Most of us know what the Silk Road was. We learned about it in grade school history class: the overland trade route(s) that passed through the Middle East and Asia, connecting the West with the Far East. It’s a rich source of history for people interested in the spread of goods and technology around the Eurasian Continent in the centuries prior to the Age of Exploration. The trouble is schools generally present a pretty compressed view of what the Silk Road was all about.
Most of us learn that silk and spices came from the East and precious metals and stones came from the West. In other words, the goods went one way and the money to pay for it went the other. Most untrue. Like a modern super highway, goods flowed in abundance from both ends and from all points in between, and were traded just about everywhere along it’s 4,000-mile length.
China exported rice, cotton, silks, porcelain bowls and vases, animal skins, coral, medicine, perfume and varnish and paper making technology. In return they got everything from copper working know-how to melons, apples, onions, sheep, hunting dogs, glass, rugs, slaves and the bubonic plague (but then so did everybody else…thanks, Egypt!). Wheat was just one of many arrivals, if a rather early one.