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Stewart Gordon’s “When Asia Was the World” Essay

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Updated: Oct 4th, 2021


In the period between 600-1500 AD, the region of Asia was both political and economically powerful in the world. According to Stewart Gordon Asia dominated the world in religion, intelligence, trade, and scientific philosophies stretching from china to Arabia. Religion was a key aspect that brought this region together and enabled people in these regions to work together to achieve what Asia flourished about in the past years (Stewart, pg 40).

When Asia Was the World

When the Roman Emperor collapsed, Europe, which was formerly a powerful continent in the world in 300 AD, entered into the Dark Ages. When this happened Asia rose up and became the center of world civilization and thrived in trade, religious growth, culture enhancement, and realized a massive growth in major cities. According to Stewart the vehicle that enabled Asia to realize what it realized at the time was the huge enterprises of thousands of people and the massive number of beast of labor such as donkeys and camels Asia at the time had a well structured and effective legislative system as Stewart implies that the Court system in several parts of the Asian emperor was artistically and culturally sophisticated, and both the Islamic and Buddhist religion at the period worked together in the realization of diversity in a set of guidelines and association than what Christianity did (Stewart, pg159).

The diverse landscape of Asia, which was made of deserts, mountains, rain forests, and dry plains, placed Asia in an enabling environment to achieve what it was in the past. The diversity in culture and language also made Asia be a master in technology, innovation, art, and creativeness which in the 600-1500 Ad made Asia be a masterpiece of lifestyle and fame (Edward, pg 126).

Asia at this that period was conformed and possessed some of the largest and most powerful governance and administrative systems the world has ever known a good example is Genghis Khan’s empire which was the largest emperor the world has ever seen and the population of the Asian emperors was extraordinarily lager than the whole of Western Europe’s population at that time.

The networking and collaboration in Asia are what made it to be great and unique. Ideas, scholars, slaves, religions, Bureaucrats, and plants always moved across and along its trade and intersecting routes. The Family ties in Asia cross-cut and stretched in Asia across thousands of kilometers. The Asian active Traders found ready markets for their goods and services which were mostly dominated by precious metals and ornaments to quality silk and linen (Stewart, pg 179).

The linkage and connection of Asia to other kingdoms and countries at that time was superb this connectivity was in several ways which were always consistent. Always Asia’s own crossed its own jurisdiction territories and coastal boundaries and managed to bring together other regions and countries in unexpected ways. These mechanisms of reaching out to other countries and regions and bringing them together to become trade and interrelationship partners was a strength of Asia which made Asia at that time achieve massive recognition and control of other regions and countries in terms of trade ideology philosophy religion, art, and culture.

The outgoing and aggressive nature of Asians at that time made Asia expand its territories for example Afghans, Mughals, and Kushans successfully established empires that ruled effectively the fearsome Himalayas. The native South Indian Chola monarchy successfully created a navy and dominated the islands of great Sri Lanka, Sumatra, and Java, and aggressively politically united Southeast Asia and India. Genghis Khan successfully reigned over the steppe and the larger areas of the agriculturally fertile China.

On issues to do with communication, trade, and the currency used, most of the Asian emperors dominated across regions by trading in horses from the steppe to the Indian plains, from south China to northern China, and steel trade from Afghanistan to Damascus. The big states of Asia at that time were the ones that produced and provided the currency or medium of exchange that was used in trade at that time, for example, the Chinese silver dirham dominated the transaction of trade in Asian trade transactions. Also, the big states of Asia were the ones that formulated and established norms or standards which were used to normalize the used weights and measures.

The powerful states of Asia also occasionally organized the modalities of the Asian communication and transportation systems in order to enhance reliable postal, communication, and transportation. An individual at the time could send a letter for example from Afghanistan and have it arrive in Egypt in a period slightly less than two months.

When big empires of Asia collapsed, they gradually devolved into successive states. The Asian capitals towns and systems did not only survive the collapses but thrived to greater heights. Also, the Medium-sized cities of Asia acted as long-term providers of modalities, logistics, & sources of learning, demand, and patronage. Line in line with that these small cities provided the bureaucrats to run an empire. Both the large and small cities of Asia needed a stable supply of fabric, food, fuel, and shelter hence in order to make this sustainable the Asian elites of these places attracted more advanced trade for goods and services in the Asian world. The Asian elites and traders always The Chinese urban elite generated an almost insatiable demand for ivory — both African and Southeast Asian — which found its way into religious statues, pens, fans, boxes, and the decoration of furniture.

The Asian towns were also active in the manufacturing industries which led to the creation of massive job and trade opportunities. Among the most common products in this industry were ceramic goods, fine linen & fabrics, advanced musical instruments, ornaments & jewelry, and scientific equipment. These products were in very high demand in the whole of Asia. The great Damascus excelled to higher levels in steel production to such an extent that it was in high demand on the whole of Asia. The blades from the steel factories of Damascus were very useful and in higher demand in Indonesia than they were in the Central Asian states. The historic high-quality ceramic products from china kept Asia a mile ahead in ceramics in the whole world during that time. The volume and quality of the products being traded across Asia and to the other parts of the world were given higher consideration and the varieties of the goods which were traded had a great impact on the livelihood of many Asians of the time.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Stewart Gordon’s When Asia Was the World

Stewart Gordon wrote a magnificent book discussing how the traveling merchants and businessmen, Elites, soldiers, and religious men traveled across Asia and the world to make Asia a powerful and rich region in the 600-1500 AD. This was a strong publication by Stewart Gordon who gathered enough information to produce a book collection that focused on the part played by bringing together material culture and political ideology as Stewart exemplifies in the introductory chapter of his book (Stewart, pg 2).

However, with his elaborate book collection one wonders if all the subjects discussed in his book are all true or some of them are mere hypothesis and some of the items discussed looks suspicious for example the diffusionist model discussed in the book.

Work cited

Stewart Gordon, When Asia Was the World: Traveling Merchants, Scholars, Warriors and Monks who created the ‘Riches of the East, Da Capo Press, 2007.

Edward, C. Ancient Asian History, New Delhi University Press, 1987.

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