The History of Silk

Many people have heard of the Silk Road, the vast expansive route that facilitated the silk industry for centuries, and allowed trade to flourish between Asia, the Middle East and Europe. 


The Silk Road itself is just under 6,500km’s long and expands across much of Asia, the Middle East, into Europe and finally Africa. It gradually became a popularized route when first, the Persians, and then Italians, joined in the sericulture industry to produce the much sought after material: Silk. By the 13th century the Silk Road, or Silk route as it was also commonly referred to, had been widely acknowledged and permanently established.

Despite the route not being officially established until the 2nd century BC, ancient remains found in Egypt indicate that Silk was travelling along its various tributary routes long before previously thought, even as far back as 1070 BC. Evidence suggests that some Egyptian mummies, presumably royalty, were buried with silk along with other valuable or necessary items which they would need when passing into the afterlife.

However, it wasn’t just tangible goods that were traded along the Silk Road. Cultural and religious exchanges began to meander along the route, acting as a connection for a global network where East and West ideologies met. This led to the spread of many ideologies, cultures and even religious. For example the route contributed to the spread of Islam, with many Arab Muslims travelling along the Silk Road to China in order to spread the Islamic faith. Additionally Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Nestorianism were all introduced to China and parts of India because of the Silk Roads influence.  

The spread of papermaking was also influenced by the route.  This production method spread from China through much of central Asia as a direct result of the route itself. Architecture, town planning, as well as music and art from many different cultures were transported along the Silk Road. Actors from the East performed in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). Music from Eastern Turkestan and Central Asia grew popular in China, while buildings such as Timur's structures in Samarkand and Timurids tombs at Gur-Emir, have heavy architectural influences from various countries such as Iran, Georgia and India.

Even today, the Silk Road holds economic and cultural significance for many. It is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while the United nations World Tourism Organization has developed the route as a way of ‘fostering peace and understanding’. Having visited a number of countries the Silk Road passes through (I’ll do a write up on those again), I can definitely say that taking a trip along this route is incredible and well worth the long distance travelled.

If you’d like to have your very own piece of the Silk Road, why not check out our range of ethically produced mulberry silk garments



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