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The Term 'Silk Road' in Ancient History


Taklamakan Desert on the Silk Road

Taklamakan Desert on the Silk Road

CC Kiwi Mikex at Flickr.com Image ID: 1110522  [Silk manufactory.] (1775)

Image ID: 1110522[Silk manufactory.] (1775)

http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1110522 NYPL Digital Gallery Cities of the Silk Road

1Constantinople 2Aleppo 3Damascus 4Jerusalem 5Tabriz 6Baghdad 7Basra 8Isfahan 9Ormuz 10Urgench, 11Marv 12Bukhara 13Samarkand 14Kesh 15Kabul 16Taxila 17Kashgar 18Khotan 19Delhi 20Agra 21Dunhuang 22Karakorum 23Chang'an 24Guangzhou 25Beijing.

c 2002 Lance Jenott. Used with permission of Silk Road Seattle.

The Discovery of Silk > The Silk Road

The first use of the expression "Silk Road" -- actually "Silk Roads" appears to have been in German: Die Seidenstrassen. Geographer Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen (1833-1905) -- uncle of the Red Baron -- used the expression "silk roads" to describe the trade routes linking China, India, and the Mediterranean world via Central Asia, according to David Christian, in "Silk Roads or Steppe Roads? The Silk Roads in World History,".

Traders exchanged such items as silk, which was especially important to the Romans, ceramics, glass, precious metals, ivory, gems, medical herbs, exotic animals, and livestock on the Silk Road. Inadvertently, the Silk Road transmitted language, disease, and genes. Alliances were forged to fight against common enemies. Buddhism made use of the Silk Road in its spread to Central Asia and China. Manichaeism and Islam also spread along the routes. The road, a series of caravan routes with trading posts and oases, extended almost 7000 miles from Rome and Syria to the Yellow River, in China, and lasted from about the Han Dynasty in the 2nd century B.C. to the 14th A.D. by which time sea routes were replacing the Silk Roads.

Also Known As: Silk Route, Silk Roads,


Oases, like those in the Taklamakan Desert, were stopping points along the Silk Road that ran to Chang'an, an old capital of China (now, Xian) to Constantinople, Antioch, Damascus, and other cities at the western end of the caravan routes.

The Hellenistic Empire developed cities in Syria at strategic points along the Silk Road. Such cities include Dura Europus and Antioch.

Silk Road References:

  • "Silk Roads or Steppe Roads? The Silk Roads in World History," by David Christian. Journal of World History 11.1 (2000) 1-26.
  • "India's Encounter with the Silk Road," by Subhakanta Behera. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 51 (Dec. 21-27, 2002), pp. 5077-5080.

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