The Long History of Silk

The Long History of Silk

Silk has an incredible history dating back over 6000 years. The earliest evidence of silk fabric is from baby clothing in the year 3630 BC. For over 3000 years silk production was exclusive to China, were silk became an integral part of everyday life. Not just limited to clothing, silk was also used on musical instruments, as fishing line and even as a medium for writing. It's presence was so widespread in early Chinese life that today over 200 of the 5,000 most common Mandarin characters have silk as their key.

Evidence shows that before the widespread use of the Silk Road, silk was already a luxury good in foreign countries. Even the Egyptians revered silk, where silk cloth has been found in the tomb of a mummy dating back to 1070 BC. The Greeks and the Romans both talked about the Chinese as the Seres, meaning the people of silk. The appetite for silk grew so large in Ancient Rome that the Roman Senate tried in vain to prohibit the wearing of silk, as it was causing vast amounts of gold to leave Rome. Some Romans even critized the use of silk as clothing, stating that it left so little to the imagination as to be immoral.

Eventually, through massive exports via the Silk Road, as well as large domestic demand, silk became an acceptable currency to many Chinese. Some farmers would pay their taxes in silk and civial servants could choose to receive their sallary in silk. Unlike gold or silver which are valued by weight, silk in Ancient China was value by unit of length. This spread outside of China, and became the standard for how sellers would price their silk to foreign buyers.

Trade via the Silk Road became a significant factor in the growth of many nations, including India, China, Egypt, Persia, Arabia and Ancient Rome. Goods would slowly make their way along the road, being traded for one another at the various bustling oasis markets.

By the year 300 AD the secrets surrounding silk production had finally escaped China, first to Korea and Japan, then India and Europe. China maintained their role as a leader in silk production and quality, something they maintain to this day.