The Silk Road is a historically important international trade route between China and the Mediterranean. Because China silk comprised a large proportion of the trade along this ancient road, in 1877, it was named the 'Silk Road' by Ferdinand von Richthofen, an eminent German geographer.
The European explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324 CE) traveled on these routes and described them in depth in his famous work but he is not credited with naming them. Both terms for this network of roads were coined by the German geographer and traveler, Ferdinand von Richthofen, in 1877 CE, who designated them 'Seidenstrasse’ (silk road) or 'Seidenstrassen’ (silk routes). Polo, and later von Richthofen, make mention of the goods which were transported back and forth on the Silk Road.
The Silk Road routes included a large network of strategically located trading posts, markets and thoroughfares designed to streamline the transport, exchange, distribution and storage of goods.
Routes extended from the Greco-Roman metropolis of Antioch across the Syrian Desert via Palmyra to Ctesiphon (the Parthian capital) and Seleucia on the Tigris River, a Mesopotamian city in modern-day Iraq.
From Seleucia, routes passed eastward over the Zagros Mountains to the cities of Ecbatana (Iran) and Merv (Turkmenistan), from which additional routes traversed to modern-day Afghanistan and eastward into Mongolia and China.
Silk Road routes also led to ports on the Persian Gulf, where goods were then transported up the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Routes from these cities also connected to ports along the Mediterranean Sea, from which goods were shipped to cities throughout the Roman Empire and into Europe.
Even though the name "Silk Road” derives from the popularity of Chinese silk among tradesmen in the Roman Empire and elsewhere in Europe, the material was not the only important export from the East to the West.
Trade along the so-called Silk Road economic belt included fruits and vegetables, livestock, grain, leather and hides, tools, religious objects, artwork, precious stones and metals and—perhaps more importantly—language, culture, religious beliefs, philosophy and science.
Commodities such as paper and gunpowder, both invented by the Chinese during the Han Dynasty, had obvious and lasting impacts on culture and history in the West. They were also among the most-traded items between the East and West.Paper was invented in China during the 3rd century B.C., and its use spread via the Silk Road, arriving first in Samarkand in around 700 A.D. before moving to Europe through the then-Islamic ports of Sicily and Spain.Of course, paper’s arrival in Europe fostered significant industrial change, with the written word becoming a key form of mass communication for the first time. The eventual development of the Gutenberg.Press allowed for the mass production of books and, later, newspaper, which enabled a wider exchange of news and information.