The Great Empire

The Silk Road and the Romans

I n the first century ce , the Roman Empire was at the height of its power. It became fashionable in Rome to make clothes out of soft, transparent (see-through) silk from China. The price of silk was very high in Rome: the best Chinese bark (a particular kind of silk) cost as much as three hundred denarii (a Roman soldier’s salary for an entire year). Silk was brought to Rome in many different ways, usually by land. The most popular route crossed the Gobi Desert, Bactria, and Seleucia before finally reaching Rome. This route was called the Silk Road. Often the silk passed through the hands of many traders on its way to Rome. The Chinese also developed a taste for foreign imports, such as glass, precious stones, perfume, linen, coral and pearls which all came from Rome and Egypt.

A map of the Silk Routes. The illustration (bottom) shows a camel caravan traveling across the desert.

T his eighth or ninth-century painted silk was discovered along the ancient Silk Road.


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