Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia

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Vaccine (silk worm crisis)  In the middle of the 19th century, a mysterious disease had attacked European and French silkworm nurseries. Silkworm eggs could no longer be produced in France, and they could not be imported from other countries, since the disease had spread all over Europe and had invaded the Caucasus region of Eurasia, as well as China. After 1862, when French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur was elected to the Académie des Sciences, he turned his attention to France’s silkworm crisis. Pasteur solved the mysteries of rabies, anthrax, chicken cholera, and silkworm diseases and contributed to the development of the first vaccines.

Varangians The trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks was a trade route that connected Scandinavia, Kievan Rus' and the Byzantine Empire (Constantinople). The route allowed traders along the route to establish a direct prosperous trade with Byzantium, and prompted some of them to settle in the territories of present-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The route began in Scandinavian trading centers such as Birka, Hedeby, and Gotland, crossed the Baltic Sea, entered the Gulf of Finland, followed the Neva River into the Lake Ladoga. Then it followed the Volkhov River, upstream past the towns of Staraya Ladoga and Velikiy Novgorod, crossed Lake Ilmen, and up the Lovat River. From there, ships had to be portaged to the Dnieper River near Gnezdovo. A second route from the Baltic to the Dnieper was along the Western Dvina (Daugava) between the Lovat and the Dnieper in the Smolensk region, and along the Kasplya River to Gnezdovo. Along the Dnieper, the route crossed several major rapids and passed through Kiev, and after entering the Black Sea followed its west coast to Constantinople.

The route from the Varangians to the Greeks was first mentioned in the Primary Chronicle, but its effects were reported much earlier, in the early ninth century when the Byzantines noted newcomers in their regions, the Varangians. Though this has come to mean "Vikings" to many, the term for the Byzantines meant all Scandinavians and their kindred living in what is now Russia. (See Viking)  More...

Venice (Republic of Venice) Like Istanbul, or Guangzhou, Venice was a key transportation hub and trading port which can be considered a maritime city of the Silk Routes. The Republic of Venice had become a formidable power, and a key player in the Eastern spice trade, until other European powers, in an attempt to break the Venetian hold on spice trade, began to build up maritime capability. From the 8th until the 15th century, the Republic of Venice and neighboring maritime republics held the monopoly of European trade with the Middle East. The silk and spice trade had made these Mediterranean city-states rich as Venetian merchants distributed their goods throughout Europe until the rise of the Ottoman Empire and fall of Constantinople in 1453. However, with the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, Europeans had limited control of combined land-sea routes. This led the Portuguese to find an alternate sea route around Africa.

Another invaluable contribution made by Venice to the development of the Silk Road is through the Eurasian journeys of the Venetian family, the famous Polo's. The most famous of the Silk Road travelers, traders, and explorers was Marco Polo, from the Venetian Republic. His father Niccolò was a merchant who traded with the Middle East, becoming wealthy and achieving great prestige. Niccolò and his brother Maffeo set off on a trading voyage, before Marco was born. In 1260, Niccolò and Maffeo were residing in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople). According to The Travels of Marco Polo, they passed through much of Asia, and met with Kublai Khan. Meanwhile, Marco Polo's mother died, and Marco was raised by an aunt and uncle. He was well educated, and learned merchant subjects including foreign currency, appraising, and the handling of cargo ships. In 1269, Niccolò and Maffeo returned to Venice, and in 1271, Marco Polo (at the age of seventeen), his father, and his uncle set off for Asia on the series of journeys that were later documented in Marco's book. They returned to Venice in 1295, 24 years later, after travelling almost 15,000 miles (24,140 km). Upon their return, Venice was at war with the rival Italian city of Genoa, and Marco Polo was taken prisoner. During his imprisonment he dictated a detailed account of his travels to fellow inmate, Rustichello da Pisa. The book became known as The Travels of Marco Polo, and depicts the Polos' journeys throughout Asia, giving Europeans their first comprehensive look into the inner workings of the Far East, including China, India, and Japan. (See Polo). More...

Viking is customarily used to refer to the Norse (Scandinavian) explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th century. These Norsemen used their famed longships to travel as far east as Constantinople and the Volga River in Russia, and as far west as Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland, and as far south as Al Andalus in Spain and North Africa. This period of Viking expansion – known as the Viking Age – forms a major part of the medieval history of Scandinavia, Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe in general.

Because the Vikings were international traders, they traded silk for other items in Constantinople (Istanbul). From the North, they brought furs, skins, and walrus tusk ivories to be traded in Western Europe. The Vikings established trading cities in Scandinavia: Birke, Ribe, Hedeby, and Skiringsal. They founded Dublin, Ireland as a trading city. They also made York a very important trading town in England (historic records in York confirm that the Vikings brought silk from Turkey to York). The Vikings, who kept open the trade route between Byzantium and the west, may also have played a role in trade between western Europe and the rest of Eurasia, as Viking coins have been found as far as Samarkand in Central Asia. More...

Katarina Vilioni
was an Italian woman, member of a trader family in Yangzhou, China, during the 14th century. She is known through a tombstone which was discovered among the ramparts of Yangzhou in 1951 by the People's Liberation Army. The tombstone is inscribed in the Gothic script, and explains that she died in 1342, and was the daughter of Domenico Vilioni. The existence of this tombstone in Yangzhou, a few years after the visit of Marco Polo who had some administrative role in the city, suggests that there was a thriving Italian community in the city, probably involved in the silk trade. More...

1342 tomb of Katarina Vilioni, member of an Italian trading family in Yangzhou.


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