The Silk Road; The Backbone of the Steppes


The Silk Road has been around for over a millennium. This trade route has been vital for Kazakhstan and the entire the world that has brought some of the greatest innovations, art, food, culture, and technology. This 4,000 mile network of routes bridged the gap between Europe and Asia over land and sea from the coast of China extending across Asia to present day Italy and Istanbul. For Kazakhstan, the Silk Road ran right through the middle of the country and was vital to the trade network. Today the Silk Route is no longer just a part of history that Kazakhstan dwells on, it is also the key to Kazakhstan’s future as a leading world trade partner.

[caption id=”attachment_3808” align=”aligncenter” width=”1280”] Photo source: sciencemag.org[/caption]

The Beginning

The Silk Road began being forged around 200 BC. The trade route began its creation on the East end and the West end. On the East end, China was expanding further West into Central Asia establishing embassies and building an empire. On the West end, Alexander the Great was moving his empire eastward into what is now present-day Turkmenistan. By the first century BC, China had expanded enough into Central Asia to conduct trade with India and the Western world. Also, the Roman Empire was emerging and moving into Egypt and Central Asia too. Soon, China and the Romans were regularly communicating and conducting trade between each other and India.

For Kazakhstan, many of these Chinese embassies in Central Asia were in Kazakhstan and conducted trade with nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes between the 11th and 2nd century BC. These tribes traded a lot with the Chinese but also traded items from the Middle East as well. By the time the Romans got into trading with the Chinese, the nomads were soon trading more items such as lacquered dishes, Roman coins and glass, and most importantly, silk. With the growth of Silk Road, towns began to be created and starting new arteries of trade in Kazakhstan.

By the 5th century AD, the Silk Road began to see a dramatic shift with the decline of the Roman Empire in the West becoming prevalent. With the Roman Empire deteriorating, the rise of Islam and Buddhism began to take shape and travel along the Silk Road. However, this began warfares among empires in the Middle East and China. Not only that, Turkic tribes who settled in Kazakhstan were beginning to wage wars over their territories. The warfare continued into the Middle Ages and began breaking the Silk Road apart until the Islamic Caliphate’s took control of the Silk Road.

It’s Heyday

By around 1207, the Silk Road saw a new light and Kazakhstan was taken over by the Mongol Empire from the Islam Caliphate. With the reign of Genghis Khan, he opened up more trade within the empire and made Kazakhstan an important part of the route. Also, it was during this time that Marco Polo made his famous journey along the Silk Road from Europe to China later writing a book about it. His book detailed his journey and customs along the Silk Road that opened the eyes of Europe about Central Asia and the Far East. But this also brought a major downfall for Europe as the Silk Road was part of the reason of how the Black Plague spread across Europe killing thousands of people. By 1360, the Black Plague was a sign of the decline of the Silk Road. Also, the Mongol Empire started fragmenting leading the Byzantine Empire and Turkmeni lords to seize parts of land along the Silk Road.

The Decline

The Silk Road fell apart by the 16th century when explorers saw sailing as a faster route to the East for trade and with the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, more people wanted to trade with the New World than with China. The Silk Road was no longer the vital trade route that it used to be. By the 19th century, the Great Game was afoot as Europeans countries sought to imperialize parts of Central Asia and the Middle East. For these countries, they used parts of the Silk Road to build railways. By 1920, the Soviet Union used parts of the Silk Road to build railroads for transporting goods across their states.

Today

The Silk Road is still in use today and the main hub is Kazakhstan. The Silk Road has somewhat modernized as it is a network of railway lines. In 1990, the railway line along the Silk Road was completed connecting Urumqi, China to Almaty and Nur-Sultan. This railway line has also connected railway lines to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India. Along with this network, it has also linked the major Chinese city of Chongqing to Duisburg, Germany by freight rail access. The Silk Road now is not just an old trade route that is buried in the sands of time overlaid with railroad tracks. The Silk Road is now an emerging topic that will change the world.

 

Conclusion

The Silk Road was once the most vital trading route in the entire world that helped bridge China, India, and Central Asia to the Middle East and Europe. From around 200 BC to the 16th century, this trade route became a vital part of Kazakhstan that spurred trade and the development of cities along the route and its arteries. Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan ensured these trade routes were open to bring wealth to their empires. To ordinary people, it was a road for the exchange of ideas, religion, technology, and culture that has helped shape the modern world and their own identity.