Why was the Silk Road Established?
Silk Road takes its name from the fabric–silk is light and comfortable, and at the time, everyone wanted it for clothing, particularly Europeans. But the problem was that silk was spun by insects called silkworms. Silkworms could only eat a particular type of Chinese mulberry leaf to make their silk, meaning that all silk in the ancient world came from China. So, the emperor of China established the Silk Road in 130 B.C. to open up trade between Europe and China.
Silk cocoons spun by silkworms
What Traveled Along the Silk Road?
The trade network stretched across thousands of miles and countless individual cities. Some parts of the Silk Road went south to India to pick up spices. Since spices like peppercorn, cinnamon, and nutmeg cannot be grown in Europe, they could be sold for huge amounts of money to Europeans who wanted seasoning for their food.
Other trade goods coming to Europe on the Silk Road included gold, jade (a type of green precious stone), tea, slaves, and ivory (the tusks of elephants). Since China did not have sheep or grapes, they desired wine and wool from Europe.
Since both parts of the world had products that the others wanted, the Silk Road made many traders very rich. One that benefited greatly was Venice, Italy, which was at the far end of the route and was where much of the goods from Asia were dropped off. Thanks to a trade treaty, Venice had a monopoly, or complete control, over the route in Europe. Venetians would receive the goods and could sell them to fellow Europeans at whatever prices they desired.
Europe imported spices from Asia via the Silk Road.
Goods to buy and sell weren’t the only things transported on the Silk Road. The Buddhist religion spread from India into China along the Silk Road around 400 A.D. Today, Zen Buddhism is a major religion in both China and Japan. Christianity spread from Europe into Central Asia as well, although it did not become as popular.
End of the Silk Road
Trade along the Silk Road came to an end in the 1450s, when the Ottoman Empire cut off trade networks between Europe and Asia. Since the Ottomans had control of the Middle East, they had the power to determine whether traders passed through their territory. While the Silk Road fell apart, Europeans continued to trade for silk and spices by sea routes rather than land routes. In fact, Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas happened during an attempt to create a sea route to India for the trade of spices after the Ottomans blocked trade.
The Silk Road created a vast trade network between China and Europe. Silk, spices, and other trade goods were exchanged along the vast land path, and demand for these goods was so high that many traders became rich. The Silk Road was shut down by the Ottoman Empire, but sea routes continued to create trade.