How did increased trade along ancient trade routes like the Silk Road influence the participating societies?
Absent efficient means of moving among villages and towns spread across the vast expanse of Eurasia, intermingling among the peoples of these population centers had little or no means of communicating and trading. Consequently, each such concentration of population existed in isolation from each other. That all changed with the proliferation of trade routes through South and Central Asia and along the Mediterranean Sea. Among the most prominent of these routes was the Silk Road, which ultimately stretched from modern-day Turkey to China. The effect of these and other trade routes was to begin the “cross-pollination” of cultures and societies with the consequent merging of practices, including religious practices, and intermarriage of diverse ethnicities.
While many of these manifestations of the increased interactions of diverse peoples had occurred throughout the history of mankind, a result of the natural migratory practices of early man, the creation of more formal trade routes expanded those levels of interaction astronomically. The movement of goods, for example, spices, textiles, precious metals, and other tangible products was accompanied by the transference of less-tangible but ultimately more important commodities like religion, language, and other cultural idiosyncrasies. Maritime trade greatly extended the reach of trading nations and provided for the more efficient transportation of bulk goods, camel and horse transportation, even when pulling crude carts still being inefficient. Farming practices were shared and knowledge of medicine and the sciences spread. Certain trade routes, for example, the Amber and Incense Routes, had their origins in the trade in very specific commodities, but all eventually expanded to include additional goods, and all involved long-term transformations as the aforementioned less-tangible but culturally enduring transitions took root.
One of the most enduring trade routes remains the Grand Trunk Road, which stretches from modern-day Kolkata, India, to Peshawar, Pakistan, which sits astride the historically significant Hindu Kush linking Afghanistan with Pakistan. Dating back more than 2,000 years, the Grand Trunk Road served commercial and military purposes, and would eventually be exploited by the British in that empire’s expansion throughout the Asian sub-continent. Similarly, the Via Maris, connected Rome to the Middle East and facilitated the Roman Empire’s hold on Cairo, Damascus and Jerusalem.
The net result of these routes was the development of major societies throughout much of the world. The spread of religion, especially Christianity and Islam, influenced the creation of societies that survive to this day, with the tensions originating thousands of years ago routinely manifested in violence today. The farming and irrigation practices shared among traveling peoples would facilitate the economic development of communities, and the transference of plant and animal genes would create entirely new species in regions to which they were not native. The modern world exists as it does solely due to the intermingling of ethnicities and religions that were a direct result of the development of trade routes.