The Silk Road was a complex system of trade routes that connected China in the east with the Mediterranean in the West. The trade routes were active for hundreds of years, beginning around 200 BCE and continuing through the 7th century CE. During this time, merchants and traders traveled the long distances, on foot and in camel caravans, carrying valuable goods to trade or sell to local inhabitants or other travelers. The good traded varied from fine textiles, such as silks and brocades, to precious metals and stones, medicine, glass, and paper. Not merely a conduit for material goods; ideas, inventions and religions also traveled and spread via the Silk Road.
Although it is most commonly known as the Silk Road, it was actually a network of many different routes that linked east and west. Travelers had to pass through harsh landscapes before resting at oasis towns along their way. Many of these oasis settlements were located in Central Asia’s Tarim Basin. The towns thrived by providing provisions and shelter to travelers. These merchants, missionaries, and pilgrims spread knowledge, technology, religion, music, culture, and even genetics as they did business. The many cultures influenced the people of the Tarim Basin, bringing sweeping changes to religion, language, and customs.