1) "This is where great empires rose and fell, where the after-effects of clashes between cultures and rivals were felt thousands of miles away. Standing here opened up new ways to view the past and showed a world that was profoundly interconnected, where what happened on one continent had an impact on another, where the after-shocks of what happened on the steppes of Central Asia could be felt in North Africa, where events in Baghdad resonated in Scandinavia, where discoveries in the Americas altered the prices of goods in China and led to a surge in demand in the horse markets of northern India.
These tremors were carried along a network that fans out in every direction, routes along which pilgrims and warriors, nomads and merchants have travelled, goods and produce have been bought and sold, and ideas exchanged, adapted and refined. They have carried not only prosperity, but also death and violence, disease and disaster. In the late nineteenth century, this sprawling web of connections was given a name by an eminent German geologist, Ferdinand von Richthofen (uncle of the First World War flying ace the 'Red Baron') that has stuck ever since: 'Seidenstraßen'—the Silk Roads."
2) "Desperate steps were taken to try to correct a worrying imbalance between dwindling tax revenues and the burgeoning costs of defending the frontiers—to inevitable outcry. One commentator lamented that the Emperor Diocletian, who tried to deal with the fiscal deficit aggressively, created problems rather than solving them, and 'in his greed and anxiety, he turned the whole world upside down.' A root-and-branch review of the empire's assets was conducted, the prelude to the overhaul of the tax system. Officials were dispatched to all corners, with assessors turning up unannounced to count every single vine and every single fruit tree with the aim of raising imperial revenues. An empire-wide edict was issued setting the prices for staple goods as well as for luxury imports like sesame seed, cumin, horseradish, cinnamon. A fragment of this order recently discovered in Bodrum shows how far the state was trying to reach: no fewer than twenty-six types of footwear from gilded women's sandals to 'purple low-rise Babylonian-style' shoes had price ceilings set on them by Rome's tax inspectors."
3) "Two millennia ago, silks made by hand in China were being worn by the rich and powerful in Carthage and other cities in the Mediterranean, while pottery manufactured in southern France could be found in England and in the Persian Gulf. Spices and condiments grown in India were being used in the kitchens of Xinjiang, as they were in those of Rome. Buildings in northern Afghanistan carried inscriptions in Greek, while horses from Central Asia were being ridden proudly thousands of miles away to the east.
We can imagine the life of a gold coin two millennia ago, struck perhaps in a provincial mint and used by a young soldier as part of his pay to buy goods on the northern frontier in England and finding its way back to Rome in the coffers of an imperial official sent to collect taxes, before passing into the hands of a trader heading east, and then being used to pay for produce bought from traders who had come to sell their provisions at Barygaza. There it was admired and presented to leaders in the Hindu Kush, who marvelled at its design, shape and size and then gave it over to be copied by an engraver—himself perhaps from Rome, perhaps from Persia, or from India or China, or perhaps even someone local who had been taught the skills of striking. This was a world that was connected, complex and hungry for exchange."
4) "The world was entering a period of environmental change [in the 4th century CE]. In Europe, this was evidenced by rising sea levels and the emergence of malaria in the North Sea region, while in Asia from the start of the fourth century sharply reduced salinity in the Aral Sea, markedly different vegetation on the steppes (evident from high-resolution pollen analyses) and new patterns of glacier advances in the Tian Shan range all show fundamental shifts in global climatic change.
The results were devastating, attested by a remarkable letter written by a Sogdian trader in the early fourth century and found not far from Dunhuang in western China. The merchant recounted to his fellow traders that food shortages and famine had taken a heavy toll, that such catastrophe had befallen China as to be barely describable. The Emperor had fled from the capital, setting fire to his palace as he left, while the Sogdian merchant communities were gone, wiped out by starvation and death. Do not bother trying to trade there, the author advised: 'there is no profit for you to gain from it.' He told of city after city being sacked. The situation was apocalyptic."
5) "The fiasco convinced the Türks that Constantinople was an unworthy and unreliable ally, something the Türk ambassador stated point-blank in 576, angrily rejecting any chance of another attack on Persia. After putting ten fingers in his mouth, he said angrily: 'As there are now ten fingers in my mouth, so you Romans have used many tongues.' Rome had deceived the Türks by promising to do their best against Persia; the results had been pitiful."
6) "It was not that aggression did not exist in other societies. As numerous examples across other continents would show, any conquest could bring death and suffering on a large scale. But periods of explosive expansion across Asia and North Africa, such as in the extraordinary first decades of the spread of Islam or during the time of the Mongol conquests, were followed by long periods of stability, peace and prosperity. The frequency and rhythm of warfare was different in Europe to other parts of the world: no sooner would one conflict be resolved than another would flare up. Competition was brutal and relentless. In that sense, seminal works like Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan were quintessential texts that explained the rise of the west. Only a European author could have concluded that the natural state of man was to be in a constant state of violence; and only a European author would have been right."
7) "The collapse of the European powers opened up the world for others. To cover the shortfalls in agricultural production and to pay for weapons and munitions, the Allies took on huge commitments, commissioning institutions such as J. P. Morgan & Co. to ensure a constant supply of goods and materials. The supply of credit resulted in a redistribution of wealth every bit as dramatic as that which followed the discovery of the Americas four centuries earlier: money flowed out of Europe to the United States in a flood of bullion and promissory notes. The war bankrupted the Old World and enriched the New. The attempt to recoup losses from Germany (set at an eye-watering and impossibly high level equivalent to hundreds of billions of dollars at today's prices) was a desperate and futile attempt to prevent the inevitable: the Great War saw the treasuries of the participants ransacked as they tried to destroy each other, destroying themselves in the process.
As the two bullets left the chamber of Princip's Browning revolver, Europe was a continent of empires. Italy, France, Austro-Hungary, Germany, Russia, Ottoman Turkey, Britain, Portugal, the Netherlands, even tiny Belgium, only formed in 1831, controlled vast territories across the world. At the moment of impact, the process of turning them back into local powers began."
8) "Attention then turned to the army. The High Command was not so much decimated as annihilated, ravaged by a perverted and ruthless logic: it stood to reason that if junior officers were guilty of sedition, then their seniors were guilty either of complicity or of negligence. So one confession, beaten from a broken man, served to unleash cascades of arrests. The aim, one secret police officer later testified, was to prove the existence of a 'military conspiracy within the Red Army that implicated as many participants as possible.'
Of the 101 members of the supreme military leadership, all but ten were arrested; of the ninety-one detained, all but nine were shot. These included three of the five marshals of the Soviet Union and two of its admirals, as well as the entire senior air force personnel, every head of every military district, and almost every divisional commander. The Red Army was brought to its knees. In the circumstances Stalin needed breathing space to rebuild. The German approach was a godsend.
Hitler, on the other hand, was playing for higher stakes. He was desperate to gain access to resources that were essential if Germany was to build a position of strength and power in the long term. The problem was that Germany was poorly located geographically to gain access to the Atlantic and to trade with the Americas, Africa and Asia; Hitler therefore set his sights on the east. Behind his decision to reconcile with the Soviet Union was the idea that this would give him access to his very own Silk Road."
9) "Before the Second World War had drawn to a close, the fight to control the heart of Asia was well under way. In a grandly named 'Tripartite Treaty' signed in January 1942, Britain and the Soviet Union solemnly undertook 'to safeguard the Iranian people against the privations and difficulties arising as a result of the present war,' and to ensure that they received enough food and clothing. In fact, as the treaty went on to make clear, the issue had little to do with the security of Iran—and everything to do with commandeering its infrastructure: the treaty therefore declared that Britain and the Soviet Union would be able to use the country's roads, rivers, pipelines, airfields and telegraph stations as they pleased."
10) "Some historians have spoken of this moment of reworking the flows of currency as being as momentous as the transfer of power from London for India and Pakistan. But its impact was most similar to the discovery of the Americas and the redistribution of global wealth that followed. Western corporations that controlled concessions and whose distribution was largely concentrated on Europe and the United States began to funnel cash to the Middle East and, in doing so, started a shift in the world's centre of gravity. The spider's web of pipelines that criss-crossed the region and connected east with west marked a new chapter in the history of this region. This time, it was not spices or silks, slaves or silver that traversed the globe, but oil."
11) "Within hours of the attacks, strategies were being drawn up to deal with bin Laden. An action plan issued on the morning of 13 September set out the importance of engaging Iran and contacting the authorities in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and China—Afghanistan's neighbours and near neighbours. A plan was set out to '[r]e-energize' them within the week that followed, with a view to preparing them for forthcoming military action against the Taliban. The first step of the response to 9/11 was to line up the countries of the Silk Roads."