Maritime Silk Routes- The Story of the Oldest Trade Routes

Maritime Silk routes were important mercenary components during the 15th to 19th century. As marine trade picked up and east began connecting with west, maritime trade routes began boosting like never before. Silk trade was one of the trades that benefitted the most from it.

Considering the demand for commodities as luxurious as silk, several silk routes came into existence as more and more traders from west travelled to east in search of better options.

What is Silk Road?

The history of silk route goes back to 15th century when Chinese first constructed the Silk Road. It is 4500 miles long road, running across china all the way to India and Sri Lanka.

maritime silk route

It was one of the most important trade routes during this time. Caravans loaded with silk often travelled through this passage, making it historically and economically important structure. The Great Wall of China is believed to have been built to protect this Silk Road route from bandits.

Maritime trade routes

However, the maritime trade routes for silk are believed to have come into existence some time before the Silk Road. It is essentially a marine trade route between china and South Asia, West Asia, Europe and North Africa, which dealt with transportation of silk.

This route starts from Guangzhou with south china making its central point. The maritime trade routes was started to promote trade during that time, since marine trade was the most convenient way of doing so. Most development for this route was done during the Western Han and Eastern Han dynasties, though started earlier.

It is important to note that this route was started for general trade purposes but later got the name of ‘Marine Silk Road’ owing to the vast silk trade that occurred over this particular channel.

The popularity of marine Silk Road for the trade was continued by many later dynasties including the Tan and Song dynasty. This also promoted building of Silk Road route and the Silk road trade benefitted immensely from construction of this route. It connected several important cities starting from the Chinese town of Xian, Chang’an, Jade Pass, Yangguan, Cong Range, Korla, Aksu and Hetian and going further to meet cities in Middle and West Asia. It is believed to end in the present day Istanbul. But no concrete proof regarding the same may be available.

Marine Silk Route is one of the oldest silk routes existing in the world. The combined system of marine system and roadways made these routes the most important pathways for silk trade. Later, they also went on to open gates for trade of other commodities as well.

The hottest of the silk trade routes started from Chinese ports of southern region including WU, Wei, Qi and Lu regions. These ports produced highest quantity of raw and processed silk. Owing to closeness of marine channels, the export and import of silk through these ports was always very easy.

Xuwen port of the southern China is reportedly the first port of marine Silk Road, because of its closeness to sea and ease with which ships could reach it. Since the ships then lacked the structural prowess to withstand longer journeys, ports like Xuwen became most important spots for hottest silk trade routes.

Development of maritime silk trade routes

This single trade route for silk later led to several other silk trade routes that are even today the oldest and functional routes for trade of silk. Ever since the inception of a marine link between china and rest of the world for trade of silk, several countries began taking interest in silk trade.

Oldest of the marine Silk Road routes exist between southern china and islands of Indian Ocean and South Pacific Coast. It was later, during the western and Eastern Han dynasty that these routes were extended to Rome, Asia, Africa and rest of Europe. As the marine channel for silk became more and more famous, Silk Road trade began becoming redundant. It was during the Sui dynasty that new silk ports like Nanhai and Jiaozhi came into existence.

By now, these oldest of trade routes for silk had reached Korea, Silla, Japan, India and Persia, covering a major portion of North, South and SouthEast Asia. Other of the oldest maritime trade routes of silk exist between china and Coast of Persian Gulf and Red Sea including Kuilong in Indian peninsula, Sumatra, Orr Island and Gulf of Siam and Vietnam coast.  By the end of the Yuan dynasty, more than 220 countries had become a part of trade routes starting with this marine Silk Road. Owing to this, later other routes like North American route, the Russia route and the Oceania route were explored.

Over the years, these routes have existed as the oldest trade routes for silk. They form the valuable history of the silk route and continue to exist even today.

References: english.shaanx , the silk road , china-zhanjiang


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