the great silk road


The European civilization came to be known of according to Egyptian papyruses dated not later than 3500 BC. The Egyptians were pioneer seafares and explorers. They sailed along the Nile, opened navigation lines through the Red sea up to the Euphrates river, commissioned by the pharaoh Mentukhotep VII, blazed the first convenient trail across the desert on Arabian peninsula, digged wells and posted military guarding. Having coped with a land route, later on called "the road of incense" the Egyptians launched the first ship for perfumes to Fount in South Arabia through the Persian Gulf. Approximately in 1500 BC a big expedition sent by Queen Khatshepsut (1525-1503) traveled this road.

Even in ancient times the Egyptians set relations with the Greeks, opened up the Medlterranian sea (in the 8th century BC the Greeks adopted their alphabet). Yet Egypt in the 16th century BC through the well-organized caravan routes and sea ways kept trading and carried cultural values to Jerusalem (Urusolim), Damascus (Dimanski), set connections with Tir, traded with Mitany north-western Mesopotamia. In 1272 BC Egypt concluded the Trade Treaty with Hittites in Asia Minor (the territory of to-day Turkey), reached the Black sea, even India, via the Persian Gulf called previously the Lower Sea.

In ca 1400 BC the Greece uprised, where the Creteous culture had penetrated. By that time the Egyptians opened up Spain and got to Britain and Jutland shores.

The second early civilization emerged on Arabian peninsula in the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris lower reaches. The Sumerians (or Shumerians) constructed temples in 2369-2314 BC which disbursed money for development of caravan routes and trade, import of metal, wood, precious stones and others. During this period amongst the mountains in the north of Babylonia and the desert in the South a well-organized trade route had been traveled.

During the third millennium BC the people met with the pre-Asian civilization; geometry, astronomy, astrology, philosophy, medicine, geography were being developed; the first primitive maps and road-guides were made.

In ca 1500 BC via the Kabul road the Arians came - the noble warriors and cattle-breeders. In ca 538 BC the territories in Asia Minor were conquered by the Persian King Kir.

Little is known about the sea routes and navigation of that period, but information of another ancient land track appeared, "Shakh-rokh" or "King's road" furnished with wells, caravanserais, trade raws (rasta) guarded by the Iraqi troops. The road connected the ancient capital of Elam Suzy with Ephesus in the West, with the Persian Gulf in the south-east and had some branches directed to the north-east, to the Greek colonies by the Black Sea and to the east inwards the territory of Iraq, and Northern Afghanistan and to the north-east to Nissa, Bukhara and so on.

Herodotus, the scholar and traveler, who visited these areas left us a description of roads, cities, mountains (but very inaccurate) and of people inhabited these regions. Thus, the Europeans in the 5th and 6th centuries BC first came to know of Skyths, being Iranians according to the language but not relatives to the modern Iranians, of people lived in a snowy desert in the North. He described the commerce performed along the "Skyth's road" in the northern area of the Black Sea and Caspian zone.

Such later narrators as Ptolemaios were aware of silk trading performed via Central Asia, but had no due geographical knowledge of the peoples settling in Central Asia, the location of China, and the road through which the silk was transported.

In ca 515 BC the Persian king Dareios conquered the Indus valley. Later on Ktesius, an historian, geographer and doctor visited this region. He pointed out the "Parapanis" (Gindukush) range and the river Araks or Oks (Amu-Darya), described Yack Sart (the Syr-Darya) mistaken it for the Amy-Darya tributary, which was known as the Tanais (Don) even in the 8th century BC, and flown into the Azov sea.

Europe was not aware of ancient civilizations evolution in the region of Central Asia, China, Korea, South-Eastern Asia and Japan till the end of the 2nd century BC when the Silk Road had been open, while the development of many arts dates back to a greater antiquity, to ca 2700 BC.

The prominent historian Syma Tsyan in ca 90 BC left us a story of opening the trade road along which the silk trade commenced at the end of the 2nd century. Syma Tsyan referred to a legend narrating that Khuan Di's wife was claimed to have launched the silk trading in ca 2700 BC but he himself doubted in this date and referred to a more authentic story of an official opening the Silk Road according to the Treaty of the Chinese Emperor U-Di with Davan (Fergana).

According to Syma Tsyan in the north of China in the steppe areas of today inner Mongolia there lived a warlike Hunnu people; in order to secure against them since the 5th century BC the Chinese had started building of the Great Chinese Wall. In 176-165 BC, having suffered the nomads onslaught the Chinese allies yuechji (one of the Massaghet tribes) went over the Tyan-Shan to the city of Vusuk at the Ili river, shoving back the Saki tribe, then they moved behind the Yaksart (Syr-Darya) and later on the Hunnu forced them to the south to Takhia or Bactria. Being worried of the fate of his allies the emperor U-Di sent a Chjan Tsyan to search them. Unfortunately Chjan Tsyan had been taken captive by the Hunnu. Ten years later, in 128 BC, having escaped from the captivity Chjan Tsyan found himself in the Davan (Parkan) country, modern Fergana. He was amused by well-organized cities and particularly by caravan and post roads guarded by military troops.

Davan enjoyed connections with India by "Jade (nefrite) Road", with Byzantia and Rome by "King's Road (Sharh-rokh)", with Altai and Syberia - by "Skiths' Road". Having returned home he informed the emperor of what he had seen; during his second visit he attended to commerce and the state of the market. Soon in Ershy, the capital of Davan, Embassy-and-Trade Treaty on the Road of Silk Opening was signed.

The first road for silk trading, which later (in the 19 th c) the German geography scientist Ferdinand von Richtgophen called "The Great Silk Road", was blazed in the second century BC stretching from Ershy, the capital of Davan to Yu city or Yuchen (Uzghen), via Osh and mountain passed up to Kashghar. Through the oases of the Takla-Makan desert it led to the north of Lake Lob-Nor, from which the protective earthen rampart extended to "The Great Chinese Wall". Reestablished and improved it was united into a single unit - the Great Chinese Wall with the length of 10,000 li (1li=0,5 km).

The unique main line representing the miracle of engineering coupled with human thought with its imposant remnants still survive up to present days, crossed the centre of Central Asia. It was a well-organized trade road with loop-holes, watch-towers, subsidiary premises and other conveniences reliably guarded by permanent mobile troops. Land, river and sea ways connected the Great Chinese Wall with Khanbalyk (Peking), Siangan (Hong Kong), Korea, Far East, Japan, Indonesia and Indo-China.

In 114-108 BC up to ten large embassies (caravans) came from China to Davan. The road via Kashghar and Fergana to Western Europe or via Turfan-Taraz and further on with some intervals functioned till the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th centuries.

Sometimes (in war periods) "the Road of Silk" routed from the Tarim basin to the west through the spurs of "World Roof" (Pamir) difficult of access, or along the upper reaches of the Amu-Darya via the "dizzy mountain peaks" and "suspension bridges" - to India and from there along the river Ind, by sea to the Persian Gulf. And sometimes the road directed north, to the southern shore of Issyk-Kul, along the river Talas via Taraz (Djambul) or to the river Ili and joining the "Road of Gold" or "Skifs Road"; along the Syr-Darya river-South Urals, the Emba and Volga rivers to the north steppes of the near-Black-sea area, across the Azov and Black seas to Syria and through the Dardanelles to Greece and Rome and further on to Western Europe.

In the 1st-4th centuries AD, the period of Kushana reign, almost all main lines functioned from Fergana via Kodjambu (Khodjent) - Zaamin - Samarkand - Bukhara - AmuI (Chardjev) - Merv (Mari) - Serakhs - Meshkhed and further on to Europe; from Fergana via Kamchik -Tashkent pass to Europe; from Fergana via Kamchik - Tashkent pass to Syrdarya - to the West; via Tashkent - Djizak - Samarkand - Bukhara - Kyat (Beruni) - Urgench (Kunya - Urgench) - the northern Caspiy to Eastern Europe; via Samarkand - Kesh (Shakhrisabz) - Ksenippu (Kassansay) - Amul (Chardjev) - Merv (Mari) - Nissu (near Ashgabad) - Djurdjan (Gorgan) - along the south of the Caspian Sea to Syria or Babylon; from Samarkand via Kesh (Shakhrisabz) - Guzar - Sherabad - "The iron gates" - Darmamitra or Tarameeta (old Termez) via Amudarya to Baktri (the Northern Afghanistan) to Northern India (Pakistan) by the Indus river, by sea to the Persian Gulf or by the Red Sea.

The northern land roads were more functional in the 6th century; the southern ones functioned in the 8th-9th centuries. The struggle for the possession of trade ways for the mediation in trade, the tax collection brought detriments to the international exchange and the progress of science and culture.

Now of violent tragedies in the Middle Ages remind the ruins of county estates situated in the distance of 200 meters one of another, occupying an area of 32 square kilometers, extending along the caravan route in the distance of 17 km with width of 2-3 kilometers from the south to the north it is so called "the dead oasis" in Khorezm.

In various historic epochs, caravan routes functioned and were maintained differently.

In the 14th-at the beginning of the 15th centuries-in the epoch of Amir Temur, who was the great political figure, the famous commander and patron, the great importance was attached to trade routes. While improving and protecting them, he sent ambassadors to India and China, to Asia Minor and Egypt, to Venice and France, to Spain and England. "Greetings and peace I announce" - such was the beginning of Sarhibkiran Temur's letter addressed to the king of France Karl VI in 1402.

Historic and political situation was changed in the middle of the 15th-16th centuries. The invasion of nomads and intestine wars led to the break-down of Temurid's state, disintegration into several states being at mutual enmity, attempting to capture land caravan routes.

In Asia Minor the Ottoman-Turks cut off the strong links established between Europe and the eastern countries, having represented themselves as mediators. The largest state in South Asia was the Empire of the Great Moguls, which attempted to spread their power over all Northern and Central India, northern-east Afghanistan, Bukhara and Khiva khanates in the 16th-17th centuries.

Sefevidian Iran, having seized the western regions of present day Afghanistan, the part of Turkmenistan, Tran Caucasian and Iraq pretended to North India and Central Asian khanates.

By this time the Portuguese revealed sea ways around Africa and reached the Japanese islands in the 17th century. They conquered the essential trade points in the Persian Gulf and in South-eastern Asia, in Indonesia and South China. The Englishmen became firmly established on the western coast of India, the Dutchmen - in Ceylon Island (Sri Lanka) and in South Malaye, the Spaniards - in the Philippines and so on.

Land routes were almost inactive, sea trade was developing rapidly.

In 40 of the 18th century the economic crisis fell over the states of Central Asia. From the middle of the 17th century till 1911, China proved to be under the power of the Manchurian dynasty as well as Korea turned out to be under subordination.

At the same time the Dutchmen reconquered from Portugal essential points along the western coast of Africa and established new routes from Europe to the Far East, having set up the monopoly on raw resources in the Persian Gulf and in the coast from Indostan to Malakke. Trade wars between Dutch Ost Indian company and England started. At the end of the 18th century the Netherlands turn out to be under the power of France and were involved in war with England.

In the second half of the 18th century India with its finest manufactured cotton and wool fabrics, and silks, precious metals wares and stones turned out to be a subordinate state at first from France but then from England. Original China with fine monuments of culture, silk, porcelain and so on, at first declared the policy of self-isolation, but after the economic crisis in the end of the 18th - beginning of the 19th centuries stepped on the way of policy of "open doors".

States of Central Asia: Bukhara, Khiva and Kokand khanates in the middle of the 19th century became Russia's vassals. In the end of the 18th-beginning of the 19th centuries Turkey, weakened by wars, felt the decline.

Only Japan, after "closing" their country in 30th of the 17th century could get over economic difficulties and in the beginning of the 19th century made a great advance in industrialization, having kept political independence.

"The Great Silk Road" lost its historic mission of unification the European and Eastern civilization, the Chinese silk ceased to play the role of world currency. The development of engineering progress in Europe countries the struggle for the re-distribution of goods market and sources of obtaining of raw materials brought to world wars, trading of strategic raw materials, arms, equipment and so on in world markets.

At present many countries are striving to revise the peaceful commercial route of "The Great Silk Road", to return to the traditions of the past.


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