Silk Roads

Legendary and real places

The term Silk Road dates back to Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen (1833–1905), who worked in China as a geologist and geographer from 1868 to 1872. He published his findings in a five volume geographical treatise called ‘China’ (published between 1877 and 1912). Von Richthofen himself used the term Silk Road in a very narrow geographical and temporal sense, referring to a very specific route that linked China with central Asia by way of a southern course around the Taklamakan Desert at the time of the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). In the twentieth century, subsequent scholars adopted the term Silk Road and extended its meaning. The Silk Road, or Silk Roads, refers to a network of land and sea routes that have connected the Mediterranean with East Asia since ancient times. These routes not only enabled the transport – from east to west and vice versa – of goods such as silk, they also served as pathways for the exchange of ideas, cultural techniques, and religious beliefs, including Buddhism

Most recently, the term Silk Road has become associated with the Republic of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. With its ‘new Silk Roads’ via land and sea, China is pursuing economic as well as political goals.