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Topic – Ancient China: The Silk Road

Read the Following Selection

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The Silk Road

It was not just one road and it was not paved with silk, but the Silk Road changed the world.

Silk, Salt, and Silver

Map of modern silk road

From about 200 BCE to 1400 CE, the Silk Road was an important trade route. It stretched more than 6,500 kilometres from China through India and Iran (then Persia) to Rome. One of the most important items people traded was silk cloth from China. People throughout Asia and Europe loved the softness and luxury of the fabric. 

But silk was not the only product merchants bought and sold along the Silk Road. China also exported tea, salt, spices, and gold. In return, traders from the West sold carpets, silver, glass, and ceramics to people in China. 

A Tough Journey

Caravan on the Silk Road

The merchants and traders travelled in large groups called caravans and brought guards to protect them from bandits. Much of the route was through the hot desert, so the traders usually rode camels.

The Silk Road was a long, difficult journey that took months or sometimes years. Roads were dangerous and many traders got lost or starved to death in the desert. The shorter routes were often more dangerous, while the safer routes were longer.

Changing Times

Not just food and goods were traded along the Silk Road, so were ideas, cultures, and inventions. Traders spread their religious beliefs as well. 

Portrait of Christopher Columbus

But the Silk Road spread diseases, too, including a plague known as the Black Death. This dreadful illness killed about 75 million people in the mid-1300s. 

Fear of the Black Death stopped trade along the Silk Road. But people in Europe still wanted silk and spices from Asia. Europeans could not reach China overland, so they tried to reach it by crossing the ocean. 

A Happy Accident

Countries sent out explorers to find a route that was safer and faster than the Silk Road. One of these explorers was Christopher Columbus, who accidentally landed in the Americas while trying to sail to China. He opened a whole new part of the world to explore, just because he was looking for a better route than the Silk Road.

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