Top 5 Ancient Trade Routes

By Rohan Chawla → Friday, 3 March 2017

Trade routes are logistical networks of transportation that are used for delivery of commercial cargo. The route may be connected to smaller arteries that might lead to other commercial or non-commercial routes.
The main trade routes of the ancient times include Silk road, Spice route, Incense route, Amber route, Trans-Saharan trade route, Tea route, Salt route and Tin route.
Here is a description of a few of them:

The Silk Road:

 The most famous trading route that connected the east to the west from China to the Mediterranean sea. This route not only became a major trading route for goods but also a way to exchange ideas regarding culture, technology, medicine and much more.
The main commodity traded was silk which gave this route its name. Silk was traded from China to Rome along with horses in exchange for wool, gold, and silver coming in from the Europe.
The trade started during the Han dynasty(207BCE- 220CE). The Chinese took great care of their products and thus built the Great Wall Of China so as to protect their trade route.  The trade route played an important role in the development of various countries. The beneficiaries include China, Korea, the Subcontinent, Persia, Europe, Horn Of Africa and Arabia. Apart from the economic benefits it also led to spread of cultural values, religion, philosophies, art, and various technologies. The main traders were Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Turkmens, Persians, Somalis, Greek, Syrians, Romans, Armenians, and Bactrians.
The silk road fell out of use and became unsafe when the Roman empire crumbled in the 4th century CE. It remained unused until the  13th century. The route is also considered to be the main cause of the spread of plague bacteria which caused Black death and deterioration of empires.
Spice Route:
 This route was mainly a maritime route used by many countries to trade spices. The availability of spices like cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, pepper, nutmeg, cloves was rare in the west. These commodities were highly sought after. Before the 15th century, the whole market of spices was controlled by the Arabs and the North African men which made them extremely costly.
With the advent of the Age Of Exploration sailing, long distances became possible and Europeans used this opportunity to forge economic relations with the east. This made the middlemen useless and the availability of spices easy and cheap.
This was the same time when the British East India company took control of India and used this route to export spices to Europe. The spices from India livened up the European food. Moreover, this route was exploited by the Britisher's  to export silk, cotton and indigo dye.
The route had suddenly opened up gates to the eastern market. This network had a great value and thus colonization came into being. Wars were fought for lands and colonies. The British using this route fully took control over India and came to power. The Dutch and the British made maximum profits from these routes. This route is said to be one of the major pillars that gave rise to globalization.

Incense Road:
 It comprises of a network of major ancient land and sea routes connecting the Mediterranean world with the Eastern and Southern end of the Arabian peninsula(present Yemen and Oman). The route stretched from the ports of Mediterranean to India and beyond. It included Levant, Egypt, Northeastern Africa and Arabia.
The land route flourished from the 7th century BC to the 2nd century AD. Main items of trade were Arabian frankincense and myrrh. These two were derived from tree sap and were used as perfumes or burned as incense. These were also popularly used in burial rituals for embalming. The other items included Indian spices, precious stones, pearls, ebony, silk, textiles, Horn Of African rare woods, feathers, animal skins.
The main mode of transportation used was the camel. Camel was domesticated around 1000 BCE. This allowed the Arabs to export frankincense and myrrh. These became the most valued commodity for the Romans, the Greeks, and the Egyptians. The trade flourished and at its height, the route saw 3000 tons of incense trading. The root cause of the decline of the route was the discovery of shorter and cheaper sea routes that made trading more efficient.
Trans-Saharan Trade Route:

 The trading route is a mesh of various roads that provided trading links through the Sahara. The trade routes emerged during 4th century CE and were at their peak from the 8th century to the 17th century. The Sahara desert is and was always a challenging and dangerous route. This route gained popularity because the trading cargo included valuable items like gold. The commodities traded also included slaves, salt, cloth, kola nuts and cowrie shells. Later on, multiple other products such as ostrich eggs, feathers, spices and even guns became the chief trading commodities. The transportation took the form of caravans which consisted of as much as 1200 camels, soldiers, traders and other goods. This route was instrumental in the growth of the monetary system and state building. The rulers understood the benefit of acquiring land and commodities. This gave rise to great cities Gao, Timbuktu, and Djenne.
This route led to spread of  Islam from North of Africa to the west. With the advent of Islam came Arabic language, knowledge, and education.
The trade route became less attractive when the Europeans discovered the Trans-Atlantic route. This made the business shift to the coasts. The Sahara seemed more perilous than ever after this discovery.

Amber Road:
 The course derives its name from amber beads also known as "gold of the north" which are nothing but naturally occurring precious stones which are found across the coastal areas of North sea and the Baltic sea. Amber has been traded since 3000 BCE and has been found in the necklace of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen.
The Amber road that connects the Baltic sea to the rest of the Europe was created by the Romans. The Romans used them as ornaments as well as for its medicinal purposes.
Amber is found under the Baltic sea which was formed millions of years ago when the area was covered by forests. Storms washed the beads to the shore and were harvested by the traders across the shores of the beaches. During the crusades of the 12th and 13th century, the Teutonic Knights gained control of the business and yielded the profits. Traces of this road can be still found in Poland where a major highway is named as "Amber Highway".    

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