UNIT CONTENT OVERVIEW
Trading networks existed wherever people had the desire and means to import or export technological, material, cultural, or even human resources. The richness and complexity of these past networks makes today's accelerating globalization seem simply like a modern expression of ancient patterns.
Indeed, humans seem to have always had an interest in distant peoples and their material cultures. We have no way of knowing whether this urge grew from a practical desire to obtain useful objects, from restless curiosity, or simply from a desire to acquire souvenirs from afar. Even in prehistoric burials, archeologists often find items — metals, shells, or stone artifacts — that came from far away.
Although historians rarely know the origins of the trading routes that connected peoples in the distant past, they are often able to reconstruct the routes themselves by following the flow of material goods and ideas. This unit explores three such routes — the Eurasian Silk Roads, the Mesoamerican Turquoise Roads, and the Trans-Saharan Gold Roads — and provides a rich example of ancient connections and the intense determination of the humans who forged them. All three of these trading routes provided important linkages between diverse ecological zones, and facilitated contacts with other societies that had access to otherwise unavailable resources.
Messages of devotion, kinship, and hope traveled with merchants on the commercial trade routes. Innovations such as advanced scientific and medical knowledge, improved grains and foodstuffs, or new manufacturing and agricultural technology also spread from place to place along the roads. These new ideas and innovations brought about substantial change, but the pace of change quickened as old networks merged into connections with expanding sea routes. Indeed, the pace of change reached unprecedented levels when these new networks finally linked the peoples of the Turquoise Roads with those of the Gold Roads and the Silk Roads.
GLOBAL HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Time Period: 200 BCE-1000 CE
World history is all about connections between peoples, places, and ideas. In the pre-modern world, few things connected the world more than trade routes. In Eurasia, the Silk Roads served as a conduit between the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean and the Han Empire in China. In Africa, the Gold Roads connected the Kingdom of Ghana and the Mali Empire with North Africa and the rest of Afro-Eurasia. In the Americas, the Turquoise Roads linked Mesoamerican peoples like the Toltec, Maya, and Aztec with the Anasazi culture 1000 miles to the north. All of these trade routes carried more than just physical goods — they also carried ideas, religious beliefs, and cultural traditions. Moreover, these land-based trade routes existed in tandem with water-based trade routes in both Afro-Eurasia and in the Americas.
- Examines interactions in economies and politics by exploring trade between peoples in Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas.
- Explores change and continuity because the nature and extent of trading routes changed over time, while the existence of trade networks remained a constant feature of world history in this period.
- Discusses cultural and intellectual developments. Interactions spurred by trade between peoples led to the diffusion of cultural, religious, and intellectual traditions across vast distances.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
- Question 1: How did trade contribute to the integration of the world's regions?
- Question 2: In what ways were trade and the spread of cultural traditions related?
- Question 3: How did the rise and fall of empires and states affect the expansion and contraction of major trading networks such as the Silk Roads, the Gold Roads, and the Turquoise Roads?
- Question 4: In addition to commodities, what elsewas transmitted across land trading routes?
THE BIG PICTURE
How is this topic related to Increasing Integration?
Trade drew different peoples and cultures together. For instance, trade helped integrate distant economies as people became dependent on goods acquired through long-distance trade. It also led to the spread of religious traditions across distant regions, which helped integrate diverse populations.
How is this topic related to Proliferating Difference?
The contacts trade created caused people to become more aware of cultural differences — and to sharpen distinctions between "us" and "them."
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