2.1 Silk Roads

7 min readjanuary 3, 2023


Katie Moore

Riya Patel

Riya Patel

AP World History: Modern 🌍

577 resources
See Units

What are the Silk Roads?

The Silk Road was a network of trade routes that connected Asia, Europe, and Africa from ancient times through the Middle Ages. It got its name from the lucrative trade in silk that took place along these routes, which linked the civilizations of China, India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. The Silk Road was not a single, well-defined road, but rather a network of routes that crisscrossed the continents, passing through mountains, deserts, and other challenging terrain. The Silk Road was not only a means of transporting goods, but also a conduit for the exchange of ideas, cultures, and technologies between the different regions it connected. The Silk Road was an important part of the global trade network for many centuries, and its legacy can still be seen today in the cultural and economic links that exist between the regions it once connected.

Causes of Silk Road Trade

In a nutshell, it was the growth of empires and the development of new technology.
In a little bit longer of a nutshell, empires were rapidly expanding (such as Song China), and with a growing empire came a growing desire for goods. But although these economies were expanding as fast as they could, sometimes they couldn’t provide everything. The rich especially wanted goods that the empires often couldn’t afford. This is the main reason why most trade routes at the time (but the Silk Roads in particular), traded mostly luxury goods, such as sugar, gold, porcelain, and silk (duh!)  
But how to make all of this happen? Profit-seeking merchants began to build off of old trade technology to make it work for this much bigger trade network. Some key examples are caravanserai, roadside inns along trade routes merchants could rest in, bills of exchange, which were essentially early IOUs similar to paper money (convenient because they were much lighter than the gold used as currency), and banking houses, which would issue bills of exchange.


A caravanserai (also spelled caravansary or caravansara) was a roadside inn where travelers could rest and refresh themselves and their animals. These inns were often located along major trade routes, such as the Silk Road, and were used as way stations for caravans traveling between Asia, Europe, and Africa. Caravanserais were typically large, fortified buildings with a central courtyard and an entrance that was guarded by gates. They often had stables for animals, warehouses for storing goods, and workshops for craftsmen. The word "caravanserai" comes from the Persian word "karvan," which means "caravan," and "sarai," which means "palace" or "inn." Caravanserais played a vital role in facilitating trade and cultural exchange along the Silk Road and other trade routes.

Bills of Exchange

Bills of exchange were financial instruments used in international trade during the medieval and modern periods, and were often used in trade along the Silk Road. A bill of exchange was essentially an order to pay a certain sum of money to a specified person or entity at a specified time in the future. They were often used to finance trade and facilitate the exchange of goods and services between merchants and buyers in different countries, and were widely used along the Silk Road, which was a network of trade routes that connected Asia, Europe, and Africa from ancient times through the Middle Ages.

Banking Houses

It is likely that there were banking houses or other financial institutions that operated along the Silk Road and provided various financial services to merchants and traders. However, the nature and extent of these financial institutions would have varied greatly depending on the specific time period and location along the Silk Road. In some cases, these financial institutions may have functioned as centers of trade and exchange, where merchants could exchange currencies, transfer funds, and obtain credit or other financial services. In other cases, these institutions may have served more specialized functions, such as providing financing for trade or facilitating the exchange of goods and services.

Effects of the Silk Roads

As you can imagine, such a massive trade network would lead to some massive effects. Trading cities such as Kashgar and Samarkand grew massively as merchants began to exchange their goods from all over the world. Additionally, the economies of the countries trading expanded as demand for their goods increased. 

Map of the Silk Road (can you find Kashgar and Samarkand?)

Image Courtesy of encyclopediabritannica.com

Textile production dramatically increased across Eurasia as well as steel in China. The Song Dynasty in China, in particular, rapidly expanded as demand for their silk grew, and they began to rely on peasant and artisanal labor to fuel their commercializing economy.
Additionally, the ideas of the merchants carrying the goods would travel along the roads.  Religions like Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and even traditional Chinese customs spread via the trade routes, along with goods such as Champa rice (a specific kind of rice resistant to drought).
With such simple ways to travel now, common people were more free to travel the world and share their observations through writing, such as Marco Polo, who traveled the Silk Roads and wrote about it. But more on him in 2.5!
Diseases, too, spread along trade routes. You know the Black Plague, which is famous for having killed at least ⅓ of Europe? Yeah. That started in China. Now I wonder how it got all the way to Europe… 

Summary of Causes of Silk Roads

The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that connected Asia, Europe, and Africa. It is not clear what you mean by "causes of silk road bullet." The Silk Road developed over time for a variety of reasons, including the desire to trade goods such as silk, spices, and precious metals, as well as the desire to exchange ideas, technologies, and cultures. Some of the factors that contributed to the development of the Silk Road include:
  • The availability of goods that were in high demand in other regions, such as silk from China, spices from India, and precious metals from Central Asia
  • The desire of merchants and traders to find new markets for their goods and to secure new sources of raw materials
  • The development of transportation technologies, such as the use of camels as pack animals, which made it possible to traverse the long distances and challenging terrain of the Silk Road
  • The political and economic instability in certain regions, which made it difficult for traders to operate within those regions and encouraged them to seek out new markets along the Silk Road
  • The desire of rulers to control trade along the Silk Road and to extract tolls and taxes from traders passing through their territories.

Summary of Effects of Silk Roads

The Silk Road was a major trade route that connected Asia, Europe, and Africa and had a number of significant effects on the regions it connected. Some of the effects of the Silk Road include:
  • Economic: The Silk Road was an important part of the global trade network and facilitated the exchange of goods and resources between the regions it connected. It also helped to stimulate economic growth and development in some areas by providing new markets for goods and raw materials.
  • Cultural: The Silk Road was a conduit for the exchange of ideas, cultures, and technologies between the different regions it connected. This led to the spread of religions, such as Buddhism and Islam, as well as the exchange of artistic styles and techniques.
  • Political: The Silk Road was often controlled by powerful states or empires, which used it to exert influence over the regions it connected. It also played a role in the development of diplomatic relations between different countries and empires.
  • Environmental: The Silk Road had a number of environmental impacts, both positive and negative. For example, the use of the Silk Road may have contributed to the spread of diseases such as the bubonic plague, which is thought to have originated in Central Asia and spread along the trade routes of the Silk Road. It also had an impact on the environment through the large-scale movement of people and goods along the route.

Events That Occurred Along the Silk Roads

Formation of New Trading CitiesKashgar, SamarkandNew trading cities emerged along these routes
Trading of Credit and MonetizationBills of exchange, Banking houses, Use of paper moneyEmergence of global economy, Increased access to capital
Creation of Diasporic CommunitiesMuslim, Chinese, and Sodigan merchantsEthnic enclaves emerged in new regions as communities migrated
Diffusion of Literary, Cultural, and Artistic TraditionsSpread of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism1. Merchants brought religions with them and spread new and old belief systems across the world 2. Classical texts were preserved and adapted into new traditions
Diffusion of Crops and DiseasesCrops: Banana, New Rice, Cotton, Sugar & citrus Diseases: Bubonic Plague (Black Death), Justinian Plague, Plague of CypriaGreater access to diverse foodstuffs increased the population globally

🎥Watch: WHAP - Silk Roads

👉 Check out the AP World Unit 2 Replays, watch the 2021 Unit 2 Cram, or play Unit 2 Trivia
👉 Try using a study timer like the one in Fiveable rooms to maximize your efficiency when preparing for the exam!

Browse Study Guides By Unit
🐎Unit 1 – The Global Tapestry, 1200-1450
🐫Unit 2 – Networks of Exchange, 1200-1450
🕌Unit 3 – Land-Based Empires, 1450-1750
🍕Unit 4 – Transoceanic Interactions, 1450-1750
✊🏽Unit 5 – Revolutions, 1750-1900
🚂Unit 6 – Consequences of Industrialization, 1750-1900
💣Unit 7 – Global Conflict, 1900-Present
🥶Unit 8 – Cold War & Decolonization, 1900-Present
✈️Unit 9 – Globalization, 1900-Present
✏️Frequently Asked Questions
🚀Thematic Guides
🗺Regional Guides
🤓Historical Thinking Skills
🧐 Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ)
📋Short Answer Questions (SAQ)
📝Long Essay Questions (LEQ)
📑Document Based Questions (DBQ)

Stay Connected

© 2023 Fiveable Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2023 Fiveable Inc. All rights reserved.