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Trade On The Silk Road History Essay

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In the ancient civilization, there is trading line traversing Eurasia, east from Chang'an to Mediterranean area. That is the Silk Road, or Silk Road, which is a great achievement in the human history, promoting the cultural, commercial, religious exchange between the old East and the West. It is a series of trade lines covering regions of the Asian continent, extending over five thousand miles on land and sea. In addition to the cultural and religious exchanges, trade on the Silk Routes was also a prominent part in the development of the ancient civilization of nations including China, Egypt, Persia, India and Rome and so on. The Silk Road had paved the path for the modern world and further communication between the east and west.

This paper aims to illustrate the characteristic components of international trade along the Silk Road in the Pre-Mongol era mainly involving the following aspects: the traders, merchandises, their means of transport and the most important the trade routes. Besides these, this paper also attempts to give some thoughts of old China, one of the most typical countries along the Silk Road which had made great contribution to the success of Silk Road, as an example to promote the international trade on the Silk Road.

2. Characteristic Components of Trade on the Silk Road

In order to have a good and comprehensive understanding of the international trade along the Silk Road, this paper will explain the trades in details mainly from the aspects of the traders, merchandises, their means of transport and the most important the trade routes.

2.1 Traders

Along the Silk Road Chang'an and Rome were the two cities standing at the very ends of this long trade line which is too long for ancient people to finish the whole line. Therefore the commerce was indirect, as merchandises were passed from one merchant to another in a limited region until those goods appeared on the market of Chang'an and Rome.

In those international trades, people in the central and west part of the Asian continent, who lived along the middle part of the Silk Routes, were taking geographical advantages, being in the dominant place in the trades. The Sogdians, the Persians, the Greeks and Jews were the most successful traders along the Silk Road. For instance, among those traders the groups of Sogdians from Samarkand were the mainstream and controller in the trades in Central Asia (Etienne, 2005). While Greeks and Jews were the early merchants in the trades along the Silk Road.

2.2 Merchandise

From the name, it is easy to know the merchandise on the Silk Road must have silk. However, silk is not the only goods. In the very beginning, some costly horses and the seeds of plants were sold to China. Later other goods like woolen products, exotic carpets and textiles like curtains and blankets were also carried to China. Those products deeply impressed Chinese at that time by their unique methods of procession and weaving (Francis, 2005). Meanwhile camels, armaments, metal like gold and sliver, scarce stones and other glass products were also very palatable for Chinese. For instance glass from Samarkand was appreciated as a result of its good quality, which was regarded as extravagant merchandise. In the category of the goods to China, there were furs, wool, exotic embros, fruits, sheep and other animals.

While China exported famous china such as delicate bowls, cups, dishes. Because the secret of the production of this thinnest china was only possessed by Chinese, those products were very expensive on the west market. Paper was another goods high valued in the west. Traders always brought tea, Chinese textile, and rice as well.

Goods, as rice, cotton, silk, furs, were always traded to the east of the Europe. Cattles, honey, slaves were often brought to the north.

2.3 Means of Transport and Caravans

In the fascinate stories along the Silk Road, animals play an important role. They were not only the major transport at that time but the faithful friends in that dangerous and boring trading journey. On one hand Animals like sheep and chevres offered necessities of daily life. On the other hand horses and camels not only met the local demands but were also the critical part for the development and success of the international trade and commerce (Denis,1972).

Camels were the most common transport along the Silk Road. Therefore it is common to find the camel caravans on the road, forming a typical image of the Silk Road. In most cases, the number of camels in a caravan was not fixed which ranged from dozens to hundreds, resting with the scale of the caravan. And along the Silk Road those camels lined. Meanwhile due to the journey was long crossing different regions the camel caravan always contained many different ethnicities.

Samarkand, Loulan, Dunhuang etc were in the list of the most popular destinations for the trade caravans, which all were the busy trading centers.

2.4 Trade Routes

The success and prosperity of the international trades on the Silk Road, to a large extent, depend on the various trade routes which cover a wide range. This paper will mainly from two lines to analyze the trade routes of the international trades on the Silk Road: overland and sea.

The trades on the Silk Road began from China, the commercial centers in the old time. Therefore the trade routes can mainly be divided into two parts: northern routes and southern routes

The northern route started from the ancient city Chang'an, crossing the northwest Gansu province from Shanxi Province. Later the northern route developed into three branch routes. Two of the branches went along the mountain ranges to bypass the Taklimakan Desert and subsequently met at Kashgar. The rest branch went along the north of the Tian Shan Mountains (Chen,1986).

The southern route, unlike the northern one, did not split branches, starting from China passing Karakoram. Nowadays a highway is constructed called 'Karakoram Highway' between China and Pakistan (Elisseeff, 2001). This southern route travelled the mountains and crossed the north of the Pakistan and later into Afghanistan. From which a straight line west crossed the northern Iran and to Levant in which commercial ships to Italy piled.

Besides the overland routes, there were also trade routes over sea. Back to 1,400 years ago, the maritime of Silk Road came. Not the considered as a part of Silk Road at that time, a trade line over sea started from the mouth the Red River, passing the Malacca Straits to India, southeast part of Asian continent and later sailed to the Persian Gulf and finally reached the Rome. Another trade route over sea was from the east coast of the Africa dominated by the Greece and Rome. In the maritime of the international trades, there were also some important cities like overland ones working as transportation center and ports like Istanbul, Guangzhou etc. however, the trades along the Silk Road oversea were also same to the overland ones, still indirect.

3. China and Silk Road

The success and prosperity of the Silk Road do not depend on the traders but also the attitude of the major empire along the Silk Road. China as one of the typical ancient trade centers to a great extent promoted the development of the international trades

In Han Dynasty, the international trades drew the attention of the Chinese emperor Wudi who was attracted by developing trading relationship with other nations along the Silk Road. In particular in order to fight against Xiongnu the major enemy of Han Dynasty, Wudi was greatly interested in the strong and tall horses (Beckwith, 1991). Therefore Chinese empire later sent many envoys within 10 years to other nations along the Silk Road. According to the history there were some occasions that Han armies directly fought against legion that might be captured or employed by Xiongnu, especially the famous campaign in the 36 BC in Sogdiana. Later it was said that the Chinese weapon crossbow was passed to the Rome by this chance (Hulsewé, 1979).

Later in Tang Dynasty, the emperor also held a supportive attitude. In the capital of Tang Dynasty Chang'an, there was full of exotic products, rich in foreign traders. In particular one part of Chang'an was called 'Western Market' where Chinese people hung out for exotic products. In this bustling trade centers the market was crowed by foreign traders such as Sogdians, Turks, Persians, Indians and other people from the West Regions, selling various goods scarce plants, metal like gold and sliver, furs, glass, wool, textile, sheep, etc. In the Western Market, foreign traders made great profit and taking dominant place of trading jade, jewelry and incents. Meanwhile on the streets there were many special performances to entertain people, such as acrobatic feats, dancing and singing. There were still delicious foods sold. Just due to the supportive attitude of the ruling class in China, the international trades could be smoothly developed.

4. Conclusion

In the fascinate stories on the Silk Road, international trades and commerce play an important role. This paper attempts to illustrate characteristic components of these trades on the Silk Road to give a vivid image and comprehensive understanding about Silk Road, mainly from the aspects of traders, merchandise, transport, trade routes.


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