There have been many remarkable feats of human endurance over the centuries. The early trade routes between the east and the west would undoubtedly rank among them. The network of routes, which linked the Chinese capital city Chang’an (now Xi’an) with the Roman empire and the great cities of Constantinople and Cairo, was referred to by the nineteenth-century German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen as the “Seidenstraße”, or “silk road”. And although silk was important, so too was the trade in spices, gemstones, glass, perfumes, incense, gold, ivory, coral, furs, ceramics, and much more. Gunpowder, paper and printing, invented in China, were introduced to the west, and music and religions spread east.
The trade routes covered some of the most inhospitable parts of the earth, with searing deserts and blinding sandstorms, to frozen high mountain passes. Camels and horses were suited to different conditions and used over different sections. Settlements along the route often provided caravanserais for shelter, although tents made of felt and wood called yurts would be carried and used where necessary. Often hundreds of men and camels would make up a caravan, the numbers providing some degree of protection from marauders.
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