The Great Silk Way played very significant role in destination of nations and states over 1500 years, as the first transcontinental trade and diplomacy route in the history of the mankind. Many rulers who grasped significance of the Way and tried to retain it under their control, took that Way into account, while pursuing policy, and struggled for its sake since it sprang up. The wise peoples of nowadays consider the Great Silk Way as a consolidated force in the destination of the nations The Great Silk Way and Azerbaijanand do their best for its revival.
In the eighties of XX century, UNESCO put forward an idea on recovery of the Great Silk Way. On 17 June, 1998, Mr.Heydar Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, signed the Decree on holding of the International Conference in Baku on 7-8 September, 1998. Issues on the role and significance of the recovery of the Great Silk Way in the development of the states situated in the Europe-Caucasus-Asia transport corridor, further expansion of all relationships between them and strengthening of integration of Azerbaijan with the states of the world community were discussed at the conference. After the Conference the problem of recovery of the Great Silk Way entered into the stage of implementation of the concrete projects of the states the Way goes through. In order to create the most favorable bilateral relationships of the states located along the transport corridor, activities commenced.
The Great Silk Way existed since II B.C. and ran from China to Rome. It began from Chang’an, the capital of Han, the ancient China Empire. It went from Siang and reach Dunhuang through Lanzhou. Then it was divided into two ways: the north way went through Turfan and Pamir mountains and reached Fergana and plains of Kazakhstan, the south way ran from the vicinity of Lobnor lake through the south part of the Tekle-Mekan mountain to Bactria, and then to Parphia and India, and finally reached Rome provinces through the Middle East.
This way was named Silk, because, this way was used mainly for export of silk from China. Due to silk trading, sericulture started developing in the countries of the Middle and West Asia and also in a lot of states located along the Great Silk Way. During excavation of tombs in the territory of present Mingechevir in Azerbaijan, fine flax pieces were founded. According to experts’ opinion, Chinese silk spinning technique had impact on the spinning technique of those flax pieces.
All countries located on the Great Silk Way which played significant role in closing of East and West cultures greatly benefited from the enterpot trade. Powerful states in the Middle East tried to get intermediary in this endless road to the West and often succeeded in it. As the trade caravans, which came to China, were expressed high opinion at the state level, they were named as “embassies”.
The antique authors, coming from China and India, gave interesting inforexpomation on the enterpot trading ways, which ran through the current territory of Azerbaijan and on the involvement of the countries, located on this territory in the international trade of those days. Existence of Albania and Atropatena in the territory of Azerbaijan in Hellenistic period, establishment of many towns, development of the commodity-money relations, and availability of the enterpot trade ways which ran through those territories led in further expansion of international relationships of those two states. Finding of a lot of kauris, Indian pearl shells, and other archeological materials related with the period much later than the Great Silk Way, namely the Bronze Age (5-6 thousand years ago), proved it. Antique authors inform on the land and sea-borne trade routes through Middle Asia, on the shore of the Caspian Sea and from Azerbaijan to the West. Strabo who lived in I century, informed that the Siraciaes and the Aorses, who lived in Caspian bordering regions had traded in Indian and Babylonian goods getting them by exchange from Caucasian Albans and delivering them by trade caravans to other countries. As Plinius wrote based on Roman scientist Varon, in times of Pompous (66-65 BC), they travelled from India to Bactria in 7 days and crossing the Caspian sea went upstream Kura river and in 5 days reached by land Fassi (Poti) river fall flowing to the Black sea. According to researchers, along with the sea and land routes which antique authors told about, relatively longer route, effective to that date, crossing Midia, Atropatena-Azerbaijan, i.e. the Great Silk Way, more attracted eastern and western merchants because of its economic significance. Branches of this Way, which crossed Azerbaijan’s territory, connected a lot of towns of Azerbaijan with other trade centers. Ancient coins founded many times in the territory of Azerbaijan in single or in treasures and remnants of material and cultural values delivered from other countries to Azerbaijan mentioned that Azerbaijan played an active role in the world trade in ancient times.
In III AC, the Sassanid’s who came to power in Iran, as their predecessors, rulers of Parthia, tried to keep control over the routes of the Great Silk Way at the state level and to be intermediary in the trading relationships between East and West. The Sassanids, who continued to struggle for strategic locations having trading importance with their permanent rival Rome and its successor Byzantine, could get access to the Black Sea after invasion of South Caucasus (incl. Azerbaijan). At the same time the Sassanids gained victories in Mesopotamia and in the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Interests of Byzantine and Iran went beyond the Great Silk Way, spreaded along the shore of the Mediterranean sea to Yemen and from Yemen through sea to India, thus, clashing for the perfume way. By means of this way, Indian spices, elephant ivory, multicolored fabrics, Yemen frankincense oil, gold sand and bullions, African slaves and so on were delivered.
In that period, trading caravans arrived from northern India and China with silk, iron, rice, spices, elephant ivory, dyes, linens, gem stones, pearls etc. and crossed Azerbaijan market, which was also intermediary in the trade between East and West, along with Iran. Camels’ caravans took Azerbaijan goods and continued their way to the West and the North.
Close to the end of pre-Islamic times intermediary functions were passed from populations of Iran and Afghanistan to Sogdia and northern nations. They established settlements in Asia, populated Asian towns, entered into cultural and trade relationships with many nations. After short time Sogdia silk entered into competition with silk from China and the Middle East and was shipped to Byzantine and states of the West Europe. In 567 AC, Byzantines using intermediary of Sogdia merchants in Constantinople established trading relationships with the Far East.
Close to the end of VI AC, two great empires, Turkish Khaganate and China Sui started struggling for the eastern part of the Great Silk Way. After short period, Chinese could take advantage of internal contradictions, which led in splitting of Khaganate into two states, East and West, and achieved their hegemony over the Great Silk Way. While coming to the power, Chinese dynasty Tan could establish one of the most powerful national unions of that period.
Chinese merchants carried on trade in the Great Silk Way and its branches with East and West through foreign merchants visiting China. However, the international significance of the Great Silk way increased in VII-X centuries, when Arabs could establish Islamic state on the large territory covering China, India and Spain, including Azerbaijan. Attraction of various nations to the political, religious and cultural debates under the umbrella of the single state took place along with the international trade. Moslem merchants became organizers of political, religious and cultural campaigns at widely separated very distant points.
Aim to keep relationships of national importance with non-Moslem world at regular basis required from Arabs to keep branches of the Great Silk Way, which crossed the territory of the caliphate, under control. Authorities of that period emphasized critical importance of Baghdad, the main city of the caliphate, as a center, which tied land routes. While those routes, which came radially from Baghdad, connected the center of the caliphate with very distant locations of the Moslem Empire (incl. Azerbaijan), they ran beyond the borders of the caliphate and directed to the East and the West, supported the Great Silk Way. Numismatic samples and treasures, which were digged in Azerbaijan and belonged to various nations, tell us about wide trade opportunities of the country at that period.
Within VI-VII centuries, especially, when Azerbaijan was under control of the caliphate, Barda, the town located at the junction of the international trade roads, was one of the largest trade and handcraft centers in the Middle East till the middle of X century. Arab traveling geographers of the Middle Ages especially noted girmiz, local dye, various fishes and so on, as goods which were transported from Barda to India and other countries. In Kulsura markets, which were close to Barda, between Kurki, Ardebil and Maragha, merchants traded in khitai, Chinese silk, valuable Indian clothes –barbahar, sagat, etc. Indian merchants took raw silk, silk and shawl fabrics, carpets and carpet articles, bedcovers, laces and other artwork from Azerbaijan.
Despite that the trade relationships between Caliphate and the West started weakening due to military conflicts with Byzantine in IX-XI centuries, merchants which efficiently used the Great Silk Way and its branches, continued successfully their activity. Authorities of that period gave the information on Jews, Russians, Khazars merchants and others, who exchanged goods with the Far
East through Baghdad and Constantinople.
Early in X century, the events which took place due to weakening of the caliphate and its splitting politically into the independent states, had effect on the activity of the Great Silk Way. Different branches of the Great Silk Way became under control of different states, which were competing and fighting with each other. Desire of ceasing of the activity of traditional trading routes and keeping control over them, caused an increase in enmity between those states.
Seljuks who kept under control a big part of the Great Silk Way in IX century and tried to start their move to the West, made states of West Europe which tried to invade rich cities and trading ways of the East to take immediate actions. There started crusades, military campaigns, which caused great political and cultural changes in the Middle East and Europe and played important role in the destiny of the Great Silk way. During that period the merchants from North Italy, who had great experience in sea-borne trading with Far East countries, sometimes visited some Moslem countries and exchanged goods with them, thus, delivering valuable goods from the Middle Asia, India and other places to the Western markets.
Since the second half of XIII century, Mongol Empire took all lands stretching from Russia to China under its control. It created conditions for development of trade in the Great Silk Way. Relationships of Azerbaijan with India, China and other remote countries were further extended. In that period one of the most important cities located at the crossing of international trade routes of the Middle East was Tabriz, Azerbaijan city, the capital of Hulaki (Elkhani) state. The most prominent chronologists and travelers of that period mentioned Tabriz as the largest city of trade and craftsmanship, noting the important location of this city in the Great Silk Way. Marko Polo, the traveler from the Venetian Republic (XIII century), informed on delivery of a lot of goods from many countries of the Far East, including China, India, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries, on roaring trade of Latin (Genoa) merchants in the Tabriz market. Along with Tabriz, such Azerbaijan cities and towns as Baku, Shamakhy, Maragha, Gandja, Nakhchivan, etc., were also involved in trade during that period. It can be confirmed by Chinese crockery items, even painted ones, and articles from other countries founded during archaeological digs in the territory of Azerbaijan.
Timur, also known as Tamerlane, did not hide his economic interests in the invasive wars. In order to keep control over the Great Silk Way he tried to occupy Iran, West Asia, South Caucasus, the lands this Way crosses, destructed Urganch, Astrakhan, Azov and other cities and sealed the North trade route stretching on the shores of the Black and Caspian seas. He also took measures for recovering the South trade way where Samarqand took important place. In subsequent periods, activities of the foreign merchants in Azerbaijan cities were widely expanded. Some sources inform about foreign merchants, especially Indian ones, who lived in those cities and were involved in trading. Multani caravansarai located in the Baku fortress, Icheri Sheher (XV century), was the place where Indian merchants stayed. Demand for valuable kashmir, goldlike tirma and other goods delivered by them, was very high. Then Bukhara caravansarai was located in Baku just opposite to Indian caravansarai. Both of them were located close to the marketplace. All sources of that period mention about Azerbaijan – related trading operations of merchants from Bukhara, Balkh, India,
and China, who were involved in trading along the Great Silk Way.
In subsequent periods political changes in the countries the Great Silk Way crossed effected on directions of the routes. Opening of sea-borne way from Africa directly to India in 1498 changed the world trade routes. The land routes connecting the West with the Far East were getting weak. It is interesting that one of the reasons was increase in production of silk in Iran, Azerbaijan and other countries.
From: The Great Silk Way and Azerbaijan cataloque