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 Changan (now called Xian), 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, the Mongol Empire rapidly proceeded to conquer a huge region of Asia, the Mongol expansion throughout the Asian continent from around 1207 to 1360 helped to bring political and stability and re-establish the Silk Road. The partial unification of so many states under the Mongol Empire allowed a significant interaction between cultures of different regions.
The trading started to happen again and the route became important as path for communication between different parts of the Empire once more. The Mongols, in general, were more open to ideas, more sympathetic to different religions and nationalities promoting the trading. Around 1288, the Venetian explorer Marco Polo became one of the first Europeans to travel the Silk Road to China, he was not the first, however, the most well known and best documented visitor. In his tales, The Travels of Marco Polo, he describes the way of life in the cities and small kingdoms through which his party passed, with particular interest on the trade and marriage customs, opening the western eyes to some of the customs of the Far East.
5- The Peak, Decline and the Sea Route In seventh century, the Silk Route had its height of importance at this time during the Tang dynasty China was a living a relative stability after the divisions of the earlier dynasties since the Han. The art and civilization of the Silk Road achieved its highest poin in the Tang Dynasty. Changan, as the starting point of the route, as well as the capital of the dynasty, developed into one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities of the time. By 742 A.D its population reached almost two million people and in 754 A.D it had around five thousand foreigners living in the city. During the Mongol Empire as mentioned before, the route established a new good period but despite the presence of the Mongols, the route never reached the heights that it did in the Tang dynasty.
Furthermore, with the disintegration of the Mongol empire, that was fairly short-lived, the barriers rose again on the land route between East and West. After the Mongol Empire, the control of the Silk Road became economically and culturally separated. The demise of the Silk Road developed the Silk Route by sea at that time it was becoming easier and safer to transport goods by water than overland (Later however, the sea route suffered a lot of problems like bad weather and pirates). Beside this the sea route passed by promising new markets in Southern Asia at that time. The commerce with China and Asia at that time was very profitable and this situation is significantly important in explaining several factors about the present economy. It was the main driving factor for the Portuguese, and later Europeans, explorations of the Indian Ocean, including the sea of China.
6- Nowadays The last link along the Silk Road was completed in 1990, when the railway connecting Lanzhou to Urumchi was extended to the border with Kazakhstan, providing an important route to the new republics and beyond. Beside this the trade route itself is also being reopened, trading between the peoples of Xinjiang and Russia has developed quickly. The new republics in Central Asia have been contributing much of the heavy industry of the region. Trade with China has also utilized the route it was encouraged by the socialist market economy and its benefits to the market.
7- Conclusion The Silk Road played a key role in the development of the ancient economy in Asia, especially in China, In China it was the main responsible to significantly increase the number of foreign merchants present in China under the Han Dynasty and exposing the Chinese and visitors to their country to different cultures and religions. Buddhism spread from India to China because of trade along the Silk Route.
This route was very important in foreign trade, during all history of civilization in the last 1200 years, placing China and India, and all East Asia, in a major role for contact with the western world in a time when this region was isolated by deserts and oceans. During the Mongol Empire, based on the Mongols idea of liberty about different religions and cultures, once more, the route had a very important role in the foreign trade and culture exchange between Asia countries and some countries of Europe and Africa as well. Later, the great population and the varieties of products attracted the European interest (economic center of the world at that time), by sea several expeditions in order to explore the commerce in that region change the course of the world, affecting the Americas and Africa as well Asia, being decisive in the current political, economic and social aspects of several countries in these continents.