The Silk Road was not actually a road. It was a complex route that included land and sea routes that traders had to cross in order to do business in faraway places. The actual route often changed when weather, raids, natural disasters and bandits threatened the safety of those making the journey.
Traders often used camels to carry their goods while on the land portion of the Silk Road.
Silk was not the only product traders carried by the Chinese on the Silk Road. Spices and porcelain and other goods were carried the 4000 mile route to barter or sell. Other items included perfume, gems, coral, ivory, furs, gunpowder, glass beads.
Goods that Europeans brought to China to barter or sell included jade, wine, slaves, animals, tableware, wool, and Mediterranean-colored glass.
Silk was very light to carry and very valuable, often considered as valuable as gold. It was traded in its raw form, as dyed rolls, tapestries, clothing, carpets and as embroideries.
Spices were important on the Silk Road both for preserving food or masking the flavour of rotten food, and for trade in the West. Popular spices included cloves, pepper, cumin, mace, ginger, nutmeg, saffron, and cinnamon.
In China and Central Asia the traders would often use camels, horses, and even yaks to carry their goods.
The biggest and most impressive city on the Silk Road was Samarkand, located where China’s many routes met with the main route that would continue on towards Europe.
Samarkand was famous for its craftsmen, astronomers, poets, and for its aqueduct that provided water for 200,000 people.
Some of the traders who traveled the Silk Road did not travel the entire route. They went from one city to the next and back home. The goods would be traded all along the route until they reached the far ends.
Many of the large caravans that traveled the Silk Road were heavily guarded. These caravans were easy targets for bandits if unguarded.
Some believe that the Black Death that devastated parts of Europe may have been brought by traders on the Silk Road, resulting in the deaths of a large percentage of Europe’s population.
Marco Polo, the first European to chronicle his experience traveling to China, was one of the most famous historical figures to travel the Silk Road.
There is a railway called the Eurasian Land Bridge that runs between China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia that is sometimes referred to as the New Silk Road.
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