Updated: Jun 1, 2018
Once Upon a Time: Being on This Network Mattered!
The Silk Route: The network of opulence, of all things fine, luxury, fashion, fine dining, influence and other connections. 6400 Kms.
Chang’an to Constantinople:: China to Europe
Seidenstrassen: 130 BCE – 1453 CE
The Romans loved the Chinese Silk. The price of which kept increasing and the Roman trade deficit sliding towards the negative. It became so much of a concern that Augustus ran a fake news campaign against “anti-nationals” Mark Antony and the gorgeous diva Cleopatra. He labeled them as being immoral and licentious for their love for this fine textile from a foreign land. Augustus did manage to edge the two out from the royal race but could do little to counter the surge in demand of this rather exquisite thing amongst the commoners.
So here’s what happened next: The Romans tried to think of ways to manufacture silk at home. But this was the great Chinese secret and very closely guarded. The Romans for many years thought that silk grew on trees that could survive only in China until they sent two spies disguised as monks to steal silkworms and copy processes. The monks were successful in the venture and the secret was finally out.
However, many years later, the Romans (now Italians) could not sustain the high levels of conspicuous consumption and excessive expenditure on ambitious military conquests abroad. The End of the Roman Empire. It was survived by the Byzantine Empire which was ultimately captured by the Turks and they adopted “protectionist measures” and finally stopped trading on the Silk Road.
Fascinating story especially when Italy now is going through tough economic and political times. The country is bitterly divided about being a part of the European Union. Its national debt is 131% of its GDP.
Look at Aleppo Ironically, Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and was a vibrant center of trade and industry over the centuries.
Aleppo’s ancient city was home to some amazing monuments that witnessed the social, cultural and economic exchanges that flourished in the city during the golden age of the Silk Route. It was a rich, vibrant cosmopolitan trading hub.
The Aleppo Bazar was a bustling market. Up until recent history, each part of the Bazar bore the name of trades or products such as the Wool Souq, the Copper Souq, the Spice Souq etc. Various Khans (caravanserais) provided services to travelers from around the world.
It’s difficult to even comprehend the reasons and the scale of Aleppo’s destruction and its tryst with destiny.
Mosul another City along the Silk Route - Its name derived from the fine fabric it once produced i.e. Muslin. It was home to incredibly advanced techniques in metal work and painting. Mosul too is all but rubble now.
There are so many fascinating Silk Route stories that can be explored further. It’s almost with a sigh that I write: ironically the more things appear to change the more they remain the same.
And things go on.
Also: Gunpowder and paper that went along the Silk Route from China to Europe later paved way for the Printing Press and the Nation States to be formed.
Once the Byzantine Empire shut itself down and closed the Silk Route, it was the end of Imperialism.
What followed was the Age of Discovery.
New Networks started to be built but this time across Oceans and Seas.Sea Voyages became the Enterprises where people put all their money.
Europe emerged as the new center for power and the rest receded.
Well, China is back in the game. A modern version of the Silk Route is being constructed, the grandiose One Belt One Road Initiative.
Another remarkable aspect of this story is that Chang'an ( the name means forever peace ) still exists as Xi'an and continues to be a bustling hub where the ancient and the modern have seamlessly mingled, whilst nearly all cities or civilizations along the silk route have vanished. How intriguing is that ?
"China is assuming a larger role in shaping the regional and international, economic and strategic architecture: for example, its newly formed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the One Belt One Road strategy, for increased connectivity, and improved access to regional markets. And these initiatives reflect a growing China and the fact that the center of gravity of the world is shifting."