Top 5 Ancient Trade Routes

By Rohan Chawla → Saturday, 4 March 2017

In the modern era, import and export are general measures taken by each country to survive. The natural resources are spread all over the world and are not restricted to a single region. This fact makes it necessary for countries to import what is deficient and export what is in excess. The ancient humans were no different, they understood the value of trade and begun expeditions to find routes to various places on the earth. These explorations were born out of needs and necessities. The early humans discovered the availability of materials that made their lives better and started to trade. They practiced barter system which was nothing but exchanging goods.
Here are the 5 routes that changed the world for the better:
1.     The Tea Route: This route is also known as the Tea-Horse trade route. This route is considered as the main reason for the spread of Chinese tea. The route stretched from the Hengduan mountains, a major tea-producing area in China, through Tibet and on to India. The main mountain ranges that this route covered were Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou. The route also crossed numerous rivers making it one of the most dangerous ancient routes.
As the name suggests the main goods of trade were Chinese tea, horses, and salt. The Chinese exchanged their tea for Tibetan warhorses. These horses were required by the Chinese to fight the nomadic tribes in the north. Both people and horses were used to transport heavy loads of tea.
A piece of research suggests that humans sometimes carried 60-90 kg of tea that was more than their own weight. Moreover, research also suggests that 20,000 Tibetan warhorses were traded during 960-1127 every year.
The route started being partly used around the 1600 BCE but the route became fully functional around the 7th century BCE. It was at its peak when the Song dynasty ruled China(960-1279). The route lost its importance as sea routes gained popularity. During World War 2 when Japan blocked all the sea ports this ancient route became valuable. This was the only way to get in and out of inland China.

2.     The Salt Route: Also known as the Via Salaria, this route was popular for the trading of salt. Salt is a commodity that is still valuable to us. Its properties such as being used for flavor, as a preservative, and for medicinal purposes are just a few of them. Easily harvested salt was scarce to find in the ancient world. Thus the places with an abundance of salt became major trading centers. This gave rise to various routes that led to these centers. The most famous of them being the Via Salaria.
This route stretched across 242kms from Ostia, near Rome to the Adriatic bay in Italy. Salt was a rare and precious commodity that its trade made up half the payment of Roman soldiers. The word salary is derived from the Latin derivative of salt that is sal. Also the phrase "Not worth his salt " came around this period as the soldier's pay was blocked if he did not work hard.
3.     Tin Route: Tin is used in an alloy with copper to make Bronze. From bronze age onward the acquisition of tin became important. Tin is a rare metal found in the earth's crust. It is found in every 2 parts per million(ppm). With the coming of bronze age, ancient humans learned to use bronze to create tools and jewelry that increased the value of this metal. Tin was used the first time in the middle east in 2800-3000 BCE. The people mixed tin with copper to form bronze which was a better metal type. This advancement led to the Bronze age.
This route flourished in first millennium BC. The tin mines in Cornwall situated at the far southwestern end of Britain became the source of tin. The route stretched from Britain to France through the sea and then to Greece and beyond. There are no written scriptures regarding the establishment and usage of this route. The archaeologists have come to this conclusion because of the existence of hill posts along this stretch. These were the trade posts along the route that still exist. The trade was carried on both ways to and from Britain. The historic pieces found in the forts include exotic artifacts of coral and gold. These make it evident that the trade went to and fro. Art and technology traveled through this route as is evident from the historic pieces found along the way. This route established an important link across Europe.

4.     The Old Salt route: In early times the occurrence of salt was rare. This fact made salt to be known as "white gold". The route was used to transport salt in the inland Germany. The source of production of salt was brine, near Lunenburg, a city in the northern central Germany.
The route was just a minor part of the network over which salt was transported. Although it was a short distance between two cities it had a major impact on the economy of the whole country. The salt was transported from Lunenberg to Lubeck which was a major German seaport along the Baltic coast. According to a research piece, the refinement and production of salt in Luneberg dates back to 965 A.D.
Horse-drawn carts were used to transport heavy loads of salt to Lubeck. The roads were muddy, sandy and the route passed through small villages and forests making it a difficult and hard to tread route. Moreover, the valuable substance attracted bandits and thieves that made this overland route very expensive. All these reasons led to the decline of this route which was at its peak from 12th to 13th century.

5.     The Mediterranean Trade: Around the 4th millennium BC the islands around the Mediterranean were well settled. This led to the establishment of trade between the islands and cultural expansion. Humans realized the need for materials that they did not have on their part which made trading a necessity.
The Egyptians used the sea to travel northward to Crete and eastward to Cyprus and Syria. Their main agenda was to collect goods such as timber, spices, wine, tin, olive oil, and copper.
The greatest trading empire was built by the Phoenicians using this ancient maritime route. Their scripture and language are being used till date in what we now call the alphabets. Their boats had a peculiar round shape. It carried glass, textiles, and dyes. They established various colonies around the region to get raw materials. Their colonies stretched from Red sea to Spain. The Greek followed the Phoenicians footsteps and established numerous colonies between 750 to 500 BC.   


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