Silk Road

The Silk Road was and is a network of trade routes connecting the East and West; from the 2nd century BCE to the 18th century CE it was central to the economic, cultural, political, and religious interactions between these regions.[1][2][3] “The Silk Road” usually refers to certain land routes, but it may also refer to sea routes that connect East Asia and Southeast Asia with South Asia, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Near East, East Africa & Southern Europe.

Silk Road
Main routes of the Silk Road
Route information
Time periodAround 114 BCE – 1450s CE
Official nameSilk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an-Tianshan
Criteriaii, iii, iv, vi
Designated2014 (38th session)
Reference no.1442

The Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in silk that was carried out along its length beginning during the Han dynasty in China (207 BCE–220 CE). Around 114 BCE, the Han dynasty expanded the Central Asian sections of the Silk Road trade routes. The expansion was partly led by the missions and explorations of China’s imperial envoy, Zhang Qian, and partly accomplished through a series of military conquests.[4] The Chinese took great interest in ensuring the security of the products they traded; they extended the Great Wall of China to protect the trade route.[5]

The Silk Road trade played a significant role in the development of the civilizations of China, Korea,[6] Japan,[2] the Indian subcontinent, Iran, Europe, the Horn of Africa and Arabia, opening long-distance political and economic relations between those civilizations.[7] Though silk was the major item exported from China for trade, many other goods and ideas were exchanged, including religions (especially Buddhism), syncretic philosophies, scientific discoveries, and technologies like paper and gunpowder. Thus, the Silk Road was a route not only for cultural as well as economic trade among the civilizations that used it.[8] Diseases, most notably plague, also spread along the Silk Road.[9]

In the present day, trade takes place on the Silk Road on land and on its maritime branch. There are several projects under the name of “New Silk Road” to expand the transport infrastructure in the area of the historic trade routes. The best known is probably the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In June 2014, UNESCO designated the Chang'an-Tianshan corridor of the Silk Road as a World Heritage Site. The Indian portion is on the tentative site list.