silk-road-timeline136–125, 119–115 BCE. Zhang Qian, emissary sent by Han Dynasty Emperor Wu Di to the “Western Regions,” who supplied important commercial and political intelligence.

629–645 CE. Xuanzang (Hsuan-tsang), Chinese Buddhist monk who traveled through Inner Asia to India, studied there, and once back in the Chinese capital Chang’an (Xian) was an important translator of Buddhist texts.
821. Tamim ibn Bahr, Arab emissary, who visited the impressive capital city of the Uyghurs in the Orkhon River valley in Mongolia.

1253–1255. William of Rubruck (Ruysbroeck), Franciscan missionary who traveled all the way to the Mongol Empire capital of Karakorum and wrote a remarkably detailed account about what he saw.

1271–1295. Marco Polo, Venetian who accompanied his father and uncle back to China and the court of Yuan Emperor Kublai Khan. Marco entered his service; after returning to Europe dictated a romanticized version of his travels while in a Genoese prison. Despite its many inaccuracies, his account is the best known and arguably most influential of the early European narratives about Asia.

1325–1354. Abu Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, Moroccan whose travels even eclipsed Marco Polo’s in their extent, as he roamed far and wide between West Africa and China, and once home dictated an often remarkably detailed description of what he saw.

1403–1406. Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, Spanish ambassador to Timur (Tamerlane), who carefully described his route through northern Iran and the flourishing capital city of Samarkand.

1413–1415, 1421–1422, 1431–1433. Ma Huan, Muslim interpreter who accompanied the famous Ming admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) on his fourth, sixth, and seventh expeditions to the Indian Ocean and described the geography and commercial emporia along the way.

1664–1667, 1671–1677. John Chardin, a French Huguenot jeweler who spent significant time in the Caucasus, Persia, and India and wrote one of the major European accounts of Safavid Persia.