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Silk Road

Silk Road Overview

Silk Road, also known as Silk Routes, extended from Southern Europe through Arabia, Somalia, Egypt, Persia, India and Java until it reaches China.The silk road is an extensive interconnected network of trade routes across the Asian continent connecting East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean world, including North Africa and Europe.

The Silk Routes enabled people to transport and trade not only luxury silk goods, but also many other products such as fine fabrics, musk, other perfumes, spices and medicines, jewels, glassware and even rhubarb. Moreover, the routes served as paths  for the spread of knowledge, ideas, cultures, and diseases between different parts of the world. The important conduits of cultural and technological transmission, extending over 4,000 miles, linked traders, merchants, pilgrims, missionaries, soldiers, nomads and urban dwellers in China, India, Persia and Mediterranean countries for over 2,000 years.

East and West silk roads

There were two main parts of the silk road. There was the East and the West silk road. They were both very dangerous. On the East silk road it was all desert so people used camels to carry their goods. Travelers on the East traveled in groups called caravans. Dangers that faced travelers on the East silk road were bandits, sandstorms, and mirages. China sild Road was covered in the East part.

The West silk road was very mountainous. Peaks rose over 2,000 feet! People traveled by yak instead of camel because they could stand the harsh weather. Dangers were headaches, dizziness, and ringing to the ears caused by lack of oxygen. This route was also called "the trail of bones" since so many animals and people died.
Ancient China Silk Road

The silk trade route was expanded around 114 B.C. by the Han Dynasty, largely through the missions and explorations of Zhang Qian, but earlier trade routes across the continents already existed. In the late Middle Ages, transcontinental trade over the land routes of the Silk Road declined as sea trade increased.

As it extends westwards from the ancient commercial centers of China, the continental Silk Road divides into the northern and southern routes bypassing the Taklamakan Desert and Lop Nur.

The northern route, which is the narrowly-defined and original Silk Road, starts at Chang'an (now called Xi'an), the capital of the ancient Chinese Empire. The road was defined about the 1st Century BCE as Han Wudi put an end to harassment by nomadic tribes.

The route travels northwest through the Chinese province of Gansu from Shaanxi Province, and splits into three further routes, two of them following the mountain ranges to the north and south of the Taklamakan Desert to rejoin at Kashgar; and the other going north of the Tian Shan mountains through Turfan, Talgar and Almaty (in what is now southeast Kazakhstan).

The routes split west of Kashgar with one branch heading down the Alai Valley towards Termez and Balkh, while the other traveled through Kokand in the Fergana Valley, and then west across the Karakum Desert towards Merv, joining the southern route briefly.

One of the branch routes turned northwest to the north of the Aral and Caspian seas then and on to the Black Sea.

Yet another route started at Xi'an, passed through the Western corridor beyond the Yellow Rivers, Xinjiang, Fergana (in present-day eastern Uzbekistan), Persia (Iran), and Iraq before joining the western boundary of the Roman Empire. 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.

Ancient China Silk Road

The southern route is mainly a single route running from China through northern India, the Turkestan - Khorasan region, Mesopotamia, and into Anatolia, with southward spurs enabling the journey to be completed by sea from various points. It starts out south through the Sichuan Basin in China. Crossing the high mountains into northeast India, probably via the Ancient tea route, it continues west along the Brahmaputra and Ganges river plains, possibly joining the Grand Trunk Road west of Varanasi. Then it passes through northern Pakistan, over the Hindu Kush mountains, and into Afghanistan, rejoining the northern route briefly near Merv. From there it follows a nearly straight line west through mountainous northern Iran and the northern tip of the Syrian Desert to the Levant, where Mediterranean trading ships plied regular routes to Italy, and land routes went either north through Anatolia or south to North Africa.

Sea Route

The sea route started in China's Eastern Han Dynasty, although it was not part of the formal Silk Route, led from the mouth of the Red River near modern Hanoi, through the Malacca Straits to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and India, and then on to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea kingdom of Axum and eventual Roman ports. From ports on the Red Sea goods, including silks, were transported overland to the Nile and then to Alexandria from where they were shipped to Rome, Constantinople and other Mediterranean ports. This water route in some sources is called the Indian Ocean Maritime System.

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