The Silk Roads
Since the earliest humans migrated out of Africa, communities have maintained trade links with their neighbors and built new relationships across great distances. As transregional interactions increased over the last few thousand years, so did the transformation of human societies. The need for trade between communities comes from the uneven distribution of resources across the earth’s surface.
The Silk Roads were one of the major global trade networks. By 1200, merchants had been traveling along the Silk Roads for 1300 years. The name of the trade routes refers to the trade of Chinese silk; however, silk was only one of many products that moved within the Silk Road network. While commerce along the routes was indirect, and few distant civilizations directly interacted, these indirect trading systems were the primary connectors between societies spread across Eurasia.
What Were the Silk Roads?
The Silk Roads were a network of land-based trade routes that connected societies across Eastern and Western Eurasia. The following were significant features of the Silk Roads.
- The routes connected nomadic pastoral peoples in Central Asia with agricultural civilizations across Eurasia.
- The routes shifted throughout history as populations moved, and areas became more or less stable for trade to move across.
- The routes were a relay trading system. Goods people did not travel the whole length of the trading network but only went partway before selling their goods to the next merchant who would move them further.
- Trade mainly was in luxury goods meant for consumption by elite classes.
- Transportation prices were high due to limits on how much trade volume animals could carry.
- Culture, disease, ideas, and technology also moved along the routes.
The Silk Roads was a relay trade network. Like in a relay race where no one person runs the entire course length, relay traders do not travel the whole distance of trade routes. Trade was indirect. Many civilizations that bought and sold each other’s goods did not directly interact. Instead, they move goods between a series of relay stations within a region. Merchants generally operated between the same relay stations within areas where they knew the people and landscape.
- When merchants arrived at a large relay station, they would sell their goods to the next merchant, who would then carry them to the next relay station, where the process would begin again.
- Merchants moved between relay stations in caravans of multiple traders, usually using camels to move their goods.
What Led to the Creation of the Silk Roads?
The growth of the Silk Roads resulted from a combination of political, economic, social, and environmental factors that developed for thousands of years and created an environment in which trade could thrive.
Impacts of Trade Along the Silk Roads
Historical trend: The landed aristocracy will continue to lose power as societies commercialize and merchant wealth surpasses wealth produced f