The Silk Road Chronology

2 October 2017, Revised by Bachir El Nakib (CAMS), Senior Consultant Compliance Alert (LLC) 


The Silk Road - 絲綢之路 or 丝绸之路, one of the most important roads ever been used by Humanity.

Our story begins around 3500 years ago when the great emperors of China wanted to trade with the empires of the west: Ur, Hittites and off course – the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.

The Silk road was the main if not the only connection between these two disconnected civilizations, starting at the ancient imperial capital of China – Xian and ending at the great city of Antioch which is todays modern Turkey.

 This off course had been the main route, however, there were several trade roads that broke away from the main roads and led into the fertile crescents, Egypt ending at the port cities of Acre, Tyre, Gaza and Jaffa.


Conventionally, historians refer to three periods of intense Silk Road trade:

From 206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E., between the ancient Chinese Han dynasty and Central Asia, extending to Rome;

From about 618 to 907 C.E., between Tang dynasty China and Central Asia, Byzantium, the Arab Umayyad and Abbasid empires, the Sasanian Persian Empire, and India, and coinciding with the expansion of Islam, Buddhism, Assyrian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Manicheism, and Judaism into Central Asia; and

During the 13th and 14th centuries, between China, Central Asia, Persia, India, and early modern Europe, made possible by Mongol control of most of the Silk Road.

Some would add a modern Silk Road period, beginning in the 19th century with the "Great Game" — the competition between Russian and British colonial powers for influence over Central Asia — and extending through today.

From Han China to Rome

In 198 B.C.E., the Han dynasty concluded a treaty with a Central Asian people, the Xiongnu. The emperor agreed to give his daughter to the Xiongnu ruler and pay an annual gift in gold and silk. By the 1st century B.C.E. silk reached Rome, initiating the first "Silk Road." Pliny, writing about silk, thought it was made from the down of trees in Seres. It was very popular among the Romans. People wore rare strips of silk on their clothing and sought more; they spent increasing amounts of gold and silver, leading to a shortage in precious metals. Coinciding with the development of ruling elites and the beginnings of empire, silk was associated with wealth and power — Julius Caesar entered Rome in triumph under silk canopies. Over the next three centuries, silk imports increased, especially with the Pax Romana of the early emperors, which opened up trade routes in Asia Minor and the Middle East. As silk came westward, newly invented blown glass, asbestos, amber, and red coral moved eastward. Despite some warnings about the silk trade's deleterious consequences, it became a medium of exchange and tribute, and when in 408 C.E.

 The Tang Silk Road: Connecting Cultures

 Silk continued to be popular in the Mediterranean region even as Rome declined. In Byzantium, the eastern successor of the Roman state, silk purchases accounted for a large drain on the treasury. In 552 C.E., legend has it that two Assyrian Christian monks who visited China learned the secret of silk production and smuggled out silkworms and mulberry seeds in their walking sticks. They returned to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, and provided the impetus for the growth of a local silk industry. Under Emperor Justinian I, Constantinople's silks were used throughout Europe for religious vestments, rituals, and aristocratic dress. The Persians, too, acquired knowledge of silk production; and Damascus became a silk centre under Arab rulers. By the time the second Silk Road developed under the Tang dynasty (618­907 C.E.) in China, Central Asians had also learned silk cultivation and developed the famed abr technique of silk resist dying generally known today by the Indonesian term ikat. Chinese silks, though, were still in demand for their exceptionally high quality. The Tang rulers needed horses for their military. The best horses were in the west, held by the Turkic Uyghurs and the peoples of the Fergana Valley. The Tang traded silk for horses, 40 bolts for each pony in the 8th century.

 Not only did silk move, but so did designs and motifs as well as techniques for weaving and embroidering it. The Tang Chinese developed a satin silk, readily adopted elsewhere. Chinese silk weaving was influenced by Sogdian (Central Asian), Persian Sasanian, and Indian patterns and styles. For example, Chinese weavers adapted the Assyrian tree of life, beaded roundels, and bearded horsemen on winged horses from the Sasanians, and the use of gold-wrapped thread, the conch shell, lotus, and endless-knot designs from the Indians. Byzantines were also influenced by the Persians, weaving the Tree of Life into designs for European royalty and adopting the Assyrian two-headed eagle as their symbol. The Egyptian draw loom, adapted for silk weaving, was brought to Syria, then to Iran and beyond. Japanese weavers in Nara developed tie-dye and resist processes for kimonos. In some cases, weavers were uprooted from one city and settled in another; for example, after the Battle of Talas in 751, Chinese weavers were taken as prisoners of war to Iran and Mesopotamia. During the Tang dynasty, cultural exchange based upon silk reached its apex. Discoveries of the silk stowed in the Buddhist caves of Dunhuang in about 1015 C.E. reveal the tremendous richness of silk work of the time, as well as an archaeology of shared styles of silk weaving and motifs.

 The growth of silk as a trade item both stimulated and characterized other types of exchanges during the era. Curative herbs, ideas of astronomy, and even religion also moved along the Silk Road network. Arabs travelled to India and China, Chinese to Central Asia, India, and Iran. Buddhism itself was carried along these roads from India through Central Asia to Tibet, China, and Japan. Islam was carried by Sufi teachers, and by armies, moving across the continent from Western Asia into Iran, Central Asia, and into China and India. Martial arts, sacred arts like calligraphy, tile making, and painting also traversed these roads. The Tang capital city of Chang'an, present-day Xi'an, became a cosmopolitan city — the largest on earth at the time, peopled with traders from all along the Silk Road, as well as monks, missionaries, and emissaries from across the continent.

 The Mongol Silk Road and Marco Polo

Though some new silk styles such as silk tapestry made their way eastward from Iran to Uyghur Central Asia to China, the transcontinental exchange of the Silk Road diminished in the later Middle Ages and through the period of the Christian Crusades in the Holy Land from 1096 to the mid-1200s. Yet Crusaders, returning home with Byzantine silks, tapestries, and other spoils, rekindled European interest in trade with Asia. Moorish influence in Spain also had an enormous impact. It was through Arab scholars that Europeans gained access to Indian and Chinese advances in medicine, chemistry, and mathematics, and also to ancient Greek and Roman civilizations that had survived in Arabic translations and commentaries. This flow of knowledge eventually helped to fuel the Renaissance.

With the Mongol descendants of Genghis (Chinghis) Khan in control of Asia from the Black Sea to the Pacific, a third Silk Road flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries. The emissary of King Louis IX of France, Willem van Rubruck, visited the court of the Mongol ruler in 1253, and, seeing the wealth of silks, realized that Cathay, or China, was the legendary Seres of Roman times. The Venetian Marco Polo followed.

Setting out with his uncles in 1271, Polo travelled across Asia by land and sea over a period of 24 years. The tales of his travels, narrated while a prisoner in a Genoa jail cell, spurred broad European interest in the Silk Road region. He told of the Mongols, who under Genghis and then Kublai Khan had taken over China and expanded their dominion across Asia into Central Asia, India, Iran, and Asia Minor. Polo related fantastic tales of the lands he had visited, the great sites he had seen, and the vast treasures of Asia.

The 13th and 14th centuries were characterized by considerable political, commercial, and religious competition between kingdoms, markets, and religious groups across Eurasia. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus vied for adherents and institutional support. Conflict between and among the Mongols, European kingdoms, Arab rulers, the Mamluk Turks, Hindu chiefdoms, and others made for unstable states, diplomatic jockeying, alliances, and wars. Yet the Mongols, with their vast Asian empire skirting the edge of Russia and Eastern Europe, were, through a mixture of hegemony and brutality, able to assure a measure of peace within their domains, a Pax Mongolica. They were also pragmatic and quite tolerant in several spheres, among them arts and religion. Their Mongolian capital of Karakorum hosted, for example, 12 Buddhist temples, two mosques, and a church. The Mongols developed continental postal and travellers’ rest house systems. Kublai Khan welcomed European, Chinese, Persian, and Arab astronomers and established an Institute of Muslim Astronomy. He also founded an Imperial Academy of Medicine, including Indian, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and Chinese physicians. European, Persian, Chinese, Arab, Armenian, and Russian traders and missionaries travelled the Silk Road, and in 1335 a Mongol mission to the pope at Avignon suggested increased trade and cultural contacts.

During this "third" Silk Road, silk, while still a highly valued Chinese export, was no longer the primary commodity. Europeans wanted pearls and gems, spices, precious metals, medicines, ceramics, carpets, other fabrics, and lacquer-ware. All kingdoms needed horses, weapons, and armaments. Besides, silk production already was known in the Arab world and had spread to southern Europe. Silk weavers and traders — Arabs, "Saracens," Jews, and Greeks from Sicily and the eastern Mediterranean — relocated to new commercial centres in northern Italy. Italian silk-making eventually became a stellar Renaissance art in Venice, Florence, Genoa, and Lucca in the 14th and 15th centuries. New stylistic techniques were added, like alto-e-basso for velvets and brocades, while old motifs, like the stylized Central Asian pomegranate, took on new life.

Commercial trade and competition was of great importance by the 15th century with the growth of European cities, guilds, and royal states. With the decline of Mongol power, control over trade routes was vital. The motivation behind Portuguese explorations of a sea route to India was to secure safer and cheaper passage of trade goods than by land caravans, which were subject to either exorbitant protection fees or raiding by enemies. Indeed, it was the search for this sea route to the East that led Columbus westward to the "New World." When Vasco da Gama found the sea route to India and other Europeans subsequently opened direct shipping links with China, contact with Central Asia decreased dramatically.

Central Asia and the Silk Road Today

In formulating the idea of the Silk Road, Richthofen saw Central Asia as not only the land bridge between distant civilizations, but as a source of cultural creativity in its own right. He also saw it as disputed territory, a region that had served as the crossroads of political and military influence. Indeed, control over the Silk Road, particularly its Central Asian link, was serious business for 18th- century colonial powers playing the "Great Game." Both the Russians and the British vied for control over Afghanistan at the limit of their territorial aspirations. Rudyard Kipling, the English colonial writer, set the fictional tale of Kim against this backdrop, with the hero traveling one of the historical trade routes along what is now the Afghan-Pakistan frontier and partaking of what we might today call a multicultural adventure.

Though eclipsed in trade volume by sea routes for several centuries, Central Asia has in recent times and particularly after September 11 resumed its historical importance. Its geopolitical significance has grown as a result of the demise of the Soviet Union, the need to achieve stable political states in light of competing interests, and the need to find an appropriate role for religion, particularly Islam, in civic life. Most recently, the entry of the United States in Central Asia, fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, using bases in Uzbekistan and Pakistan, and being drawn into disputes over sovereignty in Kashmir, democracy in Iran, rights for ethnic minorities in western China, and freedom in Kazakhstan, mark a new development in the contemporary jockeying for political influence and control.

The nations of the region are trying to build their own post-Soviet and contemporary economies. They are struggling to develop local markets, industries, and infrastructures, while at the same time participating in an increasingly globalized world economy. Some local entrepreneurs seek to rebuild economies based upon a traditional repertoire of deeply ingrained Silk Road commercial skills. Among emerging markets are those for recently discovered oil in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and western China. Pipelines are being planned and constructed, constituting new pathways for moving a valuable commodity across the region to the rest of the world.

New social institutions are being built — universities, hospitals, and financial systems. Some leaders like the Aga Khan are encouraging a contemporary renaissance of traditional knowledge, architecture, and artistry embedded in Central Asian history that will allow local citizens the opportunity to flourish. Famed and beautiful Uzbek ikat weavings are returning to the world marketplace. Designers from the region are creating their own distinctive fashions. Ancient musics performed by contemporary artists are making their way onto world stages. Historical sites are being restored.

Given the needs in the region, the work to build politically stable nations that are economically healthy, socially secure, and culturally confident is of immense scope, and the prognosis far from certain. But it does seem clear that people in the region stand the best chance of bettering their lives and those of their children by reclaiming their place in a transnational, transcultural flow of goods and ideas exemplified by the historical Silk Road. It is better to connect to the peoples and cultures around them and to participate in the commerce of nations than to withdraw from such interchange. By reclaiming the heritage of the Silk Road, the region may, once again, play an important role in the cultural and economic life of the global community.



5000-500 B.C

* 3200 Horse domesticated on south Russian steppe.
* 3000 Minoan civilization starts, the earliest in Europe.
* 3000 Silk first produced in China.
* 3000 Sumerians develop first writing system.
* 2500 Domestication of the Bactrian and Arabian camel, vital for desert travel.
* 1700 Horse-drawn chariot introduced in Near East.
* 1500 Iron technology developed in Asia Minor.
* 1500 Seminomadic stockbreeding tribes inhaabit steppes.
* 900 Spread of mounted nomadism.
* 753 Rome founded.
* 707 Cimmerians, earliest-known mounted nomads, defeat kingdom of Urartu in Near East.
* 900-700 Scythians and Sarmatians appear in the northern steppes - two of the first races learn to ride horses and wear trousers. stirrup.
* 600s Zoroaster born in Persia.
* 560s Buddha born in Nepal.
* 550 Achaemenid Empire established in Persia.
* 500s Chinese adopt nomadic style, wear trousers and ride horses.
* 450 Herodotus visits Greek trading colony of Olbia to gather information on Scythians.
* 551-479 Confucius born in China. 

400 B.C.

* Empire of Alexander the Great expands into Asia. Greek culture into Central Asia. 

300 B.C.

* Roman expansion begins.
* Greco-Bactrian kingdom develops in Central Asia.
* Parthians establish their empire in Iran.
* Qin dynasty unites the entire China for the first time.
* Chinese complete Great Wall as defense against the northern nomads' invasion.
* Han dynasty overthrows Qin and develops its vast empire.
* Buddhism begins to spread north. Gandhara art type emerges and starts a new art style - Serindian.
* Paper first made in China.
* Achaemenid Empire of Persia. 

200 B.C.

* Stirrup appears in Indian and Central Asia
* Greek city-states come under Roman rule.
* The Xiongnu, later called Huns rise to power in Central Asia and invade Chinese western border regions.
* Han Emperor, Wu-ti's interests in Central Asia cause him to command the Chang Ch'ien expeditions to the West, (Fergana and the Yueh-chih). Celestial Horses introduced to China.
* Han power reaches Tarim region. The Silkroad under China's control and the route to the West now open. 

100 B.C.

* Mithridates, Parthian king, sends ambassadors to both Sulla and Wu-ti to provide an important link between Rome and China.
* Parthians defeat Romans at Carrhae. One of the most disastrous in Roman history.
* Roman conquers Gaul.
* Egypt under Roman rule. Gives Rome access to Red Sea and Spice Route trade.
* Rome officially becomes an empire. 

1 A.D.

* Silk first seen in Rome.
* Buddhism begins to spread from India into Central Asia.
* Roman Syria develops the technique of blowing glass. The industry expands.
* Kushan Empire of Central Asia. Sogdians trading on Silk Route.
* Xiongnu raids upset Chinese power in Tarim region.
* Death of Jesus Christ. Spread of Christianity begins.
* Chinese General Pan Ch'ao defeats Xiongnu and keeps the peace in the Tarim Basin. The stability of the Silkroad popularizes the caravan trades into two routes - north and south.
* China sends the first ambassador to Rome from Pan Ch'ao's command, but he fails to reach Rome.
* Graeco-Egyptian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy, writes his Geography, attempts to map the Silkroad. 

100 A.D.

* Rome sends the first Roman envoy over sea to China.
* Roman empire at its largest. A major market for Eastern goods.
* Buddhism reaches China.
* For the next few centuries, Buddhism flourishes, becoming the most popular religion in Central Asia, replacing Zoroastrianism.
* The four great empires of the day - the Roman, Parthian, Kushan, and Chinese - bring stability to the Silkroad. 

200 A.D.

* Silk is woven into cloth across Asia, but using Chinese thread.
* Han dynasty ends. China splits into fragments.
* Sassanians rise to power from Parthians. Strong cultural influence along the trade routes.
* Barbarian attacks on the Roman Empire.
* Death of Mani in Persia. Manichaeism spreads throughout Asia, not to die out until the 14th century. 

300 A.D.

* Stirrup introduced to China by the northern nomads
* Secret of sericulture begins to spread west along the Silkroad.
* Xiongnu invade China again. China further dissolved into fragments.
* Constantinople becomes Rome's capital.
* Christianity becomes the official Roman religion.
* Dun Huang caves starts to appear and becomes the world's largest Buddha caves.
* Huns attack Europe.
* Roman Empire splits into two.
* Fa-hsien, one of the first known Chinese Silkroad travellers by foot and a Buddhist monk, sets out for India. 

400 A.D.

* A Chinese princess smuggles some silkworm eggs out of China. Silkworm farms appear in Central Asia.
* New techniques in glass production introduced to China by the Sogdians.
* Visigoths invade Italy and Spain.
* Angles and Saxons rise in Britain.
* Western Roman Empire collapses.
* Frankish kingdom formed. 

500 A.D.

* Silkworm farms appear in Europe.
* Nestorian Christians reach China.
* Kingdom of Hephthalites (White Huns) in northern Asia, conquering Sogdian territory.
* Buddhism reaches Japan.
* Split of the Turkish Kaganate into Eastern and Western Kaganates. Western Turks move to Central Asia from Mongolian plateau. At the Chinese end of Central Asia, the Eastern Turks or Uighurs are in control.
* Sui dynasty reunites China.
* Sassanian Empire at its greatest extent in Central Asia. 

600 A.D.

* Roman Empire becomes Byzantine Empire.
* Tang dynasty rules in China. For the first two centuries, the Silk Road reaches its golden age. China very open to foreign cultural influences. Buddhism flourishes.
* The Islamic religion founded.
* Death of Muhammad. Muslim Arab expansion begins.
* Xuan Zang's pilgrimage to India.
* The Avars from the steppes introduces stirrups to Europe.
* Sassanian Persia falls to the Arabs.
* Muslims control Mesopotamia and Iran, along with the Silk and Spice routes. 

700 A.D.

* Arabs conquer Spain in Europe, which introduces much Eastern technology and science to Europe.
* Arabs defeat Chinese at Talas and capture Chinese papermakers, which introduces paper making into Central Asia and Europe.
* Block printing developed in China
* Tang dynasty begins to decline, and with it, the Silkroad.
* Glassmaking skill introduced to China by Sogdians. 

800 A.D.

* First porcelain made in China.
* Gunpowder invented in China and spread to the West by the 13th century.
* All foreign religions banned in China.
* Compass begins to be used by Chinese.
* Diamond Sutra dated 11 May 868, the world's oldest known printed book made in Dunhuang.
* Venice established as a city-state. 

900 A.D.

* Kirghiz Turks in control of Eastern Central Asia, establish kingdoms at Dunhuang and Turfan.
* Tang Dynasty ends. China fragmented.
* England unified for the first time.
* Playing cards invented in China and spread to Europe toward the end of 14th century.
* The Islamic Empire divides into small kingdoms.
* Sung Dynasty reunites China.
* Porcelain developed in China and exported to western Asia. 

1000 A.D.

* First Crusade. Exchange of technology between Europe and Middle East. 

1100 A.D.

* China divided into Northern Sung and Southern Sung.
* Muslim oust the Franks from the Levant.
* Genghiz Khan unites Mongols. Expansion of Mongol Empire begins.
* Silk production and weaving established in Italy.
* Paper money, first developed in China. 

1200 A.D.

* Death of Genghis Khan.
* Mongols invade Russia, Poland, and Hungary.
* The Europe's first envoy to the East, Friar Giovanni Carpini leaves Rome for Mongol capital at Karakorum.
* Friar William Rubruck sent to Karakorum by the King of France.
* Seventh, and last, Crusade.
* Mongol control central and western Asia.
* Silk road trade prospers again under the "Pax Mongolica."
* Kublai Khan defeats China and establishes the Yuan dynasty.
* Paper money introduced to Central Asia and Iran by Mongols.
* Marco Polo leaves for the East. 

1300 A.D.

* Turkish Ottoman Empire in power.
* Tamerlane, with capital in Samarkand, rises and conquers Persia, parts of Southern Russia, and northern India.
* Third Silkroad route appears in the north.
* Ibn Battuta, the first known Arab travels on a 750,000 mile journey to China via the Silkroad.
* The Black Death spreads throughout Europe.
* Paper made across Europe.
* Spinning wheel in Europe.
* Battle of Crecy between French and English, where cannons used first in Europe.
* Mongol Yuan Dynasty collapes. Chinese Ming Dynasty begins. 

1400 A.D.

* Tamerlane defeats the Ottoman Turks, and causes the deaths of seventeen million people.
* Renaissance period in Europe.
* Chinese explore the Spice Routes as far as Africa
* Death of Tamerlane leads to the decline of Mongol power. Ottoman rises again in the Central Asia.
* Ottomans conquer Constantinople.
* Gutenberg printing press in use.
* China closes the door to foreigners.
* Fearing the power of Uighurs, Ming China reduces the trade and traffic dramatically in the Silkroad. The Silkroad comes to an end for purposes of silk.
* Lyon becomes the new center of the silk trade.
* Columbus reaches America.
* Vasco da Gama discovers the sea route from Europe to the East via the cape of Good Hope to Calicut in India. 

1500 A.D.

* Islam becomes the religion of the entire Taklamakan region. 

1600 A.D.

* Uzbek Turks appear from the north, settle in today's Uzbekistan.
* Prince Babur, descendant of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, extends his empire from the Ferghana valley to India. Founder of Mogul dynasty.
* Manchuria rises and invades China. Qing Dynasty established. 

1700 A.D.

* Numbers of severe earthquakes in Central Asia damage some of the great monuments.
* Porcelain produced in Europe.
* The Manchus, a Tungusic people from Manchuria, absorb the Gobi and Altai districts. 

1800 A.D.

* German scholar, Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen uses the term "Silkroad" (Seidenstrasse) for the first time.
* Manchus take over the Tarim Basin.
* Xinjiang Province created under Qing Dynasty.
* Elias crosses the Pamirs and identifies Muztagh Ata. Recommends the Wakhan corridor be established.
* Younghusband crosses the Gobi Desert, pioneering a new route from Peking to Kashgar via the Muztagh Pass.
* Hedin explores the Kun Lun and Takla Makan desert, unearthing buried cities along the old Silkroad.
* Conway in the Karakoram Mountains.
* Stein's archaeological investigations of the Takla Makan and central Asia.
* The Great Game - Tsarist Russia and British India expand in Central Asia. 

1900 A.D.

* Hedin expeditions.
* Chinese revolution; end of Chinese dynasties.
* Europeans begin to travel in the Silkroad
* Tibet under China's control.
* Karakoram highway from Islamabad to Kashgar built by China and Pakistan.



1) Lord Edwin E. Hitti

2) Silk Road Chronology , Publisher:

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