19 Dec 2015: Singapore & The Silk Road of The Sea

silk-1Replace the camel with the ship, change the dusty dry deserts to an immensity of water; instead of the caravanserai,  imagine a chain of seaports on the edge of the great Asian landmass; instead of nomadic bandits, think of pirates and you will begin to understand why the Silk Road of the Sea deserves more attention than it has received.

The famed ‘Silk Road’ is a network of trade routes that traversed across Asia to the Mediterranean Sea. Celebrated in romance stories, movies and music, it has received much attention over the ages while its maritime cousin, by contrast, has been almost completely (and quite literally) buried. Several names have been suggested for this seaborne network, says author John Miksic. He chose the picturesque-sounding ‘Silk Road of the Sea’ to describe the ancient maritime trade network which evolved in Southeast Asia and gradually spread westward to India and eastward to China, forming an immense network linking millions of people spread along a coastline measuring more than 10,000 kilometers. Parts of this 2,000-year-old seafaring route now lie beneath the modern skyscrapers of Singapore.

Singapore & The Silk Road of the Sea (1300–1800), currently in its second print run, represents an impressive attempt to enable readers to re-evaluate the importance of a route that was much more vital, from both commercial and cultural points of view, than the more fabled Silk Road. It is a ground-breaking work coalescing 25 years of archaeological research to construct the 14th century port of Singapore in greater detail than is possible for any other Southeast Asian city.

Fully illustrated with more than 300 maps and colour photos, this book presents Singapore’s history in the context of Asia’s long-distance maritime trade in the years between the 14th and 19th centuries. It goes without saying that the accomplishment of Miksic’s research has resulted in a new understanding of Singapore’s precolonial past.

I hope that the publication of this book will serve to raise Singaporeans’ awareness of the fact that the rise of their small island nation is not a recent historical accident; it has a long tradition that deserves to be more widely appreciated.  Singapore is one of the oldest capital cities of Southeast Asia—older than Jakarta,  Ayutthaya, Manila or Yangon. Singapore’s ancient past is a potential source of wonder and enlightenment, appreciation of which has the potential to inspire many.— John Miksic

About the author: Dr John N. Miksic is an award-winning Professor in the Southeast Asian Studies Department, National University of Singapore (NUS). He completed an MA in International Affairs at Ohio University, and another MA and PhD in the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University. He currently manages the Archaeology Laboratory for the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, NUS. Click here for a complete bio.