Books, Homilies, and Medicine: Sogdian Christians and Christian Networks along the Silk Roads
Along the trade routes of late antique and early medieval Eurasia, Sogdian Christians stood within a confluence of networks. As Sogdians, they belonged to a people recognized for maintaining one of the most expansive and renowned trading networks in history. On these so-called Silk Roads, Sogdian trading prowess reached its zenith during the first few centuries of the second half of the first millennium AD. As Christians, they possessed an additional identity, which also had tremendous geographic reach, membership in the wider Christian world.
Given their access to both Sogdian trading networks and Christian circles, this study presents evidence of the regional and trans-regional impact of this particular standing of Sogdian Christians. In pursuing this line of inquiry, the long-distance nature of these affiliations invokes a wide range of fields of study. The present research chiefly focuses on Chinese primary sources, while also making needed comparisons with the Christian Sogdian and Syriac literary corpuses, among others. Consideration of material culture, particularly as concerns manuscripts, also features prominently in this study.
Within the burgeoning scholarship on Christianity outside of the Roman empire, the high degree of Sogdian involvement in Christian activities along the Eurasian trade routes has occasionally been suspected but usually overshadowed by discussions of “Nestorian Christianity” or “Persian Christians.” This association with the Church of the East, based in Mesopotamia, is not surprising yet in many cases obscures a more nuanced reality. This study asserts Sogdian Christians had connections to wider Christian circles rather than access exclusively mediated through an East Syriac lens. Furthermore, in areas such as book technology and culture, medicine, and knowledge transmission more generally, this study shows how Sogdian Christians were instrumental not just in processes of transmission but exercised varying degrees of autonomy as adaptors and creators.
By scrutinizing the evidence of Sogdian Christians and Christian networks along the Silk Roads, this study also speaks to the impact made by Christians in lands, whose previous Christian pasts have largely been forgotten. These Christians lived in places outside of the direct reach of Roman “Christian” power, therefore, the story of the influence of these particular Christians offers a more holistic understanding not just for the history of Christianity but also for the interrelated histories of the Sogdians, Central Asia and many others.