Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia

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Rayy (Rey) Ancient city in Iran, south of Teheran, which was located upon the Silk Road. A settlement began here c. 6,000 BCE and was used as a capital by the Medes called Rhaga. In Classical Roman geography it was called Rhagae.

Religions (of the Silk Road) According to scholars, as early as three thousand years ago Hebraic and Iranian religious ideas and practices traveled eastwards, and were later followed by the traditions of Buddhism, Christianity, Manichaeism, and Islam. Many faiths, including Confucianism, Taoism, Nestorianism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, and Shamanism all coexisted, and in some cases intermixed along the Silk Routes. The history of missionaries along the Silk Routes and the flow of religious ideas was interlinked to the rise of commerce along the network of routes.

Ferdinand von Richthofen
 In 1877 the term "Seidenstraße" (Die Seidenstrassen,
literally "Silk Road") was coined by the German geographer, cartographer and explorer Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen. The Silk Road consists of regions that have been a crossroads of historic trade routes, which have been settled over thousands of years by many groups. It was 20 centuries after the first Chinese missions to the West (of Zhang Qian, c. 138 BCE) that the term "Silk Road" began to be used. The term now refers to the centuries-old trade network that has linked the Asian and Mediterranean worlds since antiquity (and often includes not only overland, but also maritime routes). Hence, the term "Silk Road" was coined in the West after the lucrative Chinese silk trade which was one of the valued products that gave rise to the connection of trade routes that grew into an extensive Eurasian trans-continental network.

Roman Empire Rome began to acquire silk in the first century B.C. Romans called China the "Land of Seres," a mysterious place on the eastern edge of the world where the pale floss of silk grew on trees and colorful flowers. Costly and gossamer thin, silk was associated with hedonism–Seneca the Elder lamented the lack of modesty in silk-clad women, proclaiming them practically naked. Eventually, silk imports ruined the economy of the Roman empire, and in A.D. 14 the Senate banned men from wearing it.  A 2nd or 3rd century mosaic of a scantily silk-clad girl dancing before a musician is evidence of the popularity of the produce (the Aventine Hill mosaic can be seen in the Vatican Museum).

The maximum extent of Roman Empire under Trajan in AD 117. Parthian Empire in light green.

Roman-India Routes (Indo-Roman trade) The scale and scope of trade in antiquity, some scholars believe, rivaled the legendary Silk Road. Although great attention has been given to the overland caravan routes via Anatolia and Persia, there is evidence that indicates that maritime trade between the Roman Empire and India was almost as extensive as that of the Silk Road.

The Ptolemaic dynasty had initiated Greco-Roman maritime trade contact with India using the Red Sea ports. The Roman historian Strabo mentions a vast increase in trade following the Roman annexation of Egypt, indicating that monsoon seasons were known, and manipulated for trade in his time. By the time of Augustus up to 120 ships were setting sail every year from Myos Hormos to India, trading in a diverse variety of goods. Arsinoe, Berenice Troglodytica and Myos Hormos were the principal Roman ports involved in this maritime trading network, while the Indian ports included Barbaricum, Barygaza, Muziris and Arikamedu. The Indians were present in Alexandria, and Christian and Jewish settlers from Rome continued to live in India long after the fall of the Roman empire, which resulted in Rome's loss of the Red Sea ports, previously used to secure trade with India by the Greco-Roman world since the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty. More...

Roman Provinces (Asia Minor) From 25 B.C. to 235 A.D., five Roman provinces are established in Anatolia, Asia. During this period, numerous roads are built linking the highland cities to the Anatolian coast. Primarily designed for military use, they become important communication and trade routes.

Royal Road Routes along the Persian Royal Road were constructed in the 5th century BC, and may have been in use as early as 3500 BC.

Routes (See Silk Road / Routes) Map & Info

Russian Steppe The southern part of what is now the Ukraine and the Russian Federation, suitable for use by pastoral nomadic peoples.

William of Rubruck (Willem van Ruysbroeck, c. 1210-1270) A Flemish Franciscan missionary from Flanders who traveled through the Black Sea and the territories of the Golden Horde to the court of the Great Khan Möngke at Karakorum, and wrote the most detailed and valuable early Western account of the Mongols. The account called "Itinerarium," offers varied information about the Asiatic life of his times. It contains comprehensive and authentic information on the Mongol Empire in its pre-Chinese period. It is of interest for descriptions of encounters with Nestorian Christians, the city of Karakorum, and the palace which no longer exists. Rubruck's account did not become widely known until it was translated and published late in the sixteenth century.

William had participated in the crusade of King Louis IX of France to Palestine and there heard about the Mongols from friar Andrew of Longjumeau, a Dominican who had been involved in papal diplomacy aimed at trying to enlist the Mongols in the Christian crusade against the Muslims. Rubruck then decided to undertake his own mission to the Mongols primarily in the hope of promoting their conversion to Christianity. In 1253 he set out through the lands of the western part of the empire of the Golden Horde. After starting out through the southern steppes of what is now Ukraine and Russia, his roundtrip journey lasted the better part of three years. William had the distinction of being the first European to visit the Mongol capital of Karakorum on the Orhon River and return to write about it. He describes generally with great precision Mongol traditional culture, provides a unique description of the Khan's palace, and describes the individuals of various ethnicities and religions whom he encountered. He was particularly interested in the Nestorian Christians. Text

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