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8 Silver Links! Bagan–Bengal and Shadowy Metal Corridors: 9th to 13th Centuries Rila Mukherjee This chapter isolates Bagan from its traditional moorings to Southeast Asian polities and highlights its westward links, particularly its relations with medieval Bengal, an expansive polity. The distinct geography and enigmatic history of Bagan — situated in an arid zone and driven by perennial cycles of conquest, expanding frontiers and growing exchange relations with small polities located between it and Bengal — illustrates how polities in the region responded to crisis and change. The region stretching from India’s northeast into Burma experienced different trajectories of state formation, political legitimation and monetization; its nature can neither be studied within conventional paradigms of the state, nor by the “little kingdom” model (Schnepel and Berkemer 2003), the triad of time, change and linear evolution being irrelevant (Aung-Thwin 1991). Nor can its growth be analysed within a world-systems framework of cores and peripheries. Therefore, a different notion of political economy linked to time and change, distinct from the conventional notion of a sequential 17-J02381 08 Bagan and the World.indd 153 9/10/17 8:47 AM 154 Rila Mukherjee progression — from the prehistoric, through classical-ancient, to medieval, to the modern (Aung-Thwin 2002) — is necessary for our understanding of this region. Enigma of Bagan In its four-hundred–years-plus history (849 to ca. 1287 ce), Bagan displayed a state-driven religious policy, a state-directed labour system, a statesponsored building programme and state-administered trading practices. There was a direct and circular relationship between spending on religion, increased agricultural production, proportional demographic expansion and state development (Aung-Thwin 1985, p. 27). In this distinctive political and social formation, how important was trade and what was the role of money in Bagan’s economy? What connections were forged by Bagan, with its silver supplies, with neighbouring polities? What follows is a visualization of Bagan’s international connections, through tracing exchanges between Bagan and Bengal, to explain the curious absence of silver circulation in Bengal at a time when Bagan was reportedly accessing silver deposits. Was this silver traded at all? Why was it not exported as done previously? And what prevented the silver from reaching Bengal? A Brief History of Money A new polity in the mid-9th century, Bagan faced challenges on land while struggling to create a space for itself (Lieberman 2009, pp. 16–17). It seems isolated, cut off from silver supplies to its north and from the bay trade to its south.1 It had few international connections, but it apparently carried out an expedition against Nan Zhao to reopen routes to China, the precise date of this expedition being unknown (Stargardt 1971, pp. 51–53). An attack on Bagan by Sri Lanka in this century is referenced, the attack repelled with Nan Zhao’s aid (Sun 1997, p. 23). Two regional forces, Tibet and Tang China, collapsed in the 10th century, which probably helped regional consolidation, but Tang decline also affected overland routes into China, as Bagan–Song interactions are recorded only from 1004 (Sun 1997, p. 17). The Lingwai Daida of 1178 is the earliest Chinese record containing the word Pugan (Sun 1997, p. 17). However, Sun mentions Tang notices on the overland route from China to India (possibly into Bengal) via northern Burma in 691 ce, in 807 or 810 ce, in 863, and again in 1060 (Sun 1997, 17-J02381 08 Bagan and the World.indd 154 9/10/17 8:47 AM Silver Links! Bagan–Bengal and Shadowy Metal Corridors 155 pp. 13, 15–16). A Fatimid map of circa late 11th century showed a route from China running through northern India (Kanauj was mentioned; Rapoport and Savage-Smith 2004, p. 259; Johns and Savage-Smith 2003, p. 11). Athanasius Kircher’s 17th-century map of China and South Asia depicted the same route bifurcating in north Burma, one portion coming down Bengal and into the Coromandel Coast. Overland routes functioned again in the 11th century. We can only speculate as to whether this was an effect of the 11th-century “trade revolution” (Kulke 1999, pp. 17–35). From mid-century, Bagan accessed silver deposits through its campaign against Dali Yunnan, its conquest of Tagaung giving it access to routes into China, and also sources of silver, as it could now access the Bawdin and Yadanatheingyi mines at Namtu in and around Mogok via Tagaung.2 Bagan was now also closer to the ruby mines at...


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