The Name

The Name


The names Serike (Greek) and Serica (Latin) were applied by Greeks and Romans to home-land of the people known as Sereswho were the principal producers and exporters of silk. All three names appear to be connected with silk and the se- part of the name might have originally been derived or at least connected with the Chinese name for silk (si ¿) and does not appear to be related to the Chinese name Qin ¿ - the Dynastic name of the first imperial dynasty of China (221-207 BCE) - after which China came to be named (cf. Sanskrit Cina). However, in a little known article published in 1995, the late Dr James Hamilton ( 'East-West Borrowings via the Silk Road of Textile Terms' in Diogenes - A quarterly publication of the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies 171: 27), one of the most authoritative experts on Chinese and Turkic language documents from Central Asia, had made the following important and insightful observation:

"As for Latin serica, "silk", it was borrowed from the Greek serikon of the same meaning, just as Latin Seres "China", was borrowed from the Greek Seres. Now the Greek name Seres for China, which goes back to at least the 2nd century B.C., must have come from the name of the great Qin dynasty that founded the first Chinese Empire towards the end of the 3rd century B.C. Indeed, at the time when the Chinese name Qin (Early Middle Chinese: *dzin <*dzen), was borrowed into Greek as Seres, the final -n of the Chinese must have sounded very much like the final -r of other languages, for it was then used regularly in Chinese to transcribe a foreign -r."

If Hamilton is correct, then, the well known name Ser or Seres in Classical and Medieval Latin is not derived from the Chinese word for silk but also from Qin ¿ - the first empire to unite China after the so-called Warring States period and under which the (First) Great Wall was constructed.

Back to the top of this page