The Silk Road and Sea Trade: The Two Drivers to a Worldwide Expansion of Cross-Cultural Connections Before there were trains, planes, or automobiles, people had much more elementary ways of traveling long distances to interact with other cultures. There were no paved highways and signs showing where to turn to get to Mecca. Nope, the Mongols had to travel across the terrain that lay ahead of them, as difficult as it might have been, to conquer the Middle East. Also, they had the form of horses as their transportation, which wore out after a while. However, when certain things happened all at once, the way cultures interacted changed forever.
When the Silk Road was created as a safe trade route, it allowed cultures all along its stretch to trade with each other with more ease than ever before. The Silk Road essentially promoted the trading along its entirety. The second thing that truly initiated more long distance trade was the invention of the under-the-boat rudder, as it allowed boats to steer themselves and not rely on wind patterns. This allowed boats to travel to unchartered waters, and thus much longer distance trading. However, although both things acted as drivers for trade, a main part of trading is interacting with other people.
Don’t waste your time!
Order your assignment!
These personal interactions are what led to the downfall of the prospering times of trade, primarily due to the introduction of two diseases: the bubonic plague and smallpox. Therefore, although connections in the pre-modern world had the issues of disease and conflict, the connections developed exemplify the word trade. There were many reasons why networking between cultures in the pre-modern era was easy. The main reason was the creation of the largest trading route the Earth has seen, which was also known as the Silk Roads. They are known as the Silk Roads due to the main product that was traded on the routes: Chinese silk.
The route stretched from Europe to Asia, thus connecting all empires and societies in between. The Silk Roads were used to trade goods such as “silk, porcelain, and manufactured goods in exchange for pearls, gems, spices, and cotton fabrics” (Bentley 356). However, goods were not the only thing that travelled the routes, as technology did as well. Some of this technology was the under-the-boat rudder. This technology allowed ships that travelled by sea not to be restricted to the areas with known wind patterns, but to have free range on locations and directions in which they travel.
This allowed for Chinese ships under the Ming Dynasty to reach countries along the southern-most coastal areas of Africa. This travel distance by sea was unheard of at the time. With access to travel such a large distance and be exposed to that many people, the Silk Roads soon became a driver for the spread of religion. The Silk Road was the main way Islam spread so fast and far and gained millions of followers. The Muslims who were followers of the islam religion were the main traders along the route. When they shared their religious beliefs and asked people to convert to their religion, most people unexpectedly did.
The main reason people convereted without much resistance at all was because the Muslims controlled a lot of resources along the routes, and if a person wanted to insure a lot of business, they would find any way to make a connection with them. This idea is shown through the trading post of Melaka. Everyone in Melaka was Muslim, and in order to keep good relations with the people and thus good trade, being Muslim was a must (Bentley 314). This was a very keen tool the Muslims used to spread their religion along the Silk Roads. Although many good things such as trade and technology came out of the Silk Roads, many bad things did as well.
The Silk Roads had a few unexpected problems that came with it. The first major unexpected problem that came up was the spread of disease. The bubonic plague was the deadliest of the diseases to travel along the path. The plague was so deadly that many civilizations nearly became extinct along the Silk Road. The bubonic plague was very deadly and had very severe symptoms. “Swollenness of lymph nodes of the neck, armpit, and groin” would be the main symptoms, and “60-70% of people who contracted the disease would die” (Bentley 351).
The fact that the disease was that deadly was bad enough, but what made it worse was the fact that human contact was the way to spread it was the scary part. On the Silk Road, human contact was the whole point so it was unavoidable. All it took was one person who had the plague and travelled on the road and gave it to one other person. It would not take long for someone in each city along the way to catch the disease, as that is exactly what happened, and thus why so many people died from it.
The main reason why the disease was not stopped before it took out a large portion of the world’s population was due to the lack of medical knowledge at the time. The plague was commonly thought as a message from god because the sins the Muslims did (Jean DeVenette, Ibn al-Wardi). Another unexpected thing that came from the Silk Road was the use of the route by armies. The route gave a very clearly cut path to the main cities from Europe to China, which armies such as the Mongols took advantage of. They would travel along the trading route invading and taking over each city on the way, all the way to the Chinese capital city.
This easy access to highly valued strongholds for potential empires brought interest in the idea, and made it so easy to perform, that a “nomadic group of people were able to control the largest simultaneous empire the earth has ever seen” (Stratton, In Class Lecture). Finally, the creation of empires truly drove the connections and trading to continue for the hundreds of years more. The basic thought behind this reason is very simple. Emperors are only in power if they make the people happy. People are happy when they are wealthy. The more trading that occurs, the more stimulated the economy is, and thus the larger it grows.
The larger the economy becomes, the more money flowing in and out of the society. A very simple concept that kept the idea that trade is necessary to society, was vital to how emperors ruled. For example, the emperor Zheng He funded seven voyages to try and spread Chinese culture around the world (Bentley 356). As good of an idea as it was to introduce a culture to other parts of the world as an attempt to increase trade, it was a major mistake as many internal problems such as the people under his rule did not see any immediate results, so they came up with a new dynasty and emperor.
Although there were no planes, automobiles, or computers, the cultures of the pre-modern era were able to create long lasting connections between societies, and set up a model of how future trade would look. The creation of the Silk Road allowed easier access to many different places from Europe to China, allowing easier travel and trade between cultures. Technology was one of the key aspects that were traded along the Silk Roads.
Some of the technology that was traded resulted in the ability to reinvent the idea of sea trade, as ships now had the technology to steer and travel wherever they wanted without having to rely on wind patterns. However, without the creation of empires, the Silk Road and all of the trade that occurred on it would have eventually died down. The trading of course had the downfall of spreading the deadliest and largest outbreak of disease mankind has ever been exposed to, but nonetheless, set the standard for the way of living most modern day people are used to, due to the idea of cross-cultural connections.