Trade and the Silk Roads

Subject: History
Pages: 6
Words: 1712
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: College

Silk roads, otherwise known as silk routes, refer to ancient trade roads that connected China with the West. It is responsible for carrying goods and ideas between two significant civilizations of China and Rome. Silk traveled towards the West while other goods like gold, wool, and silver traveled towards the East.1China received two religions during the “trade and movement across the routes,” namely Buddhism and Christianity. 2The Silk Roads: Where East Met West shows that the Silk routes originated from Xi’an and traveled for around four thousand miles.

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It followed the famous Great Wall to the northwest, bypassed Takla Makan Desert, went up the Pamirs, went through Afghanistan, and then to the Levant. From this point, the goods were transported via the Mediterranean Sea. Few individuals went across the whole route, and middlemen handled merchandise in a staggered progression. In this paper, we will look at how trade along the Silk Roads happened and the impact it had on surrounding regions.

As the Roman power slowly diminished in Asia together with the emergence of the Arabian authority in the Levant, the Silk routes became untraveled since they were no longer safe. The Mongols revived the roads and utilized the Venetian Marco Polo to move to Cathay in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries3. Some experts claim that it is through the Silk roads that plague bacteria that caused the Black Death pandemic in Europe found its way from Asia in the middle of the fourteenth century, according to the film The Silk Roads: Where East Met West. A portion of the roads is still in existence and appears to be a highway that links the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, China, and Pakistan.

The routes have been the motivation behind United Nations’ plan to establish a trans-Asian highway. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific has proposed a railway counterpart of the roads.

The main benefit of the roads was the establishment of trade between different regions, including Central Asia and Persia. During these times, the most prosperous businessmen were the Sogdians, a section of individuals from Iran who resided in Transoxiana in Central Asia. The tribe created a caravan that moved between Central Asia and China. 4Trading was not the only thing they did since they also interpreted, entertained, bred horses, craftsmanship, and generators of ideas. In addition to the Sogdians providing fresh goods for the Westerners and the Chinese, they also brought them special culture. Soon, the lingua franca of the Silk Roads was the Sogdians’ language. By the 4th century, they had already established several communities in Ningxia and Gansu, China.

Another tribe on the roads was known as the Emissaries from distant nations and did not trade all the time. While paying respect to an emperor, the traders involved themselves in trading. The most known emissary Marco Polo was originally a merchant. He moved overland across the south of the Taklimakan and Pamirs via Persia on his own accord while working for Kublai Khan. Afterward, he returned to Hormuz from China by sea and went overland to the Mediterranean.

Just from the name of the roads, it is evident that silk was the most traded good across the Sil roads. Silk from China was viewed as a treasure in ancient Central and West Asia, Europe, and Africa. The film 5The Silk Roads: Where East Met West sheds light on the trade and suggests that the demand for silk was greatest in the European market as the Chinese silk was immensely loved in the region. Brightly colored silk enticed many in the Roman Empire. The powerful and affluent parted away with a significant quantity of gold to get their hands on the silk. Ancient Rome exported approximately one hundred and thirty tons of gold annually to obtain silk.

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It was not an ideal good to trade for and with for the Silk roads trade. Products during these times required to be of great value but still light to fit in caravan and silk qualified for this6. It was sold to Iranians, Central Asians, Arabians, and the Romans in Europe along the Silk Road.

The Byzantine Empire was not left behind during the trade along the Silk Road as they were also active. The goods they participated in trading included luxurious goods like perfumes and silk, spices, oil, timber, wax, among other things. Apart from silk, other goods for trading included porcelain, woolen items, bronze products, tea, Indian fabrics, paper, ivory, rice, honey, spices, and even horses. China originally primarily traded silk in exchange for horses from Central Asia.

The horses were the most valued items in China. The ones from Central Asia were big and fast, which made warhorses. According to the film 7The Silk Roads: Where East Met West, the Chinese viewed them as winged horses since they were vastly more improved than breeds in the empire, and the numerous dynasties always had a necessity for horses. The local breeds were too smaller, and they needed bigger horses for battles against their enemies. This is one of the motivations behind the Han court beginning the frequent Silk Road trade in the second century BC.

India was also unfit to breed high-quality horses for war battles. Therefore horses remained an essential commodity in the trade routes linking Central Asia to northern India through Afghanistan. Porcelain was another good that moved from China to other places like Japan, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Korean Peninsula, West, Central Asia, and North and East Africa. It was also among the most valued items in the regions. Its popularity even overtook that of silk in the latter years of the trade. 8The silk was overtaken since many regions had started learning techniques of making silk. The initial kinds of colorful porcelain were produced during the Han Dynasty era and sent to the West.

In contrast, the first fine porcelain pieces were manufactured in great quantities and exported during the Tang and Yuan eras. The seventieth and eighteenth centuries were the golden age of exporting porcelain from China. Around two hundred thousand pieces were sold to other regions per year in the seventieth century. In the eighteenth century, sales reached heights of around one million units per year. Expanded western territories became essential as a result of the silk roads established.

For a long time, the Silk Road had not been safe even for trade due to the presence of nomad pirates. The Han dynasty of China mentioned earlier provided security along the Silk Road. One of the strategies to counter insecurity included expanding the Great Wall of China9. The Tang Dynasty later reopened the route, but about four decades later, the Tibetans took control over it.

Therefore, the control over the Silk Road remained with Tibet and China until 737 CE, which facilitated the Silk Road reaching its golden age. During the trade along the silk road, the Chinese traded with various empires, which include Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire. By the 1st century AD, a constant flow of silk existed into the Roman Empire. With the emergence of the Sassanid Empire and the ensuing Roman–Persian battles, buying silk and bringing it into Europe became more expensive and difficult. The Persians controlled trade within their borders plus would suspend any act of trade during war.

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Thus, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian attempted to create optional routes to Sogdiana, a big silk manufacturing center, as shown by 10The Silk Roads: Where East Met West. The optional routes included one to the south through Ethiopia and another to the north through Crimea. Due to his failure to accomplish this, Emperor Justinian decided to look elsewhere. After defeating the Egyptian Empire, the Romans started communications plus trade with Southeast Asia, Europe, China, India, Africa, and the Middle East.

The Romans inherited eastern trade roads that formed a section of the Silk Road from the Arabs and previous Hellenistic powers. Because of their control on the eastern trade routes, the Roman Empire’s citizens enjoyed new luxuries plus more success for the whole empire 11When the Chinese realized the secret to producing silk, they held a monopoly on its production globally. Since silk offered great trade opportunities for China, an imperial decree was given that any individual who leaked the idea out of the empire would be condemned to death.12The outside world out of the Chinese 13empire got wind of the knowledge of producing silk.

Some historians believe that a Chinese princess who married Khotan is the reason behind the leak. She is believed to have loved silk so much that she hid some eggs belonging to a silkworm as she went out of the empire. After the Khotan learned about silk production, they kept it secret, but later Japan discovered it. Afterward is when the West eventually discovered the secret of silk production.

In the same manner, China maintained a monopoly over silk production for trade and the opportunities it offered, and the Byzantine Empire solely controlled the production of the Tyrian purple. The imperial court subsidized its production, limiting its use for coloring imperial silks so that the emperors’ kids were born purple. In conclusion, the Silk Roads showed that globalization was possible in premodern times. 14Through trade, expanding the various cultures of different people, and sharing great ideas, the world became more connected. Trading involved crops such as rice, spices such as pepper, and valuable items like pearls. Through the movement from one region to another for trade, people exchanged religious beliefs about how Buddhism reached China. Nations or empires that had weaker military forces improved through the trade along the Silk Roads.

Globalization is mostly known as a new phenomenon, but contact between different people is not something new. It started when prehistoric tribal groups chose to reside plus could drive away other tribes from their homes. The premodern times saw an improvement in technology that enabled communication and trade to flourish, as seen in the film 15The Silk Roads: Where East Met West. The early modern times saw the rise of capitalism as well as regional markets. Modern times, however, experienced the industrial revolution offers great improvements in technology at the environment’s expense. The modern period is converging with individuals from different regions coming together through uncontrolled ICT and economic systems.

Bibliography

BBC documentary film found on GHC Library Films on Demand (free): The SilkRoad: Where East Met West (2016), episodes 1, 2, and 3. Web.

Marco Polo, “The Travels of Marco Polo, the Venetian.” pages 166-168. Web.

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Sima Qian, “Records of the Grand Historian of China.” pages 37-43. Web.

Xinru Liu, The Silk Roads. A Brief History with Documents (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012).

Footnotes

  1. Xinru Liu, The Silk Roads. A Brief History with Documents (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012).
  2. BBC documentary film found on GHC Library Films on Demand (free): The Silk Road: Where East Met West (2016), episodes 1, 2 and 3.
  3. Marco Polo, “The Travels of Marco Polo, the Venetian.” pages 166-168.
  4. Xinru Liu, The Silk Roads. A Brief History with Documents (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012).
  5. BBC documentary film found on GHC Library Films on Demand (free): The Silk Road: Where East Met West (2016), episodes 1, 2 and 3.
  6. Xinru Liu, The Silk Roads. A Brief History with Documents (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012).
  7. BBC documentary film found on GHC Library Films on Demand (free): The Silk Road: Where East Met West (2016), episodes 1, 2 and 3.
  8. Xinru Liu, The Silk Roads. A Brief History with Documents (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012).
  9. Xinru Liu, The Silk Roads. A Brief History with Documents (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012).
  10. BBC documentary film found on GHC Library Films on Demand (free): The Silk Road: Where East Met West (2016), episodes 1, 2 and 3.
  11. Sima Qian, “Records of the Grand Historian of China.” pages 37-43.
  12. Xinru Liu, The Silk Roads. A Brief History with Documents (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012).
  13. .
  14. Xinru Liu, The Silk Roads. A Brief History with Documents (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012).
  15. BBC documentary film found on GHC Library Films on Demand (free): The Silk Road: Where East Met West (2016), episodes 1, 2 and 3.