Cultures > Serica



Greek Serica: Understanding the Ancient References to the Far East

The term "Serica" was used by ancient Greek and Roman geographers and historians to refer to a distant land in the Far East, which was known for its production of silk. The Greeks and Romans had limited direct knowledge of this region, but they were aware of its existence through trade routes and the high value of silk that reached the Mediterranean world.

Origins and Meaning of Serica

Ancient References

Trade and Silk Road

Cultural Impact

Modern Interpretations


For further reading, you can explore the following resources:

In Herodotus

China, during Alexander's time, was known to the ancient Greeks as Serica, which was a vague term used to refer to a distant and mysterious eastern land known for its silk production. However, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that Alexander or his contemporaries had any detailed knowledge of China's geography, culture, or civilization.

The Silk Road, which connected the Mediterranean world with China, was established later, facilitating trade and cultural exchange between the East and the West. It was through these trade routes that knowledge of China gradually reached the Mediterranean world in the centuries following Alexander's conquests.

Most historical sources indicate that Alexander was not aware of China’s existence; and Greek historians believed in many fanciful theories about the rest of the world; such as ants burrowing for gold in ancient Kashmir; giants in South India etc.In ancient Greek geography, the basin of the Indus River (essentially corresponding to the territory of modern Pakistan) was on the extreme eastern fringe of the known world.

Here’s the source from Herodotus (Histories):

"For it is in this part of India that the sandy desert lies. Here, in this desert, there live amid the sand great ants, in size somewhat less than dogs, but bigger than foxes. The Persian king has a number of them, which have been caught by the hunters in the land whereof we are speaking. Those ants make their dwellings under ground, and like the Greek ants, which they very much resemble in shape, throw up sand heaps as they burrow. Now the sand which they throw up is full of gold."

Now after Alexander made his way into Northwest India and Bactria(parts of present-day Afghanistan); he founded the city of Alexandria Eschate ("Alexandria the Furthest") in the Ferghana valley(modern Tajikistan) about 400 kms(249 miles) west of the Tarim Basin(now Xinjiang). The Greeks(Macedonians) of the time were fixated on the Persians; the guys they had the most conflicts with. To get into China; which was largely on its eastern seaboard; and divided into 7 states(the strongest being the Qin); he would have to pass through present-day Sinkiang(Xinjiang, Turkestan) and make his way to battle these splintered kingdoms. It would then be an interesting fight.


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