The web of trade routes that came to constitute the Silk Road evolved in piecemeal fashion. The Achaemenid Empire established an efficient road network from the River Indus to the Black Sea and Mediterranean. Alexander’s conquests left Hellenized successor kingdoms as far east as Ferghana, and the Ptolemaic kingdoms in Egypt developed a thriving maritime trade with India. By 112 BCE, these commercial routes had been divided between the successor Roman and Parthian empires. Embassies of the Chinese Han Dynasty, led by Zhang Qian (138–115 BCE), brought back ‘Heavenly Horses’ from the steppes, plus favourable reports of the commercial possibilities in Parthia and India. Thereafter Chinese trade expeditions became a frequent occurrence, even reaching the imperial court of Rome. Thereafter, the Kushan Empire would, for a couple of centuries, secure the Central Asian corridor of the Road. The term Silk Road was a 19th-century invention; the trade routes transported metals, paper, spices, medicines, glass and leather goods, as well as silk.
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