Living Trade Routes: The Nile River and the Silk Roadby Rit Nosotro
Discuss two traditional trade routes, such as the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, the Nile River, or the Silk Road. In what form do these exist today?
In ancient times, specific trade routes were very important to the success of a civilization. These trade routes slowly change over time, adjusting to the major empires and regimes of the modern civilizations all over Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East. Trading routes were crucial to the growth of a civilization, as they allowed ideas and religion especially to be shared and spread along with goods, which contributed to change in that era. Two of these major trade routes are the Nile River and the Silk Road. These both existed in entirely different time frames, the Nile River being in its prime around the fourth dynasty from 2613 to 2494 BC, while the Silk Road was not a main trading route until after 125 BC.
In Egypt especially, the Nile River was a crucial component of the Egyptian lifestyle and even religion. It flows from the south to the north, an approximate 4180 miles, and every summer the river floods to almost six times its usual flow rate. The yearly floods that the Nile produced was utilized to its full potential, as irrigation helped to water the lands surrounding the banks of the river. The river was so important, that even the Pharaoh often prayed lengthy prayers to their god "Re" in thanks for their blessing. When building the pyramids, the Nile was used as a highway to transport the blocks of stone up the river to the construction site. Although the river was used largely as a means of transporting goods such as spices, cattle, and grains up and down to various merchants, the main and most important use of the river was the ability to use its waters from the yearly flooding to water the various crops surrounding the river. The Egyptians had mastered irrigation, and took incredible care of their river, even eventually building a dam in the city of Fayoum to better manage irrigation. Physically and mentally, the Nile River was the center of Egyptian life, whether through business or religion.
The Silk Road was located in the East, and connected Europe, mainly the Romans at first, to India and China. This route that joined such opposite civilizations was started on the western side with the conquering of the area near Taklimakan desert by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. This is a large part of the Silk Route, and is quite inhospitable, with very little rainfall and terribly hot temperatures during the day, yet it gets quite cold in the night. The eastern end of the Silk Road was started mainly through the expeditions of Zhang Qian, who was part of the Chinese court. His expeditions were originally in order to form an alliance with the Xiongnu tribe in order to strengthen China's defenses. Although the alliance was not successful, Zhang was interested in the area, and through his continued expeditions to the west, the Silk Road was soon opened up. He is considered by many to be the father of the Silk Road.
The Silk Road was quite dynamic both in its nature and in the trading itself. The trading itself came slowly, but the actual silk trade began around 53 BC, when the Romans discovered the material during a campaign against the Parthians. They soon realized that money could be made from this exotic material, so they began to look to the East to the source of the material, as trading through the Parthians was not cost effective. Contrary to popular belief however, although silk was a major good that was traded along the Silk Road, it was not the only good traded, and the Silk Road was not actually one road. However, it was an ever changing route that had many branches and posts, which changed according to the various Chinese dynasties' gaining control over lands along the route.
Because of the Silk Road's nature, with its multiple stops and physical length, rarely was a Roman trader seen in China, or a Chinese trader seen all the way in Europe. Because of this, goods moved very slowly across the area, changing hands often during the trip. Merchants from either side did not have to go very far from their homeland in order to make a sale. What made this road even more important was its ability to allow not only goods to be transacted, but also ideas and religion. More specifically, Chinese Buddhism was brought to China through the Silk Road from India, although it was influenced largely by the Himalayan Massif and the Ghandara culture, which was a barrier between China and India.
Today, both of these important trade routes are in the process of revival.
The Nile River has remained a focal point for Egyptians especially, and is still
used to transport goods and to irrigate farmlands surrounding the area. It is,
as it was in ancient times, majestic, respected, and enjoyed to the fullest.
The Silk Road, although considerably more vague than the Nile River, is also
in the process of revival, as tourism of the area is small but growing slowly.
Also, oil and gas have been discovered in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan,
and Mongolia which may rename the Silk Road to the Petroleum Pipeline as renewed
economic power grows in the region.
How are today's merchants different from those of old? Trade routes in modern times are intricately more extensive than these ancient routes. With the increasing versatility of boats, planes, and trucks, virtually any route imagined is possible. While innumerable routes transport goods over oceans, airways, and highways, commerce is made even easier through the Internet. The entangled web of global investment and unsubstantiated paper money, leaves a few longing for a return to regional trade like that along the Nile, where real goods where bartered. The Internet allows a multitude of traders to buy and sell without producing anything. This unregulated currency speculation is approximately 20 times larger than the global trade in goods and services. Trillions of dollars can be lost in a poor stock market and vulnerable nations devastated. This type of trade increases the rate at which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Capitalism promotes personal enterprise and, like the middle men of the Middle East, prices inflate simply by changing hands. It is no wonder that Confucius recognized Chinese merchants as a necessary evil.
Today's international trade, like that of the Silk Road, still promotes the exchange of ideas as well as goods. However, due to global advertising, trade tends to homogenize diverse cultures as consumers worldwide jump on the bandwagon, greedy for the latest promotion, like sheep lead to slaughter. Homogenization also occurs as ecumenical ideas erode the distinctiveness of Biblical Christianity.
Although Jesus overturned tables of money exchangers and rebuked tax collectors for dishonest gain, he also said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars." Scripture warns, "The love of money is the root of all evil". And, "it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven". (Matthew 19). While there is nothing inherently evil about business dealings, Christian traders are instructed, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Mt 6:33). Despite the fact that gambling and "get rich quick" schemes and scams abound, Christians are exhorted to work with their own hands. "Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase" (Pr 13:11). And again, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Thes 3:10).
The ancient trade routes required hard labor to earn a living. The modern trade routes are largely dependent upon misleading advertising, speculative gambling, and selfish vanity. In the long run, these will earn death, rather than a living.Sources:
Trade in Ancient Egypt <www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/trade/internal_trade.htm>
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