• Thu. Mar 30th, 2023

Sexual Exploits and Exploitation along the Silk Road


Sep 28, 2022

The Silk Highway created a convergence of cultures like no different. The route is deemed influential by historians due to the contributions it made to commerce and the financial system, in addition to society generally. One side of the Silk Highway that’s much less talked about is its relationship with intercourse and intimacy.

Alongside the Silk Highway, individuals from everywhere in the world mingled. This inspired a medley of social traditions and norms. The ensuing cocktail of differing non secular and social ideologies meant the norms of 1’s hometown might be simply ignored. This fostered a way of freedom, with each constructive and damaging penalties.

There was no scarcity of intercourse alongside the Silk Highway, taking many varieties, from intercourse slaves and prostitutes, to how-to manuals and medication. This text will discover all of those and extra, in an try to grasp the character of intercourse and love on the Silk Highway.

Caravan on the Silk Highway, circa 1375 ( Public Domain )

Marco Polo on Love and Intercourse on the Silk Highway

Marco Polo  was a Venetian service provider who lived between 1254 and 1324. He was well-known for his travels throughout Asia through the top of the Mongol Empire. His travelogue stays probably the greatest sources on journey and commerce throughout this era as a result of he recorded so lots of his experiences.

Marco Polo’s writings have revealed a lot to historians about life on the Silk Highway, and he even talked about some features of affection and intercourse. Polo talked about sexual relations most explicitly when he talked about how owners alongside the Silk Highway provided up their residence to vacationers in want of relaxation.

Polo said that not solely did these males provide up their properties, however in addition they usually provided up their wives as nicely! He wrote:

the host is delighted, and wishes his spouse to place herself fully on the visitor’s disposal, while he himself will get out of the best way, and comes again no extra till the stranger shall have taken his departure. The visitor might keep and benefit from the spouse’s society so long as he likes, while the husband has no disgrace within the matter, however certainly considers it an honor. And all the boys of this province are made wittols of by their wives on this means. The ladies themselves are truthful and wanton.  (Marco Polo, cited Ranker)

Polo proceeded to admit that the  Mongols have been probably not blissful about this conference, however they nonetheless let the boys proceed with it. The motivations for such actions appear considerably hazy. It might have been that the vacationers threatened these males into providing up their wives, or that the husbands obtained funds for the provide. What we will assume with close to certainty is that the ladies had little say within the matter.

Many women living along the Silk Road ended up involved in a sex trade. Oil painting ‘Choosing the Favorite’ by Giulio Rosati (Public Domain)

Many ladies dwelling alongside the Silk Highway ended up concerned in a intercourse commerce. Oil portray ‘Selecting the Favourite’ by Giulio Rosati ( Public Domain )

It was not solely easy  merchant travelers  who used the Silk Highway to their sexual benefit, based on Polo. Wealthier journeyers used the path to facilitate their sexual exploitation of ladies on a fair bigger scale.

For instance, Polo recorded how yearly 100 girls have been despatched to the “ Great Khan ” who would then:

“commit them to the cost of sure aged women dwelling in his palace… then such of them as are of authorized magnificence, and are good and sound in all respects, are appointed to attend on the Emperor by turns. Thus six of those damsels take their flip for 3 days and nights, and wait on him when he’s in his chamber and when he’s in his mattress, to serve him in any means, and to be fully at his orders. On the finish of the three days and nights they’re relieved by different six. And so all year long, there are reliefs of maidens by six and 6, altering each three days and nights.”

So not solely did intercourse and intimacy exist of their bodily varieties alongside the Silk Highway, however the route additionally acted as a facilitating vector for later, extra large-scale  sexual trafficking .

Oil painting of The Harem Dance by Giulio Rosati. Along the Silk Road, women were sexually exploited on the streets, as well as by elite rulers like Genghis Khan. (Public Domain)

Oil portray of The Harem Dance by Giulio Rosati. Alongside the Silk Highway, girls have been sexually exploited on the streets, in addition to by elite rulers like Genghis Khan. ( Public Domain )

Sexual Exchanges on the Silk Highway

There have been a lot of methods by which individuals participated in sexual actions on the Silk Highway, each consensual and non-consensual.

The Silk Highway was used to move every kind of slaves from place to position, and intercourse slaves have been no exception. Though the attitudes of the Romans to intercourse slaves and  concubines usually are not at all times clear, there may be substantial proof to recommend that there have been usually intimate relationships between highly effective male homeowners and their feminine slaves.

Whereas many ladies started their journey on the Silk Highway as intercourse slaves, some didn’t. Many started their journey free and have been then kidnapped and offered. Particular tales from historical past illustrate this nicely.

A lady by the identify of Wenji, who lived within the 2nd century AD, was captured, taken away, and compelled to marry a nomad warlord. Happily, she was ultimately rescued from this sad marriage; nevertheless, she had produced two youngsters from the union. Though she had fled the compelled marriage, she mourned the lack of her youngsters and her nomad household.

Portrait of Lady Wenji, ink and colors on silk, from a Qing dynasty collection titled Gathering Gems of Beauty (Public Domain)

Portrait of Woman Wenji, ink and colours on silk, from a Qing dynasty assortment titled Gathering Gems of Magnificence ( Public Domain )

Later, within the seventh century, a girl named Wencheng was kidnapped and transported to China, the place she turned the bride of a Tibetan ruler. The union was celebrated in each nations. It is very important acknowledge that this possible occurred to many ladies, and males, when touring the Silk Highway, however we’re restricted to the tales that survive.

There have been additionally sexual exchanges that blurred the road between consensual and non-consensual. Within the Byzantine Empire, for instance, it was frequent for girls to promote themselves into intercourse work to outlive.

At first,  prostitution most likely appeared like a profitable commerce. A number of vacationers, presumably with cash to spare, who had spent months or years away from their wives, would have made first rate clients. Nevertheless, intercourse work got here with its dangers, and these girls definitely confronted violence. It’s also possible that they didn’t have full entitlement to their cash in the event that they have been working below a rich (almost definitely male) proprietor.

Silk was extremely necessary within the  Byzantine Empire , and subsequently, many Byzantine merchants traveled the Silk Highway. With them, they introduced their sexual appetites, in addition to demand for methods to satiate themselves. So, cathouses sprang up alongside the a part of the Silk Highway which ran by means of the Byzantine Empire.

Other than the extra sinister sexual exchanges that happened on the Silk Highway, evidently individuals additionally had barely extra freedom to discover their sexuality there. Within the early years of the Silk Highway, Roman influences have been sturdy. Due to this dominance,  Roman ideas about same-sex relationships  traversed the size of the Silk Highway.

In fact, all of the totally different cultures that converged on the Silk Highway had differing opinions on such issues. Historians have uncovered that the Mongols most likely engaged in gay exercise in China in addition to within the Russian khanates.

Nevertheless, it is very important do not forget that many of those cultures have been influenced by faith, which regularly regarded down on such exercise. Within the Mongol case, for instance,  Islam had a bent to view gay relations as improper, particularly in well mannered society. Regardless of this, it usually accepted such relations in the event that they have been performed in personal.

The Silk Highway would have provided an ideal place, subsequently, to hold out such actions. Far faraway from one’s regular life, vacationers have been capable of discover features of their id that they in any other case might have been compelled to cover.

Women were frequently kidnapped and sold into slavery, or forced into sex work along the Silk Road. Oil painting of The Slave Market, by Jean-Léon Gérôme of Ottoman empire markets, 1871 (Public Domain)

Ladies have been steadily kidnapped and offered into slavery, or compelled into intercourse work alongside the Silk Highway. Oil portray of The Slave Market, by Jean-Léon Gérôme of Ottoman empire markets, 1871 ( Public Domain )

The Unfold of How-To Manuals and Sexual Guides on the Silk Highway

Many concepts about intercourse and intimacy proliferated by means of society by the use of the Silk Highway. For instance, based on a variation of Buddhism referred to as  Tantric Buddhism , the trail to enlightenment was achieved by means of ecstasy. The teachings of this department of Buddhism unfold alongside the Silk Highway, together with the concept sexual actions and practices may obtain this ecstasy.

Moreover, the well-known  Kama Sutra , compiled within the third or 4th century AD, unfold alongside the Silk Highway. This was a handbook which contained directions on intimate relations. It offered these relations as social and financial duties. Nevertheless, the phrase ‘ kama’ interprets to pleasure, implying that pleasure was additionally considerably the purpose as nicely.

Young girls were frequently sold by their parents as devadasis, dedicated to Tantric Buddhism (Public Domain)

Younger ladies have been steadily offered by their mother and father as devadasis, devoted to Tantric Buddhism ( Public Domain )

Intercourse and Political Energy

Eunuchs generally traveled the Silk Highway and have been used as diplomats and court docket officers within the late Roman and Byzantine Empires, in addition to by dynastic leaders in China. Eunuchs have been castrated males who have been entrusted with companies near these in energy.

Their existence on the Silk Highway presents an fascinating instance of how sexuality and sexual id, each bodily and psychological, performed an necessary function in social standing and social notion.

By way of the act of castration, these males have been appear as extra reliable and fewer possible to present in to temptations. Due to this perceived neutrality, eunuchs have been usually revered in political in addition to social areas.

Zheng He  was a Chinese language explorer and eunuch who used the Silk Highway to unfold Chinese language dynastic affect. Due to the notion of eunuchs as innocent and impartial, they have been extra approachable and subsequently capable of unfold their message successfully.

Wax figure of the fascinating Admiral Zheng He, a seven foot tall Chinese eunuch who commanded a fleet of 300 ships and an army of more than 30,000 men (jonjanengo / CC BY 2.0)

Wax determine of the fascinating Admiral Zheng He, a seven foot tall Chinese language eunuch who commanded a fleet of 300 ships and a military of greater than 30,000 males (jonjanengo /  CC BY 2.0 )

Intercourse and Drugs

Sexuality and sexual exercise have been additionally linked to medicinal practices. In historic China, for instance, it was typically believed that intercourse and intimacy may have therapeutic worth. Many medical texts contained directions on methods to have correct intercourse, in addition to what to not do. Just like the  Kama Sutra , these texts unfold through the Silk Highway, as did many different works which weren’t sexual in nature.

Within the  Tang Dynasty , one other how-to intercourse handbook was produced, referred to as  The Basic of the White Woman . It supplied recommendation to males about methods to have intercourse. Whereas offering such directions, it additionally emphasised the significance of intercourse for well being and nature. Within the ebook, one of many characters named Huangdi requested one other character named Sunu what would occur if he abstained from intercourse. Sanu replies that:

“[it] is completely out of the query. Yin and yang have their alternations as does every part in nature. Human beings ought to observe the rhythms of yin and yang simply as they observe the rhythms  of the seasons…

The Silk Road offered many opportunities for sexual adventure, including explorations of Tantric sex. A Chinese print depicting "The Joining of the Essences", based on Tang Dynasty art (Public Domain)

The Silk Highway provided many alternatives for sexual journey, together with explorations of Tantric intercourse. A Chinese language print depicting “The Becoming a member of of the Essences”, primarily based on Tang Dynasty artwork ( Public Domain )


To conclude, the Silk Highway facilitated many sexual actions and encounters, each quick and eliminated. Not solely did individuals participate in sexual actions whereas on the Silk Highway, it additionally unfold concepts about intercourse from one tradition to the following, both by means of dialog, sharing of traditions or by means of the written phrase in how-to manuals.

Moreover, the Silk Highway enabled individuals to embrace their sexual id. Eunuchs have been protected by assumptions of neutrality, due to their perceived lack of manliness as a consequence of their castration. Many individuals have been free to discover and specific their sexual identities, faraway from regular well mannered society and their households.

There is no such thing as a doubt that the Silk Highway additionally facilitated an unfathomable quantity of sexual violence, absolutely in direction of all, however significantly in direction of girls. Ladies have been prone to being kidnapped and compelled into marriage in a distant, far-off land and prone to being compelled into intercourse work, both as a slave or by poverty.

Prime Picture: The Silk Highway provided alternatives to discover, not solely new lands, however new sexual adventures. Supply:  Demian / Adobe Inventory

By Molly Dowdeswell

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