Travelers
of the
Silk Road

Zhang Qian, China

Xuanzang, China

the Polo Family, Italy

Ibn Battuta, Morocco

and Zheng He, China

Aurel Stein, England

Journey of 1000 Li

First Traveler

Teacher Section

A History of Travelers

The history of the Silk Road is a history of movement and trade. It is a history of a traffic in which ambitious merchants moved goods from one large market town to another. It is not the history of an actual road made of bricks and pavement like those for which Rome was famous. Instead, the Silk Road was a general drift of movement across a series of connected routes. Together these routes formed a vague artery of trade through the heart of Asia. The Silk Road was more of a pattern of movement than a particular track. The pattern was made by chains of individuals who traveled, primarily for trade, short links of the total route.

Map of Silk Road created by R.Bradeen

• Few traveled the whole distance.

Silks moved from China to the Mediterranean. Glassware and grape wine returned. Ideas and technologies such as Christianity and the paper-making process also traveled the length of the route. But few people journeyed the entire distance. Most people only traveled from one major trading city to the next. Those few who did cross the whole route provide us with rare glimpses of the workings of trade across Asia. From their accounts, we can see the market towns and the landscape between them. We can read descriptions of the peoples along the route and the kingdoms, tribes and empires that controlled its sections. The travelers tell us how caravans were equipped for the journey and what they expected along the way. They also tell us what was strange and wonderful to them; what they had never seen before and what they believed impossible.

• Through travelers, the history of the Silk Road.

The small number of travelers who journeyed the whole length of the route provided us with unique cross-sections of each era of the Silk Road. By examining the travelers as a group we can trace changes in the methods of travel, the dangers of travel, the goods exchanged and the destinations. We can see how political control over the routes changed and how these changes affected traffic along the route. The accounts of these travelers provide invaluable links in the chronological chain of the history of the Silk Road.


Top / First Traveler / Teacher Section

Zhang Qian, the Opener of Roads; the Accidental Beginnings of the Silk RoadZhang Qian,
the Opener of Roads; the Accidental Beginnings of the Silk Road
Xuanzang, the Tireless Pilgrim: an Era of Buddhist PeaceXuanzang,
the Tireless Pilgrim: an Era of Buddhist Peace
Niccolo and Maffeo Polo, the First Europeans in China: the Silk Road's Peak under Mongol RuleNiccolo and Maffeo Polo,
the First Europeans in China: the Silk Road's Peak Under Mongol Rule
Sir Aurel Stein, the Last Explorer: the Sik Road Vanished under Sand
Sir Aurel Stein,
the Last Explorer: the Sik Road Vanished Under Sand
Ibn Battuta and Zheng He, the Tourist and the Admiral: Trade, Travel and Politics in a Muslim WorldIbn Battuta and Zheng He,
the Tourist and the Admiral: Trade, Travel and Politics in a Muslim World