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  • A banker in London sends the latest stock info

  • to his colleagues in Hong Kong in less than a second.

  • With a single click, a customer in New York

  • orders electronics made in Beijing,

  • transported across the ocean within days

  • by cargo plane or container ship.

  • The speed and volume at which goods and information

  • move across the world today is unprecedented in history.

  • But global exchange itself is older than we think,

  • reaching back over 2,000 years along a 5,000 mile stretch

  • known as the Silk Road.

  • The Silk Road wasn't actually a single road,

  • but a network of multiple routes

  • that gradually emerged over centuries,

  • connecting to various settlements and to each other

  • thread by thread.

  • The first agricultural civilizations were isolated places

  • in fertile river valleys,

  • their travel impeded by surrounding geography

  • and fear of the unknown.

  • But as they grew,

  • they found that the arid deserts and steps on their borders

  • were inhabited, not by the demons of folklore,

  • but nomadic tribes on horseback.

  • The Scythians, who ranged from Hungary to Mongolia,

  • had come in contact with the civilizations of

  • Greece, Egypt, India and China.

  • These encounters were often less than peaceful.

  • But even through raids and warfare,

  • as well as trade and protection of traveling merchants

  • in exchange for tariffs,

  • the nomads began to spread goods, ideas and technologies

  • between cultures with no direct contact.

  • One of the most important strands of this growing web

  • was the Persian Royal Road,

  • completed by Darius the First in the 5th century BCE.

  • Stretching nearly from the Tigris River to the Aegean Sea,

  • its regular relay points allowed goods and messages

  • to travel at nearly 1/10 the time it would take a single traveler.

  • With Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia,

  • and expansion into Central Asia through capturing cities like Samarkand,

  • and establishing new ones like Alexandria Eschate,

  • the network of Greek, Egyptian, Persian and Indian culture and trade

  • extended farther east than ever before,

  • laying the foundations for a bridge between China and the West.

  • This was realized in the 2nd century BCE,

  • when an ambassador named Zhang Qian,

  • sent to negotiate with nomads in the West,

  • returned to the Han Emperor with tales of

  • sophisticated civilizations, prosperous trade

  • and exotic goods beyond the western borders.

  • Ambassadors and merchants were sent towards

  • Persia and India to trade silk and jade for horses and cotton,

  • along with armies to secure their passage.

  • Eastern and western routes gradually linked together

  • into an integrated system spanning Eurasia,

  • enabling cultural and commercial exhange

  • farther than ever before.

  • Chinese goods made their way to Rome,

  • causing an outflow of gold that led to a ban on silk,

  • while Roman glassware was highly prized in China.

  • Military expeditions in Central Asia

  • also saw encounters between Chinese and Roman soldiers.

  • Possibly even transmitting crossbow technology

  • to the Western world.

  • Demand for exotic and foreign goods

  • and the profits they brought,

  • kept the strands of the Silk Road intact,

  • even as the Roman Empire disintegrated

  • and Chinese dynasties rose and fell.

  • Even Mongolian hoards, known for pillage and plunder,

  • actively protected the trade routes, rather than disrupting them.

  • But along with commodities, these routes also enabled

  • the movement of traditions, innovations, ideologies and languages.

  • Originating in India, Buddhism migrated to China and Japan

  • to become the dominant religion there.

  • Islam spread from the Arabian Penninsula into South Asia,

  • blending with native beliefs

  • and leading to new faiths, like Sikhism.

  • And gunpowder made its way from China to the Middle East

  • forging the futures of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughul Empires.

  • In a way, the Silk Road's success led to its own demise

  • as new maritime technologies, like the magnetic compass,

  • found their way to Europe, making long land routes obsolete.

  • Meanwhile, the collapse of Mongol rule

  • was followed by China's withdrawal from international trade.

  • But even though the old routes and networks did not last,

  • they had changed the world forever

  • and there was no going back.

  • Europeans seeking new maritime routes

  • to the riches they knew awaited in East Asia

  • led to the Age of Exploration

  • and expansion into Africa and the Americas.

  • Today, global interconnectedness shapes our lives like never before.

  • Canadian shoppers buy t-shirts made in Bangladesh,

  • Japanese audiences watch British television shows,

  • and Tunisians use American software to launch a revolution.

  • The impact of globalization on culture and economy is indisputable.

  • But whatever its benefits and drawbacks,

  • it is far from a new phenomenon.

  • And though the mountains, deserts and oceans

  • that once separated us

  • are now circumvented through super sonic vehicles,

  • cross-continental communication cables,

  • and signals beamed through space

  • rather than caravans traveling for months,

  • none of it would have been possible

  • without the pioneering cultures

  • whose efforts created the Silk Road:

  • history's first world wide web.

A banker in London sends the latest stock info

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【TED-Ed】The Silk Road: Connecting the ancient world through trade - Shannon Harris Castelo

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