Allison's Book Bag

What is the Silk Road?

Posted on: April 8, 2014

Tomorrow I’ll review A Single Pebble by Bonnie Christensen. To enrich my understanding of this picture book, whose subtitle is “A Story of the Silk Road”, I researched some of its cultural background.

The Silk Road is considered the most enduring trade route in history, being at its height of popularity from 200 B.C. to 1400 A.D. It linked Asian and European regions in commerce. The trade system functioned as a chain, with merchants shipping goods back and forth from one center to the other. Both land and sea routes were used. Since the transport capacity was limited, over long distance and often unsafe, luxury goods were the most often traded. Ships being able to transport commodities faster and cheaper marked the downfall of the Silk Road by the 16th century.


The name for the trade route comes from its prized Chinese textile of silk. Many other items were also part of the exchange on the Silk Road. Domestic animals such as horses from the West were imported particularly in China. Camels, mules and domestic dogs were also traded. Plants and medicines found their way through the trade routes. Pharmacological items were as important to ancient peoples as they are today. 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 also traveled along these routes.

However, the Silk Road was valuable for more than just its trade of material goods. Technology, cultural expressions, and religious beliefs were shared on the Silk Road. A famous example of a Chinese invention that helped to transform the world is paper. Paper was invented during the Han dynasty, probably just at the time the Silk Road trade was beginning to flourish. The Silk Road also served as a vector for the diffusion of religions, initially Buddhism and later Islam. On the negative side, diseases were also dispersed along the Silk Road, as evidenced in the spread of the bubonic plague of 542 CE which is thought to have arrived in Constantinople by way of the Silk Road and which decimated the Byzantine Empire. As such, it was a major influence in the development of our modern civilization.


For a timeline, map, and detailed definition: Ancient History Encyclopedia

For more info about the cultural exchange: Travel Guide China

For an entire website with photos, resources, and travel guide: The Silk Road Society


Among the useful links referred listed by Bonnie Christensen in the end pages of A Single Pebble is The Silk Road Project, which is a current organization. Below is an explanation of it and a link to YouTube videos which they have produced.

Founded in 1998 by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Silk Project is inspired by his many years of traveling as a performer, he presented a vision for the Silk Road Project as an entity that would connect the world by bringing together artists and audiences from around the globe. It presents performances by the Silk Road Ensemble, commissions new musical and multimedia works, and develops educational programs and materials.

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