the West as an emissary of the Ilkhanid ruler Arghun in 1287, with the goal of concluding an alliance against the Mamluks. Bar Sauma's writings were preserved in an abridged translation into Syriac, from which there are several translations into modern languages. Scholars have noted that Markos' narrative remains the only one of its era to provide an East Asian perspective on European ways.

Maritime routes As much as fourteen hundred years ago, during China's Eastern Han Dynasty, a sea route, although not part of the formal Silk Route, led from the mouth of the Red River near modern Hanoi, through the Malacca Straits to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and India, and then on to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea kingdom of Axum and eventual to Roman ports. From ports on the Red Sea goods, including silks, were transported overland to the Nile and then to Alexandria from where they were shipped to Rome, Constantinople and other Mediterranean ports.

Another branch of these sea routes led down the East African coast called "Azania" by the Greeks and Romans in the 1st century CE as described in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (and, very probably, Zesan in the 3rd century by the Chinese), at least as far as the port known to the Romans as "Rhapta" (which might have been located in the delta of the Rufiji River in modern Tanzania).

Researchers of maritime routes often focus on the following networks; from Guangzhou, located in southern China, to present day Brunei, Myanmar (Burma) Thailand, Malacca, Ceylon, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Iran and Iraq: in Europe from Palestine, Israel, Lebanon (the Levant), Egypt, and Italy (Venice) in the Mediterranean Sea to other European ports, or caravan routes, such as the great Hanseatic League fairs via the Spanish road and other Alpine routes. These water routes have been referred to as the Indian Ocean Maritime System.

Maritime trade between civilizations can be traced back to at least two millennia. Navigation was known in Sumer between the 4th and the 3rd millennium BCE, and was probably known by the Indians and the Chinese before the Sumerians. The Egyptians had trade routes through the Red Sea, importing spices from the "Land of Punt" (East Africa) and from Arabia. There is evidence that ship building was known as early as 3,000 BCE according to Ancient Egyptian history and ancient maritime trade history. Trade and transport along the silk, spice, and incense routes declined after the 15th century, when newly-discovered sea routes to Asia opened up, and continual improvements in sail and ship design were made. More...

Maritime republics The economic growth of Europe around the year 1000, together with the lack of safety on the mainland trading routes, eased the development of major commercial routes along the coast of the Mediterranean. The growing independence of some coastal cities gave them a leading role in the development of commerce. Maritime Republics (Italian "Repubbliche Marinare") of Venice, Genoa, Amalfi, Pisa, and Republic of Ragusa developed their own "empires" along the Mediterranean shores. From the 8th until the 15th century, they held the monopoly of European trade with the Middle East. The silk and spice trade, involving spices, incense, herbs, drugs and opium, made these Mediterranean city-states phenomenally rich. Spices were among the most expensive and most desired products of the Middle Ages -- all imported from Asia and Africa. Muslim traders (mainly descendants of Arab sailors from Yemen and Oman), dominated maritime routes throughout the Indian Ocean, tapping source regions in the Far East and shipping for trading emporiums in India, westward to Hormus in Persian Gulf and Jeddah in the Red Sea. From there, overland routes led to the Mediterranean coasts. Venetian merchants distributed the goods through Europe.

Masan This port located in South Korea was once operated by the Mongols during the 13th century (Mongol-Yuan Dynasty established in China) and was used in the preparations to conquer Japan. The town is also known as Happo. Kublai Khan, the ruler of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, had formed an alliance with the Koryo (Goryeo) Korean state and launched an allied Mongol-Koryo invasion of Japan in 1274 (and 1281). With a combination of tens of thousands of troops, the allied armies departed Masan on board an estimated 900 ships in an attempt to conquer Japan. Although the attempt failed, the Mongols remained in the Port of Masan, influencing the cities culture and traditions. To this day, Masan features the small but historic "Mongojeong," meaning Mongol Well, which represents the Mongolian influence on the city. What happened to the massive Mongol armada has been a subject of debate amongst historians. Renowned archaeologist and historian James P. Delgado, in his book "Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet" (University of California Press, 2008), draws on diverse sources to reveal that a severe storm was the main reason behind the sinking of the Mongol fleet and navy. (Map 1 Invasion of 1274 ; Map 2 Invasion of 1281) (See Korea)

Mashad (Meshed) is a city in Iran on the Silk Road caravan routes from Central Asia to Iran. For centuries it has been an important trade center.

Mathematics (Islam) In the history of mathematics, mathematics in medieval Islam (often termed Islamic mathematics) is the mathematics developed in the Islamic world between 622 and 1600, during what is known as the Islamic Golden Age, in that part of the world where Islam was the dominant religion. Islamic science and mathematics flourished under the Islamic caliphate (also known as the Islamic Empire), which was established across the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa, Southern Italy, the Iberian Peninsula, and, at its peak, parts of France and India. Civilizations from Europe to Asia, Greek, Indian and Babylonian, all played an important role in the development of early Islamic mathematics.  More...

Mattias of Miechow wrote an account of the 1241 Mongol invasion of Poland.

Medrese (madrasah, madrahsa, madarasaa, medresa, madrassa, madraza) A place where learning and studying are done. It is any type of educational institution, whether secular or religious. In English, the term madrasah usually refers specifically to Islamic institutions. More...

Mengda Beilu "Record of the Mongols and Tatars" is a work by Zhao Hong describing the Mongols in north China as seen during the embassy in which Zhao participated in 1221. This work, in addition to the work by his disciple Li Zhichang, comprise important first-hand accounts of the journey of the Taoist Changchun across Asia to meet Genghis Khan.

Merchant: A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit. The main travelers of the Silk Road were merchants who organized various caravans to cross dangerous steppes, hot deserts, forbidding mountains, while sometimes encountering brutal winds, poisonous animals, robbers, and bandits. Because the terrain of the Silk Road was difficult and full of geographic challenges, the routes were numerous and complex. Countless dangers awaited merchants who chose to take the journey by overcoming all kinds of hardship as they transported goods for sale between China and the West for profit. Very few traders made the whole trip (traders worked in relays, thus each trader would go a certain distance, exchange their goods for other goods, and attempt to return).

Merv  Now part of a larger town called Mary, Merv was a major trading spot, with routes forking to Istanbul and to the Mediterranean via Damascus. Merv, which did not pay tax

Mesopotamia generally refers to the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran. Mesopotamia is widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, however, the concept 'cradle of civilization' is the subject of much debate. The cradle of civilization is any of the possible locations for the emergence of civilization. It is usually applied to Ancient Near Eastern culture, especially in the Fertile Crescent (Levant and Mesopotamia), however the use of the term may also extended to regions in Greece, the Persian Plateau, and other Asian cultures situated along large river valleys, notably the Indus River in South Asia and the Yellow River in China. From 138 B.C. until the rise of Islam in 637 A.D., Mesopotamia is dominated first by the Parthian and then Sasanian Empires from Iran. Their strength and wealth was based on control of the trade routes through the region, which connected East and West, and often brought the rulers of Mesopotamia into conflict with the expansionist aims of Rome, and later Byzantium.

Mete Han (Modu Shanyu) was born c. 234 BCE, and was the fourth known king and founder of the Xiongnu Empire. (See Hu)

Middle Ages is known as a period in which Asia flourished, while European intellectual, cultural, and commercial life stagnated. As Asia became the world's epicenter of commerce and diplomacy, it also was a multidimensional  source of science, philosophy, culture and religion due to the vast network of international, interethnic, and intercontinental activities along the Silk Routes. In the late Middle Ages, however, transcontinental trade over the land routes of the Silk Road declined as sea trade increased.

Mingsha Hill (Shensha) is also known as the mountain of "Echoing," "Singing," or "Gurgling" sand because of the roaring sound of the shifting sand.  The multicolored sand dunes are located 6 km southwest of the ancient city of Dunhuang, in western Gansu Province, China. The province shares a short border on the north with the country of Mongolia.

Missionary A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to carry on ministries of the word, such as evangelism and literacy, or ministries of service, such as education, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad. In Christian cultures the term is most commonly used for Christian missions, but it applies equally to any creed or ideology. There is a biblical mandate revealing that Jesus instructed the apostles to make disciples of all nations. The New Testament missionary outreach of the Christian church from the time of St Paul was extensive throughout the Roman Empire. It is said that Buddhism launched "the first large-scale missionary effort in the history of the world's religions" in the 3rd century BC. More...

Mogao Caves ("Mogao Grottoes," also known as the "Caves of the Thousand Buddhas," "Qianfo Dong," and "Dunhuang Caves") are located 25 km southeast of Dunhuang, an oasis located at a religious and cultural crossroads of the Silk Road, in Gansu province, northwestern China. Dunhuang was a great centre of Buddhism since 366 CE. It was one of the chief places of entry for Buddhist monks and missionaries from the kingdoms of Central Asia, and in 366 Buddhists monks founded the first of what are now known as the "Mogao Caves." From that period onward the town was a major Buddhist centre and place of pilgrimage.

The Mogao Caves are the best known of the Chinese Buddhist grottoes and, along with Longmen Grottoes and Yungang Grottoes, are one of the three famous ancient sculptural sites of China. The Mogao Caves, which form a system of 492 temples with famous wall paintings, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

"Fumu enzhong jing": the sutra describes blessings received from one's parents.
In one scene a boy receives instruction from his father while the mother holds a baby;
the other scene stresses filial piety, one of the most important Confucian virtues.
See the Dunhuang Project Dunhuang Academy China

The Mogao Caves are located near the city of Dunhuang, which in ancient times was the point at which the two branches of the Silk Road, running around the Tarim Basin on the north and on the south, converged. Situated at the strategic crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences, the 492 cells and cave sanctuaries in Mogao are famous for their murals and painted statuary, which span 1,000 years of Buddhist art. In one of the cave temples, a rich collection of about 60,000 paper manuscripts, printed documents, and fragments dating from the 5th to the 11th century was discovered. This collection was found to include not only Buddhist but also Daoist, Zoroastrian, and Nestorian scriptures, as well as vast numbers of secular texts. Since the caves were still occupied by Buddhist monks from the end of the 19th century until 1930, the rock-art of Mogao, now administered by the Dunhuang Cultural Relics Research Institute, preserves the example of a traditional monastic settlement. (See Dunhuang) UNESCO

Moluccas Islands (Maluku, Moluccan Islands, the "Spice Islands") are an archipelago in Indonesia, and part of the larger Maritime Southeast Asia region. The islands were historically known as the "Spice Islands" by the Chinese and Europeans, but this term has also been applied to other islands outside Indonesia. The native Bandanese people traded spices with Asian nations, such as China, since the Roman Empire. With the rise of Islam, the spice trade became dominated by Muslim traders. By trading with Muslim states, Venice came to monopolize the spice trade in Europe between 1200-1500, through its network of routes from the Mediterranean to ports such as Alexandria in Egypt (after traditional overland Silk Routes were disrupted by the collapse of Byzantium and control of Constantinople by the Ottomans). The financial incentive to discover an alternative to Venice's monopoly of this lucrative business was perhaps the single most important factor precipitating Europe's Age of Exploration. Portugal took an early lead charting the route around the southern tip of Africa, securing bases and outposts en route, and discovering the coast of Brazil. Portugal's eventual success, and the creation of its own empire, provoked the other maritime powers in Europe—Spain, France, England and the Netherlands—to challenge and eventually overcome Portuguese power. While the Portuguese and Dutch set up bases along the the fringes of Asia and created outposts in the Orient, the Portuguese explorer Magellan claimed the Philippines for Spain in 1521. Because the Indonesia islands were situated along these important sea routes, the lucrative spice trade led to the "Spice Wars" between the European maritime powers after the 16th century. The Bandanese people lost the most in the fighting, with most of them being either slaughtered or enslaved by the Europeans. The goal of reaching the Spice Islands (eventually linked to the Dutch East Indies Empire) led to the accidental discovery of the West Indies, which fueled centuries of rivalry between European maritime powers for control of lucrative global markets and resources. The tattered mystique of the Spice Islands finally vanished when France and Britain successfully smuggled seeds and plants to their own colonial dominions on Mauritius, Grenada and elsewhere, making spices the commonplace affordable commodity of today. More...

Mongol Empire The Mongol Empire comprised the largest land empire in history, stretching from the Sea of Japan to the Caspian Sea - known as the largest contiguous empire in history. The founder, Genghis Khan, created a unified empire from the nomadic tribes of northeast Asia and promoted religious tolerance. Before his death, he assigned Ögedei Khan as his successor and split his empire into khanates among his sons and grandsons. He died in 1227 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Mongolia. His descendants went on to stretch the Mongol Empire across most of Eurasia by conquering and/or creating vassal states out of all of modern-day China, Korea, the Caucasus, Central Asian countries, and substantial portions of modern Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

The conquests of Genghis Khan and his successors effectively connected the Eastern world with the Western world, ruling a territory from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe. The Silk Road, connecting trade centers across Asia and Europe, came under the sole rule of the Mongol Empire. Security and stability was provided along the Silk Routes by the Mongol Empire until the middle of the 13th century. The end of the Pax Mongolica was marked by political fragmentation of the Mongol Empire and the outbreak of the Black Death in Asia, which spread along trade routes to much of the world. Map of Expansion

The Mongols were extremely successful in drawing upon the best that the East and West had to offer in science and technology, and in promoting scientific and technological exchanges. They introduced such innovations as Muslim astronomy, medicine, geography and map-making to China; a Middle Eastern variety of the catapult; encouraged the spread of gunpowder technology: and probably brought block printing to the Islamic world and beyond. They were greatly encouraged by the availability of individuals willing to travel from one end of the Mongol Empire to the other. They included the Jin Dynasty (Jurched) expert in pyrotechnics and military technology. Chinese sources also possessed great geographical knowledge. Furthermore, Mongol communications functioned well between parts of the empire, helping to inform armies and to the secure movement of goods and merchants. Under Kublai Khan, ships became an important part of the Mongolian communications system, as well as horsemen and runners (Kublai for example, kept in good communication with his fleets pursuing the Song rebels, and later long-range ships became the primary means of communication with Mongol Iran). Communications were cut off along land routes from China by a hostile Qaidu (Beijing), and the Ca'adai ulus. Marco Polo was a traveler upon such ships. (From the Historical Dictionary of the Mongol World Empire by Paul Buell, 2003).

Mongol Empire Chronology

1125 - Liao Dynasty overturned by Jurched invaders who establish their own Jin Dynasty (until 1234).
1141 - Loyalist Western Liao regime (or Qara-Kitan Empire) defeats Seljuq sultan Sanjar and gains control of Turkistan.
1162 - Temujin is born around this date (the future Cinggis-qan).
1179 - Birth of Joci (d.1227), Temujin's oldest son.
1183 - Birth of Ca'adai (d. 1242), Temujin's second son.
1186 - Birth of Ogodei (d. 1241), Temujin's third son.
1189 - First election of Temujin as Khan (qan), according to the "Secret History of the Mongols."
1193 - Birth of Tolui-noyon (d. 1233), Temujin's youngest son.
1200 - Accession of Muhammad II Khwarazm-Shah.
1204 - Uighur scribe Tatatonga captured by the Mongols who begin using the Uighur script.
1205 - First Mongol raid on Tangut Xixia.
Unification of the Mongols complete. Temujin's becomes Cinggis-qan and supreme ruler of the Mongolian world.
1207 - Revolt of the Juyin peoples of the Sino-Mongolian borderlands.
1209 - Beshbaligh Uighurs submit to Mongols. Collision with the Khwarazm-Shah.
1210 - Naiman Guculuk seizes Qara-Kitan Empire.
1211 - Mongols launch general raids on the Jin Dynasty domains.
1214 - Mongols lay siege to the Jin capital o Zhongdu.
1215 - Zhongdu falls to the Mongols and their local allies.
1218 - Mongols complete conquest of the former Qara-Kitan Empire and kill Guculuk. Merchants under Mongol protection and ambassadors killed by Khwarazmian governor of Otrar.
1219 - Mongols invade Khwarazmian Empire.
1221 - Mongols capture Samarqand. Death of Muhammad II Khwarazm-Shah. Mongols enter the Caucasus.
1223 - Battle of the Kalka between Mongol forces led by Jebe and Sube'edei, and a combined Russian and Kibca'ut force. Completion of first Mongol campaign in the west.
1225 - Cinggis-qan from Mongolia prepares final campaign against Xixia.
1227 - Death of Cinggis-qan, destruction of Xixia.
1229 - Quriltai elects Ogodei as second Khan of unified empire.
1231 - First Mongol invastion of Korea.
1234 - Jin Dynasty collapses.
1235 - A newly walled Qaraqorum becomes Mongol capital. Approximate date of the birth of Qaidu.
1236 - Mongol campaign into the Qıpchaq steppe and into Russia begins.
1237 - Russian city of Ryazan falls to the Mongols.
1240 - Kiev falls to the Mongols.
1241 - Mongols invade Eastern Europe; Battle of Liegnitz and on the Sajo; Khan Ogodei dies; Regency of his empress Doregene-Qatun.
1242 - Mongols withdraw from Hungary.
1245 - John of Plano Carpini travels to Mongolia.
1246 - Guyuk elected Khan, over the opposition of Bat-qan of the Golden Horde.
1248 - Death of Guyuk Khan (possibly by poisoning) during the initial stages of a campaign against Bat-qn. Empress Oqol-Qaimish becomes regent.
1250 - Mamluk Dynasty in Egypt begins rule.
1251 - Mongke, son of Tolui-noyan, elected Khan with the support of Bat-qan. The beginning of the purge of his opponents.
1252 - Mongke begins campaign in China against Southern Song Dynasty.
1253 - Mongke's younger brother Hule'u advances west to complete the Mongol conquest of Iran. William of Rubruck begins his journey to Mongolia.
1255 - Death of Bat-qan.
1256 - Hule'u destroys Assassin fortresses.
1257 - Mongols invade Annam.
1258 - Hule'u conquers Baghdad.
1259 - Death of Mongke Khan.
1260 - Qubilai and Ariq-Boko both elected Khan. Civil war begins. Battle of Ayn-Jalut.
1261 - Berke of the Golden Horde attacks Hule'u.
1262 - Li Tan uprising in Mongol China.
1264 - Ariq-Boko surrenders to Qubilai.
1266 - Death of Ariq-Boko. Qubilai begins building Daidu.
1267 - Qubilai begins final advance on Song.
1269 - Talas quriltai decides division of power in Ca'adai ulus. APhags-pa script is introduced.
1271 - Marco Polo leaves for China.
1272 - Qubilai takes dynastic title Yuan, "origin."
1274 - Qubilai invades Japan.
1276 - Song capital of Hangzhou falls to Mongols. General revolt of local princes agaist Qubilai in Mongolia.
1277 - Mongols invade Burma. Qaraqorum taken by rebels.
1279 - Battle of Yaishan. Last Song Dynasty resistance crushed.
1281 - Qubilai invades Japan for the second time.
1282 - Peace reestablished in Mongolia by Qubilai.
1285 - ABri-Kung incident in Tibet.
1287 - Rabban Sauma sent to Europe by Ilqan Arghun. Revold of Nayan against Qubilai.
1294 - Death of Qubilai.
1295 - Accession of Ghazan begins Ilqanate golden age. Conversion of Mongol ruling house in Iran to Islam.
1299 - Ilqanate launches major invasion of Syria, but is not able to maintain control.
1301 - Death of Qaidu.
1304 - Temur Khan of China makes peace with the interested parties in Central Asia. Last attempt to restore Mongol unity.
1326 - Tarmashirin, last ruler of a united Ca'adai ulus, accepts Islam.
1335 - Line of Hule'u dies out in Iran, ending Ilqanate.
1336 - Birth of Tamerlane (Timur)
1346 - Black Death.
1368 - Ming forces oust Mongols from China.
1370 - Toghon Temur, last Mongol emperor of China, dies.
1380 - Battle of Kulikovo. Emir Mamai defeated by Demitri Donskoi.
1395 - Battle of Terek River (April 14) ends power of a unified Golden Horde.
1405 - Death of Timur (Tamerlane).
1502 - Great Horde destroyed by Crimea.
1505 - Last Khan of the Great Horde murdered.
1552 - Kazan taken by Ivan the Terrible.
1783 - Qanate of Crimea conquered by Russians, last Mongol state.
(Click for descendants chart - click for Yuan-Mongol Emperors)

Mongol Fleet, also known as the Mongol navy or armada, comprised part of Khubilai Khan's maritime power during the 13th century Mongol-Yuan Dynasty in China. The Mongol Empire was the largest empire the world has ever seen, stretching from the China Sea to the plains of Hungary. The Mongol fleet was used in the preparations to conquer Japan. The Mongols formed an alliance with the Koryo Korean state and launched an allied Mongol-Koryo invasion of Japan in 1274 (and 1281), which eventually failed. (See Masan)

Mongol Peace (See Pax Mongolica)

Mongolia is a country in Central Asia which was part of a great Eurasian empire which eased trade across Asia. It is bordered by Russia to the north and the People's Republic of China to the south, east and west. Although Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakhstan, its western-most point is only 38 kilometers (24 mi) from Kazakhstan's eastern tip. Ulaanbaatar is the capital and largest city. Mongolia, since prehistoric times, has been inhabited by nomadic peoples who, from time to time, formed great confederations that rose to prominence. Mongolia was ruled by various empires, including the Xiongnu, the Xianbei, the Rouran, and the Gökturks. It was Chinggis Khan, Genghis Khan, who founded the Mongol Empire in 1206.

The vast Xiongnu empire (209 BC-93 AD) was followed by the Mongolic Xianbei empire (93-234) which also ruled more than the entirety of present-day Mongolia. The Mongolic Rouran Khaganate (330-555) ruled a massive empire before being defeated by the Göktürks (555-745) whose empire was even greater. They were succeeded by the Uyghur Khaganate (745-840) who were defeated by the Kyrgyz. The Mongolic Khitans ruled Mongolia during the Liao Dynasty (907-1125) after which the Khamag Mongol (1125–1206) rose to prominence. More...

Because the Mongols had little inclination to ally with other nomadic peoples of northern Asia, until the end of the 12th century the Mongols have been often viewed as a loose confederation of rival clans. Once Chinggis had succeeded in bringing the Mongols together in 1206, a meeting of the so-called Khuriltai (an assemblage of the Mongol nobility) gave their new leader the honorary title of "Chinggis Khan," meaning "Khan of All Between the Oceans," or "Universal King." Chinggis's birth name was Temujin, and thus giving him the title "Chinggis Khan" was an acknowledgment by the Mongol nobles of his leadership, and their loyalty. No Mongolian leader had united the Mongolians so effectively. After the unification of most of the Mongol tribes, Genghis Khan waged a series of military campaigns and swept through much of Eurasia, forming the Mongol Empire which is known as the largest contiguous land empire in world history. Under his successors the empire stretched from the Sea of Japan to the Caspian Sea. After Genghis Khan's death, the empire was subdivided into four kingdoms or Khanates which eventually became quasi-independent after Möngke Khan's death in 1259. One of the khanates, the "Great Khaanate," consisting of the Mongol homeland and China, was transformed into the Yuan Dynasty under Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. He set up his capital in present day Beijing but after more than a century of power, the Yuan Dynasty was replaced by the Ming Dynasty in 1368, with the Mongol court fleeing to the north. The Mongol Empire had significantly eased trade and commerce across Asia and the Silk Routes during its height. The communication and interaction between the Yuan Dynasty and Ilkhanate Persia contributed to this development. (See Ulaanbaatar) More...

Monk is a person who practices religious asceticism, living either alone, or with any number of monks, whilst always maintaining some degree of physical separation from those not sharing the same purpose. The concept is ancient and can be seen in many religions and in philosophy. More...

Monsoon is a seasonal prevailing wind that lasts for several months within tropical regions. The term was first used in English in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and neighboring countries to refer to the big seasonal winds blowing from the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea in the southwest bringing heavy rainfall to the area. Monsoon winds could assist, or be hazardous, to the journey of merchant ships. A complex network of sailing ships, dependent on seasonal monsoon winds, carried cargoes from India and Southeast Asia to ports throughout the ancient world. This early trade was conducted by intermediaries and Arab, Indian, and Malay seafarers. (See Wind)

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
(1689 – 1762) was an English aristocrat and writer. Montagu is today remembered for her letters, particularly her letters from Turkey. Early in 1716, her husband Edward Wortley Montagu was appointed Ambassador to Istanbul. Lady Mary accompanied him to Vienna, and later to Adrianople and Istanbul. He was recalled in 1717, but they remained in Istanbul until 1718. The story of her voyage and her observations of Eastern life is told in the Turkish Embassy Letters More...

John of Montecorvino 
Franciscan missionary, active in Persia and Armenia, and then in India and China. He left Tabriz for India in 1291 and arrived in Beijing probably after the death of Qubilai Khan in 1294. He was elevated to the rank of Archbishop in c. 1307 and continued to head the Catholic mission there until his death. Although he did not write a travel narrative, several of his letters have been preserved.

Mughal Empire (also Mogul, or Moghul Empire) In addition to the prosperity brought to India by the Silk Road, during the rule of the Mughal Emperors and the Islamic Dynasties of India, the northern cities became leading centers of art, science, commerce, and culture. As an Indian-Islamic power, the empire ruled a large portion of the Indian subcontinent beginning in 1526. By the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the empire ruled most of South Asia by forming alliances with various Indian Maharaja. The empire ended in the mid-19th century.

Taj Mahal, India 1648

A descendant of both Timur and Genghis Khan, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1483-1530) established the foundations of  the Mughal Empire during an an era of dynastic struggles in Central Asia which included the desire to rule over the Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Fergana. Babur was able to establish a base in Kabul and conquered much of the Indian subcontinent. By 1605, the Mughal empire covered most of northern and central India, and was one of the most powerful empires of its age. The Silk Road brought trade and prosperity to the regions of northern India.  More...

Muhammad (Prophet Muhammad) (born jn Mecca c. 570 / 571, died 632) is regarded by Muslims as a messenger and last prophet of God  (a.k.a. the founder of the religion of Islam), and the greatest law-bearer in a series of prophets. Muslims consider him the restorer of an uncorrupted original monotheistic faith (Islām) of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets. He was also active as a diplomat, merchant, philosopher, orator, legislator, reformer, military general, and, according to Muslim belief, an agent of divine action. The revelations — which Muhammad reported receiving until his death — form the verses of the Holy Qur'an, and are regarded by Muslims as the “Word of God.” Prophet Muhammad’s teachings and example in life (what he said and his deeds were recorded in the form of  hadith), and the Prophet's traditions (sunnah), are also upheld in the lives of Muslims. The holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia is considered the center of the Islamic world, and it is the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. Each day, millions of Muslims from all over the world face Mecca to pray.


The Kaaba in Mecca and The Great Mosque are central to the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca).
Islam requires that each able-bodied person make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime.

Mummies Some of the most well-known mummies in China, and in the world, are known as "The Tarim Basin mummies." Although the terrain of this region of China is mostly uninhabitable, the area known as the Tarim Basin once contained rivers and oases that welcomed Silk Road travel and settlement. As a crossroads between Europe and Asia, it has been crossed and settled not only by Chinese, but also a diverse mix of peoples, including Mongols, Uighurs, Europeans, and Siberians. Today, these mysterious mummies remain secrets of the Silk Road, although each tells a story we can not fully comprehend. The mummies are star attractions within China (especially at the recently renovated museum in Urumqi), and another nearby museum in the oasis town of Turpan (140 miles from Urumqi in Xinjiang).

The most famous mummy, "the Beauty of Loulan," was unearthed in 1980 by Chinese archaeologists who were working with a television crew on a film about the Silk Road near Lop Nur. Due to the extreme dryness and the preservative properties of salt, the corpse was remarkably intact. The mummy was wrapped in a simple woolen cloth and dressed in a goatskin, a felt hat and leather shoes. Despite the assumption that Caucasians did not travel to the region until at least a thousand years later (when trading between Europe and Asia is said to have begun along the Silk Road), the discovery may suggest very ancient contacts between the East and West because the mummy appears to have Caucasian features.

The mummy is one of hundreds of Bronze Age mummies discovered in the shifting desert sands of northwestern China's Tarim Basin in the Xinjiang region, where thousands more might still be buried. Unlike the embalmed mummies of ancient Egypt, these mummies were preserved naturally by the elements. They represent a span of history dating from 1800 BC to as recently as the Ching Dynasty (1644-1912), and a range of human experience. Some were kings and warriors, others housewives and farmers. Many artifacts which shed light on their lifestyles have also been found, such as clothing, fabrics, wooden and bone implements, and even preserved foods such as a wonton, spring roll and fried dough.

Muscat (See Yemen)

Museum (Silk Route) The "Silk Route Museum" is located in Gansu Province at the western end of the Great Wall at the fort of Jiayuquan, and is built over the tomb of the Xiliang King. More...

Museum (Xinjiang) The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Museum was established in the spring of 1953 in the People's Park in Urumchi City. A new museum was later built in 1962 at a new site on Xibei Lu. The building occupies a space of 11,000 square meters and is built in a modern style enhanced by local architectural features. The central dome is thirty meters high and provides a view of the entire city of Urumchi.

The Silk Road derived its fame from silk. The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Museum has also become famous for its rich collections of silk artifacts from many periods of history. Brocades from Eastern Han are highlighted, as well as all kinds of specialized silk-woven items from the height of the Tang. These are as lustrous and beautiful today as when they were new and display weaving techniques that were highly refined, many hundreds and even thousands of years ago. These are regarded as unique treasures by textile specialists and art historians around the world. A number of the articles on display are the earliest extant examples of certain weaving technologies in China.

The Xinjiang Autonomous Region has long been a crossroads for many different cultures. Their diversity of scripts and cultures is exhibited in this museum through archaeological and historical items, including documents in some twelve different scripts (with a particularly large number from Han Dynasty discoveries at Turfan). The documents cover military, economic, cultural, and political affairs. Clay or terracotta sculptures are also featured in the Xinjiang Museum. Among these are Central Asian camels, Yuan Dynasty horses, women figurines, and fierce soldiers. The Xinjiang Museum has several dozen original Tang Dynasty paintings.

Myrrh (Product traded along the Incense Route) is a reddish-brown resinous material collected from the dried sap of certain trees. The original myrrh species is Commiphora myrrha, which is native to Yemen, Somalia, and the eastern parts of Ethiopia. The related Commiphora gileadensis, native to Israel, Palestine and Jordan, is now accepted as an alternate source of myrrh. Myrrh has been traditionally used by many cultures as a perfume, incense, medication, or embalming ointment. In addition to its pleasant scent, it also has antimicrobial properties. In Christian tradition, the Magi (also referred to as the Three Wise Men, or Three Kings from the East) are said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense.

Myrrh originated from the Arabian Peninsula, where the gum resins were first collected. Its trade route reached Jerusalem and Egypt from modern Oman (then known as the Dhofar region) and Yemen, following the Red Sea coast of Arabia. Herodotus wrote in the 5th century BC, "Arabia is the only country which produces myrrh, frankincense, cassia and cinnamon." Diodorus Siculus wrote in the second half of the first century BC that "all of Arabia exudes a most delicate fragrance; even the seamen passing by Arabia can smell the strong fragrance that gives health and vigor."

The Ancient Egyptians imported large amounts as far back as 3000 B.C. They used it to embalm the dead, as an antiseptic, and burned it for religious sacrifice. Archeologists have found at least two ostraca from Malkata (New Kingdom Egypt, ca. 1390 to 1350 BC) that were lined with a shiny black or dark brown deposit that analysis believe is chemically closest to myrrh. In Ancient Rome, myrrh was priced at five times higher than frankincense. It was burned at ancient Roman funeral pyres to mask the reek of corpses. Pliny the Elder refers to myrrh as one of the ingredients of perfumes, and specifically as the "Royal Perfume" of the Parthians. He also mentions that myrrh was used to fumigate wine jars before bottling, and Fabius Dorsennus alludes to myrrh as a luxurious flavoring for wine. It is still used to flavor the liqueur known as Fernet.

Mysticism is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. Mysticism usually centers on a practice or practices intended to nurture those experiences or awareness. Mystic traditions exist within larger religious traditions—such as Kabbalah within Judaism, Sufism within Islam, Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism within Hinduism, Christian mysticism (and arguably Gnosticism) within Christianity—but are often treated skeptically and sometimes held separately by more orthodox or mainstream groups within the given religion, due to the emphasis of the mystics on direct experience and living realization over doctrine. There were countless mystics who travelled along the Silk Routes, such as Sufi mystics. More...

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