Camel caravan

Camel caravan
Mosaic from Deir al-Adas, Syria, 8th century (photo: J.C.Meyer)
The research project Mechanisms of cross-cultural interaction: Networks in the Roman Near East (2013-2017) investigates the resilient everyday ties, such as trade, religion and power, connecting people within and across fluctuating imperial borders in the Near East in the Roman Period. The project is funded under the Research Council of Norway's SAMKUL initiative, and hosted by the Department of archaeology, history, cultural studies and religion, University of Bergen, Norway.

This blog is no longer updated, for any queries, please contact project leader Eivind Heldaas Seland

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Conference: Sinews of empire: Networks and regional interaction in the Roman Near East and beyond

Finally the time has arrived for our project conference, which takes place at the Norwegian Institute in Athens over the next few days (Dec. 2nd-4th). Proceedings will be published in due time. For now this is a list of our speakers: 

Vincent Gabrielsen, University of Copenhagen: Alongside the State, Beside the Temple, Next to the Market: Exemplifying the Network as a category of historical analysis

Kasper Grønlund Evers, University of Copenhagen, Crucibles of collaboration: a comparative study of associations and other organisations in ancient Near Eastern commerce

Michael Sommer, University of Oldenburg, The mechanics of empire. Personal networks and the modus operandi of Roman hegemony

Tom Brughmans, University of Konstanz, Simulating Roman economic integration: correlations between transport distance and price in a network model of tableware distribution in the Roman East

Henrik Gerding and Per Östborn, University of Lund, Brick makers, builders, and commissioners in the Hellenistic world: modelling social networks to fit archaeological data

Lara Fabian, University of Pennsylvania, Numismatic communities of the South Caucasus: Geospatial analysis of 3nd c. BCE- 3th c. CE coin finds

Leonardo Gregoratti, Durham University, Sinews of the other Empire: Parthian Great King’s rule over vassal Kingdoms

Kerstin Droß-Krüpe, University of Kassel, Businessmen and local elites in Roman Asia Minor

Yanne Broux, Leuven University, Trade networks among the army camps of the Eastern Desert of Roman Egypt

Rubina Raja, Aarhus University, Networking beyond death: Social networks in Palmyra - the funerary evidence

Ted Kaizer, Durham University, Networks between Palmyra and Dura Europos

Katia Schörle, University of Nice, Mapping Economic Integrations in Palmyrene Networks  

Giovanni Ruffini, Fairfield University, The Social Networks of Late Antique Thebes

Håkon Teigen, University of Bergen, The Manichaean Church in Roman Egypt: church officials and their networks

Mattias Brand, University of Leiden, Exploring speech patterns in social networks as indicators of religious change: the Manichaean community in late antique Egypt

Anna Collar, Aarhus University, Sinews of belief, anchors of devotion: the cult of Zeus Kasios in the Mediterranean

Taco Terpstra, Northwestern University, Mediterranean Connectivity, State Institutions, and Phoenician Trade.

Eivind Heldaas Seland, University of Bergen, Networks in the Roman Near East: Cases, perspectives, lessons

Monday, 23 November 2015

New publication: Writ in water, lines in sand

I've got a new article out. It is called "Writ in water, lines in sand: Ancient trade routes, models and comparative evidence" and deals with the problems of tracing connectivity in the distant past. It started as a paper at  the workshop A Thousand Worlds: Network Models in Archaeology, Durham October 2013. Thanks to Rune Rattenborg for inviting me to the workshop and to Kristoffer Damgaard for his extensive comments to the manuscript.

The article is published in Cogent Arts & Humanities, a new Open Access mega-journal for the humanities, and can be dowloaded for free from their website. They demand a public interest statement for each article, explaining why it is interesting and important. I've pasted mine with the abstract below:


Historians and archaeologists often take connectivity for granted, and fail to address the problems of documenting patterns of movement. This article highlights the methodological challenges of reconstructing trade routes in prehistory and early history. The argument is made that these challenges are best met through the application of modern models of connectivity, in combination with the conscious use of comparative approaches.

Public Interest Statement

Trade is a driving force in the global economy, and among the prime agents of wealth distribution as well as cultural and political change. Historical and archaeological research has demonstrated that this is no recent phenomena, but that forerunners of the processes today labelled as globalization have been at work within all spheres of society throughout human history. While acknowledging the central role played by long-distance trade in the past, I argue in this article that scholars often take connectivity for granted, overlooking the major physical and institutional obstacles to travel in the premodern period, as well as the problems inherent to reconstructing the dynamic process of trade from the static evidence of texts and archaeological data. By insisting that scholars should not limit themselves to observing that objects moved and changed hand, but also ask how, we may not only increase our understanding of premodern economies, but also be in a position to better appreciate the nature of contemporary exchange.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Meanwhile in Bergen...

It's been too long since I updated this blog, which does not, however, mean that we have been idle. Here is a brief report on some of the things that has happened since May and that will take place over the next few months.

In late May I went to Singapore where I organised a panel at the Asian Association of World Historians  together with Japanese colleagues Masaki Mukai, Hisatsugu Kusabu, and Yasuhiru Yokkaichi. The session was called Pax Romana and Pax Mongolica: New Approaches to the Anatomy of Pre‐modern Martitime Networks (session 4.3 in the program) and proceedings will eventually be published in the open access Asian Review of World Histories, pending peer review. The conference gave the opportunity to indulge in one of my other academic interests, namely world/global history, which interestingly looks different from an Asian perspective despite the disciplines aim to transcend old, Eurocentric paradigms of history. For my interest in networks a splendid session was World Maps as Knowledge Aggregators: from Renaissance Italy Fra Mauro to Web Search Engines (session 5.5. in the program) where the panelists discussed renaissance texts and maps as early examples of hypertext, and how modern software can be used to mine them for information.

Summer started with the Sunbelt Conference om Social Network Analysis in Brighton, where I presented on the social networks of so-called client rulers in the Roman Near East (an updated and hopefully improved version of the study I've written about here. This year there was one archaeological session and several on historical networks. Interest in historical and archaeological networks is certainly up only in the two brief years since I attended the Hamburg conference, and the Sunbelt is becoming a great place for thinking about and discussing methodology with people working with other periods and empircal settings, and for engaging with the social sciences in general, a useful exercice for scholars working with distant periods.

Next stop was in Konstanz, where Tom Brughmans had invited me to visit the Network Science group of professor Ulrik Brandes and to give a lecture on a network analysis of ancient Indian Ocean trade based on the Greek merchant handbook known as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. In addition to the opportunity to have a critical and constructive discussion of some of my case studies with a group of experts on network analysis and graph visualisation I was introduced to the Visone graph visualisation software, which contains a lot of nice features for historical network analyses, such as animations of time sequences, which will come in very handy for the above study of ruler networks that I need to write out for publication soon.

One of the reasons that this blog has been silent over the summer is that the terrible events in Palmyra, Syria has taken time, attention and energy. I had the privilege of visiting Palmyra every year from 2004-2010, and did my postdoc on a project called Palmyrena: City, Hinterland and Caravan Trade between Orient and Occident (2009-2013). Suddenly and tragically expertise on the Roman Near East became much more relevant than I would ever have wanted it to be, and some of my time and much of my attention over the last months have been directed at trying to get information on what has been going on, and telling anyone who cares to listen what Palmyra is and why Palmyra is important. Some of this can be found under media on the publications and talks page or on my Norwegian language blog. On a more positive note the events of Palmyra prompted me to return to my half-finished book manuscript on the trade of the city. It is now finished and submitted. Depending on publisher and peer reviews I hope soon to be able to reveal how social networks is the key to understanding the rise and fall of the remarkable city in the Syrian Desert.

Håkon has also been busy, presenting his work on the Manichaean community in third century Kellis, Egypt at the Historical Network Research Conference in Lisbon this September. He has some really exciting networks of the economic and religious interaction of this religious minority group, which I hope he'll blog about himself.

Lots of nice things are planned for the next months. I'll be giving two talks on Red Sea/Indian Ocean trade at two different conferences, one on trade in minerals, the other on textiles. In both cases network analysis provides opportunities for integrating archaeological and historical data, and arguably gives a better understanding of the interactive and mutual activity of trade than traditional approaches. In November Professor Nicholas Purcell (Oxford) will visit our research group Ancient History, Culture and Religion. Purcell's work with Peregrine Horden on The Corrupting Sea has been instrumental in the surge of interest in network studies within classical and medieval studies, and I'm looking forward to hear hvis view on where the study of connectivity stands now. There's going to be a NeRoNE project conference in December. I'll post details on that when the abstracts are all in, and last but not least Birgit van der Lans, Groeningen, will come to Bergen for her postdoc on a Niels Stensen Fellowship. Birgit works on Jews and Christian in the Roman Empire, partly from a social network perspective. She will join our research group and also be associated with the NeRoNE project.


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Seminar: Social Networks in Ancient and Medieval History

Social Networks, not swords, civilised
the northern barbarians, or so it appears.
Italian WW1 war-bond poster.
 Photo courtesy of J.C. Meyer.
Last week I was invited  to take part in a small seminar organized by the research group for premodern history, department of archaeology, conservation and history, University of Oslo. The seminar was aimed at students writing their MA-theses within ancient and medieval history, in order to make them think about how different kinds of social network approaches could inform their research. I got to talk about my networks of local rulers in the Roman Near East and of water sources in the Syrian Desert, but more important to me I got to listen to some really great presentations on social networks in early medieval northern Europe.

Pierre Bauduin (Caen) spoke on "Social networks, mediation and competition in the Viking Age: the Frankish example", where he demonstrated how the Frankish elite and their Viking neighbours in present day Denmark cultivated ties by way of hospitality, and exchange of spouses, hostages and foster-children. This facilitated trust between groups who had common interest in peaceful relations, but who shared few institutional ties, notably the Danes were still mostly adherents of the pre-Christian Norse religion, and social networks paved the way for the first Christian missionaries to Scandinavia.

Philadelphia Ricketts (independent scholar) gave a talk on "Snorri Sturluson and his daughters". Snorri (1179-1241) is a famous poet, but was also a powerful chieftain in 13th century Iceland, and a key player in the bloody events leading up to the takeover of the island by the king of Norway in 1262. Philadelphia showed how Snorri, with variable success, married off his daughters as part of his political power games, but also how his daughters were not always willing to or able to play their part. The talk showed how women were instrumental in creating links between otherwise separate social networks in clan-based, pre-state Iceland, and how resourceful individuals were able to utilise this situation to improve their own position.

Richard Gaskins (Brandeis) addressed "Political Development in Early Iceland: Applying Network Theory to the Sagas", where he argued that Icelandic society in the settlement period (870-930) show the characteristics of a "small-world" network, while in the following period of chieftains (930-1080) networks were of the "distributed" kind, giving way to "hub and spoke" networks in the late pre-state period of larger domains (1080-1246). Gaskins use of network models gave very evocative descriptive accounts of the situation in premodern Iceland, and also opened the way for discussing how and why networks changed.

Apart from all papers giving insight into fascinating historical settings and source material, I was intrigued by the explanatory potential of social network approaches to pre-state societies. These were situations where few or no formal political and legal institutions were in existence, and social networks were thus allowed to operate undisturbed so to say. Part of the idea behind the seminar was to get the students interested in network approaches, and I hope we can look forward to some exciting  MA-theses from Oslo in a year or so. Meanwhile I have to admit that I am a tad bit envious on the people researching medieval Iceland for their incredibly rich source material.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Publication: Palmyra-chapter in new Silkroad book

I have a new book chapter out: "Preconditions of Palmyrene long-distance trade: Land, River, and Maritime routes in the first three centuries CE" in a book called The Silk Road: Interwoven History, edited by Mariko N. Walter and James P. Ito-Adler published by the Association for Central Asian Civilizations & Silk Road Studies. I will see if I can eventually post a PDF of my chapter. Meanwhile the book can be purchased from the publishers. Below is the table of contents:

Tim Williams “Mapping of the Silk Road”;

Leonardo Gregoratti “Parthian Empire and the Political Role of the Silk Road: Romans, Jews, Nomads, and Chinese”

Rachel Mairs “Heroes and Philosophers? Greek Personal Names and their Bearers in Hellenistic Bactria”

Eivind Heldaas Seland “Preconditions of Palmyrene Long-distance trade: Land, River, and Maritime routes in the first three centuries CE.”

Ulrike-Christiane Lintz “Survey of Judaeo-Persion Tombstone Inscriptions from Djām, Cnetral Afghanistan"

Djamilya Kurbanova “History of Musical Culture of Turkmenistan: From Ancient Merv to Modern Times”

Borbala Obrusanszky “Nestorian Christianity in the Ordos in Inner Mongolia"

Bin Yang “Cowry Shells and the Emergent World Trade System (1500 BCE-1700 CE)”

Michael Laver “The Maritime Silk Road: Silver and Silk in Japan's Trade with Asia in the 16th /17th Centuries”

Gerald Roche “Village Ritual and Frontier History on the Northeast Tibetan Plateau: the Mangghuer Nadun.”

Update May 5: I've posted a PDF of my chapter at Several of the other chapters can also be found there.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The western networks of Palmyra

Two weeks ago, I went to Copenhagen in order to attend the conference Palmyra and the Mediterranean that concluded the Palmyra Portrait Project. The Palmyra Portrait team, headed by Rubina Raja (Aarhus) and Andreas Kropp (Nottingham) have over the last years tracked down, measured, photographed and described more than 2000 of the Palmyrene portrait busts, that once sealed graves in the funerary towers, house-tombs and underground hypogea in the Syrian desert city. Their database will hopefully go online later this year. The database is, however, only part of their work. They are also editing the excavation diaries and notebooks of Danish archaeologist Harald Ingholt, one of the most important excavators of Palmyra, they are launching a new book series on Palmyra, and they have organized a series of workshops and conferences.

My own interest in Palmyra stems from my postdoctoral work on the trade of the city, but Palmyra was also of course an important city in the wider context of the Roman Near East, and it is well suited to network studies for reasons of its epigraphic record of some 3000 inscriptions in Aramaic, Greek, and (a few in) Latin. At this conference I was invited to give a talk on the western networks of Palmyra, and below is a brief summary of the approach I took in that paper. What I wanted to demonstrate was how thinking in terms of networks can help explain the rather spectacular career and success of Palmyra, that emerged from obscure origins in the first centuries BCE to compete for leadership of the Roman Empire in the third quarter of the third century. Pending peer-review the paper will eventually appear in a conference volume in the book series launched by the Palmyra Portrait Project and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Palmyra is generally studied for its connections to the east or its situation on the eastern edge of the Roman world, alternatively for its distinctiveness, as something between east and west or something of its own. While I think these perspectives remain valuable and valid, I still appreciate the challenge to think about Palmyra in a Mediterranean context.

Sociologist Michael Mann, in his monumental Sources of Social Power (1986-2012), argues that power relations take the form of social networks.  He identifies four sources of social power: Ideology, Economy, Military and Politics. Networks of course describe connections between people. It is quite possible to study power in the forms of institutions, as traditional social science does, but this misses the aspect that power is always exercised in relation to someone. Arguably Mann’s IEMP model provides a potent framework for understanding Palmyras remarkable trajectory of power, and by not treating power as a zero-sum game, it is also good at catching the dynamics between the multiplicity of tribes, city-states, principalities and empires with a stake in what was going on in the Near East in the Roman period.

Starting with politics, the most constant relation of Palmyra, spanning from some of the earliest inscriptions in the Temple of Bel to the coins of Zenobia and Vaballthus during the rebellion in 270-273, is that with Rome. The Palmyrenes dedicated monuments to the Roman emperors, honour individual Romans as well as Palmyrenes who have been generous on behalf of the city occasion of imperial visits, and of course they employ the Roman name of their city, Hadriana. This is a typical mode of attention seeking for local communities in the Roman World. The remarkable thing with Palmyra is of course that she goes from saying “listen Rome, we are here”, to saying “listen folks, we are Rome”.

Moving on to military power, we have at least 23 inscriptions attesting the presence of Roman officers, soldiers or military units in Palmyra. This of course is what we would expect in a border region like the Syrian Desert, more interesting is the well known fact that we find Palmyrene soldiers in Roman Service attested in several places in Dacia and Numidia, in Egypt, where we have Palmyrene archers at Berenike, and possibly at South Shields in Britain. We also have them at Dura Europos and in a number of other locations on the middle Euphrates. Of course during the third quarter of the third century, we find Palmyrene soldiers just about everywhere from Ctesiphon in the East to Egypt and Anatolia in the west. Through this tradition of Palmyrene military service a strong tradition of Palmyrene integration with the Roman Empire will have evolved, and there is a equal or larger military diaspora in the west, to the much more famous commercial diaspora in the east.

Economically, we get the impression that Palmyra interacts with her surroundingson at least five levels. We have the city itself, then we have the surrounding territory. Third, of course we have the Empire, with its tax and money systems, and movements of resources from the periphery towards the centre, and back towards the frontiers in military expenditure. Fourth, we have Palmyrene commercial activities, attested southwards to the Gulf of Aden, and Eastwards to India, westwards to Egypt, and I think we can assume also to Rome, although we only have indirect evidence in the Palmyrene temple there. Finally, of course, we have the ancient world exchange, spanning from Spanish Silver mines to silk-producing Chinese Mulberry groves, with Palmyra as one of the major gateways integrating the system.

The ideological networks that Palmyra tapped into are perhaps the most difficult to identify. I’ve argued elsewhere that it makes sense to characterise Palmyrene identity at ethnic, in the sense that it was based on perceived common descent, and that the main way of becoming Palmyrene is being born into the group. The Palmyrene community, attested from Mesopotamia and the Gulf of Aden to South Shields, Rome and Numidia shared a feeling of being Palmyrene, that we can trace by proxies such as religion, script, language, sculpture, clothing onomastics, citizenship and so on.

A strong group identity, however, did not prevent Palmyrenes from engaging with other ideological networks, and in my view that is perhaps the main key to understand their success. I have already mentioned how Palmyra competed for privilege and status within the Roman world. The bilingual nature of Palmyra is also interesting in this respect. Many people, and many communities in the Near East will have been bilingual, but the interesting and significant difference with Palmyra is that they make a point of it. They go into the Greek Hellenistic world saying “we are like you”, but at the same time they stand by their Aramaic identity. This will have given them common ground with people in the Eastern Mediterranean, in the Near East, and also far further afield in Mesopotamia and further to the East.

Finally, while some aspects of the Palmyrene religious landscape can surely be related to the Syrian identity that we are also looking at through the use of Aramaic language, others seem to have different connotations, like the mounted divinities, often characterized as caravan gods. These seem to relate to the world of nomads, of the steppe, and of aristocratic warrior life. There is also a well-documented Jewish presence in Palmyra, and Palmyrene Jews are attested from a handful of settings outside Palmyra. To use this latter group as an example, people who identified themselves as Palmyrenes and Jews, speaking Greek and Aramaic, being familiar with the ways of the Desert and of the sown, and being able to present themselves as Romans if need be, certainly had a wide register to draw on.

In conclusion, what I think is useful about Mann’s model of Ideological, Economic, Military and Political networks of power with regard to Palmyra is not only that it allows us to show how the city engaged with others in a local, regional and proto-global setting, but it also provides a framework for thinking about how this developed over time. In other words it helps us going from describing the success of Palmyra to also explaining it. This point can also be made for the wider field of network studies, where I think Mann's model is one of the qualitative approaches that has a great potential to explain the patterns revealed by quantitative network analysis.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Mani in China II: At the Temple

My hunt for the last remaining temple of the Manichaeans began in late July, from a hostel near the river and the old marked district of Quanzhou. Skipping breakfast (a hassle to arrange) I began my first stretch of walking, trying to find a taxi to get me to the correct bus-station. Doubt started to seep in after the tenth taxi roared by without slowing down. But at a small bus stop along the road I found a group of teenagers who decided to take me on as a surrogate child. With the help of their smart-phones, and a crucial piece of paper with the place-names in Chinese letters I had received from the hostelier the day before, we managed to sort out my intended destination. At first they tried to help me with the taxi-chase, but with the same dismal result. When a bus finally arrived they signalled for me to follow them on; and after ten minutes one of the girls got off, again signalling for me to follow. She then guided me through a crowd to the long-distance bus station, cheerily dragging me all the way to the Counter, where I bought a ticket for "Anhai" and asked the driver to let me off at "Cao'ansi". Communication was the usual: hand & head gestures, and the piece of paper. After a rather uneventful bus-ride out of town - though I couldn't really tell where the city stopped and the suburb began - I was let off on my own at the side of the high-way, in front of a long, empty and dusty road. A sign next to what looked like a pallet workshop had a temple on it and pointed down the road. Of course. I began my trek. The area looked rather poverty-stricken. In the distance I could see green hills.

I continued to walk in a straight line from the starting point, somewhat bewildered, meeting no further signs to point the way. I crossed another high-way. Having walked for about half an hour I finally passed someone, a man who rested in the shade of a tree, and tried to ask him for directions. He shook his head and waved me on. But after another twenty minutes, just as I was pondering whether I had taken a wrong turn (or rather, not taken a right one), I found a sign which said "Grass Temple," in the midst of a deserted intersection and next to a car wash. As it turned out it was also right next to the temple grounds, walled off from intruders and hidden by trees. Entering through the gate I came into a peaceful garden, violently green compared to the grey road I had been following so far.

Manichaeism is first attested in this area around the middle of the 9th century, as related in part I, and its adherents became a widely dispersed if often hard-pressed minority. Chinese scholarly works, official accounts, an even some poetry, show the vibrancy of the movement in the Medieval Age, along with inscriptions recorded in Quanzhou itself. Somewhat surprisingly, an inscription attest to a (probably brief) period of close administrative relations between Manichaeans and Christians in the area. Quanzhou was a cosmopolitan city, visited by among others Marco Polo, and housed adherents of both Islam and Nestorian Christianity at the time. Such cooperation would have been entirely in its spirit. However, through persecution and competition Manichaeism finally went into decline in this region as well. The last description of a living Manichaean temple and its adherents was given around 1600, by the Ming-scholar Ho Ch'iao-yüan: "On the ridge slope back of the [Huabiao] hill is a rustic shrine dating from the Yüan period [13th-14th century]. There reverence is paid to Buddha Mani. The Buddha Mani has for name 'Brilliant Buddha Mo-mo-ni'. He came from Su-lin [Assyria] and is also a Buddha, having the name 'Envoy of the Great Light, Complete in Knowledge'." Ch'iao-yüan also notes that: "At present those among the people who follow its practices use formulas of incantation called 'The Master's Prescription', (but) they are not much in evidence."
(translation by S. N. C. Lieu. See Lieu 1998, Manichaeism in Central Asia and China, pp. 194-95)

The shrine was rediscovered in the 1930s by Chinese scholars. By then it had probably long been empty of Manichaean activity. Instead it had become a Buddhist sanctuary, renovated by an entrepreneuring preacher. There were however still indications of its previous occupants; most strikingly a statue of "Mo-ni, Buddha of Light". The statue resembles traditional Buddha-statues at a first glance, but bears several unusual features that testify to its Manichaean provenance: straight hair, the hint of a beard (the rest of it possibly shaved off by Buddhists), a fleshy jowl, arched eyebrows, hands resting on the abdomen, and a double-knot in its garment. The statue proved a boon not only for being one of the very few pictorial representations of Mani we possess, but also because it has allowed for the identification of further Manichaean material. Only a few years ago, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a painting in possession of a Japanese Buddhist monastery was shown to contain elements that pointed towards a Christian background. It was thus first taken to be of "the Church of the East" (the Nestorian Church), but has later been recognized as a Manichaean work. Though in the possession of a Japanese temple, the painting is of Chinese extraction, that is to say, from Fujian province.

Arriving, I got a glimpse of some monks disappearing into the temple. I looked around a bit before I walked up the stairs to the ridge on which temple-building was situated, past an outdoor-shrine to a deity I couldn't identify, and the incense-burner on the terrace, and peered into the entrance, where I finally got a look at the Mani-statue. Naturally, some disappointment was inevitable. The statue was shielded by a glass-cage, and besides another small shrine, there was little else to see. The roof was decorated with colorful swastika-banners. Music rattled from a small cd-player. An old lady watched over the divinities. While it seemed she was supposed to sell trinkets, she chose to consistently ignore my presence, for which I was grateful. The stark contrast between the dark interior, and the intense light that penetrated through the open entrance, made photographing pointless. I went outside again.

Then I wandered for a while beneath the green. The garden was very much in the Chinese tradition, with a clear lay-out, paved paths, and a small pond with a stream and a bridge. A door was hidden in the wall beneath the shrine itself. On a cliff next to the temple-building some Chinese symbols were written in blood red letters; I knew from my readings that they listed important Manichaean virtues. A stone-stairway led past the temple, through a small glenn, past another cliff-inscription, and to a new set of stairs - presumably leading up to the Huabiao-hilltop. I decided to follow it for a while. But after maybe half an hour of slow climbing and exploration, I suddenly felt the pangs of uneaten food. Without meaning to, although very much in the Manichaean spirit, I had yet to eat anything that day - and worse, yet to drink. I descended and rested for a while in the garden, next to a large solitary tree. While dozing off I tried to imagine how this place, half a millennium earlier, might still have been a focal point for nearby Manichaeans; a place for festivals and nightly vigils, as well as daily offerings - how it might have looked clad with lanterns and ribbons, while white-robed monks recited the Master's Prescription and chanted the light-particles of the soul up to the Moon Palace, where they rested before they travelled on to the divine Gardens of Light.

Then I arose and hitched a ride back.