Did you know?: Iraq, a Centre of Exchanges along the Silk Roads

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Cities in the Mesopotamian region (in particular those in modern day Iraq) have been important centres for trade and cultural exchanges between diverse regions of the world throughout different periods in history. Notably, during the Akkadian (2nd millennia BCE) and Babylonian (18th-6th centuries BCE) eras and later, throughout the Middle Ages. Indeed, the region played a vital role as a centre of Silk Roads exchanges focussed around the production and trade of silk garments, the manufacture of which began around the 3rd century AD. In particular, the cities of Ur, Akkad, Nineveh (modern Mosul), Basra, and Baghdad were important centres for silk trade and production. In these cities the industry prospered due to the skill and expertise of the weavers residing in the region as well as their geographic locations as a Silk Roads hubs. 

Over time different cities became known for different silk-production techniques and products, mixing silk with other products like cotton, wool and precious metals. Furthermore, embroiders working in these cities were experts in producing embroidered fabrics decorated with pictures of humans, animals and plant leaves in gold threads. The city of Wasit became famous for its silk colouring techniques whilst Mosul, as a caravan and trading station where garments of many different colours were produced and exported, became another major centre. Another important city known for producing good quality silk used for clothes and curtains was Missan.

Baghdad was a particularly important axis for the Silk Roads trade. Here the silk textile known as Attabi (named for the area of Attabiya) was produced and then transported to many different regions across the world. By the 12th century, these production methods were being copied in Europe where the textile proved so popular that its name was adopted into the Italian and French languages as ‘tabis’, and into English as ‘tabby’. This Attabi textile was also adopted in the Iran where it was produced in Isfahan.

Through its vital role in silk production and trade, Baghdad, as well as other cities in the modern Iraq, represented the convergence of the land and maritime roads. Including those from China across central Asia and the Iran linking these regions to the Mediterranean and Europe. As well as routes from China and India across the Persian Gulf to Europe. In doing so, these cities acted as vital centres of the Silk Roads not just for trade but also for the rapprochement of societies and cultures across the East and the West.

Furthermore, alongside the economic development generated by the silk trade, Baghdad developed into a vibrant cultural and academic centre. A large number of Arab and Persian scholars are known to have studied in Baghdad between the 8th and 13th centuries, flocking to the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), a centre for the academic study of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, chemistry and geography. With the introduction of paper in around the 10th century via the Silk Roads, Baghdad’s academic community flourished throughout the regions alongside the Silk Roads, contributing to the development and renown of Iraq.


See also:

The Spread of Islam in Southeast Asia through the Trade Routes

Gyeongju and the Silk Roads

Nara at the end of the Silk Roads

Ancient Monastic Hospital System in Sri Lanka

Brunei in the Maritime Silk Roads

Khwarazm Region and the Silk Roads

Quanzhou – The Heart of the Maritime Silk Roads

Mongolian Nomadism along the Silk Roads

The Spread of Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia through the Trade Routes

Sayyid Bin Abu Ali, a True Representative of Intercultural Relations along the Maritime Silk Roads

Thailand and the Maritime Silk Roads

Greek Presence in Central Asia

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