The Impact Of Silk Road Trade On The Lives Of People Involved
The Silk Road, as most commonly called, was a large network of trade routes, which beginning in the early 2nd century, was used primarily by powerful kingdoms to trade items between each other. As time progressed, over the course of about 1300 years, it grew to become what is known as one of the most important displays of human interaction in history, where normal people would be able to acquire items that were otherwise impossible to get, and at the same time, sparking a spread of religion over a massive area. With this large growth in the popularity of the Silk Roads came drawbacks, not just to normal merchants, but to those living nearby or on the trade routes, such as increased crime, excessive amounts of work, and the constant risk involved in trading.
As can be seen in the image labeled “Silk Road Merchants Encounter Bandits”, there is a group of people bundled together, presumably merchants, confronting what seems to be either “bandits or avaricious border guards”. Though the image seems a bit lacking of context, it can be seen that the three men on the left are carrying swords, unsheathed, implying that they are ready to fight. Whereas for the group on the right, which are unarmed, showing that there were real dangers out in the Silk Roads, not from the environment itself, but rather from thieves which, due to the increased traffic of people, especially wealthy ones, were attracted to the larger trading hubs, like moths to a flame. While the merchants were constantly moving around and could actively try to avoid these thieves, ordinary people living among the trade routes didn’t have such luxury, and as the popularity of the Silk Road increased, so did the amount of thieves, which, when living right next to the routes, puts normal people in a serious risk of being pillaged.
According to the description of source, the script written in the middle portion of the image states “If you all call upon this name, then from the malicious bandits you shall contrive to be delivered… Men, by the mere calling upon his name, they shall forthwith gain deliverance. ” This illustrates how religion was essentially advertised through the Silk Roads, and how it may have been particularly attractive to those living in crime infested areas, being offered a way to be safe: praying to the bodhisattva Guanyin. Another aspect of people’s life that was impacted during the growth of the Silk Road was the amount and type of work done by people living amongst these routes. Initially, people who lived near or on these routes had rather uneventful lives, many being farmers and such for their own survival, trading some surplus food for other necessities. As the trading boom began, and hundreds of thousands of people began to travel through these roads, these farmers saw an opportunity to get profit out of selling food to travelers, but as the amount of people increased more and more, the farmers started having rather rough lives, though accumulating many luxurious goods and wealth.
In “Advice for European Merchants Traveling to China”, Francesco wrote a ‘travel guide’, in which he explained various things merchants needed to be successful. More importantly, he emphasized the need of a good interpreter for successful trading in the Silk Roads. Logically, the best interpreters would have been those that had lived amongst the trade routes their whole lives, such as those ordinary people, many which had likely come in contact with many different kinds of people and knew the more common languages. This also indicates a further shift in the lives of the ordinary people, as not only did they turn to trading as their primary way of sustenance, but also had employment opportunities that would have otherwise been irrelevant. Being an interpreter, though, wasn’t the easiest job. Interpreters had to be constantly moving around, following the merchant which employed them, often for periods of months at a time. This change would have been rather drastic for these people, as they were originally very static and didn’t move much throughout their lives. While extra employment seems like a positive aspect, this made their lives a lot less predictable, and in some cases, a lot less stable, not to mention the added risk of being robbed/killed whilst being out with a merchant. Seen in the letter “From an Abandoned Wife”, it is made obvious that becoming a merchant wasn’t always successful. In this letter, it is highlighted how events, such as the fall of a kingdom, could greatly impact the lives of those around the trade routes. When the Han Dynasty collapsed, during this transition, many traders found themselves in a tough situation, as for a period of time, trading slowed down due to the political turmoil. This, in turn, affected many lives, such as the ones portrayed in this letter, where a wife and daughter were abandoned and left to poverty by a merchant due to his inability to make profit. Since they were wealthier early on, the rest of the community wasn’t helpful to them on their time of need, as they weren’t liked. Because of this, many families were torn apart and became dysfunctional. Though the loss of wealth was relevant, in some cases, families were torn apart without losing money. This happened in various ways, such as a husband/merchant leaving to trade and finding a better family, completely abandoning their other one.
Another example would be a merchant who died whilst travelling among the Silk Roads. According to laws at the time, any property of the dead man would become property of the state in which the death occurred, unless the man was accompanied by a family member, which would inherit his property. Since at this time, communication was done by letters, it would have been very difficult to relay the death of a merchant to their families, especially if nobody knew where they lived. This adds to the list of many risks taken by people entering the silk roads, such as loss of wealth, loss of family, and loss of life.
Overall, the lives of those people by the Silk Road underwent some very drastic changes as trading became more and more popular. While many of the changes stated are negative, there were also many positive changes which have greatly affected the world as it is. One of these would be the spread of religion, which wouldn’t have been possible if there hadn’t been that much contact between people of different origins.
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