Main routes of the Silk Road
|Time period||Around 114 BCE – 1450s CE|
|Official name||Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor|
|Criteria||ii, iii, iv, vi|
|Designated||2014 (38th session)|
The Silk Road or Silk Route was an ancient network of trade routes that were for centuries central to cultural interaction originally through regions of Eurasia connecting the East and West and stretching from the Korean peninsula and Japan to the Mediterranean Sea. The Silk Road concept refers to both the terrestrial and the maritime routes connecting Asia with Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe. The overland Steppe route stretching through the Eurasian steppe is considered the ancestor to the Silk Road(s).
The term refers to many similar routes taken by traders primarily between Arabia, India and China but also to Tanzania (Zanzibar) in the south, Asia Minor and Southern Europe. While the term is of modern coinage, the Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in silk carried out along its length, beginning during the Han dynasty (207 BCE – 220 CE). The Han dynasty expanded Central Asian sections of the trade routes around 114 BCE, largely through missions and explorations of the Chinese imperial envoy, Zhang Qian. The Chinese took great interest in the safety of their trade products and extended the Great Wall of China to ensure the protection of the trade route.
Trade on the Silk Road played a significant role in the development of the civilizations of China, the Goguryeo kingdom (Korea), Japan, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Europe, the Horn of Africa and Arabia, opening long-distance political and economic relations between the civilizations. Though silk was certainly the major trade item exported from China, many other goods were traded, as well as religions, syncretic philosophies, and various technologies. Diseases, most notably plague, also spread along the Silk Routes. In addition to economic trade, the Silk Road was a route for cultural trade among the civilizations along its network.
Jewish merchants have left only a few traces on the Silk Road.