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The Silk Roads

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The Silk Roads

The Silk Road, also known as the Silk Roads, was a strategic series of trade routes that connected China to Europe and the Middle East. This trade route was a significant factor in economic and cultural development in Europe, the Middle East, and beyond. Keep reading to learn how the Silk Road changed the world.

The Definition of Silk Road

The Silk Road was a trade route network connecting China and other parts of the east with Europe and the Middle East. The route consisted of numerous strategically placed trading posts and markets to make it easier to move, trade, and store goods. It was in use for over 1500 years!

The Silk Road:

The Silk Road, also described as the Silk Roads, was a strategic series of trade routes that connected China to Europe and the Middle East. It allowed for trading goods as well as ideas.

Did you know?

Historians also refer to the Silk Road as the Silk Routes. This term better conveys the trade route because it was not a single road but a world trade artery.

The Silk Road Map

The strategic routes of the Silk Road connect Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Some ways connected Antioch to Ctesiphon and Seleucia on the Tigris River. Other paths crossed mountain ranges to connect cities in Iran and Turkmenistan. Different routes connected modern-day Afghanistan and China. Some routes connected ports on the Persian Gulf to rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates. The Silk Road was over 4,000 miles long, crossing rugged terrains like the Gobi Desert and the Pamir Mountains.

Silk Roads. World route and map of the silk roads StudySmarter.

Extent of the Silk Route/Silk Road. Red is the land route, and blue is the sea/water route. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Silk Road Cities

Cities sprang up along the Silk Road, becoming exchange centers. This happened as merchants, and other travelers looked for safe resting places.

As merchants converged, they had the opportunity to sell their goods to other merchants and purchase new things for themselves. This also allowed for the exchange of language, customs, and other ideas to be shared.

The exchange of ideas was attractive to scholars, philosophers, and theologians. These trade centers blossomed into intellectual centers.

Some of the largest cities along the Silk Road were:

  • Chang'an (China)

  • Dunhuang (China)

  • Kashgar (China)

  • Balkh (Afghanistan)

  • Merv (Turkmenistan)

  • Palmyra (Syria)

Silk Road. Landscape of the Silk Roads. StudySmarter.

Silk Road. Source: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-2.0

History of the Silk Road

The Silk Road was born in the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE, as Chinese Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty sought access to trade new goods with the West through conquest and exploration. Historians view 130 BCE as the year the Silk Road opened for trade as the Han dynasty was victorious after winning a couple of wars. The Chinese were explicitly interested in doing whatever was necessary to breed more robust horses. Nearby nomads were interested in trading horses for grain and silk.

Did you know?

The Silk Road earned its name from Chinese silk, a prestigious commodity in the pre-modern era.

Silk was valued highly in China at this time. Not only was the method behind its creation cloaked in secret, but the textile itself was reserved for exclusive use by the imperial court.

Imperial:

Pertaining to an empire.

In the 1st century BCE, the Romans were introduced to silk. It was instantly popular because not only was it a luxury item, but it was perceived as being exotic. The desire for silk grew in tandem with the trade routes linking China and Europe. The Silk Road expanded to the Roman Empire. Around the same time, the Chinese opened a water route from modern-day Vietnam to India and Sri Lanka.

The Roman Empire took control of Egypt in 30 BCE, allowing trade to blossom between China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. This was fueled by the Roman desire for silk and other luxury goods.

The Tang Dynasty, approximately 618-907 CE, saw an uptick in activity along the Silk Road. The Tang reopened the Silk Road in 639 CE and remained open to travel and trade for nearly 40 years. Access was lost when the Tibetans captured the Silk Road in 687, but almost 20 years later, the Tang dynasty was again able to reopen the road. Peace became widespread, and the Silk Road reached its golden age.

Golden Age:

A time of peace and prosperity.

The Golden Age of the Silk Road was from approximately the 1st-3rd centuries AD. The Silk Road connected Europe, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and various parts of Asia.

The Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century, creating disorder and uncertainty.

The Byzantine Empire began producing some of its silk, but it was never the same quality as the silk crafted by the Chinese. The western part of the Silk Road was its best under the Byzantine Empire.

Between the 8th-13th centuries, Baghdad became the most influential city along the Silk Road. The Islamic world expanded into Central Asia, taking power from the Tang.

The Mongol Empire later expanded into the Asian continent, bringing stability to the region. This had s significant impact to trade as the Silk Road was reopened under the Mongol administration. After the Mongols revived the Silk Roads in the 13th and 14th centuries, it was traveled by famed explorer Marco Polo.

This copious transit of people had another consequence: many historians believe the Black Plague bacteria was introduced into Europe through the Silk Route.

Usage of the Silk Road collapsed in 1453 when the Ottoman Empire ended trade with the West. This kicked off the Age of Exploration as Europeans looked to replace the trade routes they had come to rely upon so heavily.

The Royal Road

The Persian Royal Road was a precursor to the Silk Road. It was active several hundred years before the Silk Road was opened. It connected modern-day Iran and modern-day Turkey. The route was established by Persian ruler Darius I.

The Royal Road was later expanded to include Mesopotamia, North Africa, and Egypt.

The Royal Road was used by Alexander the Great when he expanded his control of Macedonia into Persia.

Importance of the Silk Road

The collection of strategic trade routes that we now called the Silk Route gave people access to goods that they otherwise wouldn't be able to get. While trading goods made these routes necessary, the roads were important for another reason: they allowed for great cultural exchange.

Did you know?

The name The Silk Road was coined in 1877 by Ferdinand von Richthofen.

Exchange of Goods in the Silk Roads

Silk was a hugely crucial Chinese export and one of the most common items traded along the Silk Road. However, there were other essential items traded along the Silk Road.

Other items traded along the Silk Road include:

  • paper and gunpowder
  • fruits and vegetables
  • leather and hides
  • spices and grains
  • tools
  • livestock

Cultural Exchange in the Silk Roads

The Silk Road was not just a way of moving commercial goods. It was also a way to move ideas. The Silk Road facilitated a tremendous cultural exchange.

Trading the following allowed for cultural exchange:

  • religious objects
  • religious beliefs
  • language
  • cultural traditions
  • philosophy

The Silk Road Today

Parts of the Silk Road still exist today. The modern version is a paved highway that stretches from Pakistan to Xinjiang, China. The paved road is the driving force behind a UN plan for a highway and railroad that cross the Asian continent.

The Maritime Silk Road

The Maritime Silk Road, also known as the Maritime Silk Route, connected Asia, China, Europe, the Arabian Peninsula, and other parts of the world, allowing them to trade via water routes.

It began in the 2nd century BCE and was popular until the 15th century CE.

Recently, China debuted plans for a modern route, named the Twenty-First Century Maritime Silk Road, to help China connect with other countries in Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and East Africa. It is part of a larger infrastructure initiative to develop trade in regions near China.

Silk Road. Landscape of the Silk Roads. StudySmarter.

The Silk Road. Source: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-2.0

Silk Road Summary

The Silk Road, also known as the Silk Roads or the Silk Route, was a strategic series of trade routes that connected China to Europe and the Middle East. It functioned as a significant way goods were traded from one region to another and a way that culture and ideas were spread from region to region.

Cities developed along the routes of the Silk Road, causing merchants to convene in large groups. As the diverse group of merchants and other travelers were exposed to one another, their cultures, customs, and ideas were shared and spread.

Silk was transported west, while gold and silver were transported east. More goods were traded as time went on.

The Silk Road was made up of over 4,000 miles of trade routes. Few people traveled the entirety of the Silk Road. Instead, goods passed through a series of intermediaries.

As politics changed the government of the surrounding areas, the Silk Road became unsafe. Travelers began to abandon it due to the dangerous nature of following it. It was revived in the 13th and 14th centuries by the Mongol Empire.

Usage of the Silk Road ended in 1453 when the Ottoman Empire ended trade with the West.

The Silk Roads - Key takeaways

  • The Silk Road, also known as the Silk Roads or the Silk Route, was a strategic series of trade routes that connected China to Europe and the Middle East. It encompassed land and water trade routes.
  • The Silk Road attracted traders, merchants, and travelers from all walks of life. This not only lent itself to the trade of many types of specialty items but also to the exchange of customs, traditions, and ideas.
  • The cultural exchange along the Silk Road is one of the things that gave it a lasting impact on the world.
  • The Silk Road was made up of over 4,000 miles of trade routes. Since it covered such a large area, it was often impacted by political events. Times of significant change made it unsafe and chaotic. On the flip side, during times of great peace, people flocked to the Silk Road to trade.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Silk Roads

The Silk Road, also known as the Silk Roads or Silk Route, was a strategic series of trade routes that connected China to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. It allowed for trading goods as well as ideas. 

There were two major ways the Silk Road impacted the world. The first was through the trade of goods like paper, silk, food, tools, and animals. The second, and most significant, was through the cultural exchange that happened because of the Silk Road. Religious objects, beliefs, language, traditions, and philosophy were exchanged because of the Silk Road. 

 Items traded along the Silk Road include

  • paper and gunpowder
  • fruits and vegetables 
  • leather and hides
  • spices and grains
  • tools
  • livestock

The Silk Road crossed China, India, Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and parts of Northern Africa. 

Historians view 130 BCE as the year the Silk Road opened for trade.

Final The Silk Roads Quiz

Question

What is the name of the strategic series of trade routes that connected China to Europe, the Middle East, and beyond?

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Answer

The Silk Road 

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Question

True or False: The Silk Road encompasses approximately 4,000 miles of trade routes.

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Answer

True

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Question

What happened when merchants converged in the trade cities that sprang up along the Silk Road?

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Answer

They were able to sell their goods to other merchants. 

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Question

True or false: Exchange of ideas was attractive to scholars, philosophers, theologians and lured them to trade cities. 

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Answer

True

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Question

True or False: Historians view 130 BCE as the year the Silk Road opened for trade.


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Answer

True 

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Question

When did usage of the Silk Road come to an end? 

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Answer

1450

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Question

True or False: Travelers began to abandon the Silk Road  due to the dangerous nature of traveling it.



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Answer

True

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Question

True or False: The Silk Road was revived in the 17th and 18th centuries by the Mongol Empire. 


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Answer

True 

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Question

_______ means pertaining to an empire.

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Answer

Imperial

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Question

_______ ________ means a time of peace and prosperity.

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Answer

Golden Age

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