Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia

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Oasis In geography, an oasis (plural: oases) is an isolated area of vegetation in a desert, typically surrounding a spring or similar water source. Oases also provide habitat for animals and humans. The location of oases has been of critical importance for trade and transportation routes in desert areas. Caravans must travel via oases so that supplies of water and food can be replenished. Thus, political or military control of an oasis has in many cases meant control of trade on a particular route. Travel on the Silk Road was only possible because of the presence of oasis and oasis towns along the Silk Routes. The routes between Central Asia and China connected several routes south of the Trans-Eurasian steppe belt, through the deserts of Central Asia, and from the oasis of one trading center to the next. (Roman roads were built primarily for war and conquest, not trade). More...

Oasis Towns These towns often served as "hand-off" points for passing commodities (i.e. people, animals, goods), or the control of them, from one person, or authority, to another. Some of the best known oasis towns along the Silk Road were in the region of the inhospitable Taklimakan, a desert in Central Asia in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. Because the desert was hazardous to cross, and little water was available, merchant caravans would stop at the thriving oasis towns. The key oasis towns, watered by rainfall from the mountains, were Kashgar, Marin, Niya, Yarkand, and Khotan (Hetian) to the south, Kuqa and Turpan in the north, and Loulan and Dunhuang in the east. Today many towns, such as Marin, and the area of the ancient oasis city built on the northern rim of the Taklamakan Desert known as Gaochang, remain in sparsely inhabited areas.

Occident (the "West") The term "Occident" is derived from the Latin word occidens meaning "west," where the sun sets. This term has been used to describe the "West." Though it can be argued that the term is falling into disuse in English, the term is used by Westerners and non-Westerners to refer to that which is "Western." The opposite term "Orient" is more commonly used in the West as a convenient means to refer to the "Eastern world" in general. More...

Occidentalism A quality, mannerism, or custom specific to or characteristic of the Occident (the West). The term "Occidentalist" refers to a person with scholarly knowledge of Occidental (Western) cultures, while the term "Occidentalism" refers to the study of Western societies and cultures. Due to centuries of cultural biases, a reevaluation of both "Occidental" and "Oriental" studies must be undertaken by objective and well-trained scholars. More...

Odoric of Pordenone Franciscan monk who traveled via Constantinople (Istanbul) and the Black Sea to Persia, and then via the Indian Ocean to India in the early 1320s. From there he sailed around southeast Asia to the east coast of China and spent several years in Beijing. His claim to have returned via Tibet is said to be dubious, although he apparently traveled overland, arriving back in Venice via the Black Sea and Istanbul. His lengthy travel account, which he dictated in 1330, became a "best seller," in part because of Odoric's indiscriminate mixture of fictitious elements with more authentic information. He occasionally notes aspects of Chinese culture that were not described by Marco Polo.

Adam Olearius
Secretary to the Embassy of Holstein, and in 1643 Ambassador from Holstein. First and third missions were to Moscow; second went through Muscovy to Persia. Olearius compiled one of the most widely read and detailed accounts of Muscovy and Persia, seen through the lens of his Protestant upbringing and learned European perspective. It was published first in 1647.

Oman (See Yemen)

Ordos Loop is a region of China west of Beijing, east of the Tarim Basin and Gansu Corridor.

Ordu-Baliq (Ordu Balik, Ordu Balykh, Ordu Balig, meaning "city of the court," also known as Mubalik) was the capital of the first Uyghur Empire, built on the site of the former Göktürk imperial capital, near the later Mongol capital, Karakorum. Its ruins are known as Kharabalghasun and are part of the World Heritage Site Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape. More...

Orient (the "East") The "Orient" is a term which means "the East." It is a traditional designation for anything belonging to the Eastern world or the Far East, in relation to Europe. The term "Orient" is derived from the Latin word oriens meaning "east" ( or "rising," referring to the east where the sun rises). Over time, the common understanding of 'the Orient' has continually shifted eastwards; as Europe learned of countries farther East, and the defined limit of 'the Orient' shifted eastwards, until it reached the Pacific Ocean, in what Westerners came to call 'the Far East.' The meaning of the word "Orient" today may still include: Asia, Asia Minor, the countries of Asia, the Near East, the Middle East, the Far East, Central Asia, Arabia, and North Africa. The word "East" may also include Eastern Europe and Russia. See Far East. More...

Orient Express (See Train)

Oriental Studies is the academic field of study that embraces Near Eastern and Far Eastern societies and cultures, languages, peoples, history and archaeology. This field of study is now often described with a newer term, Asian studies, which reflects the fact that the Orient is not a single, monolithic region, but rather a broad area encompassing multiple civilizations.

European study of the region had primarily religious origins, and has remained an important motivation until recent times. Western learning from Arab and Islamic sources related to medicine, mathematics, astrology and philosophy, as well as from Arabic translations from Greek, resulted in the advancement of Western civilizations during and after the Middle Ages. Linguistic knowledge preceded a wider study of cultures and history, and as Europe began to encroach upon the regions of the Orient after the 15th century, political and economic factors encouraged growth in academic study. After the late 18th, century an interest in archaeology led to greater interest in the discipline from a wider European public, as treasures that were brought back filled new European museums (an issue that is still of concern for the people of Asian nations). The field of study has been criticized for being influenced by Imperialist attitudes and interests, as well as for the naive fascination of the exotic (portrayed in images by European artists, See "Orientalism"). In the last century, scholars from the East have participated on equal terms in the discipline, and are now part of the process of reevaluation. In order to have a deeper understanding of, and appreciation and respect for all that comprises "the Orient," Oriental Studies must be undertaken by objective and well-trained scholars so as to promote worldwide peaceful human integration, while overcoming cultural biases in both the "Occidental" and "Oriental" worlds. More...

Orientalism Like the word Orient, Orientalism derives from the Latin word oriens (meaning "rising," and implying the direction of the rising sun).

The term "Orientalism" refers to the study of Near and Far Eastern societies and cultures, usually by "Western" scholars (however, a growing number of professional scholars and students of Asian Studies are themselves Asian, or from groups of Asian origin, such as Asian Americans). The vague discipline of Orientalism has undergone self-evaluation in the modern-age, where improved communications, transport, and education seek to overcome the legacies of misrepresentation of the "Eastern World." (See Orientalism)

Although stereotyped portrayals of Westerners appear in some works originating in the East, for centuries the "West" is known to have oversimplified and for various reasons distorted knowledge of the "East." During the 19th century, the rise of "Orientalist" painters contributed to creating lasting generalizations and misrepresentations of the East. Many of these visual images were based on limited knowledge, and limited exposure to the East.

The term Orientalism has come to acquire negative connotations in some quarters and is interpreted to refer to the study of the East by Westerners shaped by the attitudes of the era of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. When used in this sense, it often implies prejudiced, outsider-caricatured interpretations of Eastern cultures and peoples. This viewpoint was most famously articulated by Columbia University Prof. Edward Said in his book Orientalism (1978).

Orientalism in the 19th Century and beyond

Following the conquest of Egypt by France and the subsequent takeover by the British in the late 18th century, Western Europeans found a new interest in the Near and Middle East. The 19th century Orientalist movement began when artists started depicting their experiences as they traveled to countries and regions such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Arabia, North Africa, India, and the Far East. The movement lasted about a century and captivated many of the major artists of the 19th century, who created detailed and realistic paintings of their new subject matter. Though many artists were inspired by their artistic pursuits, and/or for profit, many artists had undisclosed motives for using art as a tool for conveying heroic scenes for propaganda purposes, for promoting religious ideologies, creating arousing nudes for odalisque seeking European audiences, or for depicting negative and prejudiced images of Easterners.

As more artists traveled to the East and began representing numerous scenes of Oriental culture, their works portrayed the Orient as exotic, colorful and sensual, however, the Western perception of "The Exotic Orient" also created lasting negative portrayals and stereotyping of Muslims and Orientals. Many artists or "Orientalists" never travelled to the East, or had limited knowledge, but their impact on Western minds is evident today. Built on the legacies of the past, the current use of the Orient as an exotic backdrop, along with the use of Eastern villains, continues to be seen in the media, in educational institutions, films, and advertising (popular themes include the Muslim terrorist, now a common villain figure in Western movies). The historical relationship between the "Orient" and "Occident" should be better examined by modern-day scholars of Orientalism and the post-September 11 world so as to promote greater understanding of civilizations and cultures.

Orkhon (Orhun Kitabeleri / Yazıtları) (Göktürk script, Orkhon-Yenisey script) The Old Turkic script Orkhon, also known as Gokturk,  is the alphabet used by the Göktürk and other early Turkic Khanates from at least the 8th century to record the Old Turkic language. These inscriptions are the earliest known texts in any Altaic language. The script is named after the Orkhon Valley in Mongolia, where early 8th century inscriptions were discovered in an 1889 expedition by Nikolay Yadrintsev. These Orkhon inscriptions were published by Vasily Radlov and deciphered by the Danish philologist Vilhelm Thomsen in 1893. More...


These monuments in Mongolia, written in Göktürk (Orkhon)
were dedicated to Tonyukuk (716), Köl Tigin (Kültigin) (732) and Bilge Kağan (735).

Orkhon Valley sprawls along the banks of the Orkhon River in Central Mongolia, some 360 km west from the capital Ulaanbaatar. It was included by UNESCO in the World Heritage List as representing evolution of nomadic pastoral traditions spanning more than two millennia. For many centuries, the Orkhon Valley was viewed as the seat of the imperial power of the steppes. The first evidence comes from a stone stele with Gokturk inscriptions, which was erected in the valley by Bilge Khan, an 8th-century ruler of the Göktürk Empire. Some 25 miles to the north of the stele, in the shadow of the sacred forest-mountain Ötüken, was his Ördü, or nomadic capital. Mountains were considered sacred in Tengriism as an axis mundi, but Ötüken was especially sacred because the ancestor spirits of the khagans and beys were said to reside there. Moreover, a force called qut was believed to emanate from this mountain, granting the khagan the divine right to rule the Turkic tribes. Whoever controlled this valley was considered heavenly appointed leader of the Turks and could rally the tribes. Thus, control of the Orkhon Valley was of the utmost strategic importance for Turkic rulers. More...

"Outer Mongolia" is a name often used in Chinese sources that refers to the country of Mongolia. ("Inner Mongolia is a Mongol autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, located in the northern region of the country. The country of Mongolia and the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia share an international border).

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