The Silk Road – Ancient Trading Route Between Europe and Asia


The Silk Road is a name given to the many trade routes that connected Europe and the Mediterranean with the Asian world. The route is over 6,500 km long and got its name because the early Chinese traded silk along it. Although silk was the main trading item there were many other goods that travelled along the Silk Road between Eastern Asia and Europe. In the course of time, medicine, perfumes, spices and livestock found their way between continents.

The Chinese learned to make silk thousands of years ago. For a long time they were the only ones who knew how to make this precious material. Only the emperor, his family and his highest advisers were allowed to wear clothes made of silk. For a long time the Chinese guarded this secret very carefully.

The ancient Romans were the first Europeans who became aware of this wonderful material. Trading started, often with Indians as middlemen who traded silk with the Chinese in exchange for gold and silver which they got from the Romans.

Travelling along the route was dangerous. The hot desert, high mountains and sandstorms made travelling a rough business. Most of the goods along the Silk Road were carried by caravans. Traders sometimes brought goods from one destination on the Silk Road to another, from where the goods would be transported by someone else. Over the centuries people settled along the ancient route and many cities emerged. Later on there were fewer hardships to overcome, but by no means was it easy.

Religion, languages and diseases also spread along the Silk Road. Buddhism, which originated in India, spread to China along this route. European traders probably brought the plague from Asia to Europe along the ancient road. 

In the early Middle Ages traffic along the route decreased because of the decline of the Roman Empire. Trading along the Silk Road and became stronger again between the 13th and 14th centuries, when the Mongols controlled central Asia. During the Age of Exploration the Silk Road lost its importance because new sea routes to Asia were discovered.


Silk Road in the 1st century

Silk Road in the 1st century A.D.


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  • adviser = someone who tells you what to do and offers help
  • although = while
  • ancient = old
  • by no means = not at all
  • caravan = group of people with animals who travel together through dry places
  • century = a hundred years
  • connect = link
  • desert = hot dry area with little or no rain
  • destination =place
  • discover = to find for the first time
  • disease = illness
  • emerge = come up
  • emperor = a man who is the ruler of a big country
  • fewer = not so many
  • goods = products
  • guard = protect
  • hardship = difficulty
  • importance = meaning
  • in exchange = trade
  • Indian = here: person who lives in India
  • livestock = animals that you raise for food
  • middleman = someone who buys things and sells them to someone else for a profit
  • originate = originally come from
  • overcome = beat, win against
  • plague = disease that causes death and spreads quickly to many people
  • precious = very important , valuable
  • rough = difficult
  • secret = something that is known only by a few people
  • settle = to start living in a place where nobody has lived before
  • silk = smooth cloth made from a very thin thread which is produced by a silkworm
  • spice = powder or seeds you take from plants and put into food to give it a special taste
  • spread = travel from one place to another
  • trade = to exchange something you have for something someone else has