|The Silk Road in the age of Marco Polo (1254 1324) |
The Silk Road, which was in the 7th Century BC between China and the developed eastern shore of the Mediterranean, was one of the most famous commercial routes in history. First and foremost, it was an important trade route which served at the same time as an intense artistic and cultural exchange. Antioch, Palmyra and Beijing were start and end points of a system of routes, which stretched for thousands of kilometres. Seen from the east, they led through the Takla Makan Desert, over the high mountains of the Pamirs, through Persia and then to Syria. Silk was the symbol and the name of the trade routes. Spices, tea, paper, grapes, glass and incense grains were also transported.
Formation of the Silk Road
The "Silk Road" was mainly a creation of Emperor Wu (141-87 BC) who re-organised the Chinese empire. In 139 BC, Emperor Wu and his general Zhang were responsible for producing an anti-Hun, the connection with Central Asia, which led to today's Afghanistan.
Approximately 100 years later, under the Han dynasty, this connection steadily expanded. Along the Takla Makan, lined by a chain of trading posts, the "Silk Road" across the Pamirs (the "Roof of the World") also extended to connect the existing trade routes of Central, West and South Asia.
From that date, regular shipments from China were silk, while China obtained products from the West Asia. The trade was soon taken over by merchants from the Afghan Sogdiana of today and from the Indian Kushan and Parthian. Camel caravans were needed to overcome the snowy slopes of the Pamir and the dry heat of the desert areas the Tarim Basin, and were laden with perfumes, precious stones and glassware. At least two years was required to complete a round trip.
The trade on the "Silk Road" made many cities of Asia rich. In the 7th Century, it reached its peak, although the Chinese monopoly on silk production from the Sassanid Persians was broken at that time. Even after 9th Century, trade was still very active, despite having lost its former importance. With the discovery of new sea routes to India, Southeast and East Asia in early 16th century, the historical role of the "Silk Road" for long-distance trade ended.
Travellers in the late Middle Ages
In the late Middle Ages, contact began between the Christian West and the Mongol empires. As the Pope saw the Mongols as useful allies in the fight against Islam, clergymen were sent on diplomatic missions to Asia. Thus, the Franciscan Father Giovanni de Carpini ( 1245-47) undertook a visit to Karakorum, the legendary capital of Genghis Khan in the Mongol Empire. He was followed by Andreas Longjumeau and the Flemish Franciscan monk Ruysbrock.
The most famous of Asian travellers was the Venetian merchant Marco Polo, who on his return to Italy, dictated to a fellow inmate of the famous account of his experiences during the months in the Genoese prison. In 1271, Marco Polo (born in 1254) accompanied his father and uncle on a trip to Central Asia and northern China. Around Baghdad, Iran and the Pamir Mountains, they reached northern China and Chanbelik, today's Beijing. There, Marco Polo won the confidence of Kublai Khan (1259-94), founder of the Yuan Dynasty. He served the Great Khan as governor of the city of Hangzhou, and made numerous trips through the country.
In 1295, Marco Polo returned from a three-year journey to his Italian homeland. He sailed by ship over the South China Sea past the Indian subcontinent. He arrived in Hormuz, from where he travelled over Iran, Armenia and Trebizond to Venice. Marco Polo"s travel report had a major influence on the world view of the late Middle Ages.
F. Forster., U.: Colette Fleming
Keywords: Asia history Marco Polo Middle Ages silk road trade trade route
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