Classical and post-Classical periods

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 24 December 2016

Classical and post-Classical periods

The Silk Roads were created when classical empires were established, and the scope of long distance trade expanded, connecting much of Eurasia. Throughout the Classical and post-Classical periods, the Silk Roads provided a way for not only goods to be introduced to new lands, but also ideas, religions and technology. The Silk Roads changed drastically due to expanding empires, new technology and diseases. Although the effects and empires with which the Silk Road was connected changed continuously throughout the Classical and post-Classical period, the thing that remained constant was the trade of spices and goods to and from Asia and Europe, and the Silk Road never lost its importance to the economies of the empires.

The growing empires directly affected the Silk Roads. The growth and spread of empires was a direct result of who had the most control over the routes and what ideas were being spread, for instance religion. When disease decreased much of a population, that empire would stop trade with other nations and focus on interregional trade, until their empire was back up on its feet, and then it would again join in trade on the silk roads. This constantly happened with the introduction of new diseases to empires throughout the end of the Classical period and all of the post-Classical period. One example of this was China, when diseases were brought to its shore from the ships, its population decimated and they stopped trading with vast nations for luxuries and kept the trade within its empire till its economy grew and then they continued in trade throughout the silk road.

The new technology introduced to the Silk Road had the most impact on the trade patterns. Throughout the classical period not many changes in technology occurred, however during the post-Classical, you start to see many new technologies introduced to the Silk Road. Yolks, saddles and stirrups were just some of the new transportation technology developed. In the 600s B.C.E., yolks, saddles and stirrups were used to allow more goods to be carried on horse, camels and ox and allowed them to travel further distance. Saddles were first developed in Southern Arabia for transportation. Then, Stirrups first appeared in Afghanistan, created by the Kushan folk. The stirrup is a piece of equipment that extends from a saddle on both sides, and the person sitting in the saddle can put their feet into the stirrup while riding to gain better control of the animal being ridden and to be more secure on the animals back. Lastly, the yoke allowed for more than one ox to plow fields.

The yoke would link the two oxen together and attach them to something heavy, like a plow or a tool used for turning the earth. Another invention, which came from China, was a compass, which pointed north, and allowed sailor to navigate more easily. They also invented better-equipped, long-lasting ships to travel greater distances for the sole purpose of acquiring goods that people at home in China so desperately desired. These boats were called junks, and allowed for the Chinese to sail great distances for the goods they desired. However, they were not alone in the making of these big ships, Indians also began to craft larger and improved boats called dhows.

Another major innovation that fueled trade was the Grand Canal. Created under the authority of Sui Yangdi in the Sui Dynasty. The Chinese needed a fast and easy way to transport essential crops, such as rice, from the Yangzi River to the North. Therefore they built the Grande Canal running through North and Southern China, creating an efficient way to transport good through northern and southern China. Other than transportation technology, there was other technology introduced in the post-Classical period. The Chinese invented printing and paper, which created an even faster and easier way to spread ideas, religion, and technology throughout the Silk Roads.

Although the Silk Roads had many positive features, along with the spread of ideas came the spread of disease. This occurred throughout the whole period. Unbeknownst to the traders the ships and caravans, with which they traded, brought disease along with their many goods. Worlds apart, neither the two parties, the transmitter and the infected, were aware, at least primarily, of what the devastating effects would be when coming in contact with these diseases. Due to the fact that they were from different parts of the world, and seas away from each other, those who were infected were not immune yet to the diseases the merchants carried, and it had devastating effects of the population. These massive disease outbreaks resulted in drastic changes, beginning at the end of the Classical period. As the germs traveled from one side of the world to the other, they became more dangerous. One of the most obvious examples of what disease did throughout the Silk Road was in the Americas.

When European settlers came to colonize America, they brought with them infectious diseases such as the bubonic plague, and malaria, killing off almost 90% of the native people. This made it especially easy to conquer lands and force Natives to work, and when they were running out of native workers, they just imported slaves from Africa. The diseases they brought made it possible for them to conquer as much land as they did and it also made it possible for the Europeans to destroy many of the Natives history, because the Natives could not stop them, for they only had few people left.

Other than the natives in the Americas, both the Han Empire and the Roman Empire, tremendous trade destinations, had immense problems with disease in the 100s and the 200s C.E.: most likely these people experienced the bubonic plague, smallpox, and measles. For example, in the 100s C.E., about 45 million people lived in the Roman Empire, but in the 400s C.E. the population dropped at least 5 million. Likewise, the population in China dropped by 10 million in the 200 years following 200 C.E., sinking to 50 million. Unfortunately, the transfer of these devastating diseases to places without natural immunity to them caused devastating population decline throughout the classical and post-classical period.

Despite the constant changes in materials traded, the original purpose of the Silk Road remained undamaged throughout the Classical and Post-Classical period. Asian goods were traded with European merchants along the Silk Road and vice versa. In particular, spices from Asia, which were traded with most wealthy empires, particularly Europe, fueled Asia’s economy. These spices were wanted by the Europeans constantly and elaborated the importance of the Silk Road.

During the Post-Classical period, many countries like Portugal and Spain, tried to take control of the Spice trade. Although unsuccessful, it shows the importance of the spice trade to the Silk Roads. The spice trade created an economic boom in Asia and every other country wanted that leading to wars and a race to find the quickest route to Asia. Furthermore, Asia’s economy, specifically China’s economy, was dependent on the money from trade on the Silk Road, regardless the type of goods that were traded to fuel their economy. Likewise, Asian trades drove Europe’s economy.

Throughout 200 B.C.E to 1450 C.E., the Silk Roads had drastic changes due to its growing empires, new technology and spread of diseases. One thing that remained constant was trade between Asia and Europe and their economies’ reliance on such trade. The effect the Silk Road had on empires and how it allowed ideas, like religion and philosophies, to be spread throughout the Silk Roads also remained constant throughout the Classical and Post-Classical period. Growing empires contributed new ideas, technology and crops. It also controlled much of the influence throughout Eurasia. New technology provided better transportation and faster ways to spread ideas. Lastly, diseases directly affected populations that were not immune to foreign diseases such as the bubonic plague, malaria and small pox and decimated populations.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 24 December 2016

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