When I went through the UMFA’s new exhibition, Influences of the Silk Road, I was very much intrigued by what I saw. I loved seeing how ideas like chess, jade, Hinduism, and even the camera obscura, were spread by merchants traveling this ancient route. I knew that the Silk Road was a system of trade routes that crossed through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, but I did not realize that it helped to spread so many ideas that we use today. Here are some of the things that were exchanged on the Silk Road.
Porcelain was one of the many goods traded along the Silk Road. Made by heating a mixture of stone and clay, porcelain is believed to have been invented by the Chinese during the Han Dynasty around 200 C.E. See a history of pottery and porcelain at http://tiny.utah.edu/a297
Most of the spices that were exchanged on the Silk Road were used as preservatives or to enhance the taste of various dishes. Some spices, though, were used in other ways. Cinnamon was used to disguise foul breath and saffron was used as antidote to poison. An online spice encyclopedia developed by UCLA has information about the uses of various spices in cultures around world (http://tiny.utah.edu/1c09). You can also experience some of the Silk Road spices for yourself at the sniff station in the Influences of the Silk Road exhibition.
As the name implies, silk was a large part of trade along the Silk Road. Believed to have been invented by the fabled Yellow Emperor’s Wife, Xi Ling, this cloth has captured the fascination of emperors, priests, and merchants alike. See the website http://www.texeresilk.com/cms-silk_making_how_to_make_silk.html to learn how silk is made.
Along the Silk Road, horses were traded to be used in farming, transportation, and battle. However, did you know they played a significant role in the development of trade in Asia? See how China’s “Heavenly Horses” helped to make travel safer for Silk Road merchants at http://gallery.sjsu.edu/silkroad/civilization.htm. You can also see how horses acted as inspiration for artists in Influences of the Silk Road.
Please note, this only a small selection of the many ideas and goods that were exchanged on the Silk Road. If you would like to learn more about the Silk Road and its influences, please see Influences of the Silk Road at the UMFA through April 25th, or see the online exhibition at http://umfa.utah.edu/SilkRoad.