Chinese trade with the Roman Empire started in the 1st century BC. Ships from the Roman Empire first sailed to India and bought silk, which became very popular in Rome. In fact, purple silk was worth its weight in gold.
JSTOR tells us in an article titled Greece & Rome that the Silk Trade between China and the Roman Empire took place between A. D. 90 – 130. The silk trade started earlier than that but, “Precisely how long ago the Chinese began to export their silk westward along the trade routes of Cantal Asia we do not know.”
Eventually the Roman merchants set up trading posts all the way to China and reached Canton; then traded in Chang-Cheou near today’s Shanghai.
Until 73 AD, the sea route was the only one open since the caravan routes along the Silk Road were closed at the time.
Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar (31 BC to 14 AD) earned credit for establishing trade between Rome and China.
In 166 AD, Roman travelers arrived at the Court of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 219 AD). These Romans met powerful representative of the Han Dynasty.
About the same time, Buddhist missionaries arrived in China by ship from India and introduced Buddhism to China.
Romans spent recklessly [does this sound familiar?]. Gold left Rome and flowed to the East at such a rate that the government had to restrict imports. After a long period of prosperity in Rome, the empire entered a serious economic crisis.
This overspending ended up bankrupting the Roman Empire and the Romans couldn’t maintain the hundreds of thousands of troops needed to protect their empire contributing to the collapse of the empire and ushering in the dark ages.
From the history of silk, we learn how much wealth [today’s billionaires] shapes governance.
Return to or start with Part 1
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.
Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.