Accepted paper:

The southern maritime route and the Nanyue Kingdom: representation, transformation and impact


Francis Allard (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)

Paper short abstract:

The talk reviews the evidence for goods and ideas of southeast Asian or western origins in the 2nd century BCE kingdom of Nanyue in southeast China. I t also argues for the limited impact in Nanyue society of such exotic goods and ideas, which likely traveled along the ‘Southern Maritime Route’.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation focuses on the Nanyue Kingdom, a second century BCE polity centered in Lingnan in southeast China (present-day provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi). Evidence recovered from Nanyue tombs represents the earliest clear indication in southeast China of contact with southeast Asia and regions further west along what has been called the 'Southern Maritime Route'. Such evidence consists of objects and materials found in the tomb of Zhao Mo (the second king of Nanyue), as well as a few elite tombs in the Guangzhou area and in Guangxi: frankincense, antelope and elephant tusks, ceramic copies of rhinoceros horns and elephant tusks, gold buttons and other small objects made of various materials (agate, amber, glass, gold). Two other well-known objects - a jade rhyton and a silver 'box' - display stylistic similarities with west Asian or Aegean forms, although the routes of transmission (and transformation) are in this case less clear. Of particular interest are a number of intriguing architectural elements at the Nanyue Palace, which some have identified as building techniques with western origins. This presentation reviews the textual and archaeological evidence for contact between the Nanyue kingdom and southern and western regions. It also argues that in contrast to what the visual impact of these exotic elements may at first suggest, their restricted spatial and social distribution point instead to a limited impact on Nanyue society.

panel P32
The archaeology of contact between China and Southeast Asia between the mid-1st millennium BC and the mid-1st millennium AD