The First Silk War (simplified Chinese: 第一丝之战争; traditional Chinese: 第一絲之戰爭; pinyin: Dìyī Sī zhī Zhànzhēng) or the First Sino-Roman War was fought between the Roman Empire and its allies against the Song Empire of Serica from 1392 to 1401 with the original Roman aim of forcing Serica to stop exporting silk to the Roman Empire. However, the war soon became a war fueled by primarily border disputes. The First Silk War ended with an Allied victory and the Treaty of Baghdad, which prohibited silk from being sold to Romans and ceded several Serican territories to the Romans, Arabs, and Russians.
Sino-Roman Tensions Develop
Not long after the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE regular commerce began between the Romans and Asia, marked by the Roman appetite for silk cloth coming from the Far East, which was then resold to the Romans by the Parthians. The Roman Senate tried in vain to prohibit the wearing of silk, for economic reasons as well as moral ones. The import of Serican silk resulted in vast amounts of gold leaving Rome, to such an extent that silk clothing was perceived as a sign of decadence and immorality.
|“|| "By the lowest reckoning, India, Seres and the Arabian peninsula take from our Empire 100 millions of sesterces every year: that is how much our luxuries and women cost us."
—Pliny the Elder, Natural History 12.84
|“|| I can see clothes of silk, if materials that do not hide the body, nor even one's decency, can be called clothes ... Wretched flocks of maids labour so that the adulteress may be visible through her thin dress, so that her husband has no more acquaintance than any outsider or foreigner with his wife's body.
—Seneca the Younger c. 3 BCE–CE 65, Declamations Vol. I
After the Romans met the Sericans in the 13th Century, silk trade dramatically increased. The economies of both Serica and Rome greatly improved. However, popular revolts, famines, corruption, along with the Black Death caused gold to be drained out of the Roman treasury starting from the late Mid-14th Century. Many government officials placed the blame on the Sericans, and had many of them prosecuted. When the Serican government heard the news, the Sericans killed several missionaries and priests sent by the Byzantine government as retaliation. The news traveled fast and tensions, fueled by border disputes, developed between the two empires.
Resistance to Serican Occupation of North Caucasus
In 1360, the Serican Imperial Family (Zhao) celebrated its 400th year of power, and the military brught back news of the successful conquest of North Caucasus. However, the reality was that Slavic resistance remained strong.
Since the Serican and Roman occupation of the northern Middle East during the 13th Century, many terrorist and resistance groups had been operating from Arabia. The Muslim Arabs sought to regain their lost territories in the Middle East and revive the great Islamic Empire they once had under the Prophet Muhammed.
Beginning of the War
On February 1392, a Roman ambassador sent directly by the emperor was killed in Persia allegedly by Serican troops. Seeing this as a casus belli, the Roman Empire declared war on the Song Empire of Serica. The Islamic Abbasid Caliphate were strongly urged to join the war on their side on the pretext of gaining land and liberating Persia from the non-Muslim empire. The Grand Duchy of Moscow were coerced to join the war after being threatened by the Roman Empire.
When the war officially began in 1393 for Arabia, twenty thousand Arabian soldiers rushed to reinforce the Roman legion I Persia Antiqua (with about the same number of men) stationed at the city Rhagae (Shahr-e-Rey), a strategic military position. They arrived just in time to see Rey (with newly-built walls) being besieged by thirty thousand Serican troops. Despite being outnumbered 4 to 3, the Sericans destroyed the Roman's defenses with siege towers, cannons, and other advanced technology. The Sericans easily overpowered the Allied forces and broke into Rey. Serican victory meant that the roads leading into Asia Minor would be available to the Sericans; allowing an easier invasion of the area. This would also mean the capital, Byzantium, would be in grave danger. Knowing this, the commanders ordered the Roman legionaries to hold Rey at any cost. Fortunately for the Romans, II Persia, III Persia Constantia, IV Persia, and several thousand Arab reinforcements arrived and won back Rey, but at high costs. It is recorded that almost half of the entire Allied army were killed or captured. Despite the heavy losses, the Allies were able to capture some cannons and gunpowder, which were to prove useful in future battles. Eventually, on February 1396 the Romans and Arabs decisively defeated the Sericans in Isfahan with large numhbers and newly-found technology. Because of te internal conflict in the Serican Imperial Court, very little attention was given to the war with the Allies.The Sericans are completely pushed out of the Middle East by early 1402.
Central and North Asian Front
At first, most of the fighting was fought in the Middle East, but the Russians were urged by the Romans to launch their own independent campaigns at Serica's Siberian and Central Asian territories. On January 1395, thirty thousand Russian troops crossed the Ural Mountains to attack the known Serican positions in Siberia. To counter this threat, the Sericans bribed the Mongol leaders to fight the Russians. The first of Siberian Campaigns (1395-1396) ended in disaster as the thirty thousand Mongol horsemen routed the Russian army near Qashliq. In the second campaign (1398-1401), forty thousand Cossacks and Russians successfully defeated the numerically inferior Mongols. Demoralized, many Mongols withdrew back to their homeland.
Due to the corruption and famine caused by straining of men and resources, the Sericans suffered one defeat after another. On April 1402, the Romans and Arabs captured Khavakend (Kokand), a major trading outpost along the Silk Road. They were soon joined by the Russian force. After parts of modern-day Xinjiang fell the Allies, Serica sued for peace. Meanwhile, Roman government was suffering from the war as well, as much more money was being drained from the treasury than they expected.
Treaty of Baghdad
Main article: Treaty of Baghdad (1402)
Delegations from the nations arrived in Baghdad. The group met to discuss the end of the conflict and to create a peace treaty. Serica agreed to send large amounts of money and silk to each of the Allied nations annually, stop the trading of silk to the Roman Empire, and withdraw from the Middle East. The Romans took control of most of the conquered land, breaking its promise to the Abbasids.
Aftermath and Impact of the war
During the war, many merchants became unemployed and poor. Trading and traveling in the Middle East was discouraged or dangerous. All free men were ordered to pay high taxes to fund the war, and many people became poor.
Although the Roman Empire's original aim was to prohibit the import of Serican silk and thus save mass amounts of gold, the war ironically made the Roman Empire waste more money. The war was regarded as aPyrrhic victory by some. However, the Romans did succeed in obtaining cannons and gunpowder; along with the region of Persia. However, the war gave the Romans control of Persia and many Serican firearms, revolutionizing European warfare.
After the war, the empire became increasingly weak, and in 1418 it collapsed and was succeeded by several smaller states.
This Islamic nation was militarily weak before the war, as firearms and siege weapons were not completely understood (the Mongols introduced the cannon when they invaded the Middle East in OTL, but in this Timeline the Mongols failed to conquer parts of China and thus gain the weapons, so the cannons were still unknown to the Arabs). During the war, the Arabs were able to observe the tactics and the weapons of both the Roman and the Serican armies.
After the war, the caliphate transformed its own military and modeled it after the Roman and Serican legions. Arabia conquered Persia and many other Roman territories during the decline of the Roman Empire.
Russian Grand Duchy of Moscow
Before the war, the military of Russia was simply a bunch of tribal war bands. However, during the start of the war Grand Duke Vasily I ordered all the war bands to unite into a standard, professional army. Vasily sent officials to Byzantium to observe and learn about Roman military and he later adapted some of their tactics. However, the Russians also learned from the Mongol horsemen, whom they fought against in two campaigns. During the war, the Russians established several forts and towns in Siberia, allowing them to later annex North Asia.
During the war, trading and traveling along the Silk Road was too dangerous. This led to merchants and explorers trying to find a way to the foreign lands by sea. The famous eunuch and fleet admiral named Zheng He went on several naval expeditions after the war.
The loss was a severe blow to the empire and its economy. Famine struck Serica and the Mongols revolted against the Sericans. In 1418 Emperor Duanzong was assassinated. The Song Dynasty collapsed shortly after and was replaced by the Later Sui Dynasty.