The Silk Road
Origins and Operations
The Silk Road was an overland route that linked China to the Mediterranean world via Mesopotamia, Iran, and Central Asia.
There were two periods of heavy use of the Silk Road: (1) 150 B.C.E.–907 C.E. and (2) the thirteenth through seventeenth
The origins of the Silk Road trade may be located in the occasional trading of Central Asian nomads. Regular, large-scale trade
was fostered by the Chinese demand for western products (particularly horses) and by the Parthian state in northeastern Iran
and its control of the markets in Mesopotamia.
In addition to horses, China imported alfalfa, grapes, and a variety of other new crops as well as medicinal products, metals,
and precious stones. China exported peaches and apricots, spices, and manufactured goods including silk, pottery, and paper.
The Impact of the Silk Road Trade
Turkic nomads, who became the dominant pastoralist group in Central Asia, benefited from the trade. Their elites constructed
houses, lived settled lives, and became interested in foreign religions including Christianity, Manicheanism, Zoroastrianism,
Buddhism, and (eventually) Islam.
Central Asian military technologies, particularly the stirrup, were exported both east and west, with significant consequences
for the conduct of war.
The Indian Ocean Maritime System
The Indian Ocean maritime system linked the lands bordering the Indian Ocean basin and the South China Sea. Trade took
place in three distinct regions: (1) the South China Sea, dominated by Chinese and Malays; (2) Southeast Asia to the east coast
of India, dominated by Malays and Indians; and (3) the west coast of India to the Persian Gulf and East Africa, dominated by
Persians and Arabs.
Trade in the Indian Ocean was made possible by and followed the patterns of the seasonal changes in the monsoon winds.
Sailing technology unique to the Indian Ocean system included the lateen sail and a shipbuilding technique that involved
piercing the planks, tying them together, and caulking them.