12 Aug 2009
Ancient trade routes already existed prior to the development of the Silk Road but the Silk Road was one of the most significant factors to the development of the ancient civilizations and today’s world. The Silk Road is an interconnected series of trade and cultural transmission routes through the regions of the Asian continent connecting East and West Asia. It connected traders, merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers and nomads from China to the Mediterranean Sea. The Silk Road becomes a means of to which people from the East and West meet. Along with it, was the meeting of different cultures, traditions and practices which led to influences on each other. The Silk Road is not a single route. Instead it is a branching route which all originated from the capital in Changan heading up to the Gansu corridor and reached Dunhuang on the edge of Taklimakan. The Silk Road divides into north and south routes to avoid the Tibetan Plateau.
The Northern Route travels northwest through Gansu and then it splits into three further routes. Two of these routes passed through Taklimakan Desert which then rejoins in Kashgar. The other goes north of the Tien Shan Mountains through Turfan, Talgar and Almaty (now southeast Kazakhstan). All the three routes later joined up at Kokand in the Fergana Valley. The roads continue to the west crossing the Karakum Desert towards Merv, where it joined the southern route.
The southern route is mainly a single route. This route runs through northern India then the Turkestan-Khorasan region into Mesopotamia and Anatolia. It has southern branch which enables the journey to be completed by sea from various points. This route runs through the Sichuan Basin in China and crosses the high mountains into northeast India. It probably passes through the ancient tea route. It then travels west along Brahmaputra and Ganges river plains. It runs through northern Pakistan and over the Hindu Kush mountains to rejoin the northern route in Merv. The Silk Road then continues moving towards west through the mountainous northern Iran and in the northern tip of the Syrian Desert to the Levant. From there, Mediterranean trading ships use regular routes to Italy.
Silk is not the only commodity traded via the Silk Road. Other commodities such as gold, ivory and exotic animals and plants were also traded via these routes. But among the precious commodities, silk was the most significant for the people in the West. The Romans obtained sample of silk and bought it to Rome. Immediately thereafter, it becomes popular. The Romans then sent agents to explore the route and they tried obtaining silk at a lower price. That’s why the Romans see the route to the East as a route for trading silk. Traders are usually in caravans. Caravans heading to China carried gold and other precious metals while caravans heading the opposite direction carried furs, ceramics, jade, bronze objects, lacquer and iron were carried. Along the way, when traders meet, the objects they carried will be bartered. Thus the goods they bought with them can be changed hands so many times. Religion however can be considered as the most significant commodity carried along this route. Buddhism originated in India but it reaches China through the Silk Road. It was thought that Han emperor Mingdi sent a representative to India to investigate the strange faith. Later on, further missions returned bearing scriptures and also India priests. When China was divided into several kingdoms, the rulers encouraged the development of Buddhism. Through the Silk Road, there was interaction of different cultures.
There were artistic influences which are clearly shown in the Greco-Buddhist art.
The Greek floral scroll motif was also transmitted from the Hellenistic world which was then adopted by China and is displayed on tiles and ceramics.
Technological advances were also transmitted through the Silk Road to the West. Some of these become precursors of the new world’s technology. The exchanges of goods, traditions, culture and technology between the East and the West during the time of the Silk Road have affected so much the history of the world and shaped it to what it is today.