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Home >> Sci-Edu
UPDATED: 17:16, December 20, 2005
Romans may have learned from Chinese Great Wall: archaeologists
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The construction of the Roman Limes was quite possibly influenced by the concept of the Great Wall in China, though the two great buildings of the world are far away from each other, said archaeologists and historians.

Although there is no evidence that the two constructions had any direct connections, indirect influence from the Great Wall on the Roman Limes is certain, said Visy Zsolt, a professor with the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology of the University of Pecs in Hungary.

Visy made the remarks in an interview with Xinhua as he attended an international conference in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province recently, and his opinion was shared by some Chinese and foreign scholars.

The Roman Limes are Europe's largest archaeological monument, consisting of sections of the border line of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent in the 2nd century AD.

All together, the Limes stretch over 5,000 kilometers from the Atlantic coast of northern Britain, through Europe to the Black Sea, and from there to the Red Sea and across North Africa to the Atlantic coast.

Vestiges include the remains of the ramparts, walls and ditches, close to 900 watchtowers, 60 forts, and civilian settlements which accommodated tradesmen, craftsmen and others who served in the military.

The long distance and the great number of different peoples and cultures in Central Asia made any connections between the two ancient Roman and Chinese empires almost impossible.

However, curiosity and the challenge of covering great distances and seeing remote lands excited people in the past, Visy said.

"Indeed, more information about each other could be gained exactly in times as the one or the other became stronger and could start some programs toward the other," Visy said.

As for the Roman Empire, the silk trade started during the reign of Augustus. The trade became intensive both on the Silk Route and in the sea.

The Chinese chief commander Ban Chao led an army up the Caspian Sea in the 1st century AD and sent a delegation to the west to get information about Rome (called Daqin in Chinese).

Visy noted that there are a lot of similarities between the Roman Limes and the Great Wall. Both empires wanted to launch a strong barrier against "barbarians" and to prevent their invasions. In doing so, the Han Dynasty (226 BC-220 AD) built a continuous wall, but Rome built a wall only in special cases.

"It was an important point in both systems to build a military road along the limes, as well as a row of beacon towers in a strict sequence. Also the military centers and bigger forts are similar in the Roman and in the Chinese constructions," Visy said.

Archaeologists have found almost the same methods were used for providing signs at the Great Wall and the Roman Limes.

Visy said another factor that should not be neglected is that the western most sector of the Great Wall was built in the last decades of the 2nd century BC, during the strong rule of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.

"The Chinese Empire seems to be interested in Western connections, at least in Central Asia," Visy said.

The trade connections between the two empires were quite intensive in the first century and at least in the first half of the second one. "It is worth noting that the north line of the Silk Road was opened also at the beginning of the 1st century AD," Visy said.

A. Stein and other scholars' research in the region of Dunhuang and Lop Nur in northwest China has also found similarities between the Great Wall and the Roman Limes, according to Visy.

Taking all these points into consideration one can ask the question if all this is due to chance or if there is a connection between the two constructions, Visy said.

"It is quite obvious to suppose that Rome gained information about China and about their special, complicated structure of frontier defence. Could the idea of the strong limes not come from the well-tried system of China?" Visy added.

Xu Weimin, director of the Department of History of Northwest China University, said that during the 400 years from the 3rd century BC to the 2nd century AD, lots of Chinese silk was transported to the western countries via the Silk Road. It is natural that the information about the Great Wall was spread to the Rome Empire.

The Great Wall was first built in the 7th century BC, and was repaired, enlarged and rebuilt in many dynasties. In the Han Dynasty, the western most part of the Great Wall was extended to the Lop Nur in today's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to protect the Silk Road.

Chen Yongzhi, vice director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, said the exchanges between the east and west started earlier than believed. In addition to silk, the information about the Great Wall was also exchanged.

"It's convincing that the Roman Limes and the Great Wall have some 'blood relationship'," Chen added.

Source: Xinhua

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