The Silk Road


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  • The Silk Road was actually a network of smaller trade routes. It stretched for more than four thousand miles across Asia— from Luoyang (lwaw-yahng) and the Han capital of Chang'an (chahn-ahn) in China to Mediterranean ports such as Antioch (AN-tee-ahk) in Syria. By the first century C.E., the Roman Empire, and its capital, Rome, dominated the Mediterranean region. The Silk Road connected the Han and Roman empires. The Silk Road linked the peoples of the East and the West for more than a thousand years. In this chapter, you will learn more about the exchanges between Asian and western cultures.
  • The expansion of the Han empire made the Silk Road possible. The military campaigns of the Han drove back nomadic peoples in northwestern China, opening up trade routes to the west.  The Father of the Silk Road A Chinese explorer named Zhang Qian (jahng chee-ehn) is often called the Father of the Silk Road. His travels opened the way for trade between China and its western neighbors.  Silk as a Trade Good Silk is a fiber used to make cloth. Silk cloth is strong, but also warm, light, and soft.  Silk was a valuable good for trade because, at first, only the Chinese people knew how to make it. During the Han dynasty, the Chinese had discovered how to make silk out of the fibers taken from the cocoon of the silkworm.   Rome Trades Glassware for Silk When people of other cultures learned about silk, it became a highly prized material. The Romans, in particular, eagerly traded valuable goods for silk.
  • The Silk Road was not one continuous route. It was a network of shorter trade routes between various stops.  The two major parts of the road were the Eastern Silk Road and the Western Silk Road.  Traveling the Eastern Silk Road From Luoyang, the Silk Road led west along the Gobi Desert to Dunhuang (dun-hwang), in northwestern China. This part of the route was protected by the Great Wall to the north.  From Dunhuang, travelers could choose either a northern or a southern route across the Taklimakan Desert to Kashgar. Many chose the northern route, where the distances between oases like Loulan and Kucha were shorter.  Goods Exchanged Along the Eastern Silk Road It was costly to carry goods over the Silk Road. For traders to make a profit, goods had to be valuable. They also had to be easy to carry so that merchants could transport more goods on fewer animals.
  • Kashgar was the central trading point at which the Eastern Silk Road and the Western Silk Road met. Goods from various areas were exchanged there and sent in both directions along the trade route. Traders traveling westward carried goods by yak rather than camel. The Western Silk Road ended in Mediterranean ports like Antioch.  Traveling the Western Silk Road The journey west from Kashgar began with a difficult trek across the Pamir (pah-meer) Mountains. Some of these mountain peaks rose over twenty thousand feet.  Goods Exchanged Along the Western Silk Road Many goods traveled along the Western Silk Road and eventually ended up in China. Traders from Egypt, Arabia, and Persia brought perfumes, cosmetics, and carpets. 
  • The trade between East and West along the Silk Road created cultural diffusion, in which ideas and knowledge—as well as goods—spread from one culture to another. For example, China and Rome did not merely trade new products with each other. In time, they learned how to make these products for themselves.  By 500 C.E., the Chinese had learned how to make glass. About the same time, the West had learned how to produce silk. Diets, gardening, and agriculture also changed as trade introduced new plants into different areas. For example, China imported many new foods and spices.  The spread of Buddhism is a good example of how cultural diffusion takes place. Buddhism was introduced to China around the middle of the first century C.E. Some Chinese Buddhists journeyed on foot across Central Asia to India to learn more about their new religion. They returned to China with copies of sacred Buddhist texts. Buddhism would eventually become a major religion in China. 
  • In this chapter, you learned how the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes, promoted an exchange of goods and ideas between China and the West.  The Opening of the Silk Road The Silk Road was opened during the Han dynasty and remained a major route of trade for more than one thousand years. The Eastern Silk Road The Eastern Silk Road connected the capital of China to Kashgar. The Western Silk Road From Kashgar, the Western Silk Road crossed mountains and a desert on its way to Mediterranean ports like Antioch.Cultural Exchanges Along the Silk Road Many goods were exchanged along the Silk Road, including both silk from China and glassware from Rome. 
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