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Silk and Seres – Romans about Chinese

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

A green Roman glass goblet from a Guangxi tomb (bordering today's Vietnam, southern China). Dated on the 1st-3rd century CE
A green Roman glass goblet from a Guangxi tomb (bordering today's Vietnam, southern China). Dated on the 1st-3rd century CE

Chinese were referred to by the ancient Romans as the Seres1. The Romans associated this people far east of the borders of the Empire primarily for the beautiful silk fabric, on which the Chinese held a monopoly. The Middle Kingdom for centuries had enormous profits from the sale of silk, which was very much in demand by the Roman aristocracy.

We can read about the Chinese in the works of many Roman writers: Seneca, Lucan, Statius, Juvenal, Silius Italicus, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, and Propercjus.

Horace additionally mentions the so-called “Seric arrows” (sagittas Sericas) and talks about the potential threat from the Chinese. Pomponius Mela, in turn, believes that the Seres have the justest manners.

  1. Originally, the Seres meant some other people in Central Asia.
  • Sharypkin Sergiusz, W sprawie motywów geograficznych w poezji rzymskiej epoki pryncypatu, [w:] Sajkowski Ryszard, Wolny Miron (red.), Grecja, Kartagina, Rzym, Olsztyn 2009

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