Networks of Communication and Exchange, 300 B C .E.–1100 C.E.
I0. The Silk Road
A0. Origins and Operations
10. The Silk Road was an overland route that linked China to the Mediterranean
world via Mesopotamia, Iran, and Central Asia. There were two periods of heavy
use of the Silk Road: (1) 150 B.C.E.–907 C.E. and (2) the thirteenth through
seventeenth centuries CE.
20. The origins of the Silk Road trade may be located in the occasional trading of
Central Asian nomads. Regular, large-scale trade was fostered by the Chinese
demand for western products (particularly horses) and by the Parthian state in
northeastern Iran and its control of the markets in Mesopotamia.
30. In addition to horses, China imported alfalfa, grapes, and a variety of other new
crops as well as medicinal products, metals, and precious stones. China exported
peaches and apricots, spices, and manufactured goods including silk, pottery, and
B0. The Impact of the Silk Road Trade
10. Turkic nomads, who became the dominant pastoralist group in Central Asia,
benefited from the trade. Their elites constructed houses, lived settled lives, and
became interested in foreign religions including Christianity, Manicheanism,
Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and (eventually) Islam.
20. Central Asian military technologies, particularly the stirrup, were exported both
east and west, with significant consequences for the conduct of war.
C0. The Indian Ocean Maritime System
10. The Indian Ocean maritime system linked the lands bordering the Indian Ocean
basin and the South China Sea. Trade took place in three distinct regions: (1) the
South China Sea, dominated by Chinese and Malays; (2) Southeast Asia to the
east coast of India, dominated by Malays and Indians; and (3) the west coast of
India to the Persian Gulf and East Africa, dominated by Persians and Arabs.
20. Trade in the Indian Ocean was made possible by and followed the patterns of the
seasonal changes in the monsoon winds.
30. Sailing technology unique to the Indian Ocean system included the lateen sail
and a shipbuilding technique that involved piercing the planks, tying them
together, and caulking them.
40. Because the distances traveled were longer than in the Mediterranean, traders in
the Indian Ocean system seldom retained political ties to their homelands, and
war between the various lands participating in the trade was rare.
D0. Origins of Contact and Trade
10. There is evidence of early trade between ancient Mesopotamia and the Indus
Valley. This trade appears to have broken off as Mesopotamia turned more
toward trade with East Africa.
20. Two thousand years ago, Malay sailors from Southeast Asia migrated to the
islands of Madagascar. These migrants, however, did not retain communications
or trade with their homeland.
E0. The Impact of Indian Ocean Trade 10. What little we know about trade in the Indian Ocean system before Islam is
gleaned largely from a single first century C.E. Greco-Egyptian text, The Periplus
of the Erythrean Sea. This account describes a trading system that must have
been well established and flourishing when the account was written. The goods
traded included a wide variety of spices, aromatic resins, pearls, Chinese pottery,
and other luxury goods. The volume of trade was probably not as high as in the
20. The culture of the Indian Ocean ports was often isolated from that of their
hinterlands. In the western part of the Indian Ocean, trading ports did not have
access to large inland populations of potential consumers. Even in those eastern
Indian and Malay peninsula ports that did have access to large inland
populations, the civilizations did not become oriented toward the sea.
30. Traders and sailors in the Indian Ocean system often married local women in the
ports that they frequented. These women thus became mediators between
II0. Routes Across the Sahara
A0. Early Saharan Cultures
10. Undateable rock paintings in the highland areas that separate the southern from
the northern Sahara indicate the existence of an early Saharan hunting culture
that was later joined by cattle breeders who are portrayed as looking rather like
contemporary West Africans.
20. The artwork indicates that the cattle breeders were later succeeded by horse
herders who drove chariots. There is no evidence to support the earlier theory
that these charioteers might have been Minoan or Mycenaean refugees. But there
is also no evidence to show us either their origins or their fate.
30. The highland rock art indicates that camel riders followed the charioteers. The
camel was introduced from Arabia and its introduction and domestication in the
Sahara was probably related to the development of the trans-Saharan trade.
Written evidence and the design of camel saddles and patterns of camel use
indicate a south-to-north diffusion of camel riding.
40. The camel made it possible for people from the southern highlands of the Sahara
to roam the desert and to establish contacts with the people of the northern
B0. Trade Across the Sahara
10. Trade across the Sahara developed slowly when two local trading systems, one
in the southern Sahara and one in the north, were linked. Traders in the southern
Sahara had access to desert salt deposits and exported salt to the sub-Saharan
regions in return for kola nuts and palm oil. Traders in the north exported
agricultural products and wild animals to Italy.
20. When Rome declined (3rd century C.E.) and the Arabs invaded North Africa
(mid-7th century CE .), the trade of Algeria and Morocco was cut off. The Berber
people of these areas revolted against the Arabs in the 700s and established
independent city-states including Sijilmasa and Tahert.
30. After 740 the Berbers found that the southern nomads were getting gold dust
from the Niger and other areas of West Africa in exchange for their salt. This
opened their eyes