The Silk Road Provided by the Art Institute of Chicago Department of Museum Education Introduction

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The Silk Road

Provided by the Art Institute of Chicago Department of Museum Education


The "Silk Road" was an ancient network of trade routes that extended across Europe and Asia, linking powerful civilizations such as China and Rome. The Silk Road flourished from about 1500 B.C. to A.D. 1500 and extended from China through Central Asia to the Caspian and Black Seas. Bounded by mountains to the north and south, this central corridor consisted of a broad desert punctuated by oases. Silk actually composed a relatively small portion of the trade along the Silk Road. Eastbound caravans brought gold, precious metals and stones, textiles, ivory, and coral; while westbound caravans transported furs, ceramics, cinnamon bark, rhubarb, and bronze weapons. The oasis towns that made the overland journey possible became important trading posts—commercial centers where caravans would take on fresh animals, goods, and merchants. These cities prospered considerably, with merchants and traders making large profits on the goods that were bought and sold. Most traders sold their loads to middlemen who would make the final transaction further down the

line. Very few caravans, including the people, animals, and goods they transported, would complete the entire route. Instead, goods were passed along through an intricate network of middlemen. These businessmen had to contend not only with the usual concerns of supply and demand but also sandstorms, ice storms, thieves, and feudal warlords.

Travel along the Silk Road was very difficult and extremely dangerous. Dry deserts with no water for miles and mountain passes with avalanches, heavy snow, and spring flooding made the road perilous at all times of year. Bandits lay in wait to rob travelers. To protect themselves, traders often traveled in large groups. Traders often used camels to travel the Silk Road and carry their goods from one place to another, because camels could travel a long distance without water. But camels could not carry extremely heavy goods over the mountains and across the deserts. As a result, the Silk Road was not used to carry raw materials, such as lumber. Instead, it was used primarily to transport small, luxury goods such as silk and porcelain.

Please do the following activities and turn in on a separate sheet of paper with your completed map.

Activity 1:

• In groups or in pairs, research the geography of Asia and the Middle East using your book.

On the attached blank map outline label the following modern countries: China, Mongolia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Saudi Arabia. Label the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea.
• Using the Silk Road map pick one of the routes of the Silk Road and draw one or more of these routes on your maps.

• Answer the following questions using information from the readings about the Silk Road:

  1. What goods traveled from west to east?

  2. What goods traveled from east to west?

Activity 2 (2 paragraph minimum)

Write a travel journal entry as if you were a participant in trade along the Silk Road.

  1. Are you a traveler in a caravan, a merchant at an oasis outpost, or a missionary?

  2. What do you trade?

  3. How do you travel?

  4. Where are you from and where are you going? Describe the sights, sounds, people, and adventures you encounter on your journey.
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