This project, generously funded by the European Research Council between 2017 and 2023, has developed a new global perspective on economic development and transimperial exchange in the Afro-Eurasian world region. From a multidisciplinary perspective, it investigated the nature of economic development in several ancient empires, and explored the conditions under which considerable quantities of goods were moved across and between these empires. The colonial and orientalist notion of Silk Road trade is still dominating academic and popular conceptions of ancient Afro-Eurasian connectivity. Alternative explanations for transimperial exchange which take into consideration the particular nature of ancient imperial economic development have not yet been advanced on an Afro-Eurasian scale. The research of this project combined new conceptual and methodological tools for researching ancient economic history in global perspective with a strong focus on recent debates within globalization theory and the nature of pre-modern empires. This framework calls into question rather outdated models of transimperial exchange emerging from military expansion and caravan trade alone.

The centuries from 300 BCE to 300 CE were a period of accelerated imperial growth involving many regions of the Afro-Eurasian world zone. Imperial centres stimulated economic activity – sometimes under pressure – changed the dynamics of exchange, created new geographies, and greater cultural convergence between overlapping spheres of imperial influence. The multidisciplinary team of historians, archaeologists and anthropologists in this project compared different forms of economic development in agrarian and steppe regions, and investigated transimperial zones and networks of exchange. In a selection of microanalyses they explored development and change of frontier zones particualarly affected by political, economic, infrastructural, institutional and technological change within and across empires. The project has led to the publication of a three-volume Handbook of Ancient Afro-Eurasian Economies which suggests new avenues for research on the socio-spatial exchange networks that mobilized goods, people, and ideas across the Afro-Eurasian region.

The project was completed in February 2023. The third volume of the Handbook is due to be published in November 2023.

Map with the research regions associated to our team members