Silk Road


1. The term ‘Silk Road’

The Silk Road is an historical route (1a) OR an interconnected series of routes through Southern Asia connecting China, (4) which connected Chang’an (today’s Xi’an) (4) in Ancient China to the various ancient countries in the west through commercial trade. (1a) It terminated at Antioch in Asia Minor, as well as other points (4) such as Damascus, Rome or Venice! (map 1) It got its romantic name when a German geographer, Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen, (1) called it by the German word ‘Seidenstraße’ in the late 1800s (1a) OR in the middle of the 19th Century. (1)

2. Use of the route before 400BC.

Trade along the route began very early: lapis lazuli was being traded from its only known source in the ancient world – Badakshan, in what is now northeastern Afghanistan – as far as Mesopotamia and Egypt by the second half of the 4th millennium BC. (5) From the 2nd millennium BC nephrite jade was being traded from mines in the region of Yarkand and Khotan to China. (5) Significantly, these mines were not very far from the lapis lazuli and spinel (“Balas Ruby”) mines in Badakhshan and, although separated by the formidable Pamir mountains, routes across them were, apparently, in use from very early times. (5) Routes along the Persian Royal Road (constructed 5th century BC) may have been in use as early as 3500 BC. (5) It ran some 2,857 km from the city of Susa on the lower Tigris to the port of Smyrna (modern Izmir in Turkey) on the Aegean Sea. (5) It was maintained and protected by the Achaemenid empire (c.700-330 BC) and had postal stations and relays at regular intervals. (5) By having fresh horses and riders ready at each relay, royal couriers could carry messages the entire distance in 9 days, though normal travellers took about three months. (5) This Royal Road linked into many other routes. (5)There is evidence that Ancient Egyptian explorers may have originally cleared and protected some branches of the Silk Road. (5) Some of these, such as the routes to India and Central Asia, were also protected by the Achaemenids, encouraging regular contact between India, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. (5) Chinese mummies of an Indo-European type, have been found in the Tarim Basin, such as in the area of Loulan located along the Silk Road 200 kilometers east of Yingpan, dating to as early as 1600 BC and suggesting very ancient contacts between East and West. (5) It has been suggested that these mummified remains may have been the work of the ancestors of the Tocharians whose Indo-European language remained in use in the Tarim Basin (modern day Xinjiang) of China until the 8th century CE. (5) Some remnants of what was probably Chinese silk have been found in Ancient Egypt from 1070 BC. (5) Though the originating source seems sufficiently reliable, silk unfortunately degrades very rapidly and we cannot double-check for accuracy whether it was actually cultivated silk (which would almost certainly have come from China) that was discovered or a type of “wild silk,” which might have come from the Mediterranean region or the Middle East. (5)

3. Alexander, Euthydemus and the Silk Road, 400 – 200 BC

The first major step in opening the Silk Road between the East and the West came with the expansion of Alexander the Great deep into Central Asia, as far as Ferghana at the borders of the modern-day Xinjiang region of China, where he founded in 329 BC a Greek settlement in the city of Alexandria Eschate “Alexandria The Furthest”, Khujand (also called Khozdent or Khojent – formely Leninabad), in the state of Tajikistan. (5) OR Alexander the Great’s expansion into Central Asia stopped far short of Chinese Turkestan, and he appears to have gained little knowledge of the lands beyond. (7) When Alexander the Great’s successors, the Ptolemies, took control of Egypt in 323 BC, they began to actively promote trade with Mesopotamia, India, and East Africa through their ports on the Red Sea coast, as well as overland. (5) This was assisted by the active participation of a number of intermediaries, especially the Nabataeans and other Arabs. (5) The Greeks were to remain in Central Asia for the next three centuries, first through the administration of the Seleucid Empire, and then with the establishment of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in Bactria. (5) They kept expanding eastward, especially during the reign of Euthydemus (230-200 BC), who extended his control to Sogdiana, reaching and going beyond the city of Alexandria Eschate. (5) There are indications that he may have led expeditions as far as Kashgar in Chinese Turkestan, leading to the first known contacts between China and the West around 200 BC. (5) The Greek historian Strabo writes that “they extended their empire even as far as the Seres (China) and the Phryni” (Strabo XI.XI.I) (5).

4. Zhang Qian

In AD 200, this transcontinental route linked the Roman Empire in the west with the imperial court of China. (1) It was first travelled by a court official (2) OR general (7) named Zhang Qian (1) when he was sent around 130 BC (6) by Han Wudi (2) on a diplomatic mission to the Western Regions during the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). (1) Since the Warring States period (475-221 BC), the Xiongnu (Huns of Turkish descent) (2) had been launching aggressive raids into Chinese territory, which prompted Emperor Shi Huangdi of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC) to build the Great Wall. (7) Eager to defeat these powerful roving marauders, Han Wudi heard that the Yueh-chih, who had recently been defeated by the Xiongnu and driven to the western fringes of the Taklamakan Desert, were seeking revenge on the Xiongnu and would welcome help with retaliation from any ally. (7) Zhang was sent to obtain an alliance with the Yuezhi (6) OR Yueh-chih (7) Zhang with a caravan of 100 men set out in 138 BC from the Chinese capital of Chang’an (present-day Xi’an) (7) On the way to the Western Regions, the Xiongnu (Huns) captured Zhang (2) as they passed through the Hexi Corridor in northwest Gansu. (7) They detained him for ten years. (2) The surviving members of the caravan were treated well; Zhang married and had a son. (7) Zhang Qian then escaped and continued his journey to Central Asia (2) west along the northern Silk Road to Kashgar and Ferghana. (7) The local rulers were satisfied with their status and refused to ally with Han Empire, (2) They had settled prosperously in the various oases of Central Asia and to be no longer interested in avenging themselves of the Huns. (7) Zhang stayed one year gathering valuable military, economic, political and geographical information and returned via the southern Silk Road, only to be captured again, this time by Tibetan tribes allied with the Xiongnu; once again he escaped. (7) In 125 BC, 13 years later, he returned to Chang’an. (7) Of the original party only he and one other completed the trailblazing journey – the first land route between East and West and one that would eventually link Imperial China with Imperial Rome. (7) Zhang continued seeking allies against the Xiongnu, traveling in 115 BC to the territory of the Wusun, a nomadic tribespeople who lived on the western frontier of the Huns, but again Zhang was unable to enlist support. (7) Upon his return, Zhang died in 113 BC, bearing the Imperial Title of Great Traveller. (7)

5. The impact of Zhang’s discoveries

But although the mission(s) thus failed in its/their original purpose, the information Zhang Qian conveyed to China about Central Asia, and vice versa, made people in each area desire goods produced in the other. (2) Zhang reported on some 36 kingdoms in the Western Regions, delighting Emperor Han Wudi with detailed accounts of the previously unknown kingdoms of Ferghana, Smarkand, Bokhara and others in what are now the former Soviet Union, Pakistan and Persia (Iran) as well as the city of Li Kun, which was almost certainly Rome. (7) The Chinese emperor Wudi became interested in developing commercial relationship with the sophisticated urban civilizations of Ferghana, Bactria and Parthia:

“The Son of Heaven on hearing all this reasoned thus: Ferghana (Dayuan) and the possessions of Bactria (Ta-Hia) and Parthia (Anxi) are large countries, full of rare things, with a population living in fixed abodes and given to occupations somewhat identical with those of the Chinese people, but with weak armies, and placing great value on the rich produce of China” (6)

The Chinese subsequently sent numerous embassies, around ten every year, to these countries and as far as Seleucid Syria. (6) “Thus more embassies were dispatched to Anxi [Parthia], Yancai [who later joined the Alans ], Lijian [Syria under the Seleucids], Tiaozhi [Chaldea], and Tianzhu [northwestern India]…As a rule, rather more than ten such missions went forward in the course of a year, and at the least five or six.” Hou Hanshu (Later Han History). (6) The Chinese were also strongly attracted by the tall and powerful horses in the possession of the Dayuan (named “Heavenly horses”), which were of capital importance in fighting the nomadic Xiongnu (Huns) . (6) Zhang had recounted stories he had heard of the famous Ferghana horse, rumored to be of “heavenly” stock. (7) Now extinct, these horses were immortalized by artists of both the Han (206 BC-AD 220) and the Tang dynasties (AD 618-907). (7) The most famous work is the Flying Horse of Gansu, a small bronze sculpture cast by an unknown artist over 2,000 years ago and excavated in 1969 by Chinese archeologists in Wuwei County. (7) Tempted by this fast and powerful warhorse, seemingly far superior to the average seed and having the potential to defeat the marauding Huns, Han Wudi dispatched successive missions to develop political contacts – the first of which Zhang led in 119 BC – and return with foreign envoys, and of course horses, from the courts of Ferghana, Sogdiana, Bactria, Parthia and northern India. (7) Silk was first produced in China in the year 3000 B.C. (17) and archaeological evidence of its existence dates back to about 5,500 years ago. (17) Silk was an instant hit in India, and so, trading more silk became a priority for the Emperor. (17) The Silk Road was constructed for this purpose. (17) The “Silk Road” thus essentially came into being from the 1st century BC, following these efforts by China to consolidate a road to the Western world and India, both through direct settlements in the area of the Tarim Basin and diplomatic relations with the countries of the Dayuan, Parthians and Bactrians further west. (6)

6. The Romans discover Silk

In 97 CE Ban Chao crossed the Tian Shan and Pamir mountains with an army of 70,000 men in a campaign against the Xiongnu (i.e., Huns). (6) He went as far west as the Caspian Sea and the Ukraine, reaching the territory of Parthia, where he reportedly also sent an envoy named Gan Ying to Daqin (i.e., Rome). (6) Gan Ying detailed an account of the western countries; although he likely reached only the Black Sea before turning back. (6) The Chinese army made an alliance with the Parthians and established some forts at a distance of a few days march from the Parthian capital Ctesiphon, planning to hold the region for several years. (6) In 53 BC, the seven legions of Marcus Licinius Crassus were the first Romans to see silk in battle whilst pursuing the Parthians, a rough warlike tribe, across the Euphrates. (7) They became the victims of the first “Parthian shot”, which broke the Romans’ front line formation and was quickly followed by a tactic that both terrorized and amazed the Romans: the Parthians waved banners of a strange, shimmering material that towered above the defeated soldiers, blinding them in the brilliant heat of the desert. (7) The Romans managed to obtain samples of this marvelous silk from the victorious Parthians, who had traded it for an ostrich egg and some conjurers with a member of Emperor Han Wudi’s early trade missions. (7) The Chinese campaigned in Central Asia on several occasions, and direct encounters between Han troops and Roman legionnaires (probably captured or recruited as mercenaries by the Xiong Nu) are recorded, particularly in the 36 BC battle of Sogdiana (Joseph Needham, Sidney Shapiro). (6) It has been suggested that the Chinese crossbow was transmitted to the Roman world on such occasions. (6)

7. Contacts between Chinese and Romans

Soon after the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE, regular communications and trade between India, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, China, the Middle East, Africa and Europe blossomed on an unprecedented scale. (6) Land and maritime routes were closely linked, and novel products, technologies and ideas began to spread across the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. (6) Intercontinental trade and communication became regular, organised, and protected by the ‘Great Powers.’ (6) The Roman historian Florus describes the visit of numerous envoys, included Seres (Chinese), to the first Roman Emperor Augustus, who reigned between 27 BCE and 14 CE:

“Even the rest of the nations of the world which were not subject to the imperial sway were sensible of its grandeur, and looked with reverence to the Roman people, the great conqueror of nations. Thus even Scythians and Sarmatians sent envoys to seek the friendship of Rome. Nay, the Seres came likewise, and the Indians who dwelt beneath the vertical sun, bringing presents of precious stones and pearls and elephants, but thinking all of less moment than the vastness of the journey which they had undertaken, and which they said had occupied four years. (6) In truth it needed but to look at their complexion to see that they were people of another world than ours.” (“Cathey and the way thither”, Henry Yule). (6)

In 116 CE, the Roman Emperor Trajan advanced into Parthia to Ctesiphon and came within one day’s march of the Chinese border garrisons, but no direct contacts are known. (6)

8. Persian and Roman demand for silk stimulates trade in it

Raising silkworms and unwinding their cocoons is known today as silk culture or sericulture. (17) It takes approximately 25-28 days for a silkworm to grow old enough to spin a cocoon. (17) Sericulture is a painstaking process that requires a great deal of human labour. (17) About 1,000 meters of silk can be unwound from a single cocoon. (17) To make a tie, about 111 cocoons are necessary. (17) A woman’s blouse requires about 630 cocoons. (17) This is why silk is a much prized and valuable fabric up to now. (17)The Persians and Romans particularly wanted silk, and this began the trade in it. (2) Intense trade with the Persians (2) and Roman Empire followed soon, confirmed by the Roman and Persian (2) craze for Chinese silk (supplied through the Parthians), even though the Romans thought silk was obtained from trees: “The Seres (Chinese), are famous for the woolen substance obtained from their forests; after a soaking in water they comb off the white down of the leaves… (6) So manifold is the labour employed, and so distant is the region of the globe drawn upon, to enable the Roman maiden to flaunt transparent clothing in public” (Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE, The Natural History). (6) The Senate issued, in vain, several edicts to prohibit the wearing of silk, on economic and moral grounds: the importation of Chinese silk caused a huge outflow of gold, and silk clothes were considered to be decadent and immoral: “I can see clothes of silk, if materials that do not hide the body, nor even one’s decency, can be called clothes… (6) Wretched flocks of maids labour so that the adulteress may be visible through her thin dress, so that her husband has no more acquaintance than any outsider or foreigner with his wife’s body” (Seneca the Younger (c.3 BCE–65 CE, Declamations Vol. (6) I). (6) Silk garments became all the rage in Roman society, so much so that in AD 14 men were no longer permitted to wear them, as they were perceived to contribute to an already decadent society. (7) Despite the disapproval of the Empire’s moral superiors and its high cost, silk was widely worn amongst even the lowest socioeconomic classes. (7) The silk trade flourished up until the second century AD, when it began to arrive in Rome via the sea trade routes. (7) During the Tang dynasty, thirty percent of the trade on the Silk Road was comprised of silk. (2) The Romans were prepared to exchange silk for its weight in gold. (2) To meet the demand, the Chinese produced silk along the eastern section of the Silk Road, to trade or sell to the Central Asian traders and merchants. (8) Merchants from Central Asia would go to the western borders of China and trade their herbal medicines and pieces of jade from Khotan for the luxurious Chinese silks. (8) Then, these traders would transport the silk by caravan through the oasis towns of Central Asia. (8) In the oasis town markets, the trades would exchange the silk for other goods from traders from the other side of the Pamir Mountains, who would then transport the silk through the region of Samarkand. (8) Other Persian, Armenian, and Jewish (8) OR Parthian along with Sogdian, Indian and Kushan (7) traders handled the silk trade through Persia to the Mediterranean regions, where the silks were finally purchased with gold from Rome. (8) They soon became prominent middlemen in the trade of silk, reaping tremendous profits, bartering with Chinese traders who escorted their merchandise to Dunhuang and as far as Loulan, in the heart of the Lop Nor Desert beyond the Great Wall, and carrying the trade on to Persian, Syrian and Greek merchants. (7) Very few caravans, including the people, animals and goods they transported, would complete the entire route that connected the capitals of these two great empires. (7) Each transaction increased the cost of the end product, which reached the Roman Empire in the hands of Greek and Jewish entrepreneurs. (7)

9. General conditions of trade along the Road

Trade from the eastern end of the Silk Road (Changan, China) to the western end (the Mediterranean) was indirect. (8) The long route was divided into areas of influence both political and economic. (18) Goods passed from one trader to another in short segments. (8) Trade resembled a chain, with each trader and segment of the trade route representing a crucial (important) link in the trade. (8) The Chinese traders escorted their merchandise probably as far as Dunhuang or beyond the Great Wall to Loulan, where it was sold or bartered to Central Asian middlemen – Parthians, Sogdians, Indians and Kushans – who carried the trade on to the cities of the Persian, Syrian and Greek merchants. (18) Each transaction increased the cost of the end product, which reached the Roman empire in the hands of Greek and Jewish entrepreneurs. (18) The trading that occurred along each trade route segment was known as “peddling trade” which was the informal selling of goods along the streets. (8) The trader would carry his goods and sell them and buy others while traveling from one market to another. (8) Sometimes, traders would exchange their goods for other goods without the use of money. (8) This is called “bartering”. (8) For example, a Middle Eastern trader might set out on an eastward trade route with goods he knew were unavailable farther east, such as colored glass or white jade. (8) He would trade these goods for a profit and then buy other goods, such as silk, that could be sold for a high price in Europe. (8) A wide variety of goods was available at the bazaars. (8) Coming from the west would be items like gold, grapes, pomegranates, woollen rugs, colored glass, and green and white jade. (8) From China came silk, gunpowder, chrysanthemums, paper, compasses, and bamboo. (8) It was often advantageous for traders to buy a diverse range of goods in case the price of one item fell below the price necessary for the trader to make a profit. (8) The trader had to be clever in order to exchange goods quickly and gauge the demand for the item at the market. (8) In high summer, the caravans travelled at night, less afraid of legendary desert demons than of the palpable, scorching heat. (18) Blinding sandstorms forced both merchants and animals to the ground for days on end – their eyes, ears and mouths stifled – before the fury abated. (18) Altitude sickness and snow-blindness affected both man and beast along cliffhanging and boulder-strewn tracks. (18) Death followed on the heels of every caravan. (18) For protection against gangs of marauders, who were much tempted by the precious cargoes of silk, gemstones, spices and incense, merchants set aside their competitiveness and joined forces to form large caravans of as many as 1,000 camels under the protection of armed escorts. (18) The two-humped Bactrian camel could carry 400 to 500 pounds of merchandise and was favored over the single-humped species, which, although capable of the same load, could not keep up the pace. (18)

10. Significance of the Road

The Silk Road started as a trade route (1) OR originated in the 2nd century BC for military and political reasons rather than trade. (2) but later became a cultural bridge which linked up the ancient Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabic culture with the ancient Greek and Roman culture and promoted the exchange between the Oriental civilization and the Occidental civilization. (1a) Before the discovery of the sea route to India, it was the most important connection between the East and West. (1) It was the information super highway of its age, serving as the conduit not only for goods but also for the transmission of knowledge and ideas between east and west. (1) It was the only way for China to get in touch with the West between the second century B.C. (3) and the 10th century A.D. (3) It was significant not only for the development and flowering of the great civilizations of Ancient Egypt, China, India and Rome but it also helped to laid the foundations of our modern world. (4) Its influence also carried over into Korea and Japan. (4)

11. The Geography of the Road (a) Eastern terminus at Chang’an

This ancient trade route started in the old capitals of Luoyang and Xian (then called Chang’an) (1) which were the commercial centres of North China (4). The Han dynasty Silk Road began at the magnificent capital city of Chang’an (today’s Xian). (3) It was the departure point and final destination for travellers on the Silk Road. (7) During the Tang (618-906 A.D.) and Yuan (1279-1368 A.D.) Dynasties, Changan, the capital of China was a major destination for most Western travelers. (8) The city in 742 was five by six miles in area and had a population of nearly two million, including over 5,000 foreigners. (7) Numerous religions were represented and the city contained the temples, churches and synagogues of Nestorians, Manicheans, Zorastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Christians, to name but a few. (7) Foreigners from Turkey, Iran, Arabia, Sogdia, Mongolia, Armenia, India, Korea, Malaya and Japan lived in Chang’an. (7) Dwarfs, who impressed and delighted the Chinese elite as jugglers and actors, were recruited from all over Asia to come to the imperial court. (7) Sogdians, Turks, Persians, Indians, Arabs, and other peoples of Central Asia and Europe# crowded into a section of the city called the Western Market, where they traded and sold their wares at innumerable bazaars. (8) Different products and exotic goods from many places were peddled in this bustling center of trade, where foreign traders profited handsomely. (8) Temples and taverns also lined the market area. (8) Western performers entertained the visitors and helped them forget their loneliness by reminding them of the delights of their homes. (8) The faces of these foreigners can be discerned among some of the terra-cotta figures discovered east of Xi’an. (7) In addition to Western goods, religious thought and art, Chang’an received caravans from distant lands loaded with exotic treasures such as cosmetics, rare plants including saffron, medicines, perfumes, wines, spices, fragrant woods, books and woven rugs. (7) Strange and unknown animals also arrived: peacocks, parrots, falcons, gazelles, hunting dogs, lions, leopards and a rare prize for the Chinese, the ostrich of camel bird. (7)

12. Geography of the Road – (b) Chang’an to the Pamir Mountains

The three routes of the Silk Road ran between mountain ranges and long edges of deserts, going through oases inhabited by ancient tribes. (3) These tribes also opened some branch roads across mountain passes to join the three routes together. (3) From Chang’an, the road ran along the northern and southern borders of the Taklimakan Desert to the Pamir Mountains. (8) (now called Congling Range) (11) The route took traders westwards into Gansu Province through Lanzhou, Tianshui, Zhangye, jiuquan along the Hexi Corridor reached Jiayuguan – the giant barrier of the Great Wall. (3) When it emerged from the Hexi Corridor into Xinjiang, it reached the Yellow River at Lanzhou, then skirted westward along deserts and mountains before dividing into three (1) OR 2 (4) routes at the oasis of Dunhuang. (1) This was the first key point of the route. (3) It is at the west end of the Hexi Corridor of Gansu Province. (3) There was a Sogdian colony there, as it was one of the important nodes in the trade route. (14) Sogdian letters dating from 313-314 CE have been discovered there; they provide evidence about a network of Sogdian merchants in various places in China, whose commercial interests included precious metals, spices and cloth. (14) The Indo-European Sogdians proved themselves consummate Silk Road traders during the fifth and sixth centuries, selling glass, horses and perfumes to the Chinese, and buying raw silk. (18) Sogdian documents and paintings have surfaced at Dunhuang and Sogdian inscriptions are carved into the stones and rocks strewn along the Indus River Valley, beside the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan. (18) Dunhuang is one of the well-known Chinese historical and cultural cities, and ‘a bright pearl’ on the ancient Silk Road. (3) OR ‘is a tiny oasis rounded by high mountains, desert and Gobi, with the average altitude of 1100m’. (10) After Dunhuang they passed through the Jade Gate Pass (Yumenguan) to the northwest (18) and entered the largest part of the Silk Road, through Xinjiang. (1) In Xinjiang the road traversed desolate desert areas and wound over snow-capped peaks. (3) The Road was full of difficulties and obstacles and this section was more dangerous and fascinating than other sections of the road. (3) The Silk Road in Xinjiang was divided into three routes: the southern, the middle and the northern. (13) Along the 2,000-km Silk Routes there are numerous ruins of ancient cities, beacon towers and cultural relics. (13) Lining the routes are many important cities including Urumqi, Turpan, Kashi, Kuqa, Hotan and Taxkorgan. (13) During the Han Dynasty, the Chinese referred to the Taklamakan (7) OR Taklimakan (8) Desert as Liu Sha, or “moving sands”, since the dunes are constantly moving, blown about by fierce winds. (7) Geographers call it the Tarim Basin, after the glacier-fed Tarim River that flows east across the Taklamakan Desert to the Lop Nor Lake. (7) The Taklamakan is bordered on three sides by some of the highest mountain ranges in the world: to the north, by the Heavenly Mountains (Tianshan); to the west, by the Pamirs (Roof of the World); and to the south, by the Karakoram and Kunlun Mountains. (7) To the east lie the Lop Nor and Gobi Deserts. (7) The infamous Taklamakan – which in Turki means “go in and you will not come out” – has been feared and cursed by travelers for more than 2,000 years. (7) Sir Clarmont Skrine, British consul-general at Kashgar in the 1920s, described it in his book Chinese Central Asia: “To the north in the clear dawn the view is inexpressively awe-inspiring and sinister. (7) The yellow dunes of the Taklamakan, like the giant waves of a petrified ocean, extend in countless myriads to a far horizon with, here and there, an extra large sand-hill, a king dune as it were, towering above his fellows. (7) They seem to clamour silently, those dunes, for travellers to engulf, for whole caravans to swallow up as they have swallowed up so many in the past.” The Sogdians were a nomadic tribe who specialized as caravaneers along the Taklimakan Desert area and the Pamirs. (8) ?

13. Geography of the Road (c) – From the Pamirs to Samarkand

About 200 km west of the present city, just past the present border with Kyrgyztan, the main Silk Route crossed into the head of the Alai Valley from where relatively easy routes led southwest to Balkh or northwest to Ferghana. (15) The present main road now travels northwest through the Torugart pass. (15) The Karakorum highway (KKH) links Islamabad, Pakistan with Kashgar over the Khunjerab Pass. (15) Bus routes exist for passenger travel south into Pakistan. (15) Kyrgyzstan is also accessible from Kashgar, via the Torugart Pass. (15) The Central Asian section of the Road crossed the Pamirs and went through the Central Asian region of Samarkand. (8) The southern route ran west along the northern foot of Kunlun Mountains, via Charkhilk ( Ruoqiang), Cherchen ( Quemo), Minfeng (Niya), and Hetian (Hotan), then reached Kashgar (Kashi) – another key point on the Silk Road, afterwards went over the Pamirs, and reached India OR passed through Afghanistan and Russian Central Asia to reach the coast of the Mediterranean OR Arabia. (3) The central route meandered west along the southern foot of the Tianshan Mountains dotted by Loulan, Korla, Chucha, and Aksu, then crossed the Pamirs and led to Mari in Russia. (3) The northern route rambled along the northern foot of the Tianshan Mountains, starting at Hami wound through Turpan, Urumqi, westward reached the Ili River Valley, and led to areas near the Black Sea. (3) Trade along the route was carried on by foreign traders who belonged to neither of the two old empires. (1) The oasis towns that made the overland journey possible became important trading posts, commercial centres where caravans would take on fresh merchants, animals and goods. (7) The oasis towns prospered considerably, extracting large profits on the goods they bought and sold. (7)

14. Geography of the Road (d) From Samarkand to Mediterranean

A western section ran through Persia to the Mediterranean. (8) While settlement in the region goes well back into pre-historic times, by the seventh century before the Common Era (BCE or B.C.), the town of Samarkand seems to have housed a substantial centre of craft production and already boasted an extensive irrigation system. (14) It was one of the easternmost administrative centers for Achaemenid Persia and had a citadel and strong fortifications. (14) Alexander the Great knew it as Maracanda; at the time when it submitted to him in 329 BCE, the city occupied some 13 sq. (14) km. (14) Damaged during a rebellion which Alexander had to suppress, the city revived; in the third and second centuries BCE, it contained some very impressive buildings. (14) Alexander’s conquests introduced into Central Asia Classical Greek culture; at least for a time the Greek models were followed closely by the local artisans. (14) The Greek legacy lived on in the various “Graeco-Bactrian” kingdoms of the area and the Kushan Empire of the first centuries of the Common Era whose territories extended well down into what is today Pakistan and India. (14) During the Kushan era the city declined though; it did not really revive until the fifth century CE. (14) The ethnically Iranian Sogdians who lived in Samarkand and its region played a key role in the commerce along the Silk Road even though they never established a single strong state and more often than not were subjects of powerful Inner Asian empires. (14) As early as Han times, when the Chinese first recorded their impressions of Inner Asia, the Sogdians had a reputation as being talented merchants. (14) The “home office” for one of the letter writers was Samarkand. (14) Sogdian inscriptions on the rocks in the valleys of northern Pakistan testify to their activity on the routes south into India. (14) Sogdian merchants also went west and seem to have been involved in the development of new routes for the Silk trade with Byzantium in the sixth century. (14) After Samarkand the northern route passed through the Bulgar-Kypchak zone to Eastern Europe and the Crimean peninsula. (4) From there across the Black Sea, Marmara Sea and the Balkans to Venice. (14) Another southern (4) route went over the Hindu Kush mountains via Turkestan and Khorasan south west to Kabul in Afghanistan. (14) From there it headed west to the Bamian Valley, via Herat, Meshed (Mashhad), Behshahr, and Chalus (or Chaluos) to Teheran. (14) From Teheran it passed via Kazvan, Hamadan (Ecbatana), Behistun (Bisotun) and Kermanshah. (14) Crossing over into Iraq at Khanakin it went down to Baghdad. (14) From Mesopotamia it reached to Anatolia, and then through Antioch in Southern Anatolia to the Mediterranean Sea or through the Levant into Egypt and North Africa. (4)

15. Mechanics of Trading along the Road

It is unlikely to have been travelled in its entirety — between Africa, Europe or the Middle East and China — by land. (4) OR ‘It used to take a whole year and a half for a caravan to go through on the Silk Road.’ (1a) A trader or merchant who wished to make a profit from trading at the different centers along the Silk Road would initiate a trade expedition, a journey for the purpose of exchanging goods. (8) He would save or borrow the money he needed for his trip. (8) If he borrowed the money, the lender expected him to give back more than he borrowed at a high interest rate. (8) This made the trip riskier and more costly. (8) After the trader had obtained enough money, he had to decide which trade routes to take. (8) Each route had advantages and disadvantages. (8) Some routes were more dangerous; other routes took longer to travel. (8) Deciding on the routes was very important to the success of the trade expedition. (8) If one section of the route fell prey to bandits or was impassable because of the weather, then the trader would have to alter his plans and would lose valuable time and energy. (8) In order for the trader to make money, he had to sell his goods at a price high enough to cover his travel expenses. (8) Because it was costly to transport his goods from his original location to the final destination, he needed to estimate his expenses. (8) This was difficult because information concerning trade route and market conditions, which are the economic conditions and activity in the area of buying, selling, and trading, could easily change by the time he had reached that location. (8) The trader had to plan for travel and transportation costs, taxes, and money for protection of his goods against bandits. (8) The journey was arduous, travellers had to fight against the wind, sand, aridity, frost, snow , extreme cold and attacks of hostile nomads to explore and, above all, to keep their lives. (1a) The trader often travelled in a caravan – a group of traders with a line of camels to carry the trade goods. (8) The caravan would move from one trading center to another, from market to market. (8) When the caravan reached a town, it would go to the caravanserai, a special place for the traders to stay and leave their animals. (8) Successful trading meant high profits for the trader and also for the towns along the Silk Road trade routes. (8) Local townspeople profited from trade by catering to the needs of the passing traders. (8) The regional governments made a profit too as they levied, collected by legal authority, taxes on foreign traders passing through their regions. (8) The revenue (money) from taxes was so great that wars were fought to see who would control the lucrative and profitable trade along different sections of the trade routes. (8) Two popular destinations, Bactria and Samarkand, were filled with bazaars -large and bustling centers of trade and places for the sale of goods. (8) Traders from many different regions would barter and sell their goods. (8) Some large bazaars were said to spread across entire towns for miles. (8) Local merchants would exchange goods with the caravan traders, who would buy goods to sell further along the Silk Road. (8)

16. Products traded along the Road

A large volume of goods travelled along the Silk Road. (8) In spite of the Roman interest in silk, it was not the chief commodity traded on the road. (2) Silk actually composed a relatively small portion of the trade along the Silk Road: eastbound caravans brought gold, precious metals and stones, textiles, ivory and coral, while westbound caravans transported furs, ceramics, cinnamon bark and rhubarb as well as bronze weapons. (7) The Han dynasty made very little profit from silk until the Romans showed themselves so fanatical about silk that large profits came in. (2)

17. Cultural exchanges along the Road

Beyond mere enrichment of the merchants, trade along the Silk Road also contributed to rich cultural exchanges. (8) Traders and other travellers gathered at the marketplaces, caravanserais, and teahouses and learned about the cultures of one another. (8) They would exchange stories about different regions and travel conditions along the Silk Road. (8) Consumers who bought goods from different lands were introduced to the cultures of the people who made those goods. (8) Pilgrims and monks travelled along the trade routes to spread their beliefs. (8) Envoys of the different kingdoms also traveled along the Silk Road to bring gifts to other rulers. (8) With the spreading of various religions in the world more and more missionaries travelled by this road. (2) With the Silk Road acting thus as an information superhighway, the exchange of ideas grew to a larger scale than ever before. (2)

18. Vulnerability of the Road to political and other changes

Prosperous as it potentially was, the operation of the Silk Road would always be influenced by political developments. (2) A stable situation could ensure the smooth trade on the road, while troubles would damage it. (2) When Zhang Qian opened the road, the Han dynasty and the empire of Parthia in Persia had just achieved their golden ages, which give financial support to the smooth development of the route. (2) The fall of the Han dynasty in the early 3rd Century once caused Silk Road trade to decline. (2) When the weakened Han Dynasty lost control over the Tarim Basin kingdoms in the third century political instability hampered trade. (18) In Asia Minor, Parthian power gave way to the Sassanid rulers in Persia, disrupting the traditional overland routes and causing the Mediterranean traders to make greater use of the already long-established sea routes to India. (18) Correspondingly, the rise of the highly artistic and prosperous (7) By the sixth century, the southern Silk Road, from Dunhuang Via Khotan to Kashgar, was shunned in favour of the new northern Silk Road, which took a course through Hami, over the Heavenly Mountains and along their northern slopes, through the towns of Barkol and Jimusaer, westwards to Yining and beyond to Samarkand and Merv. (18) In the 7th century the Tang dynasty revived the trade ins silk and by the mid 8th century, the route reached its height. (2) There were many reasons for the prosperity during the Tang period. (2) Learning from the breakdown of earlier dynasties, the Tang emperors tried to promote internal stability and economic development. (2) Many policies were carried out to stimulate and encourage the trade between the east and west, leading to the enlargement of the market and quick development of the trade on this road. (2) By the end of the eighth century, the sea routes from the southern coastal city of Canton (Guangzhou) to the Middle East were well developed. (7) But during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the art of sericulture had been mastered by the Persians (7) and, though silk was not to be produced in Europe until the 12th century#, the heyday of the Silk Road was over. (7) OR ‘By 400 CE Europe was aware of how silk was produced and the first of the silk worms had arrived. (17) By 500 CE, silk production began in places like Tarsus and Antioch. As they became proficient, profits along the Silk Road began to drop.’ (17) OR ‘However, silk continued to play a most important role as a tributary gift and in local trade with the “Western barbarians”, who radically changed Chinese culture by introducing new arts, skills and ideas.’ (18) The fall of the Tang in the early 10th Century seriously damaged the route. (2) It led to political chaos and an unstable economy less able to support extravagant foreign imports. (7) At the same time, entire communities, active oasis towns, thriving monasteries and grottoes along the Silk Road were disappearing in the space of weeks, as the glacier-fed streams ran dry or changed course. (7) Since the end of the Ice Age, shrinking glaciers have been consistently reducing the amount of water in the Tarim Basin. (7) Only the most fertile and well-irrigated oasis towns have survived. (7) The fanatical spread of Islam from the Middle East was one of the most critical factors in the disappearance of the Buddhist civilizations along the Silk Road, and perhaps the most destructive element in the loss of Serindian art. (7) Only those caves and monasteries that had been swallowed by the sands centuries before were able to survive unmutilated by the followers of Allah. (7) Many of the Buddhist cave frescoes, silk paintings and statues had adopted the Gandharan figurative style, portraying “the almighty” in human form, of which the Muslims were intolerant and even fearful. (7) By the late 15th Century, the entire Taklamakan region was thoroughly entrenched in Islam; Buddhist stupas and temples were either destroyed or left to crumble. (7) At this time, too, the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) shut China off from the outside world, effectively ending the centuries-old influx of foreign ideas and culture. (7) The discovery of a sea route from Europe to Asia in the late 15th Century dealt a damaging blow to the Silk Road trade again. (2) With less cost, harassment and danger, many goods and materials that the Silk Road could not transfer were conveyed through the sea route. (2) Besides, the Persians had mastered the art of sericulture and the import of the silk from the East was reduced. (2) Since then, the prosperous Silk Road was on its downhill. (2) In many cases the bustling streets, wealthy cities and solid ramparts now disappeared in the vast deserts. (2)

19. Revival of the Road under the Pax Mongolica

Trade declined sharply till in the 13th Century, when the conquests of the Mongols ushered in an era of frequent and extended contacts between East and West. (2) This was the last great era of prosperity on the Silk Road. (1) The increased contact created a demand for Asian goods in Europe, and this eventually inspired the search for a sea route to Asia. (2)

20. Modern Tourism on the Silk Road

Today, people can only trace their splendid history in the endless ruined and dilapidated remains. (3) Various ancient cultures of the West and East, including some lost cultures, have left traces of themselves in Xinjiang. (3) Although sections of the Silk Road have been buried by sand in deserts, the local dry climate has miraculously preserved sites and relics several thousand years old. (3) Some relics are as good as they were centuries ago. (3) The last missing railroad link on the Silk Road was completed in 1992, when the international railway communication Almaty – Urumqi opened. (4) And now in 2018, a new Silk Railroad is in operation. (HN)

[bibliography of sources available upon request]

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