It also brought an end to the dominance of the Islamic Caliphate over world trade. Because the Mongols came to control the trade routes, trade circulated throughout the region, though they never abandoned their nomadic lifestyle. The Mongol rulers wanted to establish their capital on the Central Asian steppe, so to accomplish this goal, after every conquest they enlisted local people traders, scholars, artisans to help them construct and manage their empire.
The Mongol diplomat Rabban Bar Sauma visited the courts of Europe in —88 and provided a detailed written report to the Mongols. He was not the first to bring back stories, but he was one of the most widely read. In the 13th century efforts were made at forming a Franco-Mongol alliance , with an exchange of ambassadors and failed attempts at military collaboration in the Holy Land during the later Crusades. Eventually the Mongols in the Ilkhanate , after they had destroyed the Abbasid and Ayyubid dynasties, converted to Islam and signed the Treaty of Aleppo with the surviving Muslim power, the Egyptian Mamluks.
Some studies indicate that the Black Death , which devastated Europe starting in the late s, may have reached Europe from Central Asia or China along the trade routes of the Mongol Empire. The fragmentation of the Mongol Empire loosened the political, cultural, and economic unity of the Silk Road.
Turkmeni marching lords seized land around the western part of the Silk Road from the decaying Byzantine Empire. After the fall of the Mongol Empire, the great political powers along the Silk Road became economically and culturally separated. Accompanying the crystallisation of regional states was the decline of nomad power, partly due to the devastation of the Black Death and partly due to the encroachment of sedentary civilisations equipped with gunpowder.
The consolidation of the Ottoman and Safavid empires in the West Asia led to a revival of overland trade, interrupted sporadically by warfare between them. The silk trade continued to flourish until it was disrupted by the collapse of the Safavid Empire in the s. After an earthquake that hit Tashkent in Central Asia in , the city had to rebuild itself. Although it took a huge toll on their markets, this commenced a revival of modern silk road cities. Starting in July the line has been used by a freight service that connects Chongqing , China with Duisburg , Germany,  cutting travel time for cargo from about 36 days by container ship to just 13 days by freight train.
In , Hewlett-Packard began moving large freight trains of laptop computers and monitors along this rail route. The network additionally connects to Madrid and Milan. On 15 February , with a change in routing, the first train dispatched under the scheme arrived from eastern Zhejiang Province to Tehran. The Silk Road consisted of several routes. As it extended westwards from the ancient commercial centres of China, the overland, intercontinental Silk Road divided into northern and southern routes bypassing the Taklamakan Desert and Lop Nur. Merchants along these routes where involved in "relay trade" in which goods changed "hands many times before reaching their final destinations.
The northern route started at Chang'an now called Xi'an , an ancient capital of China that was moved further east during the Later Han to Luoyang. The route was defined around the 1st century BCE when Han Wudi put an end to harassment by nomadic tribes. The northern route travelled northwest through the Chinese province of Gansu from Shaanxi Province and split into three further routes, two of them following the mountain ranges to the north and south of the Taklamakan Desert to rejoin at Kashgar , and the other going north of the Tian Shan mountains through Turpan , Talgar , and Almaty in what is now southeast Kazakhstan.
The routes split again west of Kashgar, with a southern branch heading down the Alai Valley towards Termez in modern Uzbekistan and Balkh Afghanistan , while the other travelled through Kokand in the Fergana Valley in present-day eastern Uzbekistan and then west across the Karakum Desert. Both routes joined the main southern route before reaching ancient Merv , Turkmenistan.
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Another branch of the northern route turned northwest past the Aral Sea and north of the Caspian Sea , then and on to the Black Sea. A route for caravans, the northern Silk Road brought to China many goods such as "dates, saffron powder and pistachio nuts from Persia; frankincense , aloes and myrrh from Somalia ; sandalwood from India; glass bottles from Egypt, and other expensive and desirable goods from other parts of the world.
The southern route or Karakoram route was mainly a single route from China through the Karakoram mountains , where it persists in modern times as the Karakoram Highway , a paved road that connects Pakistan and China. Crossing the high mountains, it passed through northern Pakistan, over the Hindu Kush mountains, and into Afghanistan, rejoining the northern route near Merv, Turkmenistan. From Merv, it followed a nearly straight line west through mountainous northern Iran, Mesopotamia , and the northern tip of the Syrian Desert to the Levant , where Mediterranean trading ships plied regular routes to Italy , while land routes went either north through Anatolia or south to North Africa.
Another branch road travelled from Herat through Susa to Charax Spasinu at the head of the Persian Gulf and across to Petra and on to Alexandria and other eastern Mediterranean ports from where ships carried the cargoes to Rome. Strabo, the 1st-century Roman writer, mentions the deltaic lands: "Regarding merchants who now sail from Egypt Ptolemy's map of the Ganges Delta , a remarkably accurate effort, showed that his informants knew all about the course of the Brahmaputra River, crossing through the Himalayas then bending westward to its source in Tibet.
It is doubtless that this delta was a major international trading center, almost certainly from much earlier than the Common Era. Gemstones and other merchandise from Thailand and Java were traded in the delta and through it. Chinese archaeological writer Bin Yang and some earlier writers and archaeologists, such as Janice Stargardt, strongly suggest this route of international trade as Sichuan — Yunnan — Burma — Bangladesh route.
According to Bin Yang, especially from the 12th century the route was used to ship bullion from Yunnan gold and silver are among the minerals in which Yunnan is rich , through northern Burma, into modern Bangladesh, making use of the ancient route, known as the 'Ledo' route. The emerging evidence of the ancient cities of Bangladesh, in particular Wari-Bateshwar ruins , Mahasthangarh , Bhitagarh , Bikrampur , Egarasindhur, and Sonargaon , are believed to be the international trade centers in this route.
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Richard Foltz , Xinru Liu , and others have described how trading activities along the Silk Road over many centuries facilitated the transmission not just of goods but also ideas and culture, notably in the area of religions. Zoroastrianism , Judaism , Buddhism, Christianity, Manichaeism, and Islam all spread across Eurasia through trade networks that were tied to specific religious communities and their institutions.
The spread of religions and cultural traditions along the Silk Roads, according to Jerry H. Bentley , also led to syncretism. One example was the encounter with the Chinese and Xiongnu nomads. These unlikely events of cross-cultural contact allowed both cultures to adapt to each other as an alternative. The Xiongnu adopted Chinese agricultural techniques, dress style, and lifestyle, while the Chinese adopted Xiongnu military techniques, some dress style, music, and dance.
Nomadic mobility played a key role in facilitating inter-regional contacts and cultural exchanges along the ancient Silk Roads. The transmission of Christianity was primarily known as Nestorianism on the Silk Road. In , an inscribed stele shows Nestorian Christian missionaries arriving on the Silk Road.
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Christianity had spread both east and west, simultaneously bringing Syriac language and evolving the forms of worship. The transmission of Buddhism to China via the Silk Road began in the 1st century CE, according to a semi-legendary account of an ambassador sent to the West by the Chinese Emperor Ming 58— The Buddhist movement was the first large-scale missionary movement in the history of world religions.
Chinese missionaries were able to assimilate Buddhism, to an extent, to native Chinese Daoists, which brought the two beliefs together.
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These people moved through India and beyond to spread the ideas of Buddha. The first missionaries and translators of Buddhists scriptures into Chinese were either Parthian , Kushan, Sogdian , or Kuchean. One result of the spread of Buddhism along the Silk Road was displacement and conflict. The Greek Seleucids were exiled to Iran and Central Asia because of a new Iranian dynasty called the Parthians at the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, and as a result the Parthians became the new middle men for trade in a period when the Romans were major customers for silk.
Parthian scholars were involved in one of the first ever Buddhist text translations into the Chinese language. Its main trade centre on the Silk Road, the city of Merv , in due course and with the coming of age of Buddhism in China, became a major Buddhist centre by the middle of the 2nd century. From the 4th century CE onward, Chinese pilgrims also started to travel on the Silk Road to India to get improved access to the original Buddhist scriptures, with Fa-hsien 's pilgrimage to India — , and later Xuanzang — and Hyecho , who traveled from Korea to India.
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There were many different schools of Buddhism travelling on the Silk Road. The Dharmaguptakas and the Sarvastivadins were two of the major Nikaya schools. These were both eventually displaced by the Mahayana, also known as "Great Vehicle". This movement of Buddhism first gained influence in the Khotan region.
It formed during the 1st century BCE and was small at first, and the origins of this "Greater Vehicle" are not fully clear. Some Mahayana scripts were found in northern Pakistan, but the main texts are still believed to have been composed in Central Asia along the Silk Road. These different schools and movements of Buddhism were a result of the diverse and complex influences and beliefs on the Silk Road. This form of Buddhism highlighted, as stated by Xinru Liu, "the elusiveness of physical reality, including material wealth.
During the 5th and 6th centuries CE, merchants played a large role in the spread of religion, in particular Buddhism. Merchants found the moral and ethical teachings of Buddhism an appealing alternative to previous religions. As a result, merchants supported Buddhist monasteries along the Silk Road, and in return the Buddhists gave the merchants somewhere to stay as they traveled from city to city.