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Greeks and Romans and Creation of Contacts from the Mediterranean to China: Artistic Heritage of the Ancient World
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History.
2011 (English)In: The Harmony of Civilizations and Prosperity for All – Tradition adn Modernity, Transition and Transformation: Artistic Heritage and Cultural Innovation, Collection of Papers and Abstracts, Peking: Peking University , 2011, 42-52 p.Conference paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Greeks and Romans and Creation of Contacts from the Mediterranean to China  – Artistic Heritage of the Ancient World


The establishment of contacts between the Mediterranean and China dates back to the heyday of Hellenistic kingdoms and Roman culture as well as to the flourishing period of Han dynasty in China. These contacts have been documented both by Roman and Chinese authors and archival records, by authors like Seneca the Younger (3 BC – AD 65), Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), Maes Titianus (late 1st early 2nd c. AD), Florus (2nd c. AD), and the Chinese envoy Gan Ying, and depicted in Ptolemy’s world map in his Geographia of c. AD 150.


The background to the development of the contacts between the Mediterranean and the Eastern cultures has to be seen in the expeditions of Alexander the Great through Persia to the Indus Valley and the founding of the Hellenistic kingdoms that were in their structure multicultural and active in developing trade contacts further to the east. The trade of luxury goods between the eastern parts of the Hellenistic world and the Mediterranean world created the favourable conditions for the development of trade and the increasing interest in exotic luxury objects at Rome, preparing the way for contacts with China. Emperor August launched the interest in silk products, and Roman glass objects became in their turn desirable objects in China, launching the interest in Roman glass technology.


Until the Early Byzantine period, to the 6th century AD, silk was imported to the Mediterranean world from China via the Silk Road, before the silk-worm was introduced into the Byzantine world. The importance of silk as precious material is emphasized, for example, by the fact that the cloth covering the altar table in the Hagia Sophia of Emperor Justinian was produced in silk, dyed in many shades.


The use of various pigments in paintings, architecture, sculpture, textiles and minor arts developed in the Greek and Roman culture and during the Han dynasty in China. Local artists and artisans utlilized both local vegetal pigments and minerals to create various hues, but as the trade contacts had been established through land routes and maritime trade, new materials became available for artists. We can see the finest results of these artistic innovations in the polychromous sculpture from Greece and Rome, wall paintings from Pompeii, Chinese paintings and painted terracotta soldiers that reveal to us the colourful aesthetical ideal of the ancient world.


Thus, we can follow the development of cultural innovations in the east and the west and see how cultural contacts and trade have during centuries, until our times, created also the possibilities for new ideas. We could even say that these cultural contacts have been essential for the inspiration needed for renewal and cultural change.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Peking: Peking University , 2011. 42-52 p.
Keyword [en]
Greece, Rome, China, silk, Roman glass, Pliny the Elder, Gan Ying, Ptolemy, Bactria, Parhtia, Han Dynasty, Da Qin, Hou Hanshu, Periplus Maris Erythraei, Seres, Silk Road, Palmyra, Paulus Silentiarius, Hagia Sophia, Byzantine solidi, Kang Tai, liu-li, Zhang Heng
National Category
Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
Research subject
Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-64189OAI: diva2:456302
Beijingforum 2011, 4-6 November, Peking
Available from: 2011-11-14 Created: 2011-11-14

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