Bezeklik Grottoes, near Turfan along the Silk Road
Aryan trade is intimately tied to Aryan history, migration and the grouping of the sixteen Avestan Vendidad nations. Understanding the nature of the trade also helps us to develop a better understanding of Aryan Homeland, Airyana Vaeja's possible location.
Trading required the development of a very special infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and inns; it required manufacturing and craft industries with related tools and equipment; it required, most importantly, security and the development of laws including contract law; and it required kingdoms and local authorities working collaboratively to assist that trade which was a potential source of revenue through a taxing of the trade.
Stone & Metal Age Aryan Trade
The Aryans started trading between themselves in the expanded lands formed by their migrations very early in their history, and there is evidence of their trade during the Neolithic (new) Stone Ages, that is, towards the end of the Stone Age some 7,000 years ago.
Precious Stones & Metals
The immense tectonic forces deep within the earth and upheaval that thrust to great heights the rugged mountains that characterized the original Aryan lands, also produced precious stones, crystals and metals that became sought after all around the world known to the ancient Aryans and their neighbours.
The Aryans began to trade very early in their development and the precious stones and metals such as lapis lazuli, rubies, emeralds, mountain crystal, gold and silver, that they found buried in the earth and mountains was among the very first items they traded.
Amongst these items, lapis lazuli played a very special and significant role, since the Pamir-Badakshan region was home to the only lapis mine known in those early days, and because the known world developed a hunger for this prized stone, a demand that the Aryans met by carrying the lapis to distant lands.
Badakshan Lapis Lazuli
Badakshan lapis lazuli
By the second half of the 4th millennium BCE, Badakshan lapis lazuli (stone of blue) was being traded in countries as far west as Sumer and Akkad (Mesopotamia), and the Nile Delta (Egypt) (cf. Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries by Peter Roger Stuart Moorey, p. 86). The 2500m / 9,000ft high Sar-e Sang, Badakshan mines, now in north-eastern Afghanistan, were the only known source of lapis lazuli in the ancient world. By the 3rd millennium BC, the lapis lazuli trade had extended south to Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley Civilization (Hapta Hindu of the Vendidad's list of nations. Modern day Pakistan and north-western India).
The ancients found numerous uses for lapis lazuli. Among the uses was the making of the expensive pigment ultramarine which was used in Illuminated manuscripts and panels. The pigment was made by grinding the lapis to a powder.
The Aryans acquired exotic items from the lands they visited and traded these items in the other countries they visited. Stone age artefacts from the Harappa and the Tigris / Euphrates (Sumer) valleys have been found in the ruins of Central Asian towns presently in Turkmenistan, towns and settlements such as Altyn Depe.
Location of the ancient 6,000+ year-old Sar-e Sang mines lapis lazuli mines
The British Museum site that describes the seal described below also states, "The Sar-i Sang mines in the region of Badakhshan in north-east Afghanistan were probably the source for all lapis lazuli used in the ancient Near East. From here it was carried across Iran, where several lapis working sites have been discovered, and on to Mesopotamia and Egypt. Another source for lapis lazuli exists in southern Pakistan (a region of the Indus Valley civilization) but it is unclear if they were mined at the time of this seal."
Kokcha River Valley Leading to Sar-e Sang, Badakshan mines
Captain John Wood, a surveyor with the British Navy was commissioned to explore the Amu Darya River and in December 1838 came upon the Sar-e Sang mines. He wrote: "Where the deposit of lapis lazuli occurs, the valley of the Kokcha is about 200 yards wide. On both sides the mountains are high and naked. The entrance to the mines is in the face of the mountain, on the right bank of the stream, and about 1,500 feet above its level.
"The workmen enumerate three descriptions of ladjword (lapis). These are the Neeli, or indigo color; the Asmani, or light blue; and the Suvsi, or green. There relative value is in the order in which I have mentioned them. The richest colours are found in the darkest rock, and the nearer the river the greater is said to be the purity of the stone."
The Afghan word for lapis lazuli is ladjword while the Persian word is lazvard.
Marco Polo visited the Sar-e Sang mines during his travels along the Silk Road. The area is rich in other gemstones such as rubies and emeralds and precious metals such as silver and gold that were actively traded throughout the ages (see GeoVision / Gem Hunter & Gubelinlab sites).
Near East Seal made from Badakshan Lapis British Museum
Tepe Hissar, an archaeological site of largest known urban settlement in the northeast corner of present-day Iran, flourished from 4,500 to 1,900 BCE (Metal Age). It is located ninety kilometres southeast of the Caspian Sea, near the modern city of Damghan, along the south slopes of the Alburz mountains, and south of Turkmenistan. Hissar was strategically and centrally located on the east-west trade route. Amongst the artefacts found at the site, were those made from lapis lazuli turquoise from Badakshan in the east. According to The Shelby White-Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications, Harvard University: "Its strategic location along the major East-West trade route, between southern Mesopotamia, Iranian plateau and Central Asia, further heightens its presumed economic and political role in the region. The importation of lapis and turquoise implies connections with the east, and at the same time links with the west have been documented by blank clay tablets reminiscent of Proto-Elamite tablets, and a cylinder seal. Its importance, therefore, as a cornerstone of chronology, cannot be overemphasized."
According to the British Museum in their description of a Bronze Age, c. 2400-2000 BCE, Lapis lazuli stamp seal from the Ancient Near East (? - placed in Room 52 - Ancient Iran), "... Behind the man are a long-horned goat above a zebu. This last animal is related in style to similar creatures depicted on seals from the Indus Valley civilization, which was thriving at this time. There were close connections between the Indus Valley civilization and eastern Iran. One of the prized materials that was traded across the region was lapis lazuli, the blue stone from which this seal is made."
D. Collon, 'Lapis lazuli from the east: a stamp seal in the British Museum', Ancient Civilizations from Scy, 5/1 (1998), pp. 31-39
A caravan using Bactrian camels
The principle method the Aryan traders used to travel and carry their wares along the trade routes was the caravan (From Persian karvan). The caravan is a group of individuals and pack animals (or beasts of burden) travelling together for safety in passing through hostile and inhospitable territory such as deserts and rugged mountains. There was safety in numbers to help resist bandits and aid injured fellow traders along the way. Caravans were not just formed by traders. Travellers, and ancient tourists, wishing to go from one place to another would also use the caravans, and these travellers were an additional source of income for the caravan organizers.
Since safety from bandits and even soldiers was an ever present hazard, it was necessary for the travellers to have negotiated safe passage before hand. It was also incumbent on states that relied on trade income to supplement their coiffeurs by taxing the caravans, to ensure the safety of the caravans, and to therefore assert their authority beyond urban areas. Some kings and local rulers built resting places for the travellers to assist them in their travels.
The inns at which the traders and travellers stayed either overnight or while they conducted their trade, were called caravanserais (from Persian كاروانسرا karvan + sara = caravan + court). In Mesopotamia, they were called khans (for instance, the caravanserai in Damascus was called Khan As'ad Pasha), while in Asia Minor (Turkey), they were called hans and kervansaraylar (for instance, the Agzıkara-han Kervansarayları).
The caravanserais provided board and lodging, as well as courtyards for the animals and storage areas for their goods.
In the images to the right and below, the caravanserai building is built around a courtyard which it encloses. The upper photograph is of the ruins of the building without the upper floor, which we presume is missing because it was built from wood. The arch shaped cubicles are storage areas, above which were the rooms in which the travellers stayed. The animals rested in the courtyard.
An artist's reconstruction of the caravanserai building is in the lower image.
Xenophon (Xen. Cyrop. 8.6, 17) ascribes the institution of way-stations or rest-stations to King Cyrus the Great, who, having found out what distance a horse could cover in a day, divided the roads into corresponding stages depending on the terrain, and at these stage junctions built stations consisting of stables and rooms, and where he stationed horses, couriers and a man in charge.
Below is the section on caravanserais from Herodotus' Histories, Terpsichore 5.52 giving an account of the Persian Royal Road which ran from Sardes to Susa. The distance between the rest stations along the road varied depending of the terrain and the abilities of local beasts of burden. As can be expected, because of the animals, the distance between caravan stations (average 121 stades or 4 parasangs = 24 km.) was somewhat shorter than the average distance of a day's march by say a soldier (150 to 200 stades or 30 to 40 km.). A stade (length of a stadium is approximately 0.2 km in length). Herodotus notes two kinds of rest stations καταγωγαὶ σταθμῶν (katagogai stathmon) and σταθμοὶ καταγωγέων (stathmoi katagogeon), κατάλυμα katályma meaning accommodation.
A parasang (Farsang) is according to some references equivalent to about 6-8 km. and by others 3 1/2 miles, i.e. 5.6 km. perhaps an hour's travel by caravan.
Map of caravanserais (red squares) and trade roads (white lines) developed by Prof. P. Lebigre and Dr E. Thompoulos (EVCAU researchers at The Ecole d’Architecture Paris Val de Seine (EAPVS). EVCAU is their research team (Research Team Virtual Space of Conception in Architecture and Town Design) at
(Translation by George Rawlinson:) Royal stations exist along its whole length, and excellent caravanserais; and throughout, it traverses an inhabited tract, and is free from danger. In Lydia and Phrygia there are twenty stations within a distance Of 94 ½ parasangs (approx. 570 km.). On leaving Phrygia the Halys has to be crossed; and here are gates through which you must needs pass ere you can traverse the stream. A strong force guards this post. When you have made the passage, and are come into Cappadocia, 28 stations and 104 parasangs bring you to the borders of Cilicia, where the road passes through two sets of gates, at each of which there is a guard posted. Leaving these behind, you go on through Cilicia, where you find three stations in a distance of 15 ½ parasangs. The boundary between Cilicia and Armenia is the river Euphrates, which it is necessary to cross in boats. In Armenia the resting-places are 15 in number, and the distance is 56 ½ parasangs. There is one place where a guard is posted. Four large streams intersect this district, all of which have to be crossed by means of boats. The first of these is the Tigris; the second and the third have both of them the same name, though they are not only different rivers, but do not even run from the same place. For the one which I have called the first of the two has its source in Armenia, while the other flows afterwards out of the country of the Matienians. The fourth of the streams is called the Gyndes, and this is the river which Cyrus dispersed by digging for it three hundred and sixty channels. Leaving Armenia and entering the Matienian country, you have four stations; these passed you find yourself in Cissia, where eleven stations and 42 ½ parasangs bring you to another navigable stream, the Choaspes, on the banks of which the city of Susa is built. Thus the entire number of the stations is raised to one hundred and eleven; and so many are in fact the resting-places that one finds between Sardis and Susa.
In Lydia and Phrygia
In the country of the Matieni
(Translation by William Beloe:) In that space of country about which Cleomenes had inquired, the Persian king has various stathmi [Our note: from Greek σταθμός i.e. stathmós meaning station, port or depot], or (also called) mansions [Our note: cf. ma'nsio from the Latin mansus manere "to remain" or "to stay"], with excellent inns*; these are all splendid and beautiful, the whole of the country is richly cultivated, and the roads good and secure. In the regions of Lydia and Phrygia, twenty of the above stathmi occur within the space of ninety parasangs and a half. Leaving Phrygia, you meet with the river Halys, where there are gates which are strongly defended, but which must be necessarily passed. Advancing through Cappadocia, to the confines of Cilicia, in the space of one hundred and four parasangs, there are eight-and-twenty stathmi. At the entrance of Cilicia are two necks of land, both well defended ; passing beyond which through the country, are three stathmi in the space of fifteen parasangs and a half: Cilicia, as well as Armenia, are terminated by the Euphrates, which is only passable in vessels. In Armenia, and within the space of fifty-six parasangs and a half, there are fifteen stathmi, in which also are guards: through this country flow the waters of four rivers, the passage of which is indispensable, but can only be effected in boats. Of these the first is the Tigris; by the same name also the second and third are distinguished, though they are by no means the same, nor proceeding from the same source: of these latter the one rises in Armenia, the other from amongst the Matieni. The fourth river is called the Gyndes, which was formerly divided by. Cyrus into three hundred and sixty channels. From Armenia to the country of the Matieni, are four stathmi: from hence through Cissia, as far as the river Choaspes, there are eleven stathmi, and a space of forty-two parasangs and a half. The Choaspes is also to be passed in boats, and beyond this Susa is situated. Thus it appears, that from Sardis to Susa are one hundred and eleven stations, or stathmi.
Artist's reconstruction of a caravanserai
Notes by the translator, William Beloe:
*Excellent inns: There can be little doubt, but that these are the same with what are now called caravanserais, and which abound in all oriental countries; these are large square buildings, in the centre of which is a spacious court. The traveller must not expect to meet with much accommodation in these places, except that he may depend upon finding water: they are esteemed sacred, and a stranger's goods, whilst he remains in one of them, are secure from pillage. Such exactly are also the choultries of Indostan, many of which are buildings of great magnificence, and very curious workmanship. What the traveller has there to expect is little more than mere shelter.
[Other references: Athenæs / Athenæus / Athenaeus (bk. xi, chap. 103, page 800) speaks of Amyntas (of Heraclea? who accompanied Alexander of Macedonia) as the author of a work, Σταθμοί Περσικοί or Stathmoí Persikoí sometimes referred to as the Stations of Asia or Stathmi of Asia. Eratosthenes (c 276 - c 195 BCE) based some of his geographical calculations on the Register of the Stathmi also called the Register of Days' Journey, stathmi being several stages from place to place. Amyntas' Stathmi of Asia is thought to be the same as the Register of the Stathmi. Athenaeus (10.442 b) also cites Baeto's work on the station used by Alexander of Macedonia.]
Chaikhanas - Tea Houses
A chaikhana, which in Persian means tea-room or tea-house, is a traditional community meeting place and a place to find inexpensive, but wholesome food, became popular with travellers and a place where the locals and travellers could exchange stories and information.
A chai-khana in the Peshawar (north Pakistan)
Loreena McKennitt - Caravanserai
Loreena McKennitt's Ancient Muse album cover
Loreena McKennitt, (born February 17, 1957) is a Canadian singer, composer, harpist, accordionist and pianist who writes, records and performs world music with Celtic and Middle Eastern themes. McKennitt is a member of the Order of Canada.
One of McKennitt's is the song Caravanserai. Its lyrics read as follows:
This glancing life is like a morning star
A setting sun, or rolling waves at sea
A gentle breeze or lightning in a storm
A dancing dream of all eternity
The sand was shimmering in the morning light
And dancing off the dunes so far away
The night held music so sweet, so long
And there we lay until the break of day
We woke that morning at the onward call
Our camels bridled up, our howdahs* full
The sun was rising in the eastern sky
Just as we set out to the desert's cry
Calling, yearning, pulling, home to you
The tents grew smaller as we rode away
On earth that tells of many passing days
The months of peace and all the years of war
The lives of love and all the lives of fears
Calling, yearning, pulling, home to you
We crossed the river beds all etched in stone
And up the mighty mountains ever known
Beyond the valleys in the searing heat
Until we reached the caravanserai
Calling, yearning, pulling, home to you
Calling, yearning, pulling, home to you
What is this life that pulls me far away
What is that home where we cannot reside
What is that quest that pulls me onward
My heart is full when you are by my side
Calling, yearning, pulling, home to you
Calling, yearning, pulling, home to you.
* A howdah is a platform placed on the back of a pack animal. It can have a palanquin like covered enclosure of a person to sit in or on which to place goods.
The two-humped Bactrian camel was, if we may be forgiven this term, the work-horse of the caravans that plied the trade routes. If it were not for the Bactrian camel, the success and sustainability of the trade along the varied terrain and climate of the trade routes, would be questionable. The Bactrian camel was particularly suited to the task of carrying heavy loads over ling distances through extremes in climate and temperature - from freezing cold to blistering heat.
The camels have a remarkable ability to go without water for months at a time, but when water is available they can drink up to 57 litres at once. When well fed, the camels store excess food in their humps which become plump and erect. When food is not readily available, the camel uses this stored food and the humps shrink and lean to one side. They are steady walkers and fast runners. They can walk consistently for hours at an end, and they have been recorded as running at speeds up to 65 kmph / 40 mph. As pack animals, they are able to carry 170-270 kg / 375-600 lbs at a rate of 47 km per day, or 4 kmph over a period of four days. They can swim. see well and have a keen sense of smell.
Bones of the Bactrian camel have been found in northern Afghanistan dating back to the first half of the third millennium BCE. By the late third and early second millennium BCE, images of the Bactrian camel were being used in the iconography of copper stamp seals and figurines found in the Kopet Dag hills of neighbouring Turkmenistan, but which are thought have originated further south in Bakhdhi / Bactria.
Royal Roads of Darius
Herodotus (Histories5.52-54) gives us his account of the Persian empire's roads which he called the Royal Roads. He was familiar with the western Royal roads which he had travelled and which ran from Lydia (Western Asia Minor) at the borders of Ionia and Greece to Susa. These roads passed through Armenia, the Tigris River and Babylon. Branches ran from Susa to Persepolis in Persia, and from Babylon to Ecbatana (Hamadan) in Media and beyond to Ragha and the eastern empire, and the Indus valley.
Herodotus (5.52-54) informs us "Now the true account of the road in question is the following: Royal stations exist along its whole length, and excellent caravanserais; and throughout, it traverses an inhabited tract, and is free from danger." The road was well maintained, guarded and traversed by a regular courier and postal service.
In book 8.98, Herodotus talks about the couriers: "Nothing mortal travels so fast as these Persian messengers. The entire plan is a Persian invention; and this is the method of it. Along the whole line of road there are men (they say) stationed with horses, in number equal to the number of days which the journey takes, allowing a man and horse to each day; and these men will not be hindered from accomplishing at their best speed the distance which they have to go, either by snow, or rain, or heat, or by the darkness of night. The first rider delivers his despatch to the second and the second passes it to the third; and so it is borne from hand to hand along the whole line, like the light in the torch-race, which the Greeks celebrate to Vulcan. The Persians give the riding post in this manner, the name of 'Angarum.'" (The angarum were called pirradazish by the Persians
Perhaps for the first time in recorded history, travellers and traders could traverse the Aryan lands and the entire Persian empire relatively quickly and safely with a uniform law to protect them. Trade flourished and the revenues helped to make the Persian empire one of the wealthiest known to history.
The Silk Roads
The Royal Roads of Darius became the Silk Roads. As we have seen above, the Aryans expanded the trade between themselves to include their neighbours. Aryan trade extended from China in the east, to Asia Minor and Mesopotamia in the west, to the Iranian plateau and the Indus valley in the south, an east-west distance of nearly ten thousand kilometres. The Aryan trade routes would come to be known as the Silk Roads. Amongst the different Indo-Iranian groups, the Sogdians would become the principle traders along the Silk Roads.
Aryan Trading Roads (later called Silk Roads) c. 4,000 - 2,000 BCE
The need to preserve and protect Aryan trade to Susa and Babylon from the plundering and murderous Assyrians, may have been a contributing reason for the predecessors of the Persians to move from Parsua to the southeast of the Iranian plateau.
The strong Persian tradition as international traders continued even after the Zoroastrians Persians migrated to India following the Arab invasion of Iran nearly fifteen hundred years ago. As soon as they had established themselves in their new home, the migrants to India who called themselves Parsees (meaning Persian) revived their tradition of trading between the east and west, becoming wealthy in the process.
According to the Wikipedia page on Parsees:
"Western Gujarat, Sind and Baluchistan had once been the eastern-most territories of the Sassanid (226-651 CE) empire, and consequently maintained military outposts there. Even following the loss of these territories (after the Arab conquest in 649 CE), the Iranians continued to play a major role in the trade links between the east and west, and in the light of Brahmanical discouragement of trans-oceanic voyages, which Hindus then regarded as polluting, it is likely that Iranians maintained trading posts in Gujarat (on the west coast of India) as well. The 9th century Arab historiographer al-Masoudi briefly notes Zoroastrians with fire temples in al-Hind and in al-Sind. (Stausberg 2002, p. I.374) Moreover, for the Iranians, the harbours of Gujarat lay on the maritime routes that complemented the overland Silk road and there were extensive trade relations between the two regions."
The Wikipedia article goes on to state:
"The first Parsis originally came from the north-east (i.e. Central Asia) and had previously been dependent on Silk Road trade (Stausberg 2002, p. I.373). Even so, in the 17th century, Henry Lord, a chaplain with the British East India Company, noted that the Parsis came to India seeking 'liberty of conscience' but simultaneously arrived as 'merchantmen bound for the shores of India, in course of trade and merchandise.'"
"Following the commercial treaty in the early 1600s between Mughal emperor Jahangir and James I of England, the British East India Company obtained the exclusive rights to reside and build factories in Surat and other areas. Many Parsis, who until then had been living in farming communities throughout Gujarat, moved to the British-run settlements... ."
The participation of the Parsi trading families was central to the creation and growth of India's principal trading centre, Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Trading involved the establishment of related businesses such as retailing, banking, finance, wholesaling, warehousing, manufacturing and shipping. (We should not omit that farming and the owning of large land holdings was also a long-standing Parsi tradition.)
Jamshedji Tata, Industrialist
Wikipedia: "...an enterprising agent named Rustom Maneck who had probably already amassed a fortune under the Dutch and Portuguese. In 1702 Maneck was appointed the first broker (so also acquiring the name 'Seth') to the (East India) Company, and in the following years 'he and his Parsi associates widened the occupational and financial horizons of the larger Parsi community' (White 1991, p. 304). Thus, by the mid-18th century, the brokerage houses of the Bombay Presidency were almost all in Parsi hands. As James Forbes, the Collector of Broach (now Bharuch), would note in his Oriental Memoirs (1770): 'many of the principal merchants and owners of ships at Bombay and Surat are Parsees.' 'Active, robust, prudent and persevering, they now form a very valuable part of the Company's subjects on the western shores of Hindustan where they are highly esteemed' (Loc. cit. Darukhanawala & Jeejeebhoy 1938, p. 33). Gradually certain families 'acquired wealth and prominence (Sorabji, Modi, Cama, Wadia, Jeejeebhoy, Readymoney, Dadiseth, Petit, Patel, Mehta, Allbless, Tata and others), many of which would be noted for their participation in the public life of the city, and for their various educational, industrial, and charitable enterprises.' (Hull 1913; cf. Palsetia 2001, pp. 37-45, 62-64, 128-140, 334-135)."
From India, the Parsi traders fanned out to Aden, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, China and Hong Kong to name but a few of the more significant places to which they migrated. Once the traders had established themselves, they attracted other Parsees to follow them establishing in the process small colonies of Parsees in these distant lands. The leaders of the communities were the entrepreneurs who employed other Parsees in professional support positions and who used their wealth to set up residential colonies, temples, schools and hospitals for the rest of the community. The Parsi Zoroastrians supported the immigration to India of their Irani Zoroastrian compatriots who also established themselves in business and professional activities - a life style and work ethic that promoted independence, self respect and kindness (meherabani). If the typical Parsi small business-person was a retail store owner, the typical Irani small business-person was a bakery and cafe owner, reminiscent of the chaikhanas of old. We believe this is was a continuation of same process that Aryans had employed for thousands of years as they fanned out from their Central Asian homeland to the sixteen Vendidad nations along the Aryan trade roads.
One of the principal items imported into India by the Parsees was silk from China. According to Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, the Parsees were the first traders of India (or for that matter from elsewhere) "to venture to Burma and China and to open branches and firms there.