Information about European civilisations is known from Egyptian papyrus texts, which refer to the period at least 3500 years before Christ. The Egyptians were the first navigators and explorers. They sailed along the Nile by order of Pharaoh Menuhotep VII, opened the Red Sea to the Euphrates, laid the first landscaped road in the desert on the Arabian Peninsula, built wells and set up a military guard.
After the Egyptians had mastered the overland route, which was later called “street smoking”, they sent the first ship for incense to Punt (southern Arabia) along the Persian Gulf. Around 1500 BC a great expedition of queen Hatshepsut (1525 – 1503 BC) took place on this way.
Already in antiquity the Egyptians established relations with the Greeks after they had ruled the Mediterranean Sea (8 B.C. the Greeks took over the alphabet from them). As early as the 16th century BC, Egypt did business on well-developed caravan and sea routes and transported cultural goods to Jerusalem, Damascus, established a connection with Tyre, traded with Mittani. In 1272 BC he concluded a treaty with the Hittites in Asia Minor.
Egypt reached the Black Sea and even the Persian Gulf, the so-called submarine. Around 1400 B.C., Greece rose up where the Cretan culture had penetrated. By this time the Egyptians had already ruled Spain and reached the British and Jutlandic coasts.
A second early civilisation developed on the Arabian Peninsula in the valley of the lower reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The Sumerians built temples between 2369 and 2314 B.C., who spent money on building caravan roads, developed trade, imported metal, wood, precious stones, etc. During this period the Sumerians formed and operated a well-developed trade route between the mountains in the north of Babylonia and the desert in the south.
During the 3rd millennium B.C. people communicated with the pre-Aryan civilisation, geometry, astronomy, astrology, philosophy, medicine, geography, the first primitive maps, road builders etc. were developed.
Around 1500 B.C. the Aryans came along the Kabul Strait – aristocratic wars and shepherd peoples. Around 538 B.C. the territories of Asia Minor were taken over by the Persian king Kyros.
Little is said about the sea routes in this period, so there is information about another ancient land route “Shah-roh” or “King’s Road”, equipped with wells of caravanserais, trade lines protected by Iranian troops.
The road connected the ancient capital Elam Susa with Ephesus in the west, with the Persian Gulf in the southeast and had branches to the Greek colonies on the Black Sea in the northeast. In the east to the depths of Iran, in the north of Afghanistan and in the northeast to Nisa, Bukhara etc.
Herodotus, a scholar and traveller, visited these places and left us a description of the roads, cities, mountains and people who lived there. This is how the Europeans of the V-VI centuries BC first learned about Scythians from people who lived in the snow desert in the north. He described trade along the Scythian route along the northern Black Sea coast and the Caspian Sea.
Later writers, such as Ptolemy, knew about the silk trade that passed through Central Asia, but had no precise geographical idea of the settlement of Central Asian peoples or of the location of China, the route along which silk came.
About 515 years B.C., the Persian king Darius conquered the valley of the Indus. Later Ctesias – historian, geographer and doctor – visited these places. He referred to the “Parapanis” area – the Hindu Kush and the Araks or Oxus (Amudarya), Yaksart (Syrdarya) – and wrongly considered it a branch of the Amudarya, which had been in use since the VIII century BC. It is known as Tanais (Don) and flows into the Sea of Azov.
The development of ancient civilisations in Central Asia, China, Korea, South-East Asia and Japan was unknown in Europe until the end of the II century BC, before the emergence of the “Great Silk Road”. The development of many arts in China dates back to ancient times, to about 2700 years BC.
The famous historian Sima Qian, who lived around 90 BC, left us the history of the origin of the Silk Road, which enabled the silk trade at the end of the 2nd century BC. Sima Qian quotes legends that say that the silk trade was initiated around 2700 BC by Huang Di’s wife, but he himself doubts so long ago and quotes a more plausible story about the official opening of the Silk Road as part of a contract between the Chinese Emperor Wu Di and Dawan (Fergana).
According to Sima Qian, in the north of China, in the steppes of modern Inner Mongolia, there lived a militant Hunnu people who resisted and against whom the Chinese started to build the “Great Wall of China” in the V century BC 176 – 165 BC. Under pressure from the nomads, the allies of the Chinese Yuezhi (one of the Massagetan tribes) moved beyond the Tien Shan to the city of Wusun on the river Ili, a small tribe of the Saks, and then moved beyond Yaksart (Syr Darya), driving the Huns south to Tahia or Bactria.
Since Emperor Wu Di wanted to know about the future fate of his allies, he sent a certain Zhang Qiang to find them. However, Zhang Qian was captured by the Huns.
In the years 114 – 108 B.C. up to 10 large messages (caravans) from China came to Davan. The route through Kashgar – Fergana to Eastern Europe or through Turfan – Taraz and further, with some interruptions, existed until the end of the XIX – beginning of the XX century.
Sometimes (during the wars) the “Silk Road” led from the Tarim Basin westwards through hardly accessible foothills of the “roof of the world” – the Pamir or in the upper Amu Darya through the “dizzying peaks” and “suspension bridges” – to India and from there along the Indus River by sea – to the Persian Gulf.
And sometimes – in the north, on the southern bank of the Issyk-Kul, along the Talas River, across the Taras (Dzhambul) or the Ili River and connected to the “Road of Gold” or the “Scythian Road”, along the Syr Darya River – into the Southern Urals, the Emba River, the Volga – into the northern Black Sea steppes, across the Dardanelles Road – to Greece and Rome and on to Western Europe.
In the 1. to 4. year a.C., During the Kushan kingdom almost all roads were in use: from Fergana via Koyamda (Khujand) – Zaamin – Samarkand – Bukhara – Amul (Kharjev) – Merv (Mary) – Serahs – Meshed and further to Europe; from Fergana via the Kamchik – Tashkent Pass, to Syrdarya – to the West; via Tashkent – Jizzak – Samarkand – Bukhara – Kyat (Beruni) – Urgench (Kunya – Urgench) – to the North Caspian region – to Eastern Europe; via Samarkand – Kesh (Shahrisabz) – Xenippu (Kassansansay) – Amul (Khargev) – Merv (Mary) – Nissu (near Ashgabat) – Yuryan (Gorgan) – to Syria or Babylon in the south of the Caspian Sea from Samarkand via Kesh (Shakhrisabz) – Guzar – Sherabad – “Iron Gate” – Darmamitra or Tarameet (ancient term), through the Amu Darya – to Bactra (northern Afghanistan, – northern India (Pakistan), on the Indus River, by the sea – to the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea.
In the VIth century the northern roads were more active, in the VIIIth to IXth century the southern roads, etc. The struggle to own trade routes, to mediate in trade transactions, to collect customs duties damaged international exchange and progress in science and culture.
The ruins of 96 manors, located 17 km away in a strip of 2-3 km from south to north – this is the so-called “dead oasis” in Khorezm – are a reminder of the tragedies which took place in the Middle Ages.
In different historical periods the caravan routes were operated and maintained in different ways. In the XIV – early XV centuries. Century – in the era of Amur Temur – an important political figure, a famous military leader and promoter of the arts – great importance was attached to the trade routes.
To improve and protect them, he sent ambassadors to India and China, to Asia Minor and Egypt, to Venice and France, to Spain and England. “Good day and peace I declare” – began in 1402 a letter from the Sahibkiran Temur to King Charles VI of France, a copy of which was handed over 600 years later to the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, during his friendly visit to France in May 1996.
The historical and political situation changed in the middle of the 15th and 16th centuries. Nomadic invasions and devastating wars led to the disintegration of the Temurid state into several warring states, which tried to take possession of the caravan routes.
In Asia Minor, the Ottoman Turks suppressed the established strong links between Europe and the Eastern countries and took on the role of mediators. The largest state in South Asia, the Great Mughal Empire, tried to extend its power to the whole of northern and central India, northern and eastern Afghanistan, Bukhara and Khiva Khanate in the XVI-XVII centuries.
Safavid Iran, which had conquered the western regions of modern Afghanistan, parts of Turkmenistan, Transcaucasia and Iraq, claimed northern India and Central Asian khanates.
By this time the Portuguese had already opened sea routes around Africa and reached the Japanese islands in the 17th century. They conquered the main trading points in the Persian Gulf and in South East Asia, Indonesia and southern China.
The British settled on the west coast of India, the Dutch on the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and southern Malaysia, the Spanish in the Philippines, etc. The land routes were almost unused and sea trade developed intensively.
In the 40th of the XVIII century In the 40th of the XVIIIth century the economic crisis hit the countries of Central Asia. From the middle of the XVIIth century until 1911, China was under the Manchurian dynasty, depending on how Korea was also located.
At the same time, from Portugal, the Dutch conquered strongholds along the west coast of Africa and created new points from Europe to the Far East by establishing a monopoly on raw material resources in the Persian Gulf and along the coast from Hindustan to Malacca.
Trade wars began between the Dutch East India Company and England. At the end of the XVIII century At the end of the XVIIIth century the Netherlands came under the power of France and was involved in the war with England.
In the second half of the 18th century India, with its finest production of cotton, wool and silk fabrics, goods made of precious metals and stones, proved to be a state dependent first on France and then on England.
The original China with its beautiful cultural monuments, silk, porcelain and others first announced a policy of self-isolation and after the economic crisis at the end of XVIII – beginning of XIX century followed an “open doors” policy.
The states of Central Asia: The Khanates of Bukhara, Khiva and Kokand became vassals of Russia from the middle of the XIX century. At the end of XVIII – beginning of XIX century Turkey, weakened by wars, experienced a decline.
Only Japan, after the “closure” of the country in the 30th of the XVIIth century, managed to overcome the economic difficulties and at the beginning of the XIXth century made a great leap into industrialization, while maintaining political independence.
The “Great Silk Road” lost its historical mission to unite European and Eastern civilizations, Chinese silk ceased to play the role of world currency. The development of technical progress in Europe, the struggle for the redistribution of markets for goods and sources of raw materials led to world wars, trade in strategic raw materials, arms, equipment, etc. on world markets.
At present, many countries are endeavouring to revive the peaceful trade route of the “Great Silk Road” in order to return to the traditions of the past. The Sovereign Republic of Uzbekistan, which has shown initiative in this honourable cause, is opening up to the world and offering the opportunity to get to know its more than 4,000 archaeological and architectural monuments, among which there are unique open-air museums under the protection of UNESCO, where one can follow the development of the oldest civilisations in the world, representing the culture of many Eurasian peoples.
In connection with the implementation of the UNESCO programme “Revitalization of the Great Silk Roads – Ways of Dialogue and Cooperation” in the sovereign Republic of Uzbekistan in the 1990s, extensive restoration work was carried out on archaeological and architectural sites, tourist routes along the Great Silk Roads were developed, and scientific, popular and promotional products were produced for various profiles of scientists, cultural workers, businessmen and tourists.
The proposed first tourist map “Along the Great Silk Road” cannot fully reflect such a multifaceted historical phenomenon as the impact of centuries-old trade routes on the cultural progress of mankind.
The aim is therefore to give a general overview of the extent and directions of the main trade routes, to draw the most important archaeological and architectural monuments and to mark out tourist routes along the “Great Silk Road”.