The Silk Route

The term 'Silk Route' was coined by the German historian von Richtofen in the 1870s, referring to the routes that ran west from China through Central Asia to Syria and on to Rome. In fact, however, the term applied to many routes, both overland and by sea, and silk was but one of the many commodities carried along it.

The Silk Route began to play a major role in trade during the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). By the year AD 14, silk imported from China was already so fashionable in Rome, that men were banned from wearing it, and women and were criticised for the drain on the national economy. During the Han period, other Chinese exports included lacquerware, bamboo products, steel and advanced farming equipment. China imported exotic aromatics, perfumes, thoroughbred horses and jewels. The goods were carried in stages between the many trading posts along the route.

The Tang dynasty (609-918), was the golden age of the Silk Route. The capital, Chang'an (today Xi'an), at the eastern end, was the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the world at that time. Foreign traders and craftsmen and diplomats from all over took up residence in Chang'an and the other principal trading centres of China, which greatly benefited from the the material trade and foreign cultural influences of these interactions.

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