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Trade Routes of the Post-Classical World

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  • Pages: 5
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  • Category: Chinese

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From 600 to 1400 C.E., two essential trade routes of the Post-Classical world were the Silk Roads and that of the Indian Ocean Basin, which were both vast networks of many ancient routes linking various destinations within their intricate systems of trade and exchange. Each of these trade routes yielded extremely numerous effects and implications for the future that would affect life on earth for many years to come—and these effects are similar for the major trade routes of the Silk Roads and the Indian Ocean Basin with social regards to the fact that both routes majorly influenced the significant spread of religions and, thus, cultures; however, the effects are very different with regards to the resulting opportunities for cross-cultural encounters due to the fact that the Silk Road’s spreading of epidemic disease diminished these encounters and the Indian Ocean Basin’s mastery of sailing techniques allowed for abundant trade to result in a rich plethora of cross-cultural exchange. Both the trade and exchange occurring through the Silk Roads and through the Indian Ocean Maritime networks resulted in the spread of religions.

In both cases, this is because the vast networks of roads were a medium for merchants coming from homelands of imperially sponsored religions to trade and establish communities where they would promote their faith along the way, in order that mission work might be accomplished and so that mutual cultural customs between their own country and the foreign lands with which they trade would create a peaceful relationship in which both parties would benefit from mutual respect and understanding. From 200 B.C. to 700 C.E. on the Silk Roads, Buddhism was the most prominent and popular faith among the travelling merchants due to emperor Ashoka’s imperial sponsorship back in India. The faith first started to attract converts in numerous oasis towns, where the merchants—along with their entire caravans—found refuge in the form of food, water, shelter, and markets. These oasis towns allowed the merchants to build Buddhist monasteries, which allowed the oasis towns to become cosmopolitan centers that majorly supported Buddhism.

From here, Buddhism spread to the steppe lands of central Asia and even further to China, Japan, and Korea, In addition, Hinduism also spread through the Indian Merchants travelling to Southeast Asia on the Silk Roads. Many rulers of Southeast Asia and other various islands near Asia such as Sumatra and Java either converted to Buddhism or promoted the Hindu Cults, hiring advisors of these religions and building monasteries and temples. Moreover, Christianity and Manichaeism also established footholds in parts of Asia and the Mediterranean Basin due to the availability of vast networks of roads on which missionaries of these religions could travel. On the other hand, the travelling of merchants and peoples of various cultures which led to the establishing of new religions also occurred through the exchange in the Indian Ocean Basin trade network. From the 7th century through the 15th century, Muslim merchants—that were descendants of Persian and Arab Mariners during the times of Muhammad himself— dominated transportation and trade networks between India and other lands.

As they traded, they took upon themselves the principles of jihad and established diaspora communities and married women of different cultures along the trade routes so that the appeal of Islam would become more prominent in Indian communities as the medium was more through trade than just conquering; as conquering would naturally invoke a negative impact. Some Indians converted to Islam right away, hoping to gain a higher position in society; however, others did not accept Islam so easily. The Islamic Sufi mystics that sailed through the Indian Ocean Basin with trading merchants developed a more popular and widespread following of Islamic culture and religion in India. On the contrary to this major similarity, the direct effects and long-term impacts of the extremely significant and vast trade networks of the Silk Roads and the Indian Ocean Basin face a noteworthy difference in that, after the peak of the use of the Silk Roads, cross-cultural encounters between civilizations actually began to decline; whereas with the Indian Ocean Trade Networks, cross-cultural encounters reached a peak after the climax of its use.

What is meant by this is that, because of the epidemics of diseases brought about by the Silk Roads, this demographic decline brought about negative economic and social change in turn. Once the trade within the empires of China and of Rome declined due to terrible epidemics of smallpox, measles, and of course the infamous bubonic plague—killing millions upon millions of people— the previously integrated economies of China and Rome were automatically transformed into increasingly self-sufficient regional economies. This of course led to a complete lack of cross-cultural encounters and trade, which has shown itself to be the epitome of successful empires and civilizations in the larger world. And it is because of this lack of cross-cultural exchange and support that serious instability occurred in China after the Han dynasty collapse; and ultimately in the Mediterranean—the fall of the western Roman empire. In the case of the Indian Ocean Basin Trade networks, the situation of epidemic disease leading to a lack of cross-cultural encounters did not occur. On the contrary, after the peak of its use, the Indian Ocean Basin achieved abundant cross-cultural encounters and exchange due to a mastery of sailing techniques, and thus a largely productive and active trading economy due to the maritime advantages achieved by certain naval discoveries.

For example, larger ships such as the dhows—favored by Arab, Persian, and Indian merchants and sailors—and Asian junks, were large and could thus move more smoothly and efficiently through the waters. In addition, the magnetic compass, invented by the Chinese, as well as the Lateen sails both allowed for more efficient travel as well, which naturally heightened the use of maritime travel and trade. These naval advantages were especially put into action when trade majorly heightened after the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty and the Abbasid dynasty, and its effects were very significantly witnessed upon the establishment of specialized production due to increased trade in the Indian Ocean Basin after that. Overall, these vast networks of trade and exchange of the Silk Roads and the Indian Ocean Basin resulted in numerous long-term effects that undoubtedly changed the course of history. Whether it was the spread of epidemics and diseases or the introduction of new technologies and trades, these effects yielded dramatic consequences for the world during the time of 600-1400 C.E., and much further into the future as well.

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