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Case Study On Sogdian In Tang Empire

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Silk Road trade: A preliminary study on why Sogdian merchants dominate Chinese merchants in Tang Dynasty

Tang Dynasty was long regarded as the Golden age in the history of China. As the largest empire in the period, it enjoys a dominant role in many areas like military and economy. Despite the privilege, Tang merchants were not successful in the trading along silk road, which was dominated by the sogdian, a group of Iranian people living in the Central Asia. Sogdian occupied a key position along the Silk Road, playing a major role in facilitating trade between China and Central Asia and dominating the East-West trade. This studies focus on investigating why Sogdian can dominate in Silk Road Trade in geographical, political and cultural perspective. Also, the disadvantage of Chinese in Silk Road Trade was also investigated.


Sogdian didn’t form a political state over its history. It was mainly centered around their main city of Samarkand(ж''馬Ð*?Ñ*еâ„-І). Though the exact limits of Sogdian region are poorly known, it lay north of Bactria(е¤§Ðµ¤Ð), east of Khwarezm(иЉ±Ðµ‰ÐŠÐµ­Ñ'жЁЎ), and southeast of Kangju(еÑ"*ењ‹) between the Oxus (Amu Daryaй?Ñ--е§†Ð¶Ð†Ñ-) and the Jaxartes (Syr DaryaйЊ«Ð*?Ñ*жІÑ-), embracing the fertile valley of the Zarafshan (ancient Polytimetus). Sogdian region is highly accessible to a wide-range of countries, including China, India, Mongolia, Persian Empire, Byzantine Empire, etc. This characteristic contributed to the reason why Sogdian region was the center of Central Asian Trade, connecting to Mideterranean region, East Asia and Europe.

Sogdian lived around different grasslands in Central Asia. The nature of grasslands contributed to the good breeds of horses, camels and donkeys. Sogdian developed good skills in rasing these kinds of animals, which were the main transport equipments along Silk Road trade, in which large parts were consisting of grasslands and deserts. The good breeds of these animals facilitate the long-distance trade for Sogdian and help foster their development of dominant role in Silk Road Trade.


Sogdian has never politically united and has a relatively week military development. There were several times in history that Sogdian were conquered and become subordinate of several empires, including Cyrus, Achaemenid Empire, Alexander the Great amd the Parthian Empire. Although Sogdian has been conquered by several empires in its history, certain degree of economic independence was still maintained and given by those empires, ensuring the existence of their trading activities. Furthermore, thanks to those conquering events, Sogdian developed a very flexible characteristic. They realized that cooperating with the surrounding strong empires is the key method of maintaining the stability of their business activities. They made use of small portion of the profits in long-distance trade, to corrupt the officials of surrounding empires, requesting a safe route to carry our business. The high flexibility and adaptability of Sogdian, which was mainly developed by facing the pressure of subsistence over its surrounding empires, contributed to their success in Central Asia Trade. These characteristics foster their development in trading activities, surpassing other races,


Cultural differentiating was the main aspect contributing to the success of Sogdian in East-West Trade. To explain the culture identity of Sogdian, 6 parts would be explained, they are Education, Profit-oriented business mind, Language, Script, Flexibility and Entertainment.

a) Education

Education is the core part in nurturing an individual and it contributed a huge part in developing a culture. Sogdian has a very different focus on education with other races. Their traditional family education focuses a lot on commerce and business. Ð*Ñ*Ð...Ð*"oÐ'Ñ"« suggested in <<Ð*ІџÐ*‰â„-Ð'Ñ"Ñ"и?‡Ðµ*†Ð¶Ò­>> that Sogdian train their children in business activities while they were only 5 years old, and because of that, most Sogdian became experts in obtaining profits on trading. When the children became adult, they would travel to other countries to learn business. Moreover, an interesting finding was that Sogdian parent would let their male child taste honey, as a wish for honey-mouthed. Although the accuracy of these findings are not proven, they show good implication on how Sogdian focus on teaching their child, and devlop a business-oriented culture.

b) Profit-oriented business mind

Sogdian have a profit-oriented culture. They travel around the world to maximize their profit in trading. East to Persia, North to Eastern Europe and Mongolia, South to India, etc, footprints of Sogdian have been found in many regions around the world. Furthermore, Some Sogdian emigrate to China, permanently settle down and been registered by the Chinese Administration. They have dominated great commerce in China and had great influence in Gansu. These findings show that Sogdian have a profit-oriented culture and it was the key characteristic for a successful merchant. Besides, Sogdian would provide some products they get from trades for some military forces as to gain protection for their business troops. Many Sogdian became the high officials in China and other countries. This help protect Sogdian along the Silk Road and gain benefit from the support of strong empire. Finally, to maximize the profit, Sogdian would invent value-added and customized products for various markets. A typical example would be the modification of print on Silk to suit different needs of European.

c) Language

Sogdian Language belongs to East Iranian Language, and was the most common commercial language in Europe and Asia. This makes Sogdian have a natural privilege over other races in trading activities. In addition, Sogdian normally would be familiar with several language to facilitate cross-country trade , this multi-lingual ability offers them privilege in traveling and doing business around Central Asia.

d) Script




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