Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, September 25th, 2020

How Ancient Silk Road Contributed to the Ancient Civilizations


 How Ancient Silk Road Contributed to  the Ancient Civilizations

Trade and cultural exchanges played a crucial role in the development of ancient civilization. Besides commercial give-and-take, the historical Silk Road was a route for cross-cultural contact among the civilizations.
The ancient Silk Road carries an increasing historical weight for being the crossroads of trade and cultural diffusion. That is, trading activities along the Silk Road over many centuries facilitated the transmission not just of goods but also ideas and culture, notably in the area of religions including Islam and Buddhism. That is the exchange of culture was the greatest value of the Silk Road as art, religion, philosophy, technology, language, music, science, architecture, and every other element of civilization was exchanged along these routes, carried with the commercial goods that merchants traded from country to country. 
Similarly, the Silk Road was a network of roads for travel and dissemination of religious beliefs across Eurasia for over two thousand years. Missionaries of many faiths accompanied caravans on the Silk Road, consciously trying to expand the reach of their religious persuasion and make converts to their faith.
Buddhism was the first of the great missionary faiths to take advantage of the mobility provided by the Silk Road to extend its reach far beyond its native ground as Buddhist monks, along with merchant caravans, went from India to Central Asia and China preaching their faith. Buddhist merchants built temples and shrines along the Silk Road wherever they traveled and Buddhist priests and monks, who staffed those religious edifices, preached to local populations and passing travelers, spreading the faith rapidly. The significant message of Buddhism – that earthly life is impermanent and full of suffering, but that the painful cycle of birth, death, and rebirth can be ended through Buddhism faith and practice – had a broad appeal. Thus, Buddhism was embraced widely, and its official arrival in China was noted by the imperial court in the mid-1st century CE. Buddhist missionaries from Central Asia translated sacred texts into Chinese. From the 4th Century onward, Chinese pilgrims are said to travel to India through the Silk Road to improve access to the original Buddhist scriptures and seek doctrinal instruction. Merchants supported Buddhist monasteries along the Silk Road, and in return the Buddhists gave merchants somewhere to stay as they traveled from city to city. It should be noted that Buddhism is said to spread from China to Korea and Japan by the 6th century CE.
Moreover, Islam is said to enter China in the seventh century and Islamic influence came from the various steppe peoples who assimilated in Chinese culture. Sufis, whose Islamic teachings exit in all the vernaculars and cultures of Silk Road peoples, played a highly significant role in the spread of Islam. The full diversity of Muslim traditions, school of thoughts and civilization influences – including the development of philosophy and science, law and history, literature and arts, and expressions in music and dances – flourished along the Silk Road. Islam is one of the religions still officially recognized in China and has a large number of followers.
Music also spread beyond its land of origin as merchants carried their music and musical instruments with them, like religion, when they traveled. Sufis, dervishes, and religious storytellers used song and chant to spread religion to people gathered to hear them in bazaars, caravanserais, and tea houses. In a commentary titled “Music of the Silk Roads”, John Major said, “Religion has been one of the most important cultural forces to promote the dissemination of music along the Silk Road. Members of the Islamic Sufi orders, who have traditionally welcomed the use of music, chant, and sacred dance as elements of prayer, were instrumental in spreading spiritual songs among their adherents”. Besides mentioning the “violin”, he said, regarding the instruments that illustrate the spread of musical culture along the Silk Road, that “the sheng, or Chinese reed-pipe mouth organ, is thought to have originated in southern China, perhaps even among non-Chinese tribal peoples of the far southwest. It was incorporated into Chinese orchestral music by the 5th century BCE”. Overall, the ancient Silk Road was not only a network for promoting commodity exchanges but also dissemination of ideas, religions, and cultures.
With this in mind, we have to carry on the spirit of the Silk Road – peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, and mutual learning and mutual benefit – as reiterated by Chinese officials, and continue religious tolerance, cultural exchanges, and people-to-people contact. 

Hujjatullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan and freelance writer based in Kabul. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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