The Silk Road: Ancient communication between Asia and Europe

ethnic china

The Silk Road: Ancient communication between Asia and Europe

The Silk Road is the longest and oldest commercial network on our planet, the oldest, the one used for the longest time, and the one that has had the greatest importance for the formation of the world as we know it. Of course the name is somewhat recent, but the reality that it defines, those roads that from time immemorial communicated Europe and Asia, has a complexity of which, despite many years of study, only a few details are still known.

The Silk Road is the epic of the human race, the will to know the beyond, one step each day, each week, each year, which has put in communication since prehistoric times territories separated by almost 10,000 km. The Silk Road, with its myriad branches, stops, detours and variations, is a parable of man’s destiny and proof that one of the qualities that have defined him has been this desire to see a little further, to know what lies behind the next bend in the road, on the other side of the mountain, in short: the desire to travel.

Since the 19th century, the Silk Road has been the name given to the network of roads that connects China, in the far east of Asia, with the heart of Europe.  Before that time, it was a complex road along which ideas and products from Europe and Western Asia had reached China, and vice versa.  Although there are indications that before the year 3,000 B.C. there were already certain cultural exchanges between the two regions, we could consider their existence proven by that date, when the set of Neolithic technologies developed from Anatolia to Sumeria, reached China. A set that would include the domestication of cattle and sheep, the cultivation of wheat and barley, and the metallurgy of bronze.

Since then, the dark past of an infinite history is showing certain flashes, which in the hands of researchers, are throwing light on a history that is revealed a little less and less mysterious. We know that it was by this same route that horses arrived in China, more than a thousand years later, and chariots, which transformed the art of war in the eastern country, and that already in the first millennium before our era some wizards from the west made their presence felt in the courts of the Chinese kings, and it is even possible that they created schools of magic whose foundations are still practiced to this day. 

Products also traveled in a Western direction, and remains of silk found in some pyramids in Egypt show that the flow of ideas, merchandise and people was very active during the centuries before the appearance of history in that region.

We do not have a precise chronology of events on the Silk Road until Zhang Qian’s expedition in the second century BC. He was sent by Emperor Han Wudi in search of the famous Ferghana horses, but to the surprise of Western scholars, when the first scientific explorations of the area began in the early 20th century, what was discovered were sand-devoured cities, founded long before Zhang Qian’s arrival by the heirs of Alexander the Great.

Hellenistic cities with realistic paintings, Buddhist temples, light-eyed giants, blonde-haired women, altars where today’s unimaginable ceremonies took place, caves decorated with exquisite paintings, skeletons of constructions modeled by centuries of wind and sand action. The Silk Road is the continuous surprise, the constant discovery of new treasures and the expectation to know what a new movement of the sands or the change of position of a gigantic dune will have in store for us.

Gigantic is the right word to define the size of this region, and even if we stick only to the Chinese part, as we will do here, it shows to be right in all its meanings. This gives the trip to the Silk Road the incentive of conquest, merit, rewarded effort and deserved rest.

That’s why the Silk Road is an obligatory destination for all travelers, one in which the trajectory of one’ s journey will reveal names that are already myths in our culture.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "The Silk Road: Ancient communication between Asia and Europe," in Ethnic China, 11 enero 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/the-silk-road-ancient-communication-between-asia-and-europe/.

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