Engaging a multidisciplinary approach, this essay examines a (chrono)topical moment for the development of a peculiar web of multi-layered interactions later identified by the evocative name, ‘Silk Road(s)’. We explore how this spontaneous and sporadic interaction turns into an opportunity for a political project. Our focus is the late development of Eastern Hellenism, a period of unusual vitality and transformation, characterized by important migrations and settlements of peoples, the development of colonial policies, and complex forms of interaction among cultures, languages, and religions. Here, different ‘worlds’ find multiple connections, sometimes peaceful and fruitful, sometimes characterized by conflicts in which the controversial relationship between ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’ is constantly challenged at different levels, thereby involving both legal and political categories. Western sources are scarce—if not altogether lacking—with regard to this evolving and transforming historical moment. Chinese sources offer, thus, precious information at a time when the Han dynasty looks with strong interest towards the ‘Western Regions’. The importance of the network of cultural, commercial and political contacts addressed in the essay moves beyond this peculiar historical frame, as witnessed by the renewed interest that this subject attracts, in different fields of study, around the current Chinese ‘Belt and Road’ project. Moving from a brief historical reconstruction (which is necessary, given that this specific context is not yet widely known), the essay then shifts to propose some anthropological, socio-political and legal-philosophical considerations, with the purpose of offering a few signposts for the current debate on ‘East-West’ relationships, as well as for the wider reflection on intercultural issues, at both spatial and historical levels.
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