The Silk Road did not only promote commodity exchange but also cultural. For example, Buddhism as one of the religions of the Kushan kingdom reached China. Together with merchant caravans Buddhist monks went from India to Central Asia and China, preaching the new religion. Buddhist monuments were discovered in numerous cities along the Silk Road.
In the first centuries of Christian era Manicheism (originated in the 3rd century in Iran and was a synthesis of Zoroastrism and Christianity) and Christianity penetrated from the Near East to Central Asia and further to China. The first wave of Christianity is connected with the activity of Nestorians. In the 13th century the Silk Road was the route for the new wave of Christian doctrine dissemination connected with the activity of Catholic missions.
Severe warriors of Arabian caliphate brought Islamic doctrine in the 7th century. If originally it was spread by force by the armies of Arabian caliphate its distribution along the Silk Way was carried out peacefully.
The Silk Road was not only the source of goods but also information on their making, i.e. technologies. In particular, the ways of silk, stained glass, paper, books, gunpowder and guns production.
Sericulture and silk weaving, which for a long time had been monopolized by China, first came to Khotan and then to the Central Asia, Iran and Byzantium in the 5th – 6th centuries. And, on the contrary, the art of glass making got from the countries of the Mediterranean to Iran and Central Asia, and in the 5th century it reached China.
Under the influence of China sericulture and paper making started to develop in Central Asia. Paper production outside the Celestial was first introduced by Chinese handicraftsmen in Samarkand time in the 8th century. Then it went to the West and drove out the former writing materials, parchment and papyrus.
Huge influence was rendered by international dialogue carried out along the Silk Road on architecture and town-planning. Several proofs to it are in Central Asia: Timur’s structures in Samarkand, Ak-Serai palace in Shahrisabz, the Timurids tombs at Gur-Emir, the mosques in the city of Yassy (Turkestan).
They combine architectural styles, shapes, building techniques from various countries. They were erected not only by Middle Asian architects but also by masters from Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Syria, Asia Minor, and India.
For centuries caravan routes were often used by scientists, researchers the most known of whom is the Venetian merchant Marco Polo.
Along with spreading goods, cultural samples in the applied art, architecture, wall painting, the countries of the West and the East exchanged music and dances, theater performances.
It is well-known fact that music of Eastern Turkestan and Central Asia was the most popular in China. Music traditions of Kashgar, Bukhara and Samarkand, India under official protection merged with Chinese musical tradition. Iranian, Sogdian and Turkic actors made significant contribution to the choreographic culture of China. For example, actors from the East often performed in Constantinople.
Numerous material proofs were found to testify on intercultural enrichment on the Silk Road: the collection of Tan terracotta dancers, actors in masks, musical groups riding camels. The faces of these actors belong to the representatives of people of Central Asia. The steppe frescos which have survived in the halls of Pendzikent, Varakhsha, Toprak -Kaly and the cities of Eastern Turkestan depict musicians and actors.
Azerbaijan – between mysterious China and rich Europe.
From time immemorial the caravan routes of the Silk Road invariably crossed Azerbaijan. It served as the “gate” between mysterious faraway China and rich Europe.
In the 1st – 2nd centuries BC the busiest way laid across the Country of Lights. The way was usually called “Strabon” (after the great geographer who was the first to mention it). The way started from China and India across Central Asia, crosses the river of Uzbai flowing into the Caspian Sea and went across the territory of Azerbaijan. There it split in two roads: one led upstream the Kura towards Colchis and Iberia, the second made a turn and went along the western coast of the Caspian Sea across Derbent and Caucasian steppes.
Azerbaijan was the safest of the entire Road. Georgia, Iberia, Colchis, which followed after, were politically stable states which could provide the functioning of the route which in turn attracted merchants. Another attraction was the fact that the most of the way included transportation by water which used to be the cheapest. As a result that section was durable, stable and intensive as well as one of the major destinations of the Silk Road in antiquity.
It was there, along the two branches of “Strabon way”, where numerous ancient cities of Azerbaijan were founded. During early Middle Ages Azerbaijan still remained the important center of the Silk Road. Barda, which became the capital of Azerbaijan in the 5th century, was considered the world’s greatest trading center on one of branches of the Silk Road and until the 10th century was one of the greatest centers of crafts of the entire Middle East and Transcaucasia.
Kazakhstan on the Silk Road
For centuries the Great Kazakh steppe accepted caravans of the Silk Road in oases of its cities and settlements.
On the territory of Kazakhstan the Silk Road started from the borders of China. Merchants of Celestial Empire carried silk, weapons, medicines, rice, exotic goods such as tusks across Kazakh steppes to the West, to Europe. Steppe governors offered their services of safety provision for trade caravans; in exchange they demanded a share of the goods or cash. That was how quitrents or taxes and customs duties emerged.
The main line of the Silk Road on the territory of Kazakhstan lay across the country’s south; from the border with China trade caravans moved through the cities of Sayram, Yassy, Otrar, Taraz and further to Central Asia, Persia, to the Caucasus and from there to Europe.
The reason that all those cities emerged is that the merchants traveling across the enormous Kazakh steppes made stops which turned into caravanserais and those in turn grew into settlements which further became cities.
Ancient Caucasus and the Great Silk Road
In the 6th century the North Caucasus became the arena of collision of interests between powerful empires of Byzantium and Persia. The reason was very significant — they fought for the control over vital trade routes of the Silk Road passing across the Caucasus.
In the 6th century Byzantium started the fight for Lazica and Svanetia (mountainous areas of the West Georgia and the territory of modern Abkhazia); East Georgia (Iberia) was at this time under the control of Persians.
Byzantine emperor Justinian tried his best to change the habitual caravan routes going from China, and to direct them to the Black Sea coast across the mountain passes of the North Caucasus bypassing Persia.
To ensure protection from the wild mountain tribes he built a mighty fortification stretching from Sukhumi to Poti. The huge structure of 160 km in length was second only to the Great Wall of China.
Kyrgyzstan and the Silk Road
A lot of caravan routes on the Silk Road changed from time to time, except for those basic directions from the East to the West and from the West to the East.
The route passing through Kyrgyzstan always remained the same due to its nearness to the Tien-Shan and Pamir mountains.
In the Middle Ages the following routes of the Silk Road passed through the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan – Pamir-Alay, Fergana, and Chuya.
The first branch went from Termez through Samarkand, along the inflow of the Kyzyl-Suu to Alay and led to Kashgar.
Iran on the Silk Road
Even in the beginning of our era the Silk Road connected such powerful ancient empires as Rome, Parthia, Kushan and China.
Parthian empire in Near and Middle was defeated in 224 and conquered by Sassanid Iran, the powerful state which managed to expand its territory considerably.
International trade was crucial for Sassanid Persians. The major routes across Iran developed basically by the beginning of the 1st century AD. The branch of “imperial road” starting in Herat (now in Afghanistan) led northward to Merv and further to Samarkand where that road possibly merged with the Silk Road from China across the oases of Eastern Turkestan. The area of Asia Minor and Syria was connected with the Silk Road by overland road leading along the Euphrates to the harbors of the Persian Gulf, or by ancient caravan route from Syria across Iran.
Luxury goods, Chinese raw silk and Indian goods such as jewels, aromas, opium, and spices delivered to Iran mainly by land, were the most popular.
Sassanid Persians periodically waged wars with Byzantium in their struggle for domination over the busiest sectors of the Silk Road.
In the 5th century a considerable portion of the Silk Road, from the borders of China to Iran and the trade routes leading to Southern and Western Siberia, came under the control Turkic Khaganate. Because of the contradictions in relation to the volume of silk trade Turkic peoples entered the conflict with Iran and tried to establish a new trade route to Byzantium bypassing Iran across the Volga region and the steppes of the Black Sea coast.
Thus, Iran is also an important constituent of the Silk Road. Even though the modern territory of Iran is only a part of what used to be the vast Sassanid Empire, it still has a number of monuments connected with that international artery.