|Journeys along the Silk Road
Teaching State Standards While Exploring Central Asia
A Social Science Lesson for Middle & High School Classes
Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center
Journeys along the Silk Road
Middle/High School Version
Unit 1: What is the Silk Road?
Objective: Students will be able to explain what the Silk Road is and how it contributed to the diffusion of goods, people, and culture across Eurasia.
WG.2 Students will acquire a framework for thinking geographically about places and regions. They will identify the physical and human characteristics of places and regions. They will understand that people create regions to interpret Earth’s complexity, and how culture and experience influence people’s perception of places and regions.
WG.4 Students will acquire a framework for thinking geographically about human activities that shape Earth’s surface. They will examine the characteristics, distribution and migration of human populations on Earth’s surface; investigate the characteristics, distribution and complexity of Earth’s cultural mosaics; analyze the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth’s surface; examine the processes, patterns and functions of human settlement; and consider how the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth’s surface.
WG.5 Students will acquire a framework for thinking geographically about the environment and society. They will analyze ways in which humans affect and are affected by their physical environment and the changes that occur in the meaning, distribution and importance of resources.
GHW.3 Students will examine the physical and human geographic factors associated with population characteristics, distribution and migration in the world and the causes and consequences associated with them.
GHW.8 Students will examine the physical and human geographic factors that encourage or impede economic interdependence between and/or among countries and the local, regional and global consequences of those exchanges
Lesson Plan Content
The “Silk Road” is the name often given for the vast network of land and maritime trade routes between the Mediterranean Sea and East Asia. The Silk Road covered more than 4,600 miles and was in use from about the 2nd century BCE to the 15th and 16th centuries CE. However, the name ‘Silk Road’ is relatively recent. It was coined by the German scholar, Ferdinand von Richthofen, in 1877. He derived the term from Rome’s historical connection to the trade route and their love of silk.1
Story Behind the Name
Scholars say that the Romans first encountered silk in one of their campaigns against the Parthians in 53 BC. They realized that it could not have been produced by the relatively unsophisticated Parthians and allegedly learned from prisoners that it came from the east. The Romans obtained samples of the silk, which became very popular in Rome for its soft texture and beauty. The Romans sent their own agents out to explore the route east and try to obtain silk at a lower price than the one set by the Parthians. For this reason, the trade route to the East was used by the Romans chiefly to obtain silk, although they also prized other goods.
Did You Know?
The Romans did not know how silk was obtained or made. Pliny wrote that the Chinese were ‘famous for the wool of their forests. They remove the down from leaves with the help of water’; and Virgil thought that the Chinese combed down off leaves to get silk. However, as many students know, silk does not grow on trees, but is obtained from silkworms.
The Romans’ obsession with silk became so draining on the economy that in 14 BCE Rome’s Senate issued a ban against men wearing silk. The ban had little effect, however.