Forge ahead through snow-covered mountain passages; walk on the edge of sweltering deserts; merchant caravans crisscross the continent on camelback. There is no one road called the Silk Road. The Silk Road is a network that connects towns and regions, transporting goods across hundreds, even thousands, of kilometers to be sold at markets and finally appear in the customers’ hands.
Yet this spacious region still has areas that cannot be traversed: scorching deserts, high snow-covered mountains, biting winter. How have the towns isolated among this difficult terrain maintained prosperous across the centuries?
This is a story of trade in foreign materials and valuable merchandise, such as silk and other textiles, ivory, gold and other precious metals, glass, fur, lapis lazuli, rubies and other precious stones, bronze and iron artifacts, herbs, and fragrant spices. This story of large cities and interconnecting roads showcase grand innovationsin art and technology; it also tells of the benefits of trade reaped by different peoples and cultures, not just profit from trading wares, but also new skills, beliefs, music, literature, and ways of thinking.
When commerce mixes together people of diverse cultures, new customs and ways of life are seen, such as those of Buddhism, Islam, papermaking, and mathematics. People take and apply what they want and need, sometimes even changing an entire culture. Ultimately, changing cultures may even affect the demand for different goods: for instance, the spread of Buddhism brought with it a higher demand for silk, used to make flags and cloth to cover reliquaries and for ceremonial uses.
Commerce, interconnections, and cultural changes are all a part of the fabric that is the Silk Road.