Jul 6 2015
Long before European sailing ships used the sea as a route of trade with peoples in the East, caravans connected East and West via the Silk Road. In many places, this so called road was little more than a dirt path forged by the passing of caravan trains heavily loaded with trade goods, including but not limited to Chinese silk. These trade routes were made possible not by a sea of salt water but by a sea of grass. The steppes played a critical role in sustaining the pack animals whose labor was essential to the traders who traveled this dangerous route for financial gain.
This trade route ran an astounding 4000 miles, connecting the two great empires of China and Rome at its ends and many smaller civilizations along the way. That is a long way to travel even with high speed modern transportation options, like air planes. At the time, it was a grueling journey of many months under tough physical conditions made all the harder by bandits and raiders.
Though, really, the name is somewhat misleading. In point of fact, it was not a single road or even a single route. It was a network of routes that also varied considerably over time in terms of where it went and how well developed it was. At one point, the Persians had a royal road along this route that ran 1775 miles. Well supplied royal messengers were able to travel its length in a mere nine days, about one tenth the time it typically took other travelers.
That was a relatively shining moment in its history. This so-called road was sometimes a well established and highly developed route of travel and other times it broke down, causing trade to cease for years at a time. This is hardly surprising given both the large distance it covered and the many years it spanned. Suffice it to say that it has a rich and varied history that influenced the development of civilizations from Asia, to Europe. In short, it played an important role in the birth of the modern world.