Trade in the Silk Road Cities

For sale along the Silk Roads. What's your product? Image: Gusjer/

Students will explore elements of trade along the Silk Roads by examining the products of various locations along the route--production, influences of resources and environment, challenges of transportation, and economic exchange.  Through their investigations, students will gain an understanding of what was traded along the Silk Roads and the unique challenges that this route presented to the merchants that sought to profit from these exchanges.  

Moving trade goods along the ancient Silk Roads was made difficult by the fierce climatic and geographical conditions of desert and mountain regions along vast distances.  With transportation limited to pack animals, a traveler in a camel caravan going from Kashgar to Chang'an could expect to take six months to arrive at his destination.  Thieves were additional concerns as caravans traveled poorly marked routes.  Because of the difficulty of traveling long distances and crossing territories, merchants generally traveled and traded within the confines of a single politically controlled area.  Goods were by necessity highly portable, and tended to be luxury items whose value grew as they moved farther from their source.  Some merchants operated from stationery locations in the oasis cities.  There, they would trade local foodstuffs and fresh caravan animals with the traveling merchants.  Despite the difficulties that faced the merchants on the Silk Roads, exchanges continued in segmented stops carrying the influence of products and culture between east and west.


•    Students will identify a diversity of locations and their trade products along the Silk Roads
•    Students will examine specific elements of trade including issues of production, transportation, influence of resources and environment, supply and demand, and value
•    Students will appreciate the physical and economic hardships of merchants of the Silk Roads
•    Students will gain and understanding of trade dynamic of the Silk Roads

Grade level: 
Middle - High School  (ages 12 and older)
Adaptation for younger students (K-5) available at the end of Procedure section.

Time required:
Two class periods

•    Student Organizer (one per student)
•    Pencils
•    Google Map / Google Earth or similar (projected) to pinpoint major cities along the Silk Roads
•    11 x 14 inch paper for collage
•    Glue
•    Scissors
•    Art supplies for creating illustrations and graphics for collage
•    Reference books/computers for research and generating visuals

Students will complete Student Organizer and collage, and will participate in classroom discussion


1.  With Google Earth, Google maps (or similar mapping program) projected for the class to see, review the various routes and tremendous extent of the Silk Roads with students.  Ask students to help map the following cities: Chang' An (modern-day Xi'an), Turfan (or Turpan), Kashgar, the Ferghana Valley, Baghdad, Damascus, Rome, and Delhi. (If you have time, see if the mapping program can tell you how long it takes to get from point to point by walking, driving, or taking public transportation.) Look at some of the photos that users around the world might have tagged in the mapping program. Ask the students to describe the diversity of geography along the routes.  Explain to students that in this lesson they will focus on how the various locations influenced the development and exchange of trade products.

2.  Break students into groups of three to four students and introduce the activity by handing out the Student Organizers.  Assign groups a location along the Silk Roads.  Then instruct each group to choose a think of a product for completion of the Organizer.  Students should be encouraged to explore modern-day cities and trade goods.  Suggestions for locations and products are listed below:

Chang'an (modern-day Xi'an) - silk, chrysanthemums, rhubarb, paper, lacquer, gunpowder, mirrors, bamboo

Turfan (Turpan) - grapes, raisins, wine, cotton, dye for porcelain, alum, Glauber's salt

Kashgar - pack animals, tea, dried fruit, medicinal herbs

Ferghana - horses, rugs, nuts, dried fruit, copper

Baghdad - dates, nuts, dyes, lapis lazuli

Damascus- almonds, purple dye, dried fruit, swords, glass cloth goods

Rome - gold coins, glass and glazes, grapevines, alfalfa

Delhi - cotton, herbal medicine, precious stones, jade

3.  Review the Student Organizer, instructing groups to use resource materials to complete their sheet for presentation to the class.   As students research materials to complete their organizer, they should also collect or create materials to construct a collage of images for their location and product.  Consider using words, maps, graphs, illustrations, reproductions of artwork, or postcards.  Pictures may be from computer images, cut from magazines or created by the students themselves.  

4.  When groups have completed their Organizers and collages, have groups present results to the class.  Ask students to begin each presentation by identifying where their location is on the overhead map, describing the geographical features of the region, and identifying the product they chose to highlight.  Details about their location and product can be reported from the Student Organizer.

5. To conclude the lesson, have students consider the following questions as a class:

•    What questions or problems came up in your research efforts?
•    How would a trader on the Silk Roads find answers to these questions?
•    Why did traders take on such difficult, and dangerous, expeditions?
•    What were the rewards?
•    How far along the Silk Roads would you expect the various products to travel?  Why does this differ from product to product?
•    How far along the Silk Roads would you expect a merchant to travel?
•    How would the value of an object change with distance from the source?  
•    How does the region you live in help determine the way you do business?

6.  Display Organizers and collages in the classroom.


Decide on a product that could be marketed along the Silk Roads today. The items might be based on traditional products of the Silk Roads (clothing from silk, fruit from oasis areas, animals) or they might be new products tied to modern day living (oil resources from Central Asia, tourist items symbolizing a particular region, a music CD of traditional music from one area). Think about where it is from, how the supply-side economics works (how to get it from production to market), the features of your product, how much it costs, how much you should charge for it, and who would be interested in purchasing this product. What are possible road blocks, and how can you circumvent them (language barriers, war and security issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan, etc.) If it seems like a viable business plan, create an ad to market your product.