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One of the easternmost countries of Asia known to the ancient Greeks and Romans / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Serica (/ˈsɛrɪkə/, Ancient Greek: Σηρικά)[1] was one of the easternmost countries of Asia known to the Ancient Greek and Roman geographers. It is generally taken as referring to North China[citation needed] during its Zhou, Qin, and Han dynasties, as it was reached via the overland Silk Road in contrast to the Sinae, who were reached via the maritime routes. A similar distinction was later observed during the Middle Ages between "Cathay" (north) and "Mangi" or "China" (south). The people of Serica were the Seres (Ancient Greek: Σῆρες),[2] whose name was also used for their region. Access to Serica was eased following the Han conquest of the Tarim Basin (modern Xinjiang) but largely blocked when the Parthian Empire fell to the Sassanids. Henry Yule summarized the classical geographers:[3]

If we fuse into one the ancient notices of the Seres and their country, omitting anomalous statements and manifest fables, the result will be something like the following:—"The region of the Seres is a vast and populous country, touching on the east the Ocean and the limits of the habitable world, and extending west to Imaus and the confines of Bactria. The people are civilized, mild, just, and frugal, eschewing collisions with their neighbours, and even shy of close intercourse, but not averse to dispose of their own products, of which raw silk is the staple, but which include also silk-stuffs, fine furs, and iron of remarkable quality." That is manifestly a definition of the Chinese.[4]

A mid-15th century Florentine world map based on the 1st (modified conic) projection in Jacobus Angelus's 1406 Latin translation of Maximus Planudes's late-13th century rediscovered Greek manuscripts of Ptolemy's 2nd-century Geography. Serica is shown in the far northeast of the world.

Some scholars, however, contend the Seres were not the Chinese themselves but tribes speaking Indo-European languages on the western edges of the Chinese dynasties and empires who traded with the ancient Indians, such as the Yuezhi, Saka, and Tocharians.