From the Beginnings to the Emergence of the Silk Road (SR)

  • Stephan Barisitz
Part of the Studies in Economic History book series (SEH)


This chapter presents the economic history of CA up to the emergence of the SR. Economic and political dualism in the region soon emerged: while urbanized sedentary oasis cultures developed, the domestication of the horse in the grasslands led to mounted nomadism and mobile pastoralism from the beginning of the first millennium BCE (Iron Age). Horseback nomads soon gained the military edge over settled civilizations and often ruled and taxed them. From around 500 BCE CA came under the sway of major states of early antiquity: the Achaemenid, Alexander, and Xiongnu empires. The latter power was a nomadic state that extorted silk from China and initiated transcontinental silk trade. The Silk Road was established by the Middle Kingdom, driven primarily by geopolitical goals, at the end of the second century BCE. The first blossoming of the network (in ancient times) reached its heyday in the first two centuries CE. Major participants simultaneously benefited from political stability: Han dynasty, China; the Kushan state, Parthia; and the Roman Empire. Chinese silk had pivotal importance for trade and became a de-facto international currency. At the same time, horses, typically bred by steppe nomads, were highly coveted goods in SR trade. Decline was triggered in the third- and fourth-century CE by internal imperial weaknesses and by nomadic invasions.


Tarim Basin Silk Road Trade Route Central Asia Eurasian Steppe 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephan Barisitz
    • 1
  1. 1.ViennaAustria

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