This project, generously funded by the European Research Council from 2017 to 2022, seeks to provide a global perspective on economic development and inter-imperial exchange in the Afro-Eurasian world region. It investigates the nature of economic development in several large empires in this region, and will explore the conditions under which considerable quantities of goods were moved across and between these spaces. Although the orientalist notion of the Silk Road has fallen out of favour, alternative explanations for inter-imperial exchange that take into consideration the particular nature of ancient imperial economies have yet to be articulated on an Afro-Eurasian scale. The research of this project will combine new conceptual and methodological tools for studying ancient economic history with a strong focus on recent debates about the nature of pre-modern empires. This framework will call into question outdated models of Afro-Eurasian exchange that are based on classical economic notions of interstate trade.
The centuries from 300 BCE to 300 CE were a period of accelerated transformation that extended imperial networks into new regions of the Afro-Eurasian zone: Western China, the Steppe Belt in Inner Asia, Northern India and the Arabian Peninsula. Imperial centres stimulated economic activity, changed the dynamics of exchange, created new geographies, and greater cultural convergence between overlapping spheres of imperial influence. The interdisciplinary team of researchers in this project will compare different forms of economic development in agrarian and steppe regions, and investigate trans-imperial zones and networks of exchange that were crucial for ancient Eurasian connections. They will investigate how the nature of exchange in frontier zones affected and was affected by political, economic, infrastructural, institutional and technological developments within empires. This will lead to a new understanding of inter-imperiality and the socio-spatial exchange networks that mobilized goods and people across the Afro-Eurasian region. It will thus abandon the problematic assumptions about Silk Road trade, while maintaining the Afro-Eurasian world region as a meaningful unit of analysis for the study of cultural and economic interaction.

Map with the research regions associated to our team members