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The Silk Road was the ancient network of trade routes that connected East and West. The name derives from the lucrative trade in silk along its length, but aside from the exchange of various goods, the cultural interactions were significant as well. With the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE and the subsequent control of the Silk Road, citizens of the Roman Empire enjoyed new luxuries and an unprecedented prosperity.

And so, in THE DEADLIEST HATE, the wealthy women at the Roman prefect’s reception in Caesarea wore Chinese silk. Miriam was there as well to plunge into the throng of those women jostling toward the long tables of roasted meats that stretched like a belt across the width of the courtyard. They bobbed their heads like hens for a glimpse of each other’s fashionably layered but by then rumpled skirts while clucking effusive greetings in perfect Latin.

She tells us all about it:

Crushed against a rainbow of Chinese silks, I scrutinized their grooming while their skirts rustled the air and their hems brushed the floor. Despite the reek of their cosmetics, which no amount of Arabian perfume could mask, their artful makeup amplified every feature and expression: their red ochre lips twitching into salon smiles, their lead paste foundation caking in the crease of every pucker, and their kohl-lined eyes darting flames of jealousy at the taller, blonder, and younger among them. To complete the spectacle, elaborate hairstyles accented with henna and threaded with jewels crowned their bobbing heads while the rest of their bodies bloomed with matching gemstones.

And then, suddenly, Miriam’s blood freezes. She doubles over. No, she wasn’t drunk, although one of the stewards probably thought so. Instead it was something she overhears. You’ll likely hear it too as you stand by her side. If you need a little courage first, then click here.

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