Silk Road, or Silk Route, usually refers serious of historical trade routes starting in ancient China, connecting Asia, Africa and Europe. Differing in transport methods, there are Land Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road.
The Land Silk Road used to play the major role of economic, political and cultural exchange. It started from the capital of West Han Dynasty – Chang’an(today’s Xi’an), crosses Asia from China to Europe. Traders of Chinese, Persians, Greeks, Syrians, Romans, Armenians, Indians, and Bactrians, Sogdian...exchanged peculiar goods of their county, such as Chinese silk and tea, nephrite jade, spice, etc.
A route for caravans, the northern Silk Road brought to China many goods such as "dates, saffron powder and pistachio nuts from Persia; frankincense, aloes and myrrh from Somalia; sandalwood from India; glass bottles from Egypt, and other expensive and desirable goods from other parts of the world." In exchange, the caravans sent back bolts of silk brocade, lacquer ware, and porcelain.
There are several important events during the history of Silk Road.
Zhangqian(BC164~BC114) was a brave explorer as well as a brilliant diplomatist. West Han Dynasty fought against Huns in northwestern China. The emperor Wu sent Zhangqian as envoy to ally Darouzhi. But Zhang was arrested by Huns. After 10 years, Zhang escaped away Huns, then took his trip to Dayuan(today in Uzbekistan), Kangju(today’s Uzbekistan), Balkh(today’s northern Afghanistan). After the arduous trips, Zhang arrive in Darouzhi. But the emperor of Darouzhi refused allying request of emperor Wu. Zhangqian returned back to Chang’an. Even though Zhangqian failed to ally Darouzhi, but he acquired much information about countries in Western Regions. Later, Zhangqian took his second trip to the Western Regions, and successfully united many alliances to fight against Huns.
Zhangqian’s two trips to the Western Regions broke down the connections barriers between the ancient China, Western Regions and the central Asia, which built a great foundation to the trade also the culture exchange between China, Central Asia and Europe.
Alexander the Great also made a great contribution to the development of Silk Road. Around 300 BCE, he defeated Greece, Egypt, the Persian Empire and the northern India. During his conquest, Alexander the Great had founded many important trading cities which later became centers of Silk Road trade, such as the Alexandria, Khujand in Tajikistan, Samarkand.
Around BCE 200, envoys from both Alexander's successors and the Chinese court reached Kashgar which was the first contact between China and Europeans.
After West Han Dynasty, the Silk Road had been closed because of continual wars between Western Region countries. In East Han Dynasty, Banchao was firstly sent as envoy to strengthen the relationships beween Han and the Western Region. During his 31 years’ administration is Western Regions, Banchao had conquered more than 50 small countries, and opened the Silk Road again.
In the first century in BC, the Roman Empire conquered Seleucid Empire and Egypt Empire. Through central Asia, intercontinental trade and communication became regular, and blossomed on an unprecedented scale. The Roman Empire built two ports in Barygaza and Barbarricum to trade with the Central Asian Silk Road. They traded spices, perfumes, and exchanged silk, porcelain, jades from China. The Romans were fancy about Chinese silk very much which luxurious clothing materials for women become.
Both Roman and China attached much importance to the international trade on the Silk Road. The Silk Road was under protection of Roman and Chinese armies.
The prosperity of Silk Road reached its heyday in Tang Dynasty (618~907). The Tang empire was the most powerful and prosperous country in the world. Its conquest over the West and central Asia ensured the trade along the Silk Road. The emperors of Tang carried out friendly diplomacy policy, and welcomed foreign envoys, merchants and travelers, which made Chang’an a cosmopolitan.
In Tang Dynasty, the Maritime Silk Route also were pioneered by Chinese. The envoys sailed through the Indian Ocean to Persian Gulf and Red Sea, to explore Persia, Egypt, Aksum and Somalia.
In 13th century, the Mongol launched a great expansion in the whole Asia, which brought a hundred years’ stability to the Silk Road. Merchandise circulated well from China, via Central Asia, to Europe.
The Mongol sent a diplomat Rabban Bar Sauma who visited the courts of Europe in 1287~1288 and returned back to China with a detailed report about Europe. At the same time, the world famous traveler Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road to China, and met by the Mongol emperor. His tales, the Travels of Marco Polo, were fully read by Westerns, which helped Europeans learn much about East and China.
The Silk Road exchanged not only merchandise, but also disease. Some research shows that the Black Death may have reached Europe from Central Asia (or China).
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