The Silk Road ca. 1300

The Silk Road was an interconnected set of trade routes that were already in use before the common era. In fact, the earliest parts of the trading routes date back to prehistoric times. But the Silk Road became increasingly important to traders through the fourteenth century, and pieces of the route are still in use, though in modernized form, even today. The various trade routes of the Silk Road as it existed for explorers like Marco Polo in the late thirteenth century extended some 4,000 miles and linked areas from Europe to Asia to Africa. Goods that travelled along the Silk Road were not limited to silk, though that commodity was particularly important to Chinese traders. Other goods transported along the various networks that comprised the Silk Road included perfumes, spices, jewelry and pottery, and food. Slaves were also transported via this trading network. Generally, trading agents would transport goods along a section of the Road and then either sell their goods to those who lived in one of the many cities or towns along the route or to other traders who would continue to transport goods even further afield. It is important to note that the Silk Road provided for the transportation of not only goods but of ideas as well, allowing for the cross-pollination of different and far-flung cultures, religions, and artistic styles. Trade along the Silk Road often had unintended consequences as well. For example, diseases, like the bubonic plague, often travelled from one culture to another via the Silk Road. With its long history and its massive geographic reach, the Silk Road figures often in world literature. Its influence is evident in the story of Ali Baba from One Thousand and One Nights (NAWOL, Volume B, Section I), for example. And of course explorers such as Marco Polo documented their travels, inspiring what would become the increasingly popular genre of the travel narrative (NAWOL, Volume B, Section I).