• Weird History

21 Things You Might Not Know About the Silk Road

What was the Silk Road? As one of the most important trade routes in human history, facts about the Silk Road are a gateway into vitally important times - both good and bad. Far from a dusty track in the middle of nowhere, the Silk Road carried priceless goods, art, and knowledge all across Europe and Asia.

Silk Road trivia encompasses everything from the Mongols to the Black Plague to one of the first documented cases of industrial espionage and even the unofficial creed of the US Postal Service. It involves Chinese dynasties, Muslim empires, Mongol hordes, and great European lands. It also shaped the Age of Discovery, eventually forcing explorers to find new ways to the Orient - finding the New World in the process.

Here are some of the most interesting facts about the Silk Road, a place that still shapes the modern world.

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  • Photo: Abraham Cresques / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Silk Road Wasn't Just One Road

    While the primary Silk Road was a continuous track, there were numerous smaller routes along the Road, many of which ran parallel to the main road. There were northern and southern routes along the Taklamakan Desert that converged farther west, and when it hit what's now Uzbekistan, the Road split into a number of smaller routes. Routes split off to a number of major Middle Eastern cities until it finally hit its furthest eastern point in Constantinople.

  • The Silk Road Moved Much More Than Silk

    While silk was one of the primary items to move along the road from China to the West, it was far from the only valuable commodity craved by Europeans. Fine spices, artwork, and perfumes came westward to the Middle East, and beyond into Rome, while wools, gold, and silver went east as payment to China. The road was also a communications route, allowing couriers to move quickly over large swaths of land bringing messages to and from far-flung outposts.

  • Photo: Ernst Milster / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    While Established By China, The Silk Road Was Named By A German

    The actual name "Silk Road" wasn't coined until 1877, when German geographer and scientist Ferdinand von Richthofen used the term in a five-volume atlas of what he discovered during his survey of China.

  • Officially, The Silk Road Was Open for Almost 1,600 Years

    From the initial establishment of the Silk Road in 130 BCE through the road's final closure by the Ottoman Empire (which wanted to ban trade with China) in 1453, the route from China was open on and off for over one and a half millennia.