How was the spread of Christianity affected by the opening of trade routes?
The series of ancient routes that emerged throughout the South and Central Asia and extending into China were largely developed before the birth of Jesus and the rise of Christianity, but there is no question that these trade routes, which ultimately became known as “the Silk Road,” played an important role in spread of several religions, including Christianity. Trade routes, as the name suggests, certainly facilitated the movement of goods between regions and peoples, but they also served a broader purpose in exposing millions of otherwise isolated towns and villages to ideas and beliefs from which they had previously been insulated. Merchants were joined by proselytizers and warriors in exploiting the opening of trade routes and these routes proved instrumental in the intermingling of peoples of different ethnicities, religions and philosophies. The routine practice by merchants of traditions associated with religious beliefs, however, was a sufficiently strong influence on non-Christians so as to help facilitate the spread of Christianity.
With further respect to the relationship between Christianity and trade routes, the growing role of Christianity in the Roman Empire, and that empire’s success in expanding its presence and influence through much of the known world, resulted in the spread of that particular religion into distant regions. As important as the Silk Road was to the spread of Christianity, it was not the only trade route to play a role. Maritime routes across the Mediterranean Sea and along the coasts of the Indian Ocean also played an important role in exposing previously isolated regions to the cultures of other peoples, including religious beliefs and practices. The rise of Christianity along the Mediterranean Basin, in fact, provided one of the most enduring manifestations of that particular religion’s expansion. Christian communities in overwhelmingly Islamic regions like modern-day Iran and Iraq owe their origins to that long-ago spread of their religion along ancient trade routes. The Nestorians, a Christian sect that has its origins in modern-day Turkey and Syria, continues to be represented in Syria, Iran and Iraq.
Because of the overwhelming interest in kingdoms and empires to continue to expand the realms of their political and economic influence, trade routes emerged to connect disparate peoples who otherwise might never have come into contact with each other. These trade routes played a major role in the spread of ideas that contributed considerably to the growth of the world’s religions, especially Christianity and Islam.
The opening of trade routes impacted the spread of Christianity. In the western regions of the Silk Road, Christianity changed from a local religion to one that spread quickly because of the role of the Apostles. Additionally, different variations of Christianity began to spread, such as the form called Nestorianism, which spread eastward along the Silk Road. As more people moved along the trade routes, there was more opportunity for Christianity to spread.
As explorers later traveled to different areas of the world looking for shorter trade routes to Asia, they discovered new lands. For example, when the Europeans realized that the people living in the Americas and in Africa weren’t Christian, they sent missionaries to these places to spread Christianity. In some cases, the people willingly converted. However, there were instances where the people either converted but then continued to follow their old religious practices, or they refused to convert at all.
As trade grew, the opportunity to spread Christianity also grew.