Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia

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Silk Routes Chronology

Approximate Dates

Historical Events & Developments

8000 - 1500 BCE Neolithic Period (China). The end of the Neolithic period is marked by innovations, i.e. the rise of urban civilization, introduction of metal tools, or writing.
4000-3500 BCE Evidence suggests horses were domesticated in the Eurasian Steppe as a means of transport.
4000-200 BCE Historical records suggests that sericulture (raising silkworms) developed as early as c. 4000 BC. By the second century BC, silk-making had spread throughout southern China. According to Confucian texts, silk production dates to about 2700 BCE.
3000 BCE Lapis lazuli mined in Afghanistan reaches Egypt and Mesopotamia (jewelry found at excavations at Naqada dates back to 3200 BCE).
2500 BCE Domestication of the Bactrian camel (which originated in Asia and is vital to desert travel).
c. 2000 BCE Traders bring silk from East Asia to West Asia. Earliest fragments of silk discovered date to 2500 BCE.
1000 BCE Phoenician trade expands in the Mediterranean.
1000 BCE The discovery of an Egyptian mummy with silk (in the village of Deir el Medina near Thebes and the Valley of the Kings) serves as evidence that the silk trade can be dated to about 1070 BC.
c. 950 BCE King Mu of Zhou (Mu Wang, the Chou king) is the earliest reputed Silk Road traveler (his travels provide insight on China’s relationship with Inner Asia before the famous 138 BCE journey of Zhang Qian sent by the Han emperor).
1000 BCE–500 CE Bronze and Iron Age, Southeast Asia.
Expanding international trade characterizes this period in Southeast Asia: Indonesian outriggers travel to the East African coast; Indian ceramics and glass beads are found in Bali and on the mainland; Chinese mirrors and Roman coins have been excavated in Cambodia; and horses from the Kushans in northwest India were imported. By the sixth century A.D., Indian influence on the mainland is significant—prosperous kingdoms in Thailand adopt Indian political, cosmological, and religious practices, and Sanskrit inscriptions are found in eastern Kalimantan and western Java.
8th century BCE–2nd century CE Scythian Empire of the Western Steppe in Eurasia.
606–539 BCE Babylonian rule in the Mediterranean.
550–330 BCE Achaemenid Empire, forged by Cyrus the Great, encompasses three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.
3rd century BCE–2nd century CE Emergence of Arabian kingdoms in southern Arabia as the result of important trade routes based on the Arabian monopoly of two prized goods of ancient times: frankincense and myrrh. These two resins only grow in eastern Yemen and southern Oman and in some parts of Somalia. These trade routes are collectively known as the "Incense Route" and were controlled by the Arabs, who brought frankincense and myrrh by camel caravan from South Arabia. The incense trade flourished from South Arabia to the Mediterranean between roughly the 3rd century BCE to the 2nd century CE.
330 BCE The expansion of Alexander the Great's empire into Central Asia further leads to opening the Silk Road between the East and the West.
330–64 BCE Hellenistic rule: Seleucid Dynasty.
2nd century BCE–10th century CE Sogdians dominate trade along the Silk Route.
2nd–1st century BCE The Yueh-chih are documented in detail in Chinese historical accounts. (See Hsiung-nu Empire and Xiongnu)
202 BCE–CE 220 The Han Dynasty in China is credited with opening the Silk Road largely through the missions and explorations of Zhang Qian (Chang Chien ) after 138 BCE.
140–130 BCE Following a long migration from the Chinese border in about 165 BC, the Tocharians/Yuezhi follow the Scythians in invading Bactria. The Yuezhi are later united under one of their tribes, the Kushans, to form an empire which stretches into India.
1 CE Indo-Roman trade.
100 CE Roman Empire becomes a major market for Eastern goods. Empires of Rome, Parthia, and China bring stability to the trade routes.
25 BCE235 CE Roman Provinces are established in Anatolia (Asia Minor) from 25 BC to 235 AD when numerous roads are built linking the highland cities to the Anatolian coast. Primarily designed for military use, they become important communication and trade routes.
27 BCE–330 CE Roman Empire (silk becomes very popular in West Asia and around the Mediterranean).
322 BCE–500 CE Early large centralized kingdoms and empires in South Asia.
306-1453 CE Byzantine Empire, one of the most powerful economic, cultural, and military forces in Europe.
247 BCE–224 CE Parthian Empire.
224–651 CE Sassanid Empire (for more than 400 years, one of the two main powers in Western Asia and Europe, alongside the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire).
50 BCE–500 CE Rise of tribal groups, including the Sarmatians, in the Caucasus, Central Asia.
399–414 CE Fa-hsien, the first known Chinese monk reaches India and returns to China.
434 CE Nomadic pastoral Huns of Asia who migrated to Europe c. AD 370, led by Atilla create a Eurasian empire.
465–522 CE Hephthalites conquer Gandhara, then Sogdiana, and extend their power as far as Zungaria, Turfan, Karashar, and later India.
500 CE Sericulture, the raising of silkworms, begins in Europe.
500 CE Nestorian Christians reach China.
500 CE Decline of Xiongnu (Hsiung-nu) tribal confederation (described by 3rd century BC Chinese sources as the first nomadic empire in Central Asia).
552-742 Gokturks become a main power in Eurasia and take hold of the lucrative Silk Road trade.
600 CE Muslims control Mesopotamia and Iran, along with the silk and spice routes.
600 CE Xuan Zang (Hsuan-tsang) Chinese Buddhist monk of the Tang Dynasty travels to India.
618–907 CE The Silk Road flourishes under the Tang dynasty, known as a golden age of cosmopolitan culture in China, which reflects the height of cultural exchanges along Silk Routes.
744–840 CE Uighurs (Uyghurs) rule over an empire north of the Gobi Desert.
751 CE Arab victory at the Battle of Talas in Kyrgyzstan Central Asia.
700 CE Arabs conquer Spain, which introduces Eastern knowledge and science to Europe.
700 – 800 CE As trade between India and the Greco-Roman world increased, spices became the main import from India to the Western world, rivaling silk and other commodities. The Indian commercial connection with South East Asia proved vital to the merchants of Arabia and Persia during the 7th century and 8th century, leading to the increase of trade along the routes that are collectively known as the "Spice Route."
750-1258 CE Abbasid Dynasty makes the Silk Road city of Baghdad their capital, and a center of power and learning.
800 CE Venice established as a city-state.
874-999 CE Samanid Empire.
992-1211 CE Turkic Karakhanids take control of the Tarim region of Xinjiang China.
1000 CE After first Crusade knowledge exchanged between Europe and Middle East.
1100 CE Genghiz Khan unifies nomadic tribes, leading to the expansion of the Mongol Empire, which conquers most of Eurasia in the early thirteenth century, becoming the largest contiguous empire in history.
1100–1200 CE Silk production appears in Italy, and Europe (how the closely guarded secret of silk production escapes China cannot accurately be attributed to any one event).
1200 CE Europe's first envoy to the East, Giovanni Carpine and Benedict the Pole leave Rome for the court of the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire.
1200 CE Friar William Rubruck sent to Karakorum by the King of France.
1200 CE With Mongols in control of central & western Asia, silk road trade prospers until the 14th century under "Pax Mongolica." Kublai Khan's rule (Yuan-Mongol Dynasty) marks the zenith of  "Pax Mongolica," a golden age of commerce and cultural exchange between East and West.
1258 CE Baghdad is conquered by the Mongols.
1274 & 1281 Kublai Khan, ruler of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, attempts to invade Japan in 1274 & 1281 with massive fleet after a forming an alliance with the Koryo Korean state.
1271–1368 CE Kublai Khan, leader of the Mongol Empire establishes the Yuan (Mongolian) Dynasty and takes control of China, after capturing Beijing in 1272.
1274 CE The ruler of the Mongol-Yuan Dynasty forms an alliance with the Koryo Korean state and launches an allied Mongol-Koryo invasion of Japan in 1274 (and 1281). Ships of the allied armies depart the port of Masan, located in South Korea, in an attempt to conquer Japan -- the invasion eventually failed most likely due to a severe storm that sank the Mongol fleet and navy.
c. 1280 CE Venetian explorer and merchant Marco Polo welcomed in Beijing by the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan. After holding official administrative positions and completing diplomatic missions for the Mongol emperor, he returns to Venice seventeen years later.
1299-1922 Rise of the Ottoman Empire (Istanbul conquered in 1453). Ottoman East-West interactions last 6 centuries between the Orient and Occident.
1300 CE Ibn Battuta, Muslim scholar, travels from North Africa to China via the Silk Road.
1300 CE Mongol Yuan Dynasty collapses. Chinese Ming Dynasty begins.
13-14th century The "Golden Age" of the Silk Road comes to an end as security and stability provided by Mongol rule diminishes.
14th century Timurids conquer Asia from Egypt and Syria to the borders of China, making Samarkand their capital.
1492 Christopher Columbus, inspired by the journeys of other explorers such as Marco Polo, voyages to the "New World." The voyages of Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and others, led to the opening up of new sea routes, which contributed to a decline in the use of the ancient Silk Routes.
1497 CE Vasco da Gama leads a fleet of four ships from Lisbon, travels around Africa to India, and back. Europe begins shifting trade with Eurasia to seafaring vessels, causing a decrease of trade along the network of Silk Routes.
15th–16th century Babur establishes the foundations of the Mughal Empire in India.
15th–18th century Decline of transcontinental Eurasian trade along the Silk Routes begins in the 15th century due to the increased use of maritime routes, and the development of maritime trade.
1877 The term "Silk Road" is coined by German geographer, cartographer and explorer Ferdinand von Richthofen.
19th century Emergence of "The "Great Game," period of strategic rivalry and conflict between the British and Russian Empires for supremacy in Central Asia.
19th century Due to the increasing ease of travel and interest in "Orientalism," both as an academic field of study and artistic fashion, a greater number of Europeans travel to the "Orient" (including artists, merchants, military forces, administrators, religious figures, historians, topographers, scientists, archeologists, looters, explorers, and wealthy passengers abroad the "Orient Express" train.
20th century Despite the fact that the secret of silk production has spread across the world, the centuries of sericulture experience in China gave the Chinese the distinct advantage of being able to produce a higher quality of silk than any competitors, and thus, trade continued to flourish. Even to this day China remains the leading producer of silk despite the influx of synthetic materials and competitors from around the world.
2010 Trade agreements forged by leaders of nations to intensify modern-day Silk Routes trade and cooperation.

Note: Not all major historical events have been included above, please see Alphabetical Glossary, or other sources. Approximate dates and centuries are given. This chronology (and the entries in the alphabetical glossary) should not be viewed as an attempt to accurately list or describe the various peoples and periods of Eurasia, but viewed as a general outline, as it is difficult to list the dozens of cultures that arose under the various historical periods of rule that left their mark on the region. The aim is to serve as a tool to educate young people, with the hope that sparking interest in the study of the "Silk Road" will create brighter paths to the future.