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Silk Road Timeline

The "Silk Road," a 4000 mile-long network of interconnecting roads, or caravan tracts, served from ca. 500 BC to 1500 A.D. as the major highway for transporting material goods and knowledge between Europe, the Near East, India, and China ?a the four major centers of civilization at the time. Over this period of almost 2000 years, exotic and commercial goods, skills, knowledge, and religion ?a as well as silk ?a crisscrossed the Eurasian continent, and shaped the course of European and Asian history and culture.
ca. 3000 B.C.:
China breeds silkworms and produces silk; it is the first country to do so.
ca. 500 B.C.-200 B.C.:
China begins to conceive commercial methods of transporting silk ?a a material seemingly coveted by all ?a to the West. The Silk Road evelops gradually as a series of trading roads from China through Central Asia to India. One of its first uses, however, is to bring jade into China from the city of Khotan, located on the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert in Central Asia.
4th century B.C.:
Buddhism begins to spread north from India.
3rd century B.C.:
The Bactian and Arabian camels, both vital for desert caravan travel, are domesticated.
2nd century B.C.:
The Silk Road "opens" for commercial trade of silk and other goods. The road consists of several different branches that follow a path of oasis towns around the edges of foreboding deserts and harsh mountain ranges, and then reconnect in the city of Kashgar. Most trade is done over relatively short distances by middlemen who receive a share of the profits; between Rome and Beijing, goods are sold and bartered several times for other objects as the traders make their way from one end of the route to the other. As regional governments legally can tax foreign traders passing through their territories, local factions periodically battle to gain control of commercial interests along their portion of the Silk Road.

Although known as the "Silk" Road, the route transports and trades many other items than the delicate and colorful silk. The Chinese proffer beautiful paper, fragrant spices, furs, jade, rhubarb, tea, bronze sculpture, gunpowder, compasses, lacquered goods, ceramics, and the skills to make iron and steel. But as they need crucial, practical items such as horses, the Chinese buy from the Westerners (ie people from Central Asia and the Mediterranean) items such as: gold, ivory, precious metals and stones (jade, lapis lazuli), wool rugs, tapestries, nuts, peaches, jasmine flowers, frankincense and myrrh oils, herbal medicines, glass, cucumbers, onions, sandalwood incense, pepper, cotton, Kohlrabi cabbage, and animals such as yaks, camels, lions, peacocks, and elephants, as well as Fergana horses. By these exchanges, across thousands of miles and hundreds of cultures, the Silk Road opened up both East and West to new peoples, ideas, and religions.
At this same time, Buddhist missionaries and pilgrims begin travelling on the Silk Road between India, Central Asia, and China. Musicians also travel the route, which allows for a thorough, and at times surprising, dissemination of national styles and cross-fertilization of instruments.
206 B.C.-220 A.D.:
The Han Dynasty, a time of dramatic growth in China, is established. Military campaigns expand the borders of the empire as far as the western end of the Taklamakan Desert, in the modern region of Xinjiang. This allowed the empire to develop and control the Silk Road trade with Central Asia and beyond. The first export of Chinese silk to the Roman Empire occurred during the Han period.
138-125 B.C.:
Zhang Qian, a diplomat during the Han dynasty, is sent from the capital city of Chang'an (Xi'an) to create alliances with and develop a trading route to the West. His success leads to the establishment of the first commercial land route between East and West.
53 B.C.:
Purportedly, the Romans encounter silk for the first time ?a in battle with the Parthians, who ruled Persia and carried silk banners during combat. The Romans subsequently establish a trade system (through middlemen) to obtain the material from the Chinese.
1 A.D.:
Silk is first seen in Rome; silk garments quickly become the fashion rage there.
1st century A.D.:
Buddhism begins to spread from India into Central Asia. Monks also arrive in China, where they preach and worship; sacred books, texts, and examples of Buddhist art are introduced.
220 A.D.:
A series of factional disagreements and tribal invasions ends the Han Dynasty, throwing China into chaos and dividing the country. People yearn for the stability they believe a new religion might offer them.
3rd century A.D.:
Across Asia, silken clothing is woven, albeit still using silk thread purchased from the Chinese.
4th century A.D.:
Buddhist cave temples, the world's largest, are carved into the mountainsides in Dunhuang, China. The secret of silk-making leaks out along the Silk Road's westward route.
5th century A.D.:
Silkworm farms are created in Central Asia with eggs smuggled out of China by a Chinese princess.
6th century A.D. (early):
Buddhism reaches Japan, while China already is home to 2 million Buddhists. It is a time of great culture and enlightenment: Buddhist schools are established, monasteries and temples dot the land, scripture is translated enthusiastically into the vernacular. The Uyger people take control over most of northwest China.
6th century A.D.:
Silkworm farms are built in Europe.
570 A.D.:
Mohammad (the Prophet) is born in Mecca. While in his early 20s, he works with a camel caravan to transport frankincense and silk from Mecca north to Syria.
618 A.D.:
The Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) is established in China. Receptive to foreign cultural influences, Buddhism continues to flourish.
632 A.D.:
Mohammad (the Prophet) dies.
638 A.D.:
Through the work of Christian missionaries, Christianity begins to take root in China.
682 A.D.:
Under the leadership of the Arab general Uqba Ibn Nafi, the newly-established religion of Islam begins to sweep through Africa into Spain; in Europe, it reaches as far as Poitiers, France.
ca. 750 A.D.:
Traffic along the Silk Road peaks, then begins a gradual decline. The Chinese capital of the time, Chang'an (Xi'an), is the richest city in the world, with a population of almost two million (5000 of whom are foreigners).
8th century A.D.:
Conversion to Islam begins in Central Asia. Moslems damage or destroy most of the Buddhist statues and wall paintings in Xinjiang, China's westernmost region; temples and stupas are abandoned and gradually buried beneath the sand due to the desert's blowing winds. After capturing papermaking craftsmen in China, the Arabs introduce papermaking skills into Central Asia and Europe.
845 A.D.:
As the Tang Dynasty declines further, the Imperial government suppresses Buddhism, concerned about the religion's growing power. They destroy 4600 temples and persecute almost 300,000 monks and nuns. The importance of the Silk Road continues to eclipse.
10th century A.D.:
China's enlightened Tang Dynasty collapses (907 A.D.). Buddhism declines further, and Central Asia loses its preeminence as the crossroads of Indian and Chinese culture. The Chinese government bans foreign religions. The Uigher people of Xinjiang, who ironically were responsible for the spread of Buddhism into parts of central Asia, now embrace Islam. Kirghiz Turks establish kingdoms in the nearby trading cities of Dunhuang and Turfan.
12th century A.D. (early):
Seagoing trade begins to replace overland commerce on the Silk Road. Italy establishes its own silk production and weaving.
13th century A.D.:
Islam swiftly envelops much of central Eurasia. It is one of the last overland "imports" to reach the Tarim Basin in northwest China before bandits make mountain passes too dangerous for travel.
1206 A.D.:
Under the leadership of the Khans, the Mongols conquer China ?a indeed a large portion of Asia ?a opening it up again to new ideas and peoples from the outside world. Products and ideas now flow more freely under the "Pax Mongolica," reaching great distances in both directions. During the relatively liberal Mongol rule in the 13th century, Islam is tolerated and begins to expand its power throughout China ?a hence the many fine examples of mosques that still may be found along the Silk Road.
1279 A.D.:
Kublai Khan establishes the Yuan Dynasty, unifying all of China from Central Asia to Korea. During this period European travelers first begin to arrive in China, marking the true beginning of "East-West" relationships.
1368 A.D.:
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) is established after defeating and expelling the Mongols. The Ming rulers once again isolate China ?a cutting off contact with outside nations, emphasizing nationalism, and erecting land barriers in a fearful attempt to protect the country from (perceived) invasions.
14th century A.D.:
Better ships and new sea routes now offer more efficient and safer trading by sea than by land. Compared to the new shipping routes, overland trade on the Silk Road is longer, harder, and more expensive, especially with competing political groups taking control of different portions of the route. Gradually, the Silk Road's lively trading towns fall into disuse. Ravaged by the Taklimakan Desert's brutal sandstorms, the towns disappear under drifting sand dunes. And, as a final blow, Europeans have now learned the art of producing silk.
15th century A.D.:
Fearing even the potential strength of the Uyger people in northwestern China, the Ming rulers end silk trade on the Silk Road; the center of silk trade moves to Lyons, France. Sea trade now dominates.
15th century A.D. (end):
The city of Turfan, long a bastion of Turkish Buddhism, converts to Islam along with its ruler. The entire Central Asian basin now has converted to Islam.
ca. 1870 A.D.:
The term "Silk Road," coined by the German scholar Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen, is first used.
20th century A.D. (early):
Famed archeologists, including Sven Hedin and Aurel Stein, attempt to unearth the legendary "lost" cities of the Silk Road.
20th century A.D. (late):
High technology assists archeologists in their search for ruins of ancient Silk Road cities "lost" in the region's inhospitable deserts: NASA satellites that use synthetic aperture radar (and long-wavelength microwave radiation) fly on the space shuttle in 1994. Theoretically, it is now possible to "see" from outer space objects on earth buried beneath one to two meters of fine, dry sand, as well as hard objects lying on the ground.

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