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The Silk Road: Globalization in the Ancient Times

As globalization has risen in the last decade due to recent tech breakthroughs, the story of globalization is really nothing new. It started in the 2nd century BCE (while ancient trade had existed even earlier). Civilizations separated by formidable mountain ranges, deserts, and steppes were connected by the artery that was the Silk Road. A network of land and sea trade routes stretched from China to Rome in the west, to India in the south, and to Korea and Japan in the east.

In 1877 the term "Seidenstraße" (Die Seidenstrassen, literally "Silk Road") was coined by the German geographer, cartographer and explorer Ferdinand von Richthofen.

At the time of the Western Han dynasty (206BCE - 8AD), China’s emperor Wo Di sent an ambassador named Zhang Qian to negotiate with nomads in the west. Qian returned with tales of sophisticated civilizations, exotic goods, and a special breed of horses that would be beneficial to strengthening the army. Delighted, the emperor facilitated the early growth of the Silk Road, which developed more and more from thereon.

Various goods were transported along the Silk Road, unsurprisingly, the most common being silk. Although goods traversed thousands of miles in both directions, the merchants themselves traveled short distances between towns, selling to traders who would take the goods further towards their final destination. Along with goods, the Silk Road allowed for the exchange of ideas and technologies around the world.

The southwestern Silk Road route called the Tea Horse Road, a network of trading routes that linked the tea-producing regions of Yunnan and Sichuan, can be traced back to the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD). The Tea Horse Road was also used to supply the empires of China with strong military horses to protect against invaders from the north. This network carried commerce and culture, linking a myriad of people and ideas from Southeast Asia, China, Tibet, and northern India.

Works cited:

“Life on the Silk Road.” Clark Honors College, 9 Apr. 2018,

“Secrets of the Silk Road - Exhibit Introduction.”,

“Silk Road: A Glance at Archaic Globalization | Silk Routes.”, 2010,

Kurin, Richard. “The Silk Road: Connecting People and Cultures.” Smithsonian Folklife Festival, 2018,


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