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.
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.
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.