Important Medieval Trade Routes

A vast number of roads were built across the Roman Empire. With its downfall, trade across these advanced roads did decline. However, trade eventually rose again across a wider array of trade routes that crossed continents and resulted in goods and ideas being shared with diverse people across the  globe. 

One of the most important trade routes of the Middle Ages was the Silk Road. This network of trade routes connected East Asia and Southeast Asia with South Asia, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and Southern Europe. It was central to the economic, cultural, political, and religious interactions between these regions from the 2nd century BCE to the 18th century.

The Silk Road gets its name from the lucrative trade in silk carried out along it, beginning in the Han dynasty in China (207 BCE–220 CE). The Han dynasty expanded the Central Asian section of the trade routes through military conquests. The Chinese took great interest in the security of their trade products, and extended the Great Wall of China to ensure the protection of the trade route. By the Umayyad era (661–750 CE), Damascus became a major trade center. The Abbasid dynasty began building Baghdad in 762, which became the most important city along the silk road. The Mongol expansion throughout the Asian continent from around 1207 to 1360 helped bring political stability and re-established the Silk Road. Because the Mongols came to control the trade routes, trade circulated throughout the region, though they never abandoned their nomadic lifestyle.


The Silk Road trade played a significant role in the development of the civilizations it connected and the political and economic relations between them. Though silk was the major trade item exported from China, many other goods and ideas were exchanged, including religions (especially Buddhism), sciences, and technologies like paper and gunpowder. 

The Gold-Salt Trade was conducted by caravans of camels across the Sahara Desert. According to Ibn Battuta, the explorer who accompanied one of the caravans, the average size per caravan was 1,000 camels; some caravans were as large as 12,000. The caravans would be guided by highly paid Berbers who knew the desert and could ensure safe passage from their fellow desert nomads. The survival of a caravan was precarious and would rely on careful coordination. Runners would be sent ahead to oases so that water could be shipped out to the caravan when it was still several days away, as the caravans could not easily carry enough with them to make the full journey.

The West African Kingdom of Ghana became a major trading center for the Gold-Salt Trade. With gold and salt being transported and traded through Ghana, the Kingdom of Ghana was able to become very wealthy by taxing the goods that came through the trade center. Other materials that were popular within trading in Ghana were ivory, horses, swords, spices, silks, and books from Europe. With the amount of protection on the trade routes and the large number of trade routes, Ghana was given the nickname The Gold Coast.