Did you know?: Muslim Monopoly along the Silk Roads

Arabic Calligraphy in the Asilah Medina, Morocco © Pierre-Yves Babelon / Shutterstock.com

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Muslim people played a major role in the long history of the Silk Roads. Their influence started with the birth of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula region. Then, due to trade activities with Europe, it flourished. In addition, the legacy of this control was maintained with the many travels of the Muslim explorers along the Silk Roads, such as Ibn Battuta.

The Muslims were known to be ambitious traders. After the fifth century and the fall of the Roman Empire, they take advantage of a better share of the Red Sea trade. In addition, the Spice Routes of the Persian Gulf were already under their control from the fourth century. Thanks to their excellent sailing skills, they were able to control these significant maritime trade routes, reaching South China and the Eastern African coasts from the Arabian Peninsula.

In this way, in the seventh century CE, the progress of Islam resulted in the development of a well-organised community. This unity of people from different backgrounds led to the rise of an important Empire, under the rule of different dynasties stretching from Spain to Central Asian lands. Due to the extent of their territory, it allowed the Muslims to meet diverse people along these routes, and these people were frequently influenced by their beliefs. Thus, they consolidated their power along these routes.

This control of trade from Southern Europe to Central Asia, produced wealth and prosperity within the Muslim world. Furthermore, literature and learning based on Arab intellectual and scientific traditions merged with Sassanian and classical Europe cultures. All the thriving of these intellectual activities was deeply encouraged by all the knowledge shared along the Silk Roads.

In the fourteenth century, the Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta had one of the most important journey along the Silk Roads. Indeed, he travelled about 120 700 kilometres. He visited amongst other, Baghdad, Constantinople, Kilwa in modern Tanzania, the Malabar Coast in the Indian peninsula, and went Far East to Canton. During his journeys, he compiled his observations of the world at this time. For example, he portrayed Cairo as “peerless in beauty and splendour”. This journey also permitted him to share ideas with other travellers along these networks of trade routes.

Moreover, Muslim artisans also acquired new knowledge from the Silk Roads. As an example, the art of weaving in the region was mainly influenced by Chinese techniques. In addition, there was a development of ceramics. In fact, the Muslims incorporated the methods used by the Chinese Tang dynasty. They even used this decorative style long after the end of the dynasty.

Whereas trade and culture were at their apogee in the Muslim world from the seventh to the twelfth century, Western Europe was seriously weakened after the fall of the Roman Empire and different disputes. Europeans previous journeys towards Eastern territories led to develop their taste for exotic products, such as spices, silk, porcelain, precious stones or perfumes. Trade was then encouraged by the increasing demand. Thus, in order to trade with the East, Europeans had to make commerce agreements with the Muslims. Venice and Genoa made these significant treaties, and became extremely rich. In this way, Asian products transported by the Muslims through the networks of the Silk Roads, were able to reach Europe, presenting new cultural elements to Europeans.


See also:

The Interconnections between Portuguese and Malay languages

Oman region, a Hub on the Maritime Trade Routes

Interactions between Indian Subcontinent and Western Land during Roman Empire

Trade Routes in Himalayan India

Pakistan and the Silk Roads

The Anatolian Silk Roads

The Silk Routes of the Mongols

The Southern Silk Roads

The Great Silk Roads

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