This morning I am in Turfan China in my armchair travels (Dr. Hansen’s book, The Silk Road) and discover the reason archeologists know so much about this oasis in Central Asia is because the inhabitants made clothing from paper they recycled for the burial of the dead (UNESCO World Heritage site near here, and a cemetery 3/4 mile x 1/2 mile).
The recycled paper came from legal documents, commercial papers including travel papers, personal papers such as poems and religious works, etc. From these documents, German, Chinese and Russian archeologists and linguists have pieced together the story of the Sogdians from Persia (modern-day Iran and Uzbekistan) who migrated to western China to escape persecution. The Sogdians were Zoroastrian (Nitzche – thus spoke Zarathustra?). Apparently, the Buddhists in the eastern part of Central Asia (western China) were more tolerant of other religions than the Arab Islamists who had invaded Persia.
<–I arrived on this bus.
Archeologists also found evidence of another religion brought from Persia to China and then to Europe at a later date, Manichaeism.
A few years back, I read a dozen or so books about Manichaeism and the Cathars who practiced this religion or something like it. Perhaps you recall the Cathars? Wiki says:
Catharism (/ˈkæθərɪzəm/; from Greek: καθαροί, katharoi, “the pure”) was a Christian dualist movement that thrived in some areas of Southern Europe, particularly northern Italy, northern Spain and southern France, former Occitania and Catalonia, between the 12th and 14th centuries. Cathar beliefs varied between communities because Catharism was initially taught by ascetic priests who had few set guidelines. The Cathars were a direct challenge to the Catholic Church, renouncing its practices and dismissing it outright as the Church of Satan.
The Albigensian Crusaders (northern European and Feudal men), attacked the people of the South (commercial people who lived at the western end of the trade route with the East), particularly at Albi and Carcassonne (another UNESCO site). One very good book I read was Massacre at Montsegur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade, by Zoe Oldenbourg, another The Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars, by Rene Weis.
Economic historians think the Albigensian crusade had to do with clashing cultures, one driven by feudalism, the other tied to commerce. Church historians suggest it had to do with solely with religion. Some see the Cathars as “early” Protestants and Catharism as heresy. Many works of fiction have been written about the Cathars, whom Dan Brown mentions in The Da Vinci Code.
And, yes, I read the DVC before I began reading about the Cathars.
However, I also read The Abyssinian and The Siege of Isfahan by Jean Christophe Rufin before I read the DVC. Which goes to show fiction can lead you into interesting places. Finally, I stopped reading fiction and began reading history, especially history written by archeologists. Try it, you might like it. The good news is you can sleep in your own bed.