Ancient Commerce in China

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Ancient Commerce in China
The Silk Road

Antonio Camargo
SiMBA 2011

____________________
Jan / 2012

Table of Contents

1- The Route3
2- Name and Purpose4
3- Routes4
4- Mongol Age6
5- The Peak, Decline and Sea Route7
6- Nowadays8
7- Conclusion8
8- References9

1- The route
The Silk Road, or Silk Route, is the most famous and important historically trading route of ancient Chinese civilization. This historical network of interlinking, with more than 4000 miles, between East, South, Western Asia with the Mediterranean and European world, as well as parts of North and East Africa began to be used under the Han Dynasty (202 BC – AD 220). Originally, the Chinese trade silk occurred internally within the empire, but the caravans were often attacked by central Asian tribes, hoping to find some valuable commodities. In order to protect these caravans, the Han Dynasty extended its military defenses further into Central Asia. Later came the idea to expand the silk trade to central Asia.

Silk Road extension: The land routes are red, and the water routes are blue Source: http://en.wikipedia.org

2- Name and Purpose
The Silk Road gets its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade that was the major reason to sustain the route for so wide area. Some scholars prefer the term “Silk Routes” because of the several network of routes existed there. Trading silk was not the only purpose of the Silk Road, many other commodities were also traded. In addition to silk the route carried other precious goods like gold and other precious metals, ivory, precious stones and glass, exotic animals and plants were trade as well. Indeed the silk was the most remarkable goods, mainly among the Romans, it became very popular in Rome for its soft texture and attractiveness making the Romans sees the route mainly as a Silk Route. Although this fact, the name “Silk Road” originated in the nineteenth century, coined by the German scholar, von Richthofen.

3- Routes
The intercontinental Silk Road had two different overland routes bypassing the Taklimakan Desert and Lop Nur. The northern route started at Chang'an (now called Xi'an), the capital of the ancient Chinese Kingdom, which, in the Later Han, was moved further east to Luoyang. The route was defined about the 1st century BCE as Han Wudi put an end to harassment by nomadic tribes The southern route was mainly a single route running from China, through the Karakoram, where it persists to modern times as the international paved road connecting Pakistan and China as the Karakoram Highway. It then set off westwards, but with southward spurs enabling the journey to be completed by sea from various points. Crossing the high mountains, it passed through northern Pakistan, over the Hindu Kush mountains, and into Afghanistan, rejoining the northern route near Merv. From there, it followed a nearly straight line west through mountainous northern Iran, Mesopotamia and the northern tip of the Syrian Desert to the Levant, where Mediterranean trading ships plied regular routes to Italy, while land routes went either north through Anatolia or south to North Africa. Another branch road traveled from Herat through Susa to Charax Spasinu at the head of the Persian Gulf and across to Petra and on to Alexandria and other eastern Mediterranean ports from where ships carried the cargoes to Rome.

The Silk Road in the 1st century
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org

4- Mongol Age
In central Asia, Islam expanded from the 7th century onward, bringing a stop to Chinese westward expansion at the Battle of Talas in 751. Further expansion of the Islamic Turks in Central Asia from the 10th century finished disrupting trade in that part of the world. For a long time during the Middle Ages, the Islamic Caliphate often had a monopoly over much of the trade conducted across the route. Under the command of Genghis Khan,...
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