The Silk Road is the name given to an old trade route that was over 4000 miles long. Some estimates put the length of it as high as 7000 miles. It stretched from China to Eastern Europe, and passed Persia and India. An epic symbol of commerce, it allowed trade of a variety of commodities. It was not literally a road but more precisely a route that could be traveled, included some sections that involved traversal of water. Obviously silk was one of them, though other commodities such as spices and jade were quite key to the road’s existence.
As you may expect, goods traded in each direction of The Silk Road were vastly different. Trade from China included: Horses and riding gear, fruit, camels, military gear, glassware, honey, and furs. Trade goods arriving in China included: teas, dyes, medicines, perfumes, gunpowder, rice, and ivory. Along with being commodities for trade, camels and horses were common ways that goods were transported along The Silk Road. Images of The Silk Road often play on this imagery, especially with the inclusion of camels.
The name The Silk Road was coined in the 1800s by German traveler Ferdinand von Richthofen. There is still debate about whether or not another name would have fit better, due to silk trade coming later in the history of the path. The time of the naming is misleading though, due to the path existing in one form or another for over 2000 years. Historians put the beginning of The Silk Road around 130 BCE, established by the Han Dynasty.
It has an interesting history, especially its time in operation goes. It was closed early in its existence and reopened in 639 when Hou Junji captured the western regions. It was a mainstay of trade from that time until around 1720, when the Iranian Safavid Empire fell and disrupted its use. Even though this was the end of typical trade on The Silk Road, it popped up again when a powerful earthquake caused havoc in 1966. The Road was utilized as a way to quickly help the rebuilding process.