Designing from Bones – Ancient Silk Route
Silk worm cocoons
There are lots of things to get excited about on our Silk Route tour. Obviously the cycling is a big reason for joining a 4 and a half month bike tour (I hope!), but there are a lot of reasons people choose to travel by bike.
Reason like experiencing new cultures and learning new languages, the local people you’ll meet, your fellow riders, the scenic beauty, the exotic foods and of course since this is a Tour d’Afrique Ltd adventure tour you can expect a few challenging surprises along the way.
Bike tours are always better when you know a bit about the history, culture and language of the places they travel through. So when I came across this blog post by science fiction writer Gene Lemmp I thought I’d share it with you. What does a science fiction writer have to say about the history of the Silk Route? Well a lot actually. Gene uses history to inspire the plots and characters of his own stories. And the silk route is rich with stories of human drama and exploit.
It’s a worthwhile read and should spark your imagination as to what lies ahead for us as we start our own journey on the Silk Route Bicycle Tour starting in May 2012.
I’ve included a abbreviated version of the full post below, please click though to read it in its entirety. When I contacted Gene about using his story, he mentioned he will be working on similar stories about the silk route in the future. I hope that’s true and I hope he shares them with us! Thanks to Gene for the great words.
— Paul McManus, Silk Route 2012 Tour Leader
Designing from Bones – Ancient Silk RouteThe Silk Road consists of many land and sea routes
Trade grew from the need of civilizations to acquire goods and resources not available in their home regions. This trade was often driven by empires, conquerors and religious establishments.
The Chinese held one vital resource, silk, and readily traded it for a wide variety of required goods and treasure over the following 500 years. However, the Chinese silk monopoly ended in the 3rd century when two Christian monks discovered the secret of making silk and spies were sent to steal precious silk worm eggs. Not long after silk began to be produced in the Byzantine Empire and the Silk Route drifted out of use, giving way to Islamic-controlled routes.
Conquerors, Adventurers and Death
A new conqueror, this time Genghis Khan and his Mongol hoard, re-established the Silk Route from the early 1200′s until the mid to late 1300′s. During the interim the Islamic trade routes had held a stranglehold between Europe and Asia but they could not resist the power of the Mongols. Genghis breathed life back into the Silk Road and it thrived.
Two famous travelers moved along the Silk Route during this era. One a much lauded noble traveler and the other a far more insidious and ignoble traveler.
The first was Marco Polo, a Venetian explorer, although he was only 17 when he and his father and uncle, a successful merchant team and headed along the route for China. Marco would end up traveling both the land and sea segments of the Silk Route through China to modern day Burma and back. For 24 years, Marco and his companions adventured through foreign lands before returning loaded with a wealth of treasure and knowledge.
The second famous traveler of the Silk Route during this era was the Black Death (commonly known as the Bubonic plague although this connection is in dispute). Many studies feel that the Black Death moved along this famous trade route from China to Europe most likely carried by merchants or the rats that hitchhiked with every caravan of the era. The Black Death led to the deaths of approximately half of the European population and changed the course of Western history forever.
While the need for goods spawned the Silk Route it was humans that transported those goods. As such the route served as a primary exchange of culture between the West and the East with Central Asia acting as a centralized stew pot of ideas, art, technology and religion.
The route allowed Christianity to advance as far as China while Buddhism missionaries traveled from India with caravans reaching into China and Central Asia. Caliphates of Arabia introduced Islam along the Silk Route in the 7th century and at one time the three great religions brewed together in the melting pot of Central Asia.
Alongside of religion moved art, paper, architecture, music, sculpting, dance and theater. It is easy to see in some areas of what we now call the Middle East the wide variety of cultural influences that at one time blossomed here.
You can read the Gene’s post in it’s entirely on his blog.
Gene Lempp is a science fantasy and science fiction writer with interests in archaeology, history and astronomy. In his spare moments of lucidity, Gene blogs about the uses of history and archeology in discovering story through his Designing from Bones series, reads every craft book he can find and roams worlds where science becomes magic and power evolves from the human spirit.