The Silk Road, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to the Korean Peninsula and Japan, connected societies across Eurasia.1 In recent years, thanks to advances made by comparative approaches and archaeological findings, great progress has been made in the study of historical cross-cultural contacts and trading relations among Eurasian societies through the Silk Road network. This has allowed for a new perspective on the long-distance cross-cultural relationships in Afro-Eurasia. Societies as distant as Korea and the Middle East were in contact through long-distance trade routes both overland and sea long before the advent of Islam. Written references are few and far between, but documentation and archaeological excavations are sufficient to prove the existence of substantial commerce between Korea and the Middle East.
For example, Samguk sagi, the official chronicle of the Three Kingdoms era compiled in 1145 CE, provides a detailed account of commercial items that were sold by Middle Eastern merchants and widely used in Silla society.2 Moreover, recent academic attention to Kūshnāma, a medieval Persian epic written in the early twelfth century based on an earlier orally transmitted tale, opened a new phase in the study of historical and cultural relations between Iran and Korea. Scholars in Korea, Iran, China, and Europe have begun to research this rare document, which deals substantially with a country it calls
Basīlā—a name that most likely refers to ancient Silla. Aided by Silk Road research, the story of Kūshnāma deeply enriches our understanding of the historical and cultural relation that existed between pre-modern Iran and East Asia. Ongoing studies analyze the specific factors and changing historical contexts that affected these Silk Road societies and their interrelationship, as well as the transfer of technologies and ideas that connect the Middle East to East Asia. In this way, this special issue delves into the 1,500-year-long historical and cultural relations between Korea and the Middle East along the Silk Roads3 based on the new topics, methods, and findings exemplified above.