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Emergence of Transregional Networks of Communication and Exchange (600 BCE - 600 CE)
The Travel of Zhang Qian to the West
The Travel of Zhang Qian to the West

I. Land and water routes became the basis for transregional trade, communication and exchange networks in the Eastern Hemisphere, while somewhat later separate networks connected the people and societies of the Americas

A. Many factors, including the climate and location of the routes, the typical trade goods, and the ethnicity of people involved, shaped the distinctive features of a variety of trade routes.

[Required examples of trade routes: Eurasian Silk Roads, Trans-Saharan caravan routes, Indian Ocean sea lanes, and Mediterranean sea lanes]

Silk Road Map by Belsky on Wikimedia Commons
Silk Road Map by Belsky on Wikimedia Commons

The Silk Road

See Zhang Qian and the Beginnings of the Silk Road

The Silk Road has been an incredibly important trade route which has empowered (and helped destroy) nations and shaped the political structure of all the territories along this constantly-shifting path as empires fought for access and control.
  • Chinese goods, especially Tea, Silk (hence silk road), and Porcelain, were lucrative trading goods and highly sought-after
    • Persia and the Byzantine Empire had long profited from control of the Silk Road, only to see their economic power decline when European trading powers, especially Venice and Milan, gained access via alternative waterways and routes.
      • To understand the importance that the Silk road played during it's prominence as a land-route, one only needs to see the frenzy that Chinese sea-trade stirred later, during the Age of Imperialism.
        • The Silk Road was not one specific road, but a network of paths, not just for trade, but a means to spread religious and cultural beliefs.

China is Spending Nearly $1 Trillion to Rebuild the Silk Road, PBS Newshour (March 2, 2016)

Go here for Zhang Qian's Diplomatic Mission to the Western Regions for more about the "father of the silk road."

For a modern perspective, see Hauling New Treasure Along the Silk Road, The New York Times, July 21, 2013 that shows how computers and other electronics are transported along the ancient routes by railroad trains.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 1.35.00 PM.pngThe Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma, Park Avenue Armory, New York City (June 4, 2009)

Sea Routes of the Silk Road
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.40.38 AM.pngThe Silk Road and Arab Sea Routes, from Geography of Transport Systems, Hofstra University

Sea Routes from American Museum of Natural History

external image Men_Laden_With_Tea%2C_Sichuan_Sheng%2C_China_1908_Ernest_H._Wilson_RESTORED.jpg
The Tea Horse Road
The Tea Horse Road: The Forgotten Road, National Geographic (May 2010)
  • Began in the 11th century; brought tea to Tibet and horses to China
  • 1,400 miles from tea-growing region of Sichuan province to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet
  • Men and horses continue to haul tea into the 1950s

Image to the right shows men carrying tea on the Tea Horse Road, Sichuan Sheng, China (1908)

rotating gif.gif

Marco Polo
primary_sources.PNGMarco Polo (1254-1324). This link includes excerpts from The Book of Ser Marco Polo: The Venetian Concerning Kingdoms and Marvels of the East.

Trans-Saharan Caravans

A long-important source of income for the African Empires (especially the Mali and Songhai Empires of western Africa) was the Trans-Saharan Caravans. Local rulers grew rich due to Western Africa's large supply of Gold. Keeping the supply of Gold down, the rulers of the west African Empires traded their Gold for Salt, generating enormous amounts of wealth, with the legendary wealth in Gold of Timbuktu. With the rise of Islam, Islam would be introduced to West Africa through Muslim traders, slowly settling in to Africa until the West African Empires became one of the largest of the Muslim Empire in the world.
Map of The Indian Ocean
Map of The Indian Ocean

Multimedia.pngThe Indian Ocean in World History from the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center.


  • See also The Slave Route from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Western Sahara Trade Routes:  1000-1500.  Map by aa77zz.
Western Sahara Trade Routes: 1000-1500. Map by aa77zz.

II. New technologies facilitated long-distance communication and exchange.


A. New technologies permitted the use of domesticated pack animals to transport goods across longer routes.

[Teach one illustrative example of new technologies, either from the list below or an example of your choice: Yokes, Saddles, Stirrups]
[Teach one illustrative example of domesticated pack animals, either from the list below or an example of your choice: Horses, Oxen, Llamas, Camels]

B. Innovations in maritime
, as well as advanced knowledge of the monsoon winds, stimulated exchanges along maritime routes from East Africa to East Asia.

[Teach one illustrative example of innovations in maritime technologies, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: Lateen sail, Dhow ships]

Image to the right is a Dhow Ship Model, Maritime Experiential Museum & Aquarium, Singapore. Photograph on Wikimedia Commons by Jacklee

rotating gif.gifGo to Massachusetts Grade 7.17 and 7.18 For information on the Phoenicians and early maritime trade in the Mediterranean Sea (1000-300 BCE). The Phoenicians are credited with having invented the bireme and other ancient water craft.

Navigating the Oceans: Antiquity to the Renaissance from The Heritage of World Civilizations companion website.

III. Alongside the trade in goods, exchange of people, technology, religious and cultural beliefs, food crops, domesticated animals and disease pathogens developed across far-flung networks of communication and exchange

A. The spread of crops, including rice and cotton from South Asia to the Middle East, encouraged changes in farming and irrigation techniques.

[Teach one illustrative example of changes in farming and irrigation techniques, either the one that follows or an example of your choice: The qanat system]

B. The spread of disease pathogens diminished urban populations and contributed to the decline of some empires.

[Teach one illustrative example of the effects of the spread of disease on empires, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: The effects of disease on the Roman Empire, The effects of disease on Chinese empires]

C. Religious and cultural traditions were transformed as they spread.

Image below is Head of Buddha; Found at Khotan site in Xinjiang, China. 3rd-4th century A.D. Collection of the Tokyo National Museum
external image Head_of_Buddha.jpg

[Required examples of transformed and traditions: Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism]

See The Buddha from the BBC series, "Religions." Click here for summaries of many world religions from that same BBC series. For more on Buddhism, see World History I.26

Early History of Hinduism from the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.

rotating gif.gifFor more on Hinduism, see World History I.21 For more on the early development of Christianity, see Grade 7.41.

The Important Role Empire Played in Trade

From the Roman "Pax Romana" (Roman Peace) to the Sassanid Empire, the emergence of large Empires linked once-scattered peoples into unified political units.
  • Often, these empires established roads, trading infrastructure, and protected trade routes, killing pirates and bandits.
    • This trade was lucrative to the empire, but also culturally lucrative, as culture gained avenues to spread from one society to another.