Video: Silk Road
|The Silk Roads were famous for the beautiful silks that were traded along its rough terrain. Silk was probably the most valuable and esteemed of the items to be transported along these trade routes, but certainly not the only things exchanged. The reason for the importance of silk is due, in part to its rarity and beauty. Silk fiber was the filament that was most used for textile making during the T'ang dynasty (Schaefer 195), but all manner of textiles were being produced and crossing the trade routes. Woolens, asbestos fibers, felt, cotton and linen are a few others to mention. Cotton was not native to China, and was thought to be introduced around the third century BCE (Schaefer 205). A most sublime dyed cotton called the "sunrise clouds of morning" was particularly sought after from the southern nations. This was a peach colored cloth that was highly prized.|
The demand for silk by the ruling classes was an important factor in its popularity and trade. Chinese silk was transported into India and used for silk clothing, ceremonial banners and tapestries. Very few examples of Chinese silk have survived in India itself due to the climate, and much of the information about it comes from literary sources ( Lui, Ancient India and Ancient China 67). In medieval Europe, silk was used as currency and was preferred over coin in international trade (Lui, Silk and Religion 90).
Many other items were also part of the exchange on the Silk Roads. Domestic animals such as horses from the West were imported particularly in China. China had its own breed of horses since antiquity, but these foreign purebreds, sometimes known as the heavenly horses, were in demand. Camels, mules and domestic dogs were also traded.
Plants and medicines found their way through the trade routes as well. Golden and silver peaches from the West in addition to dates from Persia, sacred boddhi trees from India were transported. Pharmacological items were as important to ancient peoples as they are today.
Citragandhas was a wonder drug that migrated from India to China that was an herbal mix used for wounds, hemorrhage and childbearing (Schaefer 184). Chinese cardamoms were used for respiratory disorders, and many foods were purported to have medicinal properties such as nutmeg for digestion, and seaweed for diuretics.
Jewels such as jade, coral, pearls, carnelian, ivory and lapis lazuli were other luxuries being traded. Useful items such as industrial minerals used in dyes, gunpowder and paper traveled along these routes.
Trade of human beings must also be mentioned as a sometimes less than admirable enterprise on the Silk Roads. Slaves from distant lands of varying skin tones were imported. Dwarves and pygmies were popular during the T'ang dynasty, and were often court entertainers, as were jugglers and acrobats. Musicians and dancers were sent by dignitaries as gifts, and highly popular were the "Western Twirling Girls" from the far west sent to rulers in Samarkind in the first half of the eighth century (Schaefer 56).
The most important aspect of the trade that was occurring along the Silk Roads was not the material goods but rather the exchange of knowledge, beliefs and cultures. The traded goods themselves were valuable for commerce, but the interchange of religious ideas and knowledge were the more critical component, and had a far reaching effect on the world.
Lui, Xinru. Ancient India and Ancient China, Trade and Religious Exchanges
Lui, Xinru. Silk and Religion. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998.
"Open World". The Silk Road History. Retrieved 26 October
Schaefer, Edward H. The Golden Peaches of Samarkind. Berkeley: University
"Silk Road". Encarta Online. Retrieved 25 October 2001. http://www.silkroad-
The Silk Road, an Ancient World of Adventure: The Art Gallery in the Desert.
The Silk Road, an Ancient World of Adventure: Khotan-Oasis of Silk and Jade. Videotape. Central park Media Corp., 1990.