In the year of the 130th anniversary of the publication of Die Seidenstrasse by German geologist and geographer Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen (1833-1905), the author endeavours to reconstruct what the inventor of the concept of ‘Silk Road’ really meant by it. Evoking Richthofen’s considerations on Xinjiang in volume 1 of his monumental China, the author recalls his pioneering ideas on the impact of climate change on human settlement (they were to be developed by his student Sven Hedin). He then traces the origin of the Silk Road concept through his indebtedness to Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Ritter, before insisting on Richthofen’s own interest in communication (Verkehr) and in commercial exchanges as a vector of ideas and civilisation in ancient Inner Asia. The last paragraphs of the study are an evocation of the exploitation and distortions of his concept and label by later authors like August Herrmann and Hedin himself, until present-day geopolitical and security studies.

The Redaction
CER: II-2.1-70