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The Silk Road

The Silk Road

“The Silk Road” is a term used to describe a number of main trade routes that crossed the face of the ancient world. It linked the main civilizations of the time: Egypt, Persia, India, Mesopotamia, and China. By extension and time, it also served East Africa and well as Southern Europe. The Silk Road was frequented by traders, soldiers, philosophers, missionaries, and slaves. Goods were not restricted to silk, but included items such as: Lapis Lazuli, Gold, Satin, Musk, Perfumes, medicines, jewels, glass, pottery, and even rhubarb! In addition, the route served to carry new ideas and inventions; and spread knowledge, especially of cultures and diseases. Please also consider that not many people would actually travel the whole length of The Silk Road. Most were stagers taking goods between two main outposts along the route. These they would know well and be current regarding the activities of bandits, weather, sandstorms, etc

Before we restrict ourselves solely to China, it is worth bearing in mind that Urgars (Uyghur's) from what is now Western China/Northern Afghanistan, traded Nephrite Jade and Lapis Lazuli with Western and Sino civilizations as early as 2 millennium BC. Silks discovered in Egypt dating back to 1070 BC came from China. One of the very earliest trade routes was by sea, linking modern Guangzhou (Nanhai [Foshan], Canton) with India and Egypt.


What we usually refer to as “The Silk Road” implies trade routes between China and the West. There were four main routes: Northern and Southern passes of the Taklamakan Dessert (Winter and Summer routes); Southern route through Yunnan Province, via extremely difficult terrain to Burma (Myanmar) and hence on to India; and of course the “Silk Road of the Sea” from Guangzhou

The general consensus is that this was the main period of use that lasted for about 1, 700 years. Opening-up the land-trade routes was a direct result of Alexander the Great, who in 329 BC established a frontier town in Tajikistan. This is consistent with the latter years of The Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty in Central China (The North East). Early trade would have been with other Chinese peoples, such as The Bon of Tibet and parts of present-day Sichuan Province (Chongqing and Chengdu), The Urgars themselves held sway in Eastern China, and still do to this very day. Peoples of Yunnan Province in the extreme south of inland China also had there own cultures, peoples, and Kingdoms. The Southeast (Guangzhou) also had different peoples – and unlike their brothers to the North, they were not fighting. Hence, trade develops over generations, and trade routes with staging posts come into being.

Trade was formalised in 130 BC, when The Han Dynasty sent Ambassadors to central Asian cities [Ferghana (Dayuan), Bactria (Ta-Hsia), and Parthian Empire (Anxi)]. At one point, the Roman Senate banned Chinese silk, as it was being traded for their Gold, and this is recorded by Pliny the Elder. The next notable event was the adventures of a young European called Marco Polo, perhaps you've heard of him? Well, in fact the Silk Road had been in operation for a very long time before his journey’s, but he serves as a reference point for many foreigners. Over centuries power changes hands, and the advent of the Mongols (Yuan Dynasty) led by Genghis Khan (And later his Nephew Kublai Khan), had a very great impact on the entire ‘known’ world. During their century of rule in China trade flourished, and we for the first time see the outline map of modern China.

After their decline, the Ming Dynasty ‘Closed’ China, trade in general stopped, and the central Silk Roads came to an untimely end for a long period. Caravanserai still passed the Taklamakan dessert during this closed period, but mainly ushering cultural exchanges, often in the form of Jesuit priests and Moslem devotees.

However, the southern pass and the sea route still remained open, even if unofficially, and things eventually came an international point of contention that resulted in the Opium Wars. These in turn forcefully opened trade routes, destabilising and emasculating the Qing Empire in the process. Of these you will know Hong Kong, Macao, Shanghai and Xiamen (Amoy). And this in turn brings us to modern history and current trading practices.
This information is as supplied by Wikipedia, as dated March 2009 or later, and/or other reliable sources.

Maps (Unless stated otherwise) are provided in association with Thomas Lessman

Please check this information yourself as it may alter without notice, and whilst we try our best to ensure it is correct, please do not hold us responsible for any errors - this is intended as a simple guide only
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