In what could be viewed as a perfect storm of stabilization, Alexander the Great and the contemporaneous rulers of Imperialist China began simultaneous programs of fortification, building across opposite sections of Asia following periods of meteoric expansion. Intending to secure their trade and supply routes, revenue sources, and subjects, both empires essentially created a spine across the largest continent on Earth which, when fleshed out, eventually developed into the Silk Road (Frankopan, 2015).
Almost a millennia and a half later, the famous route along which goods, people, ideas, and culture flowed until it (metaphorically) stopped dead as it reached Europe. Until Pope Urban II sent out his fateful clarion call to righteous bloodshed and promised eternal salvation, Europe was insular in a number of important ways.
Returning merchants and warriors brought back ancient and unknown texts by Greek and Roman writers, new foods, textiles, fashions, spices, and so on. European demand for such goods remained essentially constant from their introduction onward. Therefore, the promise of a potentially faster way to India, namely a sea route, catalyzed a race among various European powers, all desperate to be the first to find it.
Much has been written on the fact that, and the manner in which, the Crusades led, both directly and indirectly, to the eventual demise of the eastern European empire. More commonly known as the Byzantine Empire, when it did eventually fall, it was to the Ottoman Turks.
The Ottomans were Muslim, and though they allowed Christians to trade within their borders, the traders did so at a considerable price. Motivated by their desire to avoid paying Ottoman sanctions and tariffs, Europeans began to search ever more incessantly for a faster, cheaper route to the East. In fact they were so motivated, they even began to look West...