**NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Coins issued in ancient Rome have been excavated from the ruins of a castle in a city in Okinawa Prefecture, the local education board said Monday, the first time such artifacts have been recovered from ruins in Japan.
The education board of the city of Uruma said the four copper coins believed to date back to the Roman Empire in the third to fourth centuries were discovered in the ruins of Katsuren Castle, which existed from the 12th century to the 15th.**
Truly fascinating link, SyroMalankara; thanks, I bookmarked that. It brings back some very fond childhood memories of Nara. That place completely blew my mind when I was a little kid! In my childhood I lived in Japan for awhile, and I remember spending a lot of time in that area, a few months at least, and every day was great fun.
It doesn’t prove it, but they definitely could have been. The Empire did stretch pretty far east, and in the Caucasus their would have been Roman subjects or citizens who spoke Turkic languages, which would have probably allowed them to communicate with people as far away as China. It’s not inconceivable that they couldn’t have worked out some kind of system to occasionally trade with Japan.
There are ancient texts which indicate that trade between China and Rome was occurring well before the Constantine period.
Writing in the third quarter of the first century CE, the Roman author Pliny complained: “At the smallest reckoning 100 million sesterces [of gold=16,660 English pounds] is the sum which every year India, the silk-growing country of northern China, and the Arabian peninsula take from our Empire. Such is the cost to us of our exquisites and our women.” Whether in fact the Roman Empire was being bankrupted by female tastes for luxury, its eastern trade was significant. Indeed this was precisely the period when the Han Empire had been aggressively expanding into Central Asia and when huge quantities of Chinese silk were being shipped westwards.
Significant events were also taking place on the eastern borders of Parthia. A Chinese ambassador reached Parthia in 97 CE and reported on Parthian efforts to confine the trade to the overland route in order to avoid paying the customs duties required in taking the circuitous sea route around Arabia. In 166 CE another Chinese source reported that Roman merchants, who apparently claimed they were ambassadors from the Emperor, reached one of the Chinese ports. The trade along the silk roads was undoubtedly promoted by the emergence of the Kushan Empire as the most powerful state astride the routes reaching up into Central Asia and crossing Afghanistan and northwest India.
First off, as mentioned, trade did exist between Rome and China. I mean, that was the whole point of the Silk Road. They didn’t know each other’s realms very well, yes, but stuff made their way eastwards and westwards. And many ancient coins AFAIK could stay in circulation for quite some time after they were minted, so IMHO it’s not unlikely that 3rd-4th century Roman coins could travel eastward via the Silk Road, being spent along the way across the centuries, and end up among the petty kings (aji) of Ryukyu.
Second, Okinawa is geographically and was for much of its history more closer to China than it was to mainland Japan. It’s true that the imperial court of Japan began distancing itself from China since the 9th century, but the islands of Okinawa were technically not part of Japan then, and it wouldn’t be until the 19th century (although the Japanese did begin to have control over the territory starting from the 16th-17th century).
Yes, I’ve heard of this supposed arrival of Syriac Christianity in Japan via China via the Hata (秦) clan. But I personally tend to be wary about this stuff. There are a lot of ‘theories’ concerning aspects of ancient Japanese history out there, some more credible than others.
Even if it did arrive in Japan at so early a date, it had never left any trace. You’d have more luck finding traces of the persecuted kakure Kirishitan communities of the Edo period than of these supposed Syriac Christians.
Besides, as I pointed out earlier, Ryukyu (Okinawa) and the mainland were for much of history distinct political entities. Yes, the people in both parts are related by origin - they’re closer to each other than the Ainu of Hokkaido - and speak related languages (although Ryukyuan / Okinawan is often considered to be a ‘dialect’ of Japanese today usually for political reasons), but technically speaking, the Ryukyu islands weren’t officially part of ‘Japan’ until the 19th century.