Silk Roads comprised of a network of routes and paths that gradually linked and connected Eurasia throughout history. These routes crossed both the land and sea and were used for the exchange of silk and other products such as food spices. Indeed, the maritime routes were vital as they linked the East and the West, and these vast networks resulted in the establishment of cities along the silk roads that supported not only exchange of merchandise and precious commodities but also the exchange of ideas, skills, culture, and beliefs by encouraging the mixing of various people who were ever on the constant move. Some of the cities that attract travelers for trade and support intellectual and cultural exchange include Alexandria and Muscat, and these cities have contributed goods to other forms of value.
Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 332-331 B.C.E to provide a link between the Nile Valley Regions and Greece. Alexandria acted as a center of interregional trade that dealt with Greece and Asian areas, including regions in the Persian Empire and to the Indian Peninsula. Indeed, the city was suitable for trade because of its location. Alexandria is protected by Pharos Island from the North, Nile Delta from the East and the West by the Libyan Desert from the West. Due to the city’s favorable location, it was subject to extensive shipping of grain, and one of the most important functions of the city was to act as a granary. Moreover, the city’s harbor was not in danger of silting as it was protected from the prevailing currents that came from the West to the East. Besides the city’s favorable location, Alexandria substituted the roles of older cities, such as Naucratis, in commerce, and it became the preferred destination for many travelers (Hirst and Silk 186). The foundation of the Library of Alexandria and Alexander’s tomb are some of the sites that attracted many tourists and scholars, and that made the city a favorable place to trade.
Alexandria’s trade structure was defined by administration and control. At first, the private investors took control of trade across the city, but with time the Roman Emperor starting with Octovan, controlled the city’s trade activities. Taxes and importation tariffs went directly to the royal treasury. Various items that this cosmopolitan city contributed to the trade include necessities, such as grains and textiles; luxury items, such as pottery, perfume and papyrus; and the production of metalwork and glassware. Additionally, the key elements of trade were the grains and textiles. Another essential function of the city was textile production. Many travelers could access textile products, such as tapestry hangings, carpets, and curtains, from the area.
Since the 2nd century AD, Muscat has been a strategic center of trade and exchange of various products throughout the history of Silk roads. Muscat is the modern-day capital city of Oman, and it was important throughout the history of silk roads because of its geographical positioning. Located at a small sheltered bay on Oman’s north-eastern coastline and over-looking the country’s gulf, the city linked Asia with Europe and Africa, and it was a vital stopping point from the merchants. Furthermore, sailors used the city as a natural shelter to escape from bad weather conditions and make repairs, and to access water and food for the long sea journeys. This city was of enormous importance to traders who traveled for long and uncertain sea journeys.
Muscat was relied on by the maritime Silk Roads for transporting spices from southeast Asia and timber from India. The city’s geographical position contributed to the exchange of silks and textiles from China and merchandise from East Africa (Chaziza 47). Moreover, its strategic position has established it at the heart of maritime trade throughout the history of Silk Roads. Consequently, the city has been the focus of invading powers that want to take control of this lucrative maritime trade route, such as the Persians and Portuguese. The Persians captured the city in the 3rd century AD until the 7th century (Chaziza 56). In July 1507, Muscat was invaded by the Portuguese who wanted to take control of the city to protect their route to India and to maintain their dominance in the interregional trade across Europe, Asia and Africa.
Silk Roads were of significance as they supported interregional trade between Europe, Asia, and Africa. The maritime routes also promoted diversity by enhancing the exchange of ideas, skills, cultures, and beliefs amongst traders who constantly traveled across the mentioned regions. Some of the trade cities that were essential in the maritime trade include Alexandria and Muscat. Alexandria was important as it linked the Asian and African regions. Some of the products that the city contributed to the maritime trade include grains and textiles. Muscat linked Asia with Europe and Africa. The significance of the city in the maritime trade is that it offered travelers excellent natural shelters to help the traders to escape from part weather conditions. Other Silk routes used this city to receive and exchange various products from other regions.
Chaziza, Mordechai. “The Significant Role of Oman in China’s Maritime Silk Road Initiative.” Contemporary Review of the Middle East 6.1 (2019): 44-57, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2347798918812285?journalCode=cmea
Hirst, Anthony, and M. S. Silk. Alexandria, Real and Imagined. Routledge, 2017.