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Daqin (Chinese: 大秦; pinyin: Dàqín; Wade–Giles: Ta4-ch'in2; alternative transliterations include Tachin, Tai-Ch'in) is the ancient Chinese name for the Roman Empire or, depending on context, the Near East, especially Syria. It literally means "Great Qin", Qin (Chinese: 秦; pinyin: Qín; Wade–Giles: Ch'in2) being the name of the founding dynasty of the Chinese Empire. Historian John Foster defined it as "...the Roman Empire, or rather that part of it which alone was known to the Chinese, Syria." In various texts its capitals were given as Antioch and Constantinople, with no clear descriptions of the city of Rome. Its basic facets such as laws, customs, dress, and currency were explained in Chinese sources. Its medieval incarnation was described in histories during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) onwards as Fu lin (Chinese: 拂菻; pinyin: Fú lǐn), which Friedrich Hirth and other scholars have identified as the Byzantine Empire.
Chinese sources describe several ancient Roman embassies arriving in China, beginning in 166 AD and lasting into the 3rd century. These early embassies were said to arrive by a maritime route via the South China Sea in the Chinese province of Jiaozhi (now northern Vietnam). Archaeological evidence such as Roman coins points to the presence of Roman commercial activity in Southeast Asia. Later recorded embassies arriving from the Byzantine Empire, lasting from the 7th to 11th centuries, ostensibly took an overland route following the Silk Road, alongside other Europeans in Medieval China. Byzantine Greeks are recorded as being present in the court of Kublai Khan (1260-1294), the Mongol ruler of the Yuan dynasty in Khanbaliq (Beijing), while the Hongwu Emperor (r. 1368-1398), founder of the Ming dynasty, sent a letter of correspondence to the ruler of the Byzantine Empire.
Early descriptions by Gan Ying
Following the opening of the Silk Road in the 2nd century BC, the Chinese thought of the Roman Empire as a civilized counterpart to the Chinese Empire. The Romans occupied one extreme position on the trade route, with the Chinese located on the other.
China never managed to reach the Roman Empire directly in antiquity, although general Ban Chao sent Gan Ying as an envoy to "Daqin" in 97 AD. Gan Ying did not reach Daqin: he stopped at the coast of a large sea, because "sailor(s) of the Parthian west border" told him that the voyage to cross the sea might take a long time and be dangerous. Gan Ying left a detailed account of the Roman Empire, but it is generally considered to have been based on second hand information from Parthians:
The Kingdom of Da Qin (the Roman Empire) is also called Lijian. As it is found to the west of the sea, it is also called the Kingdom of Haixi ("West of the Sea"). The territory extends for several thousands of li. It has more than four hundred walled towns. There are several tens of smaller dependent kingdoms. The walls of the towns are made of stone. They have established postal relays at intervals, which are all plastered and whitewashed. There are pines and cypresses, as well as trees and plants of all kinds.
Gan Ying gives a very idealistic view of Roman governance which is likely the result of some story he was told while visiting the Persian Gulf in 97 AD. He also described, less fancifully, Roman products:
Their kings are not permanent. They select and appoint the most worthy man. If there are unexpected calamities in the kingdom, such as frequent extraordinary winds or rains, he is unceremoniously rejected and replaced. The one who has been dismissed quietly accepts his demotion, and is not angry. The people of this country are all tall and honest. They resemble the people of the Middle Kingdom and that is why this kingdom is called Da Qin. This country produces plenty of gold [and] silver, [and of] rare and precious they have luminous jade, 'bright moon pearls,' Haiji rhinoceroses, coral, yellow amber, opaque glass, whitish chalcedony, red cinnabar, green gemstones, gold-thread embroideries, woven gold-threaded net, delicate polychrome silks painted with gold, and asbestos cloth.
They also have a fine cloth which some people say is made from the down of 'water sheep', but which is made, in fact, from the cocoons of wild silkworms. They blend all sorts of fragrances, and by boiling the juice, make a compound perfume. [They have] all the precious and rare things that come from the various foreign kingdoms. They make gold and silver coins. Ten silver coins are worth one gold coin. They trade with Anxi and Tianzhu by sea. The profit margin is ten to one. [...] The king of this country always wanted to send envoys to the Han, but Anxi, wishing to control the trade in multi-coloured Chinese silks, blocked the route to prevent [the Romans] getting through [to China].
Geographical descriptions in the Weilüe
In the Weilüe written by Yu Huan (c. 239-265), a text that is preserved in the Records of the Three Kingdoms by Pei Songzhi (published in 429), a more detailed description of the Eastern portion of the Roman Empire is given, particularly the province of Roman Egypt. The 19th-century sinologist Friedrich Hirth translated the passages and identified the places named in them, which have been edited by Jerome S. Arkenberg in 2000 (with Wade-Giles spelling):
Formerly T'iao-chih [Babylonia] was wrongly believed to be in the west of Ta-ts'in [Roman Syria]; now its real position is known to be east. ...Formerly it was, further, wrongly believed that the Jo-shui [Dead Sea] was in the west of T'iao-chih; now the Jo-shui is believed to be in the west of Ta-ts'in. Formerly it was wrongly believed that, going over two hundred days west of T'iao-chih, one came near the place where the sun sets; now, one comes near the place where the sun sets by going west of Ta-ts'in. The country of Ta-ts'in, also called Li-kan [Syria], is on the west of the great sea [Indian Ocean] west of Ar-hsi and T'iao-chih. From the city of Ar-ku [Uruku, modern Warka] , on the boundary of Ar-hsi one takes passage in a ship and, traversing the west of the sea, with favorable winds arrives [at Aelana, modern Elat, on the Gulf of Aqaba] in two months; with slow winds, the passage may last a year, and with no wind at all, perhaps three years. This country is on the west of the sea whence it is commonly called Hai-hsi [Egypt]. There is a river [the Nile] coming out from the west of this country, and there is another great sea [the Mediterranean]. In the west of the sea there is the city of Ali-san [Alexandria]. Before one arrives in the country one goes straight north from the city of U-tan [Aden]. In the south-west one further travels by a river which on board ship one crosses in one day [again the Nile]; and again south-west one travels by a river which is crossed in one day [still the Nile]. There are three great divisions of the country [Delta, Heptanomis, Thebaid]. From the city of Ar-ku one goes by land due north to the north of the sea; and again one goes due west to the west of the sea; and again you go due south to arrive there. At the city of Ali-san, you travel by river on board ship one day, then make a round at sea, and after six days' passage on the great sea [the Mediterranean], arrive in this country. There are in the country in all over four hundred smaller cities; its size is several thousand li in all directions of the compass. The residence of their king lies on the banks of a river estuary [Antioch-on-the-Orontes]. They use stone in making city walls. In this country there are the trees sung [pine], po[cypress], huai [sophora?], tzu [a kind of euphorbia?]; bamboos, rushes, poplars, willows, the wu-t'ung tree, and all kinds of other plants. The people are given to planting on the fields all kinds of grain. Their domestic animals are: the horse, the donkey, the mule, the camel, and the mulberry silk-worm. There are many jugglers who can issue fire from their mouths, bind and release themselves, and dance on twenty balls. In this country they have no permanent rulers, but when an extraordinary calamity visits the country, they elect as king a worthier man, while discharging the old king, who does not even dare to feel angry at this decision. The people are tall, and upright in their dealings, like the Han [Chinese], but wear foreign dress; they call their country another "Middle Kingdom" [probably from "Mediterranean" or "Middle of the Land"].
The Weilüe also noted that the Daqin had small "dependent" vassal states, too many to list as the text claims, yet it mentions some as being the Alexandria-Euphrates or Charax Spasinu ("Ala-san"), Nikephorium ("Lu-fen"), Palmyra ("Ch'ieh-lan"), Damascus ("Hsien-tu"), Emesa ("Si-fu"), and Hira ("Ho-lat"). Perhaps some of these are in reference to certain states that were temporarily conquered during the Roman–Parthian Wars (66 BC - 217 AD) when, for instance, the army of Roman Emperor Trajan reached the Persian Gulf and captured Characene, the capital of which was Charax Spasinu. The Weilüe provides the traveling directions and approximate distances between each of these cities, counted in ancient Chinese miles (li), and along with the Book of Later Han even mentions the pontoon bridge ("flying bridge") across the Euphrates at the Roman city of Zeugma, Commagene (in modern-day Turkey).
Hirth and Arkenberg identified Si-fu (Chinese: 汜復) with Emesa. However, John E. Hill provides evidence that it was most likely Petra (in the Nabataean Kingdom), given the directions and distance from "Yuluo" (i.e. Al Karak) and the fact that it fell under Roman dominion in 106 AD when it was annexed by Trajan. Even more convincing for Hill is the fact that Si-fu in Chinese means "an arm of a river which rejoins the main stream" or more aptly "rejoined water courses." He believes this is directly related to the reservoir and cistern flood-control system harnessing the many streams running through the settlement and nearby canyons, or wadis, such as the Wadi Musa ("Valley of Moses").
In later eras, starting in 550 AD, as Syriac Christians settled along the Silk Road and founded mission churches, Daqin or Tai-Ch'in is also used to refer to these Christian populations rather than to Rome or the Roman church. So, for example, when the Taoist Tang Emperor Wuzong closed Christian monasteries in the mid-9th century, the imperial edict commanded:
As for the Tai-Ch'in (Syrian Christian) and Muh-hu (Zoroastrian) forms of worship, since Buddhism has already been cast out, these heresies alone must not be allowed to survive."
The name "Daqin" for Rome was used on Chinese maps as late as the 16th century, such as the Sihai Huayi Zongtu. The identification of "Daqin" with the Western Roman Empire, Eastern Roman Empire, or the Church of the East varies with the era and context of the document. The Nestorian Stele erected in 781 in the Tang capital Chang'an contains an inscription that briefly summarizes the knowledge about Daqin in the Chinese histories written up to that point and notes how only the "luminous" religion (i.e. Christianity) was practiced there.
To the Chinese, the capital of Daqin was "An-tu", or Antioch, the first great Christian city. However, the Old Book of Tang and New Book of Tang, which identified Daqin and "Fu lin" (拂菻; i.e. the Byzantine Empire) as the same countries, noted a different capital city (Constantinople), one that had walls of "enormous height" and was eventually besieged by the commander "Mo-yi" (Chinese: 摩拽伐之; Pinyin: Mó zhuāi fá zhī) of the Da shi (大食; i.e. the Arabs). Friedrich Hirth identifies this commander as Muawiyah I, who was first governor of Syria before becoming caliph and founder of the Umayyad Caliphate. The city of Rome itself does not appear to have been described.
Starting in the 1st century BC with Virgil, Horace, and Strabo, Roman histories offer only vague accounts of China and the silk-producing Seres of the distant east. The 2nd-century historian Florus seems to have conflated the Seres with peoples of India, or at least noted that their skin complexions proved that they both lived "beneath another sky" than the Romans. The 1st-century geographer Pomponius Mela noted that their lands formed the center of the coast of an eastern ocean, flanked by India to the south and the Scythians of the northern steppe, while the historian Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 330 - c. 400) wrote that the land of the Seres was enclosed by great natural walls around a river called Bautis, perhaps the Yellow River. In his Geography, Ptolemy also provided a rough sketch of the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea, with a port city called Cattigara lying beyond the Golden Chersonese (i.e. Malay Peninsula) visited by a Greek sailor named Alexander. Among the proposed sites for Ptolemy's Cattigara are Oc Eo, Vietnam, where Roman artefacts have been found.
In contrast, Chinese histories offer an abundance of source material about their interactions with alleged Roman embassies and descriptions of their country. The first of these embassies is recorded in the Book of Later Han as having arrived by sea in 166 AD and came by way of Jiaozhou, later known as Annam (northern Vietnam), as would later embassies. Its members claimed to be representatives of the Daqin ruler "Andun" (安敦; either Antoninus Pius or his co-emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus) and offered gifts to the court of Emperor Huan of Han. Other embassies arrived sporadically afterwards. The Book of Liang mentions a Daqin embassy to Sun Quan of Eastern Wu in 226, while the Book of Jin records a Daqin embassy to Emperor Wu of Jin in 284.
Although Emperor Yang of Sui (r. 604-618) had desired to send an embassy to Daqin, this never came to fruition. Instead, an embassy from a country that was now called Fu Lin (拂菻, i.e. the Byzantine Empire), which the Old Book of Tang and New Book of Tang identified as being the same as Daqin, arrived in 643 at the court of Emperor Taizong of Tang and claimed to represent their king Bo duoli (波多力; i.e. Kōnstantinos Pogonatos, "Constantine the Bearded", the nickname of Constans II). Several other Fu lin (i.e. Byzantium) embassies during the Tang dynasty are mentioned for the years 667, 701, and 719.
The Wenxian Tongkao written by Ma Duanlin (1245-1322) and the History of Song record that the Byzantine emperor Michael VII Parapinakēs Caesar (Mie li sha ling kai sa 滅力沙靈改撒) of Fu lin (i.e. Byzantium) sent an embassy to China that arrived in 1081, during the reign of Emperor Shenzong of Song (r. 1067-1085). During the subsequent Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), an unprecedented amount of Europeans started to visit and live in China, such as Marco Polo and Katarina Vilioni, and papal missionaries such as John of Montecorvino and Giovanni de Marignolli. The History of Yuan recounts how a man of Fu lin named Ai-sie (transliteration of either Joshua or Joseph), initially in the service of Güyük Khan, was well-versed in Western languages and had expertise in the fields of medicine and astronomy. This convinced Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty, to offer him a position as the director of medical and astronomical boards, eventually honoring him with the title of Prince of Fu lin (Chinese: 拂菻王; Fú lǐn wáng). His biography in the History of Yuan lists his children by their Chinese names, which are similar to the Christian names Elias (Ye-li-ah), Luke (Lu-ko), and Antony (An-tun), with a daughter named A-na-si-sz.
The History of Ming explains how the founder of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the Hongwu Emperor, sent a merchant of Fu lin named "Nieh-ku-lun" (捏古倫) back to his home country with a letter announcing the founding of a new dynasty. It is speculated that this "merchant" was actually a former bishop of Khanbaliq named Nicolaus de Bentra. The History of Ming goes on to explain that contacts between China and Fu lin ceased thereafter, whereas an envoy of the great western sea (i.e. the Mediterranean Sea) did not arrive again until the 16th century, with the Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci.
Currency and coinage
Although the ancient Romans imported Han Chinese silk while the Han-dynasty Chinese imported Roman glasswares as discovered in their tombs, Valerie Hansen (2012) claimed that no Roman coins from the Roman Republic (507–27 BC) or the Principate (27 BC - 284 AD) era of the Roman Empire have been found in China. Yet this assumption has been overturned; Warwick Ball (2016) notes the discovery of sixteen Roman coins found at Xi'an, China (site of the Han capital Chang'an) minted during the reign of various emperors from Tiberius (14-37 AD) to Aurelian (270-275 AD). The earliest gold solidus coins from the Eastern Roman Empire found in China date to the reign of Byzantine emperor Theodosius II (r. 408–450) and altogether only forty-eight of them have been found (compared to thirteen-hundred silver coins) in Xinjiang and the rest of China. However, Roman golden medallions from the reign of Antoninus Pius, and possibly his successor Marcus Aurelius, have been discovered at Óc Eo in southern Vietnam, which was then part of the Kingdom of Funan bordering the Chinese province of Jiaozhi in northern Vietnam. This was the same region where Chinese historical texts claim the Romans first landed before venturing further into China to conduct diplomacy.
Chinese histories would offer descriptions of Byzantine coins. In discussing trade with India, the Parthian Empire and the Roman Empire, the Book of Jin, as well as the later Wenxian Tongkao, noted how ten ancient Roman silver coins were worth one Roman gold coin. With fluctuations, the Roman golden aureus was worth about twenty-five silver denarii. The History of Song notes how the Byzantines made coins of either silver or gold, without holes in the middle yet with an inscription of the king's name.
Law and order
The History of Song described forms of punishment in criminal law as they were carried out in Daqin (Roman Empire) and Fu lin (Byzantine Empire). It states that they made a distinction between minor and major offenses, with 200 strikes from a bamboo rod being reserved for major crimes. It described their form of capital punishment as having the guilty person being stuffed into a "feather bag" and thrown into the sea. This seems to correspond with the Romano-Byzantine punishment of poena cullei (from Latin 'punishment of the sack'), where those who committed parricide (i.e. murder of a father or mother) were sewn up into a sack, sometimes with wild animals, and thrown into either a river or sea. The History of Song also mentioned how it was forbidden by law to counterfeit the coins minted by Fu lin. These descriptions from the History of Song are also found in the Wenxian Tongkao.
In the Chinese histories, the names of Romans and Byzantines were often transliterated into Chinese as they were heard, yet occasionally the surname stemmed from their country of origin, Daqin (大秦). For instance, the Roman merchant Qin Lun (秦論), who visited the Eastern Wu court of Sun Quan in 226 AD, bears the surname derived from the name for his homeland, while having a given name that is perhaps derived from the Greek name Leon (e.g. Leon of Sparta). In the Han-era intermediate spoken language between Old Chinese and Middle Chinese, the pronunciation for his given name "Lun" (論) would have sounded quite different than modern spoken Mandarin: K. 470b *li̯wən / li̯uĕn or *lwən / luən; EMC lwən or lwənh.
Granting Roman individuals the surname "Qin" followed a common Chinese naming convention for foreign peoples. For instance, people from the Parthian Empire of ancient Persia such as An Shigao were often given the surname "An" (安) derived from Anxi (安息), the Arsacid dynasty. The Sogdians, an Eastern Iranian people from Central Asia, were also frequently given the surname "An" (e.g. An Chongzhang), especially those from Bukhara, while Sogdians from Samarkand were surnamed "Kang" (康; e.g. Kang Senghui), derived from Kangju, the Chinese term for Transoxiana.
The name given for Antoninus Pius/Marcus Aurelius Antoninus in the Chinese histories was "An Dun" (安敦). The surname "An" here is the same as the aforementioned surname used for Parthians and Sogdians.
- Christianity in China
- Daqin Pagoda
- Europeans in Medieval China
- Foreign relations of imperial China
- Michael Shen Fu-Tsung, Chinese visitor to Europe in the 17th century
- Nestorian Stele (Memorial of the Propagation in China of the Luminous Religion from Daqin)
- History of the Han Dynasty
- Seres and Serica, Latin Roman words for Chinese and China, respectively; see also Sinae
- Sino-Roman relations
- Zhang Qian, Western-Han Chinese explorer of Central Asia during the 2nd century BC
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- Hill, John E. (2004). The Peoples of the West from the Weilue 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265. Draft annotated English translation. 
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