, Ptol. 6.16
. § § 1, 3, 4, 6, 7.2.1, 3.1, 5.1, 8.24. § § 1, 5, 27.2. &c.), a tract of country in the E. part of Asia, inhabited by the people called Seres.
According to the description of Ptolemy, it was bounded on the W. by Scythia extra Imaum, on the NE. by an unknown land, on the E. by the Sinae, and on the S. by India. Pliny on the contrary (6.13. s. 15) seems to extend it on the E. as far as the coast of Asia, as he mentions an Oceanus Serious, and in another place (lb.
17. s. 20) speaks of a promontory and bay. Modern opinions vary respecting its site; but the best geographers, as Rennell, D'Anville, and Heeren, concur in placing it at the NW. angle of the present empire of China.
(See Yates, Textrinum Antiq.
p. 232, note).
The name of Serica, as a country, was not known before the first century of our era, though there are earlier accounts of the people called Seres.
It seems highly improbable, however, that they were known to Hecataeus, and the passage on which that assumption is founded occurs only in one MS. of Photius. They are first mentioned by Ctesias (p. 371, n. 22, ed. Bähr); but according to Mela (3.7) they were in his time known to all the world by means of their commerce. On the nothern borders of their territories were the more eastern skirts of the mountains Annibi and Auxacii (the Altai
), which stretched as far as here h from Scythia.
In the interior of the country Were the Montes Asmiraei, the Western part of the Da-Uri
chain; and towards the southern borders the Casii Montes (now Khara,
in the desert of Gobí
), together with a southern branch called Thagurus, which trended towards the river Bautisus (Hoang-ho.
) On the farther side of that river lay the Ottorocorras, the most eastern branch of the Emodi mountains, called by Ptolemy (6.16.5
) τὰ Σηρικά ὄρη.
Among the rivers of the country, the same author (Ib.
§ 3) names, in its northern part, the Oechardes (probably the Selenga
), and, in the S., the Bautes or Bautisus (Hoang-ho
), which flowed towards the land of the Sinae. Pliny, however (l.c.
), mentions several other rivers, which seem to have been coast ones, as the Psitaras, Cambari, Lanos, and Atianos, as well as the promontory of Chryse and the bay of Cyrnaba. Serica enjoyed a serene and excellent climate, and possessed an abundance of cattle, trees, and fruits of all kinds (Amm. Marc. 33.6.64
; Plin. l.c.
). Its chief product, however, was silk, with which the inhabitants carried on a very profitable and most extensive commerce (Strab. xv. p.693
; Arist. Hist. Nat.
5.19; Verg. G. 2.121
; Plin. and Amm. ll. cc.
&c.). Pliny records (11.22. s. 26), that a Greek woman of Cos, named Pamphila, first invented the expedient of splitting these substantial silken stuffs, and of manufacturing those very fine and veil-like dresses which became so celebrated under the name of Coae vestes. Both Serica and its inhabitants are thought to have derived their name from their staple product, since, as we learn from Hesychius (s. v. Σῆρες
), the insect, from the web of which the brilliant stuff called holosericon was prepared, was named Ser (Σῆρ
). (Comp. Klaproth, Sur les Noms de la Chine
in the Mém. rel. à l'Asie,
iii. p. 264; and Tableaux Hist. de l'Asie,
pp. 57 and 68.)
It has been doubted, however, from the apparent improbability that any people should call themselves Seres, or silkworms, whether the name of Seres was ever really borne by any nation; and it has been conjectured that it was merely a mercantile appellation by which the natives of the silk district were known. (Latham, in Class. Mus.
vol. iii. p. 43, seq.) Lassen (Ind. Alt.
i. p. 321) has produced from the Mahabharata,
2.50, as the real names of the Seres, those of Caka, Tukhara, and Kanka, who are represented as bringing just the same goods to market as are ascribed by Pliny (34.14. s. 41
) to the Seres, namely, wool, skins, and silk. Yet, though it may be allowed to be improbable that a people should have called themselves “Silkworms,” yet it seems hardly less so that such an appellation should have been given them by foreigners, and that they should have been known by it and no other for a [p. 2.968]
period of several centuries. On the other hand, may it not be possible that the product was called after the people, instead of the people after the product? We are not without examples of an analogous procedure; as, for instance, the name of the phasis, or pheasant, from the river Phasis; of our own word currants,
anciently and properly Corinths,
from the place whence that small species of grape was originally brought, &c. However this may be, we may refer the reader who is desirous of a further account of the origin and manufacture of silk, to an excellent dissertation in the Textrinum Antiquarum
of Mr. Yates (part i. p. 160, seq.), where he will find all the passages in ancient authors that bear upon the subject carefully collected and discussed.
Besides its staple article, Serica also produced a vast quantity of precious stones of every kind (Expos. tot. Mundi,
ap. Hudson, iii. p. 1, seq.), as well as iron, which was esteemed of a better quality even than the Parthian (Plin. l.c.
) and skins (Per. M. Erythr.
p. 22; Amm. l.c.
According to Pausanias (6.22.2
) the Seres were a mixture of Scythians and Indians. They are mentioned by Strabo (xv. p.701
), but only in a cursory manner.
It appears from Mela (3.7) and from Pliny (6.17. s. 24
), compared with Eustathius thius (ad Dionys. Per.
5.753, seq.), and Ammianus Marcellinus (l.c.
), that they were a just and gentle people, loving tranquillity and comfort. Although addicted to commerce, they were completely isolated from the rest of the world, and carefully avoided all intercourse with strangers. From these habits, they were obliged to carry on their commercial transactions in a very singular manner. They inscribed the prices of their goods upon the bales in which they were packed, and then deposited them in a solitary building called the Stone Tower; perhaps the same place mentioned by Ptolemy (6.15.3
) under the name of Hormeterion, situated in a valley on the upper course of the Jaxartes, and in the Scythian district of Casia. The Scythian merchants then approached, and having deposited what they deemed a just price for the goods, retired.
After their departure, the Seres examined the sum deposited, and if they thought it sufficient took it away, leaving the goods; but if not enough was found, they removed the latter instead of the money.
In tile description of this mode of traffic we still recognise the characteristics of the modern Chinese. The Parthians also traded with the Seres, and it was probably through the former that the Romans at a later period procured most of their silk stuffs; though the Parthians passed them off as Assyrian goods, which seems to have been believed by the Romans (Plin. Nat. 11.22, s. 25
After the overthrow of the Parthian empire by the Persians, the silk trade naturally fell into the hands of the latter. (Vopisc Aurel.
100.45; Procop. B. Pers.
With regard to their persons, the Seres are described as being of unusual size, with blue eyes, red hair, and a rough voice (Plin. Nat. 6.22. s. 24
), almost totally unacquainted with diseases and bodily infirmities (Expos. tot. Mundi, l.c.
), and consequently reaching a very great age (Ctes. l.c.; Strab. xv. p.701
; Lucian, Macrob.
5). They were armed with bows and arrows (Hor. Od. 1.29
. 9; Charic. 6.3). Ptolemy (ll. cc.
) enumerates several distinct tribes of them, as the Annibi, in the extreme N., on the mountains named after them; the Zizyges, between them and the Auxacian mountains; the Damnae, to the S. of these; and still farther S. down to the river Oechardes, the Pialae; the Oechardae, who dwelt about the river of the same name; and the Garenaei and Nabannae, to the E. of the Annibi. To the S. of these again was the district of Asmiraea, near the mountains of the same name, and still further in the same direction the Issedones; to the E. of whom were the Throani. To the S. of the Issedones were the Asparacae, and S. of the Throani the Ethaguri. Lastly, on the extreme southern borders were seated the Batae and the Ottorocorrae,--the latter, who must doubtless be the same people called by Pliny Attacori, on the like-named mountain. To the southern district must also be ascribed the Sesatae mentioned in Arrian's Peripl. M. Erythr.
(p. 37), small men with broad foreheads and flat noses, and, from the description of them, evidently a Mongol race. They migrated yearly with their wives and children to the borders of the Sinae, in order to celebrate their festivals there; and when they had returned to the interior of their country, the reeds which they left behind them, and which had served them for straw, were carefully gathered up by the Sinae, in order to prepare from it the Malabathron, a species of ointment which they sold in India. (Comp. Ritter, Erdkunde,
ii. p. 179, v. p. 443, 2nd ed.; Bohlen, das Alte Indien,
ii. p. 173; Heeren's, Ideen,
1.2. p. 494).
According to Ammianus (l.c.
) the towns of Serica were few in number, but large and wealthy. Ptolemy, in the places cited at the head of this article, names fifteen of them, of which the most important seem to have been, Sera. the capital of the nation; Issedon; Throana, on the E. declivity of the Asmiraei mountains, and on the easternmost source of the Oechardes; Asmiraea, on the same stream, but somewhat to the NW. of the preceding town; Aspacara, on the left bank of the Bautisus, not far from its most western source; and Ottorocorra.