The Silk Road was an ancient international network of trade routes that connected cultures and commerce alike, from China in the East to the Mediterranean Sea in the West.
According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, the network was “used regularly from 130 BCE, when the Han officially opened trade with the West, to 1,453 AD, when the Ottoman Empire boycotted trade with the West and closed the routes.” (1)
Even before the Han dynasty, this network existed as the Persian Royal Road, established between 500 and 330 BCE, during the Achaemenid Empire.
This Royal Road, which would later become one of the main lines of transport for the Silk Road, ran from Susa in Northern Persia in modern day Iran, to the Mediterranean Sea in modern day Turkey.
Fantastically, even in its early period, this highway featured stations alongside it, with refreshments and readied horses for its travelers.
The Silk Road grew in popularity when, desperate for aid in defeating invading nomadic tribes from the North and the West, Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty of China, sent an emissary to the West, by way of this path to seek support.
This not only resulted in the help requested, but in increased contact with the “outside” world and an “efficient horse breeding program throughout the land in order to equip a cavalry.” (1)
Following this, all sorts of merchandise traveled along this road, most notably, of course, silk, for which the road is named after. Significantly, the Silk Road linked numerous societies, running from China through India, Asia Minor, up through Mesopotamia, to Egypt, the African continent, Greece, Rome, and Britain.
(1) Mark, Joshua J. 2014. “Silk Road.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://www.ancient.eu/Silk_Road/