We take a look at the countries along the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes that connected China with the West.
Name: Silk Road
Length: 6,400km / 4,000mi (approx.)
Established: circa AD 1270–90
Start: Xi’an, China
End: Rome, Italy
What was the Silk Road?
The historic Silk Road was a vast network of ancient trade routes or “superhighways” connecting China and the Far East with the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
The Silk Road was firmly established around 1,400 years ago during the time of Marco Polo’s travels (c. AD 1270–90).
However, its origins date back to around 300 BC when it was used to transport jade around China. By 200 BC the road had been extended and linked to the West.
By around 100 BC, it was actively being used for trade between the two civilizations.
By around 200 AD, the road – along with its western connections across the Roman road network – constituted the longest road on Earth.
The routes remained in use until 1453 AD when the Ottoman Empire boycotted trade with China and closed the roads.
Initially, Chinese merchants exported silk to Western customers. These goods expanded to include tea, porcelain, spices, perfumes, paper and gunpowder among other commodities.
Exports sent in the other direction (eastwards) included wool, gold, silver, horses and camels, furs and skins, honey, weapons and armour, and slaves.
Today, historians generally prefer the term “Silk Routes” or “Silk Roads” as it better reflects there was more than one thoroughfare.
The routes are also responsible for the exchange of intellectual and cultural ideas between civilisations.
The mixing of populations encouraged along the Silk Routes brought about widespread transmission of cultures, knowledge, ideas and beliefs.
Many academics also believe the bubonic plague was transmitted along the Silk Road, causing the Black Death pandemic during the mid-14th century.
The development of sailing technology, ship-building and the growth of ports throughout the Middle Ages, meant the Silk Routes were no longer the most practical method of trade.
Eventually, it became safer, quicker and cheaper to transport goods via sea routes as opposed to overland. As such, traffic along the Silk Road had significantly declined by the 1450s.
What were the countries along the Silk Road?
The UNESCO Silk Roads Programme lists 54 countries along the “historic land and maritime Silk Roads”. However, many of these countries were only connected via sea routes or extended road networks.
The map below shows where the original Silk Road was located. The primary route is marked in red.
These are the 54 countries along the Silk Road according to the UNESCO Silk Roads Programme.
- Brunei Darussalam
- North Korea
- South Korea
- Saudi Arabia
- Sri Lanka
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