Why wasnt Chinese porcelain/pottery not a popluar as silks as exports on the silk road?

May 2009
1,337
The short answer is: they did. Far more trade between the far east and Europe happened via the sea route (around SE Asia, India, Arabian sea, and then through Mesopotamia or the red sea). In this case it also wasn't a single ship doing the voyage, but a bunch of merchants doing a single leg each.
Yep. The maritime silk road was a thing too. It developed later than the land silk road though. Starting around the Tang dynasty and reaching it's peak in the Sung and Yuan. The Sung lost access to the northern land routes after foreign invaders conquered the north so they really went all in on maritime trade (and developing their navy). This is the time when you started seeing overseas Chinese communities popping up in Japan, southeast Asia, etc. Chinese sea merchants rarely went further west than India though, and even India was a long trek to them. They focused more on southeast Asia, Korea, Japan, and other parts of China. Persian and Arab merchants were more daring. They would regularly make the trip all the way to China.

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Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,722
Yep. The maritime silk road was a thing too. It developed later than the land silk road though.
Silk road was around in Greek and Romans era and probably earlier though the earliest silk appears to be from India rather than China- I can't see how ships sailing from East Africa to India is more of a problem than local trade from China thru SE Asia to India even if so far the archaeological evidence is not as well explored there have been a handful of wrecks from the 1st and 2nd centuries CE discovered off Sri Lanka and Malabar coast. How many trade connections in east India on the Ganges basin have yet to be discovered?
 
Oct 2012
828
It seems strange they were transporting silk, spices, and so on by land. Wouldn't the sea link be much more efficient? I realize that by sea, you would also need to transport it in pieces, not one trip the whole way, and there would be some land transportation across the mideast.

Also, did they use pack animals or horse drawn wagons? A wagon can hold 5 tons versus 40 tons in an 18-wheeler truck. A wagon probably needed several horses. If they didn't have wagons that far back, they had something similar. They probably had to use pack animals over some rough terrain.
Despite the name, it wasn`t a constructed road for the most part. So the "some rough terrain " would be most of the journey.
 
Sep 2014
968
Texas
wagons were rarely used. Bactrian camels were the beasts that carried the goods across the desert and mountains.1572849131784.png1572849150428.png1572849166318.png1572849188386.png am Afrocan caravan 1572849226584.png1572849252434.png1572849271374.png1572849289426.png1572849327458.png
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,251
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Yep. The maritime silk road was a thing too. It developed later than the land silk road though. Starting around the Tang dynasty and reaching it's peak in the Sung and Yuan. The Sung lost access to the northern land routes after foreign invaders conquered the north so they really went all in on maritime trade (and developing their navy). This is the time when you started seeing overseas Chinese communities popping up in Japan, southeast Asia, etc. Chinese sea merchants rarely went further west than India though, and even India was a long trek to them. They focused more on southeast Asia, Korea, Japan, and other parts of China. Persian and Arab merchants were more daring. They would regularly make the trip all the way to China.

View attachment 24350
The routes showed in that picture are just what some Italian historians call the "Porcelain Road", since the little quantity of Chinese porcelain which reached Europe travelled by sea along the coast. Only a very little part followed the Silk Road.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,722
Despite the name, it wasn`t a constructed road for the most part. So the "some rough terrain " would be most of the journey.
It can be easier to think of the cost as related mainly to 3 things- the original cost of the goods, the distance, and the number of middlemen the goods passed thru. In the 2nd two cases the cities of central Asia and Persia could get many goods more cheaply via the overland routes than the sea route which added thousands of miles and many intermediary middlemen.

Then there is the rule of trade- caravans going one way don't want to come back empty. There were rare and valuable goods exported from some landlocked areas and on the return journey even if the spices or silks from China that went by sea were cheaper to ship the profit margin was high enough to still carry silks by land and make some money. Having a large central Empire that tried to protect trade was also good for merchants- any goods coming by ship into Indus basin had those nearby cities to easily sell in but for goods going further every little warlord or kingdom along the way took a tithe of the trade goods so if a merchant shipped 100 bolts of silk from Basra, only 50 might make it to Sarai while 90 out of 100 shipped overland from Xi'an might arrive in Sarai even if the cost to ship was 2x the cost to go overland the return to the merchant is only 10% less which could easily be made up by keeping the choicest patterns or the fact a caravan's goods might only change 2-3x middlemen vs 7-8x by ship which if each stop adds +10% the land route becomes more profitable.

So it really depends on where the end city is and silk that cost gold in Rome might only cost silver in India and bronze in China.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,249
Sydney
the term "road " or " trail " is often a misnomer , modern readers think of a well marked line
it often was an approximate direction between compulsory geographic points
the choice was either to skirt a geographical feature or use a valley or a pass
between those , it was dependent on other factors such as water points , grazing , local opposition ..etc

for the sea lanes , the capes are forced passage , keeping away from shores where pirates would be waiting
estimating the weather and wind to avoid being washed on a lee shore , watering and getting supplies ...etc

a pilot or caravan master was the most important person in the expedition and had to be very experienced
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,446
I would have thought a caravan would have had more problems with bandits, taxes, and shake downs than ships would.

A camel can carry 1/2 ton at most 25 miles / day. A ship of that time could carry in the range of an 18-wheeler 80 tons and a freight train car 125 tons. Probably a bunch of camels could carry a lot of light silk and spices.
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,249
Sydney
caravans were heavily escorted and bought the goodwill of local chieftains ,
only very large groups of bandits could take them on only to suffer the subsequent displeasure of the mongols
who were quite the ( mongol ) law and order type , it's no surprise if the heyday of the silk road was during the pax mongolica

sea transports were another matter , the pirates were preying on laggards
a single ship was enough to make a rich prize and a substantial loss , mongol sea power was very weak to nonexistent for most of the way
the Malays had a long tradition of piracy , so did the Malabar coast and the Hormuz straits
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,722
I would have thought a caravan would have had more problems with bandits, taxes, and shake downs than ships would.

A camel can carry 1/2 ton at most 25 miles / day. A ship of that time could carry in the range of an 18-wheeler 80 tons and a freight train car 125 tons. Probably a bunch of camels could carry a lot of light silk and spices.
Additionally, it was very rare for entire caravans to be lost as that usually only happened during chaotic political upheavals and wars while the long-run average shipping losses for distant trade voyages was 10-20% or higher depending what period you look at (and how many wars, the length of the voyages, etc).

Ships require hugely more capital than caravans where the camels/mules could be used in other capacities before and after the trek so the start-up costs for land caravan tended to be much lower with the right socio-political connections which were the main importance.

The variance in what was carried on ships vs by land is strictly related to value vs load weight. Ships carried very cheap goods because a profit could still be made simply by volume while long-distance land trade tended to deal almost exclusively in very high margin goods.

Over the years ships likely carried better than 90% of all long-distance trade by volume but the difference by profits would be much less.
 
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