Myth of a Byzantine Emperor monks smuggling silk worms from China

Mar 2019
1,809
KL

It is commonly propagated that Byzantine monks smuggled silk worms from china and gave birth to silk industry in the Byzantine. But there are some extreme lapses in this story

  1. Silk was also manufactured in India so silk production was not a tightly guarded Chinese secret as propagated. Although western source try to propagate that silk from India which was imported by the romans and later byzantines was actually from china, it is a fact that India had a thriving silk industry.
  2. The story of smuggling silk worm cocoons is also mentioned in one sogdian manuscript with an illustration and the story is about a chinese princess who married a sogdian lord smuggled the worms under her hat as a dowry for her marriage, so the byzantine myth is not the only version which has been recorded.
  3. Sogdia or central asia was already known for silk production. Why would the monks make the journey all the way to china to get the ''secret out''.
  4. In one wikipedia article, another side of the history mentions that sassanids had monopoly over silk imports from India which costed silk imports for the byzantines, so they sought alternate route/central asia, since wikipedia is not credible i cannot say which version is true, but it contains references.
Two unidentified monks (most likely members of the Nestorian Church[2][5]) who had been preaching Christianity in India (Church of the East in India), made their way to China by 551 AD.[6] While they were in China, they observed the intricate methods for raising silk worms and producing silk.[6] This was a key development, as the Byzantines had previously thought silk was made in India.[7]
One important luxury product was silk, which was imported and then processed in the Empire. In order to protect the manufacture of silk products, Justinian granted a monopoly to the imperial factories in 541.[102] In order to bypass the Persian landroute, Justinian established friendly relations with the Abyssinians, whom he wanted to act as trade mediators by transporting Indian silk to the Empire; the Abyssinians, however, were unable to compete with the Persian merchants in India.[103] Then, in the early 550s, two monks succeeded in smuggling eggs of silk worms from Central Asia back to Constantinople,[104] and silk became an indigenous product.



Sogdian painting which illustrates the same myth

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