The trans-Saharan and Silk Road trade routes were global trade routes that shaped and impacted their respective areas during the Iron Age. The trans-Saharan and Silk Road both used similar methods of trade because of technological innovation and environmental interactions of the time. The trans-Saharan and Silk road trade routes lead to different cultural diffusion due to the difference in diversity among the ethnic groups in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.
Both the Trans-Saharan and Silk Road relied heavily on the use of caravans, merchants, and domesticated animals as a primary source of conducting trades and commerce along such long paths. In Africa, the domestication of camels proved to be a monumental invention to boost the flow of trade and commerce.
With camels, merchants could travel across the Sahara much faster and more effectively with fewer resources. The people living on the trade route through the Sahara were able to make a living off of herding and selling domesticated camels in large quantities to merchants and create caravans to aid in the crossing of the Sahara. In Asia and the Middle East, the Silk Road was almost primarily dependent on the movement of merchants on caravans, just like in the Sahara.
Horses acted as the most effective form of transportation and by the time 600 C.E. rolled around, better innovations for controlling domesticated horses arose. The most predominate of these inventions was the stirrup which is the loop at the bottom of a saddle which gave a rider more stability while riding at a high speed or at great distances. The stirrup and domesticated camels were so influential at the time of discovery that even to this day, both are still present in the areas where the Silk Road and Trans-Saharan trade routes were located.
The cultural diffusion that resulted from trade on the Trans-Saharan and Silk Road trade routes differed because of the ethnic backgrounds of the merchants and civilizations participating in each respective trade route. Along the Trans-Saharan trade route, tribes such as the Berbers, Nubians, Egyptians, and Tuareg participated as well as interactions with Roman colonists.
Many roman goods were incorporated into this route and, along with the agricultural trade within the different tribes, these aspects mixed together to result in the trade of culture between all these comingled tribes. The mixing of these cultures formed a new society in the middle of the Trans-Saharan that still exist today, the herders. The new societies along the Trans-Saharan trade route specialized in the herding of cattle and camel, and evidence shows that this new culture worshiped cattle as a result of all the necessities cattle provide.
The spread and diffusion that lead to herding in Africa is not prevalent in Asia and the Middle East where the Silk Road was. Instead, the spread of religion, especially Buddhism and Christianity, defined the cultural change brought about by the Silk Road. Missionaries and monks from India brought the teachings of Buddhism to most of East Asia through the Silk Road. As the monks traveled, the different areas they reached obtained and adapted the story of Buddha into local cultures.
Christian Missionaries from the fallen Rome Empire were forced to spread out across the Middle East through the western portion of the Silk Road. Thanks to trade between Rome and the Middle East, the missionaries were able to spread religious teaching to the Middle East and promote the new religion as well as provide a place for it to grow.