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From Alexander to Tamerlane / Going to war along the Silk Road

Ostrava City Museum is preparing the last in a unique series of exhibitions held as part of the sustainability period of the European Union-funded project to renovate the museum’s display premises. Entitled “From Alexander to Tamerlane: Going to war along the Silk Road”, the exhibition is designed and curated by David Majer and Petr Klučina.

The new exhibition is unique in several respects. The events it describes had a huge impact on historical developments not only in Asia, but also in Europe. Around two thousand years ago Roman legionaries were responsible for guarding important trade routes through out the Middle East, southern and central Europe. The Czech lands (the three historical provinces of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia) were directly affected by the wars that raged along the Silk Road – the battles against the Avars; the
invasions by nomadic Hungarian tribes (which ultimately triggered the downfall of the Great Moravian Empire); the arrival of Mongolian warriors on horseback who marauded through Silesia, Moravia, Hungary and the Balkans in 1241; and the series of confl icts sparked by the Ottoman Turks’ expansion into Asia Minor and the Balkan peninsula, beginning in the late 14th century, which continued to have far-reaching impacts on military and foreign policy throughout central and south-eastern
Europe well into the modern age.

The exhibition is truly a ground-breaking achievement – it is the fi rst ever exhibition in Europe to present the Silk Road wars to the general public, using exhibits, information panels and accompanying publications. The Silk Road was not merely a phenomenon in economic history; it also played an irreplaceable role as a catalyst of change in all aspects of everyday life, culture, art, religion, science, technology, and of course military history.

The Silk Road’s historic signifi cance reaches far beyond the Orient; it was inextricably bound up with developments in Europe, Africa, and ultimately the Americas. We can even trace this signifi cance further afi eld – the legendary Amber Road, which crossed Europe from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, was simply a continuation of the main Silk Road leading deep into central Europe and Scandinavia.

In fact, the Amber Road was directly responsible for the existence of Ostrava as we know it today. One branch of this trade route forded the Ostravice river at the point where the city now stands, and this was a logical place for a town to grow up. So there is a close historical connection between Ostrava and the Silk Road – making Ostrava the perfect venue for such an exhibition. The objects on display are borrowed from a wide range of institutions in several countries – not only the Czech Republic, but also Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Germany, Croatia, Bulgaria, Denmark and Azerbaijan. Among the most precious items are an old Hungarian sabre featuring gold decorations and some gold bowls dating from the 8th and 9th centuries, all from the Nagyszentmiklós treasure (Szeged Museum); the contents of a tomb of a Thraco-Roman warrior from Chatalka in Bulgaria (dating from the 1st century A.D.); a trio of unique Roman legionaries’ helmets from three major European collections; and many more authentic artefacts documenting two millennia of Chinese military history – representing a truly priceless collection of immense historical significance.

The territory of Azerbaijan was conquered by Mongols in the 13th century. Azerbaijan became a vassal state of the Ilkhanate, remaining under the Ilkhans’ control until the late 14th century. The Mongols had built up a strong state in central Asia, and in the early 13th century they began to attack neighbouring territories. The rulers of central Asia, Azerbaijan and Iran proved unable to join forces and create a military and political alliance with a large population, and in the period before the Mongol invasion Azerbaijan was riven by conflicts between the Ildeniz and Shirvanshah kingdoms and the Aksongur feudal estates. These conflicts culminated under the rule of Atabeg Uzbek (1210–1225). It was into this disarray that the Mongol armies stepped in 1220, having already occupied central Asia, Khorasan and Persian Iraq. Led by the warlords Jebe and Subutai, they plundered Zanjan, Ardabil, Serab and other cities, pushing onwards towards Tabriz. Uzbek eventually paid the Mongols off, and they turned their attention to Georgia. However, in 1221 they once again appeared at the city walls of Tabriz. The mayor, Shamsaddin Tugrai, met their financial demands, saving his city from disaster. The Mongols then plundered Maraga and Ardabil before returning to Tabriz. Atabeg Uzbeg escaped to Nakhchivan, and Tugrai called his citizens to arms. However, the Mongols again decided to accept a payment rather than fighting. Having occupied Serab, then attacked Baykalan, razing the city to the ground after a ferocious and bloody battle. They then moved on to Ganja, but failed to conquer the city, instead extorting a payment and moving on via Georgia to Shirvan, where they besieged Shamakhi before plundering and destroying it.


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