Like anything with historical significance, the great Silk Road also has some myths associated with it. Here are 7 myths about the ancient road that you probably didn’t know about.
1. Myth: The Great Silk Road is a single stretch of road.
silk routeFact: This is a very common myth; however, this is not true. The general direction of the Silk Road was east-west, but it had many tributaries that extended north-south, too. The northern route started at Chang’an (now called Xi’an), the capital of the ancient Chinese Kingdom, which, in the Later Han, was moved further east to Luoyang. The southern route was mainly a single route running from China, through Karakoram. Today, it is the international paved road connecting Pakistan and China as the Karakoram Highway. Furthermore, modern scholars have included maritime routes as an extension of the Silk Road.
2. Myth: It is called Silk Road because silk was the only commodity that was transported along this road.
silk routeFact: In the beginning silk was the chief commodity that was transported along the Silk Road, along with luxuries such as slaves, satin and other fine fabrics, musk, other perfumes, spices, medicines, jewels, glassware and even rhubarb. Tragically, the bubonic plague was transmitted, too. Eastern items like fur, gems, spices and porcelain made their way to the West, while the East’s fascination for gold, silver, cosmetics, amber, ivory, perfumes and ceramics made sure that these found their way from Europe and central Asia to the East.
3. Myth: The Silk Road is only about two thousand years old.
Fact: The Silk Road is probably much older than that. Recent archaeological findings suggest that the routes were being use in prehistoric times. There is also evidence that they were used by the Ancient Egyptians. Some scholars have suggested that it functioned as a major trade route for almost 3,000 years.
4. Myth: Trading along Silk Road declined because it became too dangerous.
Fact: It is true that the deserts, heavy winds and poisonous creatures made traveling on the Silk Road very difficult for traders and merchants. There were also dacoits and robbers to contend with. However, the reason trading declined along the Silk Road was sea route. Sea route had not only become popular, it was faster and much safer.
5. Myth: Chinese mummies have recently been discovered along the Silk Road.
Fact: In the early 20th century an archaeological expedition unearthed hundreds of well-preserved mummies buried in the sands of the Tarim Basin in the Far Western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. Strangely, these highly preserved mummies that date to 1600 B.C. are not of Chinese origin, but amazingly have the physical characteristics of people from western Eurasia in the area of East-Central Europe, Central Asia and Indus Valley. In fact, they are light skinned with round eyes, long noses and hair that is either red or blond.
6. Myth: Silk trade between the east and the west started only after the Silk Road was opened.
Fact: Silk was sought after by many countries from a very early time and silk trade began even before recorded trips were taken on the Silk Road. The recent discovery of an Egyptian female mummy with silk in the village of Deir el Medina near Thebes and the Valley of the Kings proves this point. The mummy is dated 1070 BC and it is probably the earliest evidence of silk in the west. The Chinese emperor, Han Wu Di’s ambassadors traveled to Persia and Mesopotamia, during the second century BC, with gifts that included silks. This provides further evidence of silk having traveled to the west before the Silk Road was opened.
7. Myth: Marco Polo (1254-1324) was the first Westerner to travel the Silk Road and visit the Mongolian Empire.
silk route caravan silk route Fact: Marco Polo did travel along the Silk Road and he did visit the Mongolian empire, but most likely he was not the first westerner across the Silk Road. While there were many westerners who crossed the Silk Road before Marco Polo, he was the first to leave an account of his travels in the book, Il Milione (The Million) or also know as “Books of the Marvels of the World”.