Articles, Blog

The Silk Road and Ancient Trade: Crash Course World History #9

August 24, 2019

Hi there, I’m John Green, this is Crash
Course: World History, and today we’re gonna talk about the Silk Road, so called
because it was not a road and not made of silk. So this is a t-shirt. It was designed in Belgium
and contains cotton from both Brazil and the Texas, which was turned into cloth in China,
stitched in Haiti, screen-printed in the Washington, sold to me in Indiana, and now that I am too
fat to wear it, it will soon make its way to Cameroon or Honduras or possibly even back
to Haiti. Can we just pause for a moment to consider
the astonishing fact that most t-shirts see more of the World than most of us do— Mr. Green Mr. Green the t-shirt can’t see
the world because they don’t have eyes— Look, me from the past, it’s difficult for
me to isolate what I hate most about you because there is so much to hate. But very near the top is your relentless talent
for ignoring everything that is interesting and beautiful about our species in favor of
pedantic sniveling in which no one loses or gains anything of value. I’m gonna go put on a collared shirt because
we’re here to tackle the big picture. [theme music] So the silk road didn’t begin trade, but
it did radically expand its scope, and the connections that were formed by mostly unknown
merchants arguably changed the world more than any political or religious leaders. It was especially cool If you were rich, because
you finally had something to spend your money on other than temples. But even if you weren’t
rich, the Silk Road reshaped the lives of everyone living in Africa and Eurasia, as we will
see today. Let’s go straight to the Thought Bubble. As previously mentioned, the silk road was
not a road. It’s not like archaeologists working in Uzbekistan have uncovered a bunch
of yield signs and baby on board stickers. It was an overland route where merchants carried
goods for trade. But it was really two routes: One that connected
the Eastern Mediterranean to Central Asia and one that went from Central Asia to China. Further complicating things, the Silk Road
involved sea routes: Many goods reached Rome via the Mediterranean, and goods from Central Asia found their way
across the Pacific to Japan and even Java. So we shouldn’t think of the Silk Road as
a road but rather as a network of trade routes. But just as now, the goods traveled more than
the people who traded them: Very few traders traversed the entire silk road: Instead, they’d
move back and forth between towns, selling to traders who’d take the goods further
toward their destination, with everybody marking up prices along the way. So what’d they trade? Well silk, for starters.
For millennia, silk was only produced in China. It is spun from the cocoons of mulberry tree-eating
worms and the process of silk making as well as the techniques for raising the worms were
closely guarded secrets, since the lion’s share of China’s wealth came from silk production. The Chinese used silk as fishing line, to
buy off nomadic raiders to keep things peaceful, and to write before they invented paper. But as an export, silk was mostly used for
clothes: Silk clothing feels light in the summer and warm in the winter, and until we
invented $700 pre-distressed designer jeans, decking yourself out in silk was the #1 way
to show people that you were wealthy. Thanks, Thought Bubble. But the silk road
wasn’t all about silk. The Mediterranean exported such cliched goods
as olives, olive oil, wine, and mustachioed plumbers. China also exported raw materials like
jade, silver, and iron. India exported fine cotton textiles; the ivory that originated
in East Africa made its way across the Silk Road; And Arabia exported incense and spices and
tortoise shells. Oh, god, it’s a red one, isn’t it? It’s just gonna chase me, I
just— Ow. Up until now on Crash Course we’ve been
focused on city-dwelling civilizational types, but with the growth of the silk road, the
nomadic people of Central Asia suddenly become much more important to world history. Most of Central Asia isn’t great for agriculture,
but it’s difficult to conquer, unless you are, wait for it — The Mongols. It also lends itself fairly well to herding,
and since nomads are definitionally good at moving around, they’re also good at moving stuff from
Point A to Point B, which makes them good traders. Plus all their travel made them more resistant
to diseases. One group of such nomads, the Yuezhi, were
humiliated in battle in the 2nd century BCE by their bitter rivals the Xiongnu, who turned
the Yuezhi king’s skull into a drinking cup, in fact. And in the wake of that the Yuezhi migrated
to Bactria and started the Kushan Empire in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although silk road trading began more than
a century before the birth of Jesus, it really took off in the second and third centuries CE, and the Kushan
Empire became a huge hub for that silk road trade. By then, nomads were being eclipsed by professional
merchants who travelled the silk roads, often making huge profits, but those cities that had been
founded by nomadic peoples became hugely important. They continued to grow, because most of the
trade on the Silk Road was by caravan, and those caravans had to stop frequently, you
know, for like food and water and prostitutes. These towns became fantastically wealthy:
One, Palmyra, was particularly important because all of the incense and silk that travelled
to Rome had to go through Palmyra. Silk was so popular among the Roman elite
that the Roman senate repeatedly tried to ban it, complaining about trade imbalances caused by the
silk trade and also that silk was inadequately modest. To quote Seneca the Younger, “I see clothes of silk,
if materials that do not hide the body, nor even one’s decency, can be called clothes,” he also said of the woman who wears silk,
“her husband has no more acquaintance than any outsider or foreigner with his wife’s
body.” And yet all attempts to ban silk failed,
which speaks to how much, even in the ancient world, wealth shaped governance. And with trade, there was a way to become
wealthy without being a king or lord who takes part of what your citizens produce. The merchant class that grew along with the
Silk Road came to have a lot of political clout, and in some ways that began the tension that we
still see today between wealth and politics. Whether it’s, you know, corporations making large donations
or Vladimir Putin periodically jailing billionaires. Mr. Putin, I just want to state for the record that I did
not mean that in any way, I was — Stan wrote that joke. Oh, it’s time for the Open Letter. An Open Letter to Billionaires: But first, let’s see what’s in the Secret
Compartment today. Oh, it’s some fake silk; the stuff that put real silk out of business. Dear Billionaires, I’ve wrapped myself in the finest of
polyester so that you will take my message seriously. Here at Crash Course we’ve done a lot of
research into our demographics and our show is watched primarily by Grammar Nazis, Muggle
Quidditch Players, People Who Have a Test Tomorrow, and Billionaires. I have a message for you Billionaires: It
will never be enough. You’re relentless yearning is going to kill us all. Best wishes,
John Green Speaking of billionaires, the goods that travelled
on the Silk Road really only changed the lives of rich people. Did the Silk Road affect the
rest of us? Yes, for three reasons. First, wider economic impact. Relatively few
people could afford silk, but a lot of people devoted their lives to making that silk. And as the market for silk grew, more and
more people chose to go into silk production rather than doing something else with their
lives. Second, the Silk Road didn’t just trade
luxury goods. In fact, arguably the most important thing traded along the Silk Road: ideas. For example, the Silk Road was the primary
route for the spread of Buddhism.When we last saw the Buddha’s Eight-Fold Path to escaping
the cycle of suffering and desire that’s inherent to humans, it was beginning to dwindle in
India. But through contacts with other cultures and
traditions, Buddhism grew and flourished and became one of the great religious traditions
of the world. The variation of Buddhism that took root in
China, Korea, Japan, and Central Asia is known as Mahayana Buddhism, and it differed from
the original teachings of the Buddha in many ways, but one that was fundamental. For Mahayana
Buddhists, the Buddha was divine. (I mean, we can—and religious historians do—fight
over the exact definition of divine, but in Mahayanna Buddhism, there’s no question
that the Buddha is venerated to a greater degree. The idea of Nirvana also transformed from
a release from that cycle of suffering and desire to something much more heavenly and
frankly more fun, and in some versions of Mahayana Buddhism, there are lots of different
heavens, each more awesome than the last. Rather than focusing on the fundamental fact
of suffering, Mahayana Buddhism offered the hope that through worship of the Buddha, or
one of the many bodhisattvas – holy people who could have achieved nirvana but chose
to hang out on Earth with us because they’re super nice– one could attain a good afterlife. Many merchants on the silk road became strong
supporters of monasteries which in turn became convenient weigh stations for caravans. And by endowing the monasteries, rich merchants
were buying a form of supernatural insurance; Monks who lived in the monasteries would pray
for the success of trade missions and the health of their patrons. It was win-win, especially
when you consider that one of the central materials used in Mahayana Buddhist rituals
is … silk. And a third reason the silk road changed all
our lives, worldwide interconnectedness of populations led to the spread of disease. Measles and Smallpox traveled along it, as
did bubonic plague, which came from the East to the West in 534, 750, and—most devastatingly—in
1346. This last plague—known as the Black Death—resulted
in the largest population decimation in human history, with nearly half of Europeans dying
in a four-year period. A sizable majority of people living in Italy
died as did two-thirds of Londoners. And it quite possibly wouldn’t have happened
without the Silk Road. If you were living in London during the fourteenth century, you
probably didn’t blame the Silk Road for your community’s devastation, but it played
a role. If you look at it that way, the interconnectedness
fostered by Silk Road affected way, way more people than just those rich enough to buy
silk, just as today’s globalization offers both promise and threat to each of us. Next week we’ll talk about Julius Caesar
and in what situation, if any, it’s okay to stab your friend in the gut. Until then,
thanks for watching. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. Our graphics team is Thought Bubble and the
show is written by my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. Last week’s Phrase of the Week was “Kim Kardashian”.
If you didn’t like it, SUGGEST BETTER PHRASES OF THE WEEK IN COMMENTS. Every week I take
one of your suggestions and find a way to squeeze it into the new episode. If you liked today’s episode of Crash Course,
please click the “like” button and consider sharing the show with your friends. You can also follow us on Twitter @THECRASHCOURSE
or on Facebook, links below. Raoul also has a Twitter where he tweets Crash
Course pop quizzes. As do I. All of those links can be found below. Also, the beloved and not fictitious, Stan,
has agreed to start tweeting. So that’s exciting! Thanks for watching, and as we say in my hometown,
don’t forget to be awesome. Oh, hey. Remember that Mongols shirt from
the beginning of the episode? In addition to being a joke, it’s a shirt! So many of you requested Mongols shirts that
WE ARE GIVING THEM TO YOU! They are now available for
pre-order at, link in the video info below, so you can show your love for
Crash Course or Mongols or exceptions.


  • Reply Rajas A March 13, 2019 at 2:32 am

    You can't do _____ Unless you are the Mongols

  • Reply melvin the memer March 13, 2019 at 2:47 pm


  • Reply Deeday March 13, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    hikal did u do this h/w yet?

  • Reply FireFoxDOPE Gaming March 15, 2019 at 2:29 am

    I do have a test tomorrow, but I'm watching the wrong subject😂😂

  • Reply Connor Chan March 17, 2019 at 10:53 am

    grains and plains!!!! silk roads make our dining more divine!!!

  • Reply Thomas Watson March 17, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    why is there a swastika on the central statues chest at 7:07

  • Reply WAFFLE NATION March 18, 2019 at 10:47 pm

    John green best made

  • Reply Zaia Sarkis March 19, 2019 at 2:29 am

    It isn't his fault, its the fault in our stars…

  • Reply Bryan Mohler March 20, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    Good video

  • Reply Yash Nanda March 26, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    Oh man…!😆😂😂Such hillarity!
    Mr. Green, you're a genius…or rather i should say …savage ♥️

  • Reply boneless books March 26, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    I'm going to fail the AP test

  • Reply G Money March 27, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    The Silk Road began with tin for bronze. It was known as the Bronze Age not the silk age. Just a thought.

  • Reply Anna Freed March 28, 2019 at 5:36 pm

    i don’t have a test tomorrow… i have a project due and i procrastinated on it

  • Reply Craig Bailey March 30, 2019 at 5:20 pm


  • Reply Dr.doofenschmirtz March 31, 2019 at 12:40 am

    "look me from the past its difficult to isolate what i hate about you because there is so much to hate…"

  • Reply Scotti Bee April 3, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    It's weird that you know I love Harry Potter.

  • Reply evansdrad The celtic nationalist April 3, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    the mongols weren't the only ones who conquered the eurasian steppes the huns and gokturks also did

  • Reply MARCUS IBARRA April 3, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    i was told to watch this and have no test even if i did im still pretty good at history so yeah

  • Reply James R April 15, 2019 at 1:55 am

    Shout out to my fellow "people who have a test tomorrow."

  • Reply yogsim 욕심 11 April 20, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    never watching a video from you again

  • Reply sakuramento town April 21, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    Interesting video,s.I love silkroad culture and trend.

  • Reply Gabriel Gramlich April 22, 2019 at 4:34 pm

    i don't like this so why am i watching this because i'm in school,I HATE SCHOOL

  • Reply Mario Prothrower April 23, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Respect the plumbers in this world, and that was just a bad red shell joke.

  • Reply Mevine Ven April 24, 2019 at 12:39 am

    It is usless to speak with some

  • Reply Karen Hanania April 28, 2019 at 11:44 pm

    Wait! Before you change out of your t-shirt, what does it mean – "317." ?

  • Reply Darrian Weathington April 30, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    "I am the 8th fold path"- Kharn

  • Reply Aditi Sharms May 3, 2019 at 12:56 am

    I have a test tomorrow 🙂

  • Reply Aditi Sharms May 3, 2019 at 12:56 am

    I have a test tomorrow 🙂

  • Reply Mr. BlueSky May 3, 2019 at 7:28 pm

    Food,Water, and PROSTITUTES!?!

  • Reply Marquez Milton May 5, 2019 at 7:47 pm

    I got an idea how about a crash course in ufology?

  • Reply Andrew Shea May 5, 2019 at 10:10 pm

    I’ve watched crash course history videos for years and I’m finally watching them to prepare for the AP World exam in less then two weeks

  • Reply LovelyFaithful FlavoredDonut May 5, 2019 at 11:25 pm

    I have a Do now tomorrow (kinda like a more evil version of a warm-up) and I ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ grammar. >:]

  • Reply The Outis May 6, 2019 at 11:44 am


  • Reply Random Dude May 6, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you, for doing all of my research for me.

  • Reply v Bremont May 7, 2019 at 8:28 pm

    POLLUTION WARS // afterwards earthquakes, "example afganistan JAPAN/ vietnam/ circle of fire, volcanic eruptions/ POLLUTING WARS, even birds are complaining? CLIMATE CHANGE* UNDERSTANDING THE EU & CLIMATE CHANGE/ the new world map looks better than the lod OLD map/ the silk road is returning to the middle east, life enters the new century, and leaves the old one behind👽

  • Reply AGgirl77 May 9, 2019 at 7:54 pm

    Yup i'm the Muggle quidditch player… hahaha spot onnnnnn.

  • Reply ken whitfield May 9, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    didn't talk about one thing about how common people managed if the merchants had luxury goods

  • Reply Ryan Borganson May 11, 2019 at 12:47 am

    Thank you for an unbiased admission of the truth that is globalization. No ones saying its all bad… theres plenty of advantages. But the question we need to ask is are those advantages worth endangering not only individuals, but also cultures and the traditions inherent to them.

  • Reply Angela Aya May 14, 2019 at 5:21 am

    Guess who has a test tmr…😂 and its 10:21….

  • Reply Brinley Bruening May 15, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    Good luck to everyone with their AP tests tomorrow

  • Reply Sourav Bakshi May 15, 2019 at 7:48 pm

    I am a Muggle Quidditch Player

  • Reply Rosemary Green May 15, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    Ap world Exam tomorrow so let’s hope watching every single world history crash course will helped

  • Reply Luci Blogs May 15, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    Y’all i hope i don’t fail this AP exam tomorrow please pray for me omfg

  • Reply Jenna Ethithara May 15, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    Anyone here for the test tomorrow?😂

  • Reply Mahalie Williams May 15, 2019 at 10:41 pm

    Omg, I do have the apwh test tomorrow 😫

  • Reply Liz Rœ May 16, 2019 at 12:31 am


  • Reply Dan Nguyen May 16, 2019 at 1:13 am

    How do he know I have AP test tomorrow

  • Reply Eric Butcher May 16, 2019 at 1:17 am

    Lol I have a test tomorrow

  • Reply Aminata May 16, 2019 at 1:44 am

    I literally have an Ap world test tomorrow 5:59 lol

  • Reply Sarah W May 16, 2019 at 2:04 am

    All the AP World History students(me) frantically rewatching all of John Green's videos to study lol

  • Reply min _ yoongi May 16, 2019 at 3:04 am

    my man just came out for all the ap testers tomorrow 😫 good luck let’s get the bread

  • Reply Cadee Jade May 16, 2019 at 3:12 am


  • Reply Destiny May 16, 2019 at 3:43 am

    AP test in 8 hours 🙂

  • Reply SlogoBat May 16, 2019 at 9:55 pm

    Who else has a test tomorrow like if you do

  • Reply ဓမၼ သာရ May 17, 2019 at 3:34 am

    The silk Road

  • Reply Kayle Seyer May 22, 2019 at 8:08 am

    Yes. I do have a test tomorrow xD
    Also! I’m translating your lesson in Japanese (… cause I’m currently in Japan… but isn’t that good at Japanese…yet)

  • Reply Michael C May 25, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Im not a grammer Nazi or quidditch player or do I have a test tomorrow… Guess im a billionaire >;o

  • Reply asuman bilir May 26, 2019 at 10:09 pm

    You are creating an amazing content!! Thank youu! 😀

  • Reply Asterix S May 28, 2019 at 10:00 pm

    So the real culprit for the annihilation of 90% of native Americans, are Buddhist traders. I should've know -_-

  • Reply Fresh Scrunchies May 31, 2019 at 1:34 am

    The next phrase should be 7b is the best! Thats my class!!!!!

  • Reply mikemichaelmusic09 June 3, 2019 at 2:37 am

    Nothing but yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak

  • Reply Kraken June 5, 2019 at 3:55 am

    my name is Conner and this video is very nice and smart like a doi💖😘💗

  • Reply Richard Jefferies June 8, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    Seeing the montage of images of Asians working on crafting silk reminds me not much has changed, since the same cheap labor goes into making the T-shirt on its round the world journey.

  • Reply It's Christi June 9, 2019 at 3:53 am

    I don't have a test tommorow or today. I had one yesterday.

  • Reply Thai Hoang June 9, 2019 at 5:06 am

    How do I get a free shirt? I bought church's chicken combo and got a pin. I won a Pepsi shirt!

  • Reply Doris Castillo June 12, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    im from honduras :v he he…

    and yes that's true ;-;

  • Reply Dis_Iz_Jer :D June 19, 2019 at 6:57 am

    Is it just me or is there no music in this one

  • Reply Türkiyeyi Türkler Yönetmiyor TV June 20, 2019 at 10:43 am

    „The Turks are the Creaters & Lords of the Silk Road!”
    (By Hidden but True Turkish/Turkic/Turanian History & Cul-ture & Civil-civil civilization)

  • Reply Miracle Okolo June 20, 2019 at 11:20 am

    I am a foreign student in China. And I have a test on Saturday.The teacher said this Topic might come out

  • Reply Wenyu Jiang June 21, 2019 at 9:50 am

    I love crash course series. However, as a fan, I want to point out one thing that is obviously not correct.

    The costume in China has a clear division after 1644, which is the beginning of Qing Dynasty. In other words, the images showing man with braid should never occur in the time before 1644, because it was not the culture for Chinese to cut their hair as they were considered the gift from their parents.

    And in the other film on Chinese History, this mistake happens as well. In Chunqiu (Autumn and Spring) period (722-479 BC), nobody in China would have braid, and they did not wear the round hat.

    This is like saying Gothic style architecture had existed in the Roman Empire when a video is introducing the classical order of columns.

    I like your collages and graphic presentation though.

    Nowadays, many good pieces of Clothing and artworks are unearthed and exhibited in the museum. Sources on Internet might not be the latest if you are searching in English.

    Best wishes.

    Julia Jiang

  • Reply Garret Lemaster June 21, 2019 at 4:47 pm

    Mugel quidditch player here with my O.W.L tommorow

  • Reply King Lo June 22, 2019 at 2:06 pm


  • Reply Sean Rovins June 26, 2019 at 2:51 am

    This road spread Behcet’s Disease which is not very cool

  • Reply Steve June 27, 2019 at 7:55 pm

    You will fail your AP tests. Unless… your the Mongols.

  • Reply Terezi Pyrope June 28, 2019 at 6:04 am

    Well I'm not a grammar nazi. I'm not a muggle (my letter is just 15 years late), and I don't have a test tomorrow, and i'm definitely not a billionaire.

  • Reply Robert Smith June 29, 2019 at 9:55 am

    Some constructive criticism…a more serious altitude I feel (Imho) would help the learning process. Polyester doesn't breath and I think silk does. 🙂 I don't care for polyester unless they've been able to improve it. Peace be with you.

  • Reply Brandon The Kid July 2, 2019 at 5:47 am

    he used clout in 2012

  • Reply NFN99 July 4, 2019 at 10:13 am

    To anyone who has money and wants to launder this money we can buy you real estate and stock from the stock exchange in Kuwait only You have to transfer the money from your account to our account in Kuwait Information Watts 0096599706407

  • Reply DOUGLAS GROSCH July 6, 2019 at 3:24 am

    who;s here for history class

  • Reply CobraHawk July 7, 2019 at 4:12 am

    When you realize u live in the same state and are less than 2 hours away from him because of the area code on his shirt

  • Reply Menilek Mulugeta July 8, 2019 at 12:44 am

    John Green: "This last plague, known as the Black Death, resulted in the largest population decimation in human history."
    Depopulation of Natives throughout the Americas: "Am I a joke to you?"

  • Reply B O O N July 8, 2019 at 6:42 pm

    Great content, one of my favorite educational sources. I enjoy that you wrap in some comedy, facts, and random messages while educating. Keep's it interesting! Thank you!

  • Reply Zabuza July 12, 2019 at 5:11 am

    I know this video is kinda old but… Jon how did you keep a straight face in that open letter

  • Reply Bibika Kc July 16, 2019 at 6:42 pm

    Buddha was born in Nepal not India motherf*cker

  • Reply Jake Flower July 23, 2019 at 4:47 am

    I'm here for summer AP homework

  • Reply Jason Huff July 24, 2019 at 4:36 am

    John Green is a communist!!!!

    ( John from high school was cool. )

  • Reply Asafe Gonçalves July 27, 2019 at 6:29 am

    Well, I'm here because I'm a billionaire!

  • Reply Mari ! July 27, 2019 at 7:21 pm

    6:09 i just love the idea of john wrapped in cheap golden polyester, instead of silk, seriously yelling frustratedly at greedy billionaires whose actions "are going to kill us all". i relate to this on a spiritual level.

  • Reply Dat Sun July 29, 2019 at 6:23 am

    you keep forgetting the element of time…..forces of supply and demand takes effect and spread beyond commuinity boundaries only when a particular community has evloved to produced a surplus.
    the movement of surplus creates trading of goods…travellers are the medium in the transaction exchanges and motivated by gain and choices;
    all the communities and civilisations having connecting travellers prospers…

  • Reply Joost van den Brink July 31, 2019 at 2:20 am

    you're the man, thanks for these video's (and i find it hilarious that there are so many students here)

  • Reply notif August 1, 2019 at 4:05 am


  • Reply Let's Spice up the comments August 7, 2019 at 8:06 pm

    Look closely at 7:07

  • Reply El Primo Jorge August 8, 2019 at 6:03 am

    Lol I'm from Honduras

  • Reply Daniel Lee Kennedy August 8, 2019 at 6:33 am

    at this time the east was more dangerous than the west roughy 5000-5bc

  • Reply 桔仔 August 11, 2019 at 8:19 am


  • Reply Bojaccc August 18, 2019 at 11:41 pm

    6:35 doing something else with their lives

  • Reply The Omniscient Tomatoe August 20, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    Watching this in class

  • Reply Billy Hessler August 20, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    7:07 the center guy's chest lmao

  • Reply Anastasia August 21, 2019 at 4:57 pm

    Yeah that guy who thought silk was too revealing should see the clothes people wear today

  • Reply Brendan Gordon August 23, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    anybody here for ap history? if yes, hmu with answers 484-364-7287 ,much obliged

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