Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia

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Pack animal is a beast of burden used by humans as a means of transporting materials by attaching them so their weight bears on the animal's back. Many species are considered traditional Silk Road pack animals, especially camels, horses, and donkeys (while others are such as elephants, yaks, goats, and water buffalo are used to pull carts and for labor).

Pagoda In China, pagodas were originally built to preserve Buddhist relics, which were considered the most sacred objects in the world. The structure of Chinese pagodas can be divided into three parts: the top, the body (used to enshrined a statue of Buddha) and the base (used for burying Buddhist relics). During the Han period, the use of pagodas came to China from India, along with other goods and ideas, via traders on the Silk Road. Most pagodas were built to have a religious function, most commonly Buddhist, and were often located in or near temples. More...

Lingxioa Pagoda of Hebei, built 1045

Paiza (Chinese p'ai-tse, Mongolian gerege) A Mongol Paiza is a tablet of authority, written in the Uigher script, usually made of wood, silver or gold, and in some cases with a depiction of a tiger or a gyrfalcon, depending of the rank and importance of the holder. It has been reported that travelers who possessed a paiza could travel about 25 miles a day (however urgent messages were transported much faster).

Pakistan Karakoram Highway (Urdu: شاہراہ قراقرم; Chinese: 喀喇昆仑公路) is the highest paved international road in the world. It connects Pakistan and China across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, at an altitude of 4,693 m/15,397 ft. (connecting China's Xinjiang region with Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan). It borders Pakistan's Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province to the west, Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor to the north, China to the northeast, Azad Kashmir to the south and Jammu & Kashmir to the southeast.

Palaeontology (Paleontology) is the scientific study of life in the geologic past, especially through the study of animal and plant fossils. Fossils found in China since the 1990s have provided new information about the earliest evolution of animals, early fish, dinosaurs and the evolution of birds and mammals. (See Gobi Desert)

Palmyra The city of Palmyra, located in Syria, is an ancient oasis city of the Silk Road where the Incense Trail, and overland subsidiaries of the Spice Route once met. Silk Road traders detoured to Palmyra on their way to the Mediterranean coast in search of Phoenicia’s royal purple dye. Purple silk was so expensive by the time it reached Rome that even the wealthiest could afford only a decorative colored strip on their clothes. The city’s ancient ruins date to the first and second centuries. More...

Pamir Mountains (Pamirs, Congling) The Silk Route crosses from China over the Pamir Mountains into Central and Western Asia, and then leads towards the eastern Mediterranean Sea, near Eastern Europe. The Pamir Mountains are a mountain range in Central Asia formed by the junction or knot of the Himalayas, Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, and Hindu Kush ranges. They are among the world’s highest mountains Mountains. More...

Paper & paper making By the 8th century first Iranians and then Arabs had imported the craft of papermaking from China, with a paper mill already at work in Baghdad in 794. Papermaking is known to have been traced back to China about 105 CE, when Cai Lun, an official attached to the Imperial court during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE - 220 CE), created a sheet of paper. Paper had been used in China for wrapping and padding since the 2nd century BCE, and was often used as a writing medium by the 3rd century. More...

An illustrated Chinese translation of the Diamond Sutra from the Tang Dynasty 868 CE is the oldest dated printed book in the world, found at Dunhuang.

Parthia on the Iranian plateau, was the most active foreign trader and consumer of Chinese silk at the end of the 2nd century B.C. Significant trade first occurred with the establishment of the Silk road in 114 BCE, when Hecatompylos became an important junction. In c. 105 B.C. Parthia and China exchanged embassies and inaugurated official bilateral trade along the caravan route that lay between them.

Pax Mongolica ("Mongolian Peace") Security and stability was provided along the Silk Routes in the middle of the 13th century when the family of Genghis Khan controlled Asia from the coast of China to the Black Sea (not since the days of the Han and Roman Empires, when the Silk Road was first opened, had there been such an opportunity for trade). This period with the Mongols in charge of safe routes is described as Pax Mongolica. "Mongol Peace" is a phrase coined by Western scholars to describe the stabilizing effects of the conquests of the Mongol Empire on the social, cultural and economic life of the inhabitants of the vast Eurasian territory that the Mongols conquered in the 13th and 14th centuries. The term is used to describe the more secure atmosphere of commerce and communication that the unified administration helped to create, as well as the period of relative peace that followed the Mongol's vast conquests.  More...

It was specifically during Kublai Khan's rule (during the Yuan-Mongol Dynasty) that marked the zenith of the period that historians call "Pax Mongolica," a golden age of commerce and cultural exchange between East and West.

The Mongols sought to participate in trade through direct representatives, or through capital provided to associations of merchants (known as "ortak"). In addition to traditional Mongol patterns of trade (including sponsorship of the trade of others operating in or on the regions of the steppe), the Mongols participated in local trading systems (including the so-called tribute trade of China). It was not just official trade that stimulated profit, for their was also private trade that was carried on -- such as the Polo's motivation for travelling to China. The Mongols also profited by various commercial taxes (principally called the "tamgha"), and through systems of gift-giving in exchange for favors, including free passage.

Pax Sinica (Latin for "Chinese Peace") is the time of peace in East Asia, maintained by Chinese hegemony, usually the period of rule by the Han Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, early Song Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty, Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty. These periods were characterized by the dominance of Chinese civilization, as a result of its political, economic, military and cultural power.

Francesco Balducci Pegolotti
(c. 1340) A Florentine merchant, Pegolotti was active in the Eastern Mediterranean in the second quarter of the fourteenth century, at which time he acquired first- and second-hand information on the Asian trade. While he himself never travelled further east, his account is of particular interest for its description of the relative security of trade routes through the territories of the Mongol Empire and the great variety of products available in commercial centers such as Constantinople by about 1340. His merchant handbook survived in a copy made in 1471.

Paul Pelliot (1878–1945) was a French sinologist and explorer of Central Asia. See IDP More...

Pera Palace As Istanbul became more accessible due to the developments of 19th century transportation, the capital to three ancient empires began to reveal its "mysterious" identity to more Westerners. When the famous Orient Express train selected Istanbul as its last stop in the East, Istanbul began to attract the more seasoned travelers of Europe. The Pera Palace Hotel was established in 1892 to meet the needs of  European Orient Express passengers. Some of the hotel's renowned guests (which also include Turkey's founder and first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk), include famous authors such as Pierre Loti, Ernst Hemingway, and Agatha Cristie, in addition to actors and actresses such as Greta Garbo, and foreign dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth I. The hotel is also known to have hosted many spies as well as statesmen. Kim Philby, the British-Soviet double agent, was nearly unmasked in Istanbul, and the agent codenamed Cicero, valet to the British ambassador in Ankara, visited as he sold secret documents to German agents in World War II (the Pera Palace became a target in 1941 as the world drifted toward war when a bomb exploded at the entrance shortly after the arrival of a British diplomatic party from Bulgaria, which had sided with the Nazis. Several people died). Mata Hari, accused of spying and executed in France in 1917, also stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel. The room in which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk stayed is on permanent display, as are items that comprise the hotel's museum sections. More...

Peranakan The descendents of Chinese merchants who established prominent communities in the Malacca Straits region of Malaysia, and in Singapore (a.k.a. Baba-Nyonya, Nonya, or Babas).

Peshawar A frontier city of Pakistan, located in South-Central Asia, where traders and travelers would often stop. The city is situated near the eastern end of the Khyber Pass and sits mainly on the Iranian plateau along with the rest of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Peshawar is literally a frontier city of South-Central Asia and was historically part of the Silk Road.

Petra is an ancient city in Jordan, established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans. It was located at a strategic point where the Incense Route from Arabia to Damascus was crossed by the overland route from India to Egypt. The rock-carved rose-red city of Petra also became a junction for the trade of spices and other goods that travelled along the trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. Petra is included in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. More...


Phoenicia centered in modern-day Lebanon and the coast of Syria, was an ancient civilization. Phoenician civilization was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean during the period 1550 BC to 300 BC. The Phoenicians often traded by means of a galley, a man-powered sailing vessel. (See Carthage) More...

Pirate (corsair) Piracy must have existed for as long as the oceans were plied for commerce, and grew over the centuries as the maritime silk, spice and incense routes prospered. More...

Tome Pires
was a Portuguese apothecary and government scribe who led an expedition from Portugal. He departed with a fleet of 4 ships, carrying diplomatic letters, royal gifts, and goods to trade in China (c. 1511-1521).

Piri Reis was a 16th century Ottoman-Turkish admiral, geographer and cartographer. One of his famous maps is a pre-modern world map dated 1513, which depicts the Western Hemisphere -- the first surviving map that shows the Americas, including North America, South America, Greenland, Antarctica, as well as the western coast of Africa. The map is now preserved in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. He has been credited for depicting parts of the western coasts of Europe and North Africa with reasonable accuracy. Ottoman Admiral Piri Reis was born on the Gallipoli Peninsula c.1465, and is an important figure of Turkish naval history. In addition to creating maps of the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Dardanelles, in 1521 he also wrote a mariner's guide to the coasts and islands of the Mediterranean ("Kitab-ı Bahriye" translated at the "Book of the Mariner," or "The Naval Handbook"). As he dated his famous "Map of the Americas," he added this inscription from Gallipoli: "The author of this is the humble Piri ibn Haji Muhammad, known as the nephew of Kemal Reis, in the town of Gallipoli in the Holy Month of Muharram of the year 919 [A.D. 1513]." Türkçe

The left fragment of the Piri Reis map shows Central and South American coasts. In the map's legend, Admiral Piri Reis notes that the map was based on about twenty charts and mappae mundi, including eight Ptolemaic maps constructed during the era of Alexander the Great, an Arabic map of India, four newly drawn Portuguese maps from Sindh, Pakistan, and a map by Christopher Columbus of the western lands. More...

Plague Many diseases, including the bubonic plague (the so-called 'Black Death') also traveled along the Silk Routes.

Marco Polo
was the most famous of the Silk Road travelers (1254-1324), a trader and explorer. His 13th century account of his travels had a profound influence on medieval Europe's view of the wider world.

Marco Polo was a merchant from the Venetian Republic who introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned about trading whilst his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, travelled through Asia to the court of the great Mongol leader Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice. The three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, returning after 24 years to find Venice at war with Genoa. Marco was imprisoned, and dictated his account to a writer who was also imprisoned by the Genoese. He was released in 1299. He died in 1324, and was buried in San Lorenzo.

Marco Polo's autobiography, called 'The Travels of Marco Polo' or "Il Milione," provided inspiration for many other explorers including Christopher Columbus. Il Milione was translated, embellished, copied by hand, and adapted, however there is no authoritative version. It documents his father's journey to meet the Kublai Khan, who asked them to become ambassadors, and communicate with the pope. This led to Marco's quest, through Acre, into China and to the Mongol court. Marco wrote of his extensive travels throughout Asia on behalf of the Khan, and their eventual return after 15,000 miles (24,140 km) and 24 years of adventures.

By his own account, Marco worked for Qubilai Khan. He traveled overland through Persia across the Pamirs and south of the Taklamakan. His return was by sea from China around South Asia to Hormuz, from where he went overland to the Mediterranean. Although some of the descriptions not based on direct observation, many of his observations are precise and verifiable.. His main associations seem to have been with the Mongol rulers of China and with the Muslim merchant community.

Marco Polo's journey and book became well-known in Renaissance Europe, serving as a stimulus for further discovery and travel. Today, his impact upon Western knowledge of the East, as well as on the Western imagination, can still be seen. More...

Marco Polo at court of Kublai Khan

Niccolò and Maffeo Polo
The merchant father and uncle of Marco Polo who traveled from the Crimea through the other territories of the Golden Horde to Bukhara and ultimately to the court of Qubilai Khan in North China. Qubilai sent them back to Europe on a mission to the Pope via the overland route; they arrived in Venice in 1269. When they departed again for China in 1271 via the Levant, Anatolia and Persia, they were accompanied by young Marco Polo. Our knowledge of their travel is from Marco's book. More...

Porcelain Export Chinese export porcelain includes a wide range of porcelain that was made and decorated in China exclusively for export. More...

Porcelain Route In the 15th century, the Portuguese under Prince Henry the Navigator discovered the sea route, which became known in later centuries as “The Porcelain Route.”

Portugal The Republic of Venice had become a formidable power, and a key player in the Eastern spice trade. Other powers, in an attempt to break the Venetian hold on spice trade, began to build up maritime capability. One of the major consequences of the spice trade was the discovery of the American continent by European explorers. Until the mid 15th century, trade with the east was achieved through the Silk Road, with the Byzantine Empire and the Italian city-states of Venice and Genoa acting as a middle man. In 1453, when the Ottomans took Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire collapsed. The Ottoman Empire now controlled the sole spice trade route that existed, and was in a favorable position to charge hefty taxes on merchandise bound for the west. The Western Europeans, not wanting to be dependent on an expansionist, non-Christian power for the lucrative commerce with the east, set about to find an alternate sea route around Africa.

The first country to attempt to circumnavigate Africa was Portugal, which since the early 15th century had already begun to explore northern Africa under Henry the Navigator. Emboldened by these early successes and eyeing a lucrative monopoly on a possible sea route to the Indies the Portuguese first crossed the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 on an expedition led by Bartolomeu Dias. Just nine years later in 1497 on the orders of Manuel I of Portugal, four vessels under the command of navigator Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope, continuing to the eastern coast of Africa to Malindi to sail across the Indian Ocean to Calicut, a south Indian city in the state of Kerala. The wealth of the Indies was now open for the Europeans to explore. The Portuguese Empire was the earliest European seaborne empire to grow from the spice trade More...

Printing Wood block printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns that originated in China. The earliest surviving examples from China date to before 220 CE. More...

Provinces (China) The Silk Routes pass through 5 provinces of modern day China: Xinjiang, Qinghai, Ningxia, Gansu, and Shaanxi.

Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall
(1774 – 1856) was an Austrian Orientalist. Entering the diplomatic service in 1796, he was appointed in 1799 to a position in the Austrian embassy in Istanbul.

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