Silk road and its importance in history

by | History |

Silk road and its importance in history

It’s been nearly 600 years since the Silk Road has been used for international trade, the routes had a lasting impact on commerce, culture, and history that resonates even today.

From the second century BC to the end of the fourteenth century AD, a great trade route originated from Chang'an (now Xi'an) in the east and ended at the Mediterranean in the west, linking China with the Roman Empire. Because silk was the major trade product which traveled on this road, it was named the Silk Road in 1877 by Ferdinand von Richthofen – a well-known German geographer.

This ancient route not only circulated goods but also exchanged the splendid cultures of China, India, Persia, Arabia, Greek, and Rome. The route was opened up by Zhang Qian in the Western Han Dynasty and the routes were gradually formed throughout the Han Dynasty. This trade route spent its childhood and gradually grew up in this dynasty.

With the establishment of the Tang Dynasty, which saw the rapid development of economy and society, this famous trade route reached its most prosperous stage in history. During the reign of the Yuan Dynasty, it experienced its last flourishing period.

In history, many renowned people left their traces on the most historically important trade route, including eminent diplomats, generals, and great monks. They crossed desolate deserts and the Gobi, passed murderous prairies and went over the freezing Pamirs to finish their missions or realize their beliefs.

The Silk Road was a great route to introduce the Oriental world to Western civilization and help to develop the economy. In early history, it was also the most important trade route and the beginning of the globalization.

The Silk Road may have formally opened up trade between the Far East and Europe during the Han Dynasty, which ruled China from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D., but the transport of goods and services along these routes dates back even further.

The Royal Road, which connected Susa (in present-day Iran) more than 1,600 miles west to Sardis (near the Mediterranean Sea in modern Turkey), was established by the Persian ruler Darius I during the Achaemenid Empire—some 300 years before the opening of the Silk Road. The Persians also expanded the Royal Road to include smaller routes that connected Mesopotamia to the Indian subcontinent as well as northern Africa via Egypt.

Alexander the Great, ruler of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia, expanded his dominion into Persia via the Royal Road. Parts of the thoroughfare were ultimately incorporated into the Silk Road.

Importance of the Silk Road

  • The silk road played an important role in history. Whether to aspects of history, economics, culture or tourism, the silk road has an indelible significance. As an important material exchange channel, the silk road primitively connected the goods circulation between the east and the west of the world and later was branded as a "cultural exchange" and played a considerable role in the cultural exchange.

  • The Roman Empire and the Kushan Empire benefited from the commerce created by the route along the Silk Road.

  • Silk Road routes also led to ports on the Persian Gulf, where goods were then transported up the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Routes from these cities also connected to ports along the Mediterranean Sea, from which goods were shipped to cities throughout the Roman Empire and into Europe.

  • Trade along the so-called Silk Road economic belt included fruits and vegetables, livestock, grain, leather and hides, tools, religious objects, artwork, precious stones and metals and—perhaps more importantly—language, culture, religious beliefs, philosophy, and science. Commodities such as paper and gunpowder, both invented by the Chinese during the Han Dynasty, had obvious and lasting impacts on culture and history in the West. They were also among the most-traded items between the East and West.

  • Paper was invented in China during the 3rd century B.C., and its use spread via the Silk Road, arriving first in Samarkand in around 700 A.D., before moving to Europe through the then-Islamic ports of Sicily and Spain. The eventual development of the Gutenberg press allowed for the mass production of books and, later, newspaper, which enabled a wider exchange of news and information.

  • The export of gunpowder had an enormous impact on the political history of Europe. Historians believe that gunpowder was indeed exported along with the Silk Road routes to Europe, where it was further refined for use in cannons in England, France and elsewhere in the 1300s.

  • Venetian explorer Marco Polo famously used the Silk Road to travel from Italy to China, which was then under the control of the Mongolian Empire, where they arrived in 1275.

  • The Silk Road routes also opened up a means of passage for explorers seeking to better understand the culture and geography of the Far East.

  • Marco Polo returned to Venice, again via the Silk Road routes, in 1295, just as the Mongolian Empire was in decline. His journeys across the Silk Road became the basis for his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, which gave Europeans a better understanding of Asian commerce and culture.

  • Along with this network, disease traveled also, as evidenced in the spread of the bubonic plague of 542 CE which is thought to have arrived in Constantinople by way of the Silk Road and which decimated the Byzantine Empire.


Many great events happened on this ancient road, making the trade route historically important. Famous travelers along the road were its bright pearls, making it glorious. A great number of soldiers gave their lives to protect it. These are some of the reasons the road is still a time-honored treasure.