Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Silk Road Changes and Continuities

From 200 BC to 1450 AD the Silk Road underwent subtle changes but kept it’s general purpose. Since the beginning, when the Han Dynasty created the trade route in 200 BC goods, diseases, ideas, and cultures were able to. While the quantity of trade fluctuated and materials changed, the Silk Road continued to thrive.

The Silk Road continued through the fall of Empires, and through the formation, success, and failure of new nations. The trading roads were used especially heavily during the Pax Romana and Han golden age. When the Roman Empire collapsed in the mid 5th century, trade reduced dramatically, but it eventually picked up again. Later on the Silk road grew to greater heights under the Islamic Umayyad and Abbasid Empires and the Tang and Song Dynasties demonstrating although trade fluctuated as Empires rose and fell, from 200 BC to 1450 AD it remained active. The Silk Road connected trade between Europe and Asia.

While various cultures of the different trading nations changed the patterns of trade, the constant trade also served to change the culture of these nations. Commodities were not the only thing traded on the Silk Road; ideas and religions traveled throughout the many roads too. Islam for instance was greatly strengthened by interactions along the Silk Road as it was spread more through passionate merchants than missionaries. Which religion had a more influential throughout trade changed with the empires; Buddhism was expanded greatly by the Silk Trade as is shown by the giant statues that can be seen along where the Silk Road once was.

But, while the religions and products continued to be distributed, the trade routes also provided an opening for disease to rapidly expand its affected area. As Silk Road traders began to adapt overseas trade, goods were carried on boats as well as animals and so the disease was easily spread from country to country. For example on of the most devastating plagues, the Bubonic Plague, originating with the Mongols, spread westward along the Silk Road. Thus, even though ideas and commodities continued to travel from east to west and vise versa, this also provided a safe passage for less fortunate catastrophes such as mass disease.

Throughout the Silk trade’s existence, gold, precious metals, ivory, stones, and glass were often traded to East Asia and specifically China, while firs, gunpowder, jade, bronze, objects, lacquers, and iron were sent west. Europeans became interested in the luxury goods, such as silk, spices, and porcelain that could be found within China’s quickly growing industries. Asians prospered from exporting these goods, while at the same time European luxury life improved greatly.

While Silk Traders experienced catastrophes such as the Bubonic Plague, they had a more continuously positive experience because of the quick movement of information, ideas, and commodities. What started as a simply silk trading industry developed into the major economic and social artery of the Eastern Hemisphere. Change certainly occurred in terms of what items were traded as well as the amount of contact with specific civilizations, often affecting the efficiency of trade, but nevertheless, trade between west and east remained strong from 200 BC to 1450 AD.