Journeys of a Lifetime: The Caucasian Silk Road

The Caucasian silk road is the north-western portion of the Great Silk Road, a vast network of merchant routes that connected China with Europe from the 2ndto the 14th centuries.

The ancient Silk Road that that connected China with the West isn’t one road but a complex network of routes that traversed from Xian in China to Turkey and beyond. The north western-most branch of that network is the little-known Caucasian Silk Road that crossed the territories of Georgia and its neighbours, Azerbaijan and Armenia near Russia, completing a journey of over 5,000 km. Amazing cultural and historical legacies of the Caspian Silk Road reward the intrepid traveller to this rugged region.


The city of Tbilisi in Georgia

The Caucasian route gained importance in the 6th century after confrontation between Byzantium and Iran started when it became hazardous to deliver silk to Byzantium and other Mediterranean countries via Iran. Under such conditions, Central Asian merchants who supplied Byzantium with Chinese silk, tried to explore new routes, namely the one going north of the Middle East. From the eastern side, this road starts from the Caspian Sea, crossed the Caucasus range via the Darial gorge or other passes in the West Georgia and proceeded to Byzantium via Georgia. This practice continued even after the 7th century when Georgie was under Arab control. It ceased only after the 14th century with the rise of maritime trade.

Located on the border between Russia and Georgie, the 13 km long Darial Gorge has historically been one of the two important merchant routes that crossed the Caucasian Mountains.


Azerbaijan has close ties with the Silk Roads history and was strongly affected by its development. Baku, its capital city, was the main port that received trade from the east as it was shipped across the Caspian Sea. Heading westwards from Baku, the goods would be transported north through the Caucasus Mountains to the Black Sea and then to Istanbul, Turkey. As well as trading foreign goods, Azerbaijan has extensive natural resources, oil being an important commodity that was traded from Baku to Europe from as early as the Middle Ages. Evidence of its rich inter-cultural heritage can be seen from Baku’s mosques, madrasas, churches, caravansaries, baths, mausoleums that reflect early Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic influences, as well as the traces of Sassanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman and Russian cultures, all of which have come together throughout the city’s long, varied history.

Mosques in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan.
View of a caravanserai in Sheki, Azerbaijan, now used as a hotel. The word caravanserai was derived from the Persian compound word karvansaray (combining karvan “caravan” with saray “palace”). Built with a central open-air courtyard, such inns dot the entire ancient Silk Road.


Armenia also has strong Silk Road links. The first mention of Armenian silk dates to the second century BC, and according to an ancient historical account, the Armenian king Artashes I (190 – 160 BC) was draped and buried in silk cloth. Armenian merchants had trade links with all major empires along the Silk Road. They traded garments, carpets, silver, lead, spices and medicinal herbs in copious quantities. Vast amounts of raw silk were transported to Iran, then Turkey and the Mediterranean and from there, via maritime routes to Europe.

The historic city of Dvin was a key Silk Road city in Armenia. One of the oldest settlements of the Armenian Highland as well as Armenia’s ancient capital, it was the primary residence of the Armenian Kings of Arshakuny dynasty and the Holy See of the Armenian Church. It grew rapidly reaching a population of over 100.000 to become one of the most populous and wealthiest cities east of Constantinople, emerging as a meeting-point of trade routes from east and west that connected the city with Iran, Iraq, Assyria, the Byzantine Empire and countries of the Mediterranean basin. Unfortunately, today, very little remains of this ancient Silk Road city as it was destroyed by an earthquake in the ninth century though 3D reconstructions of the city (see below) using old manuscript descriptions and illustrations indicate that Dvin must have been a glorious city befitting its important status as a major Silk Road trading hub.

Reconstruction of Dvlin, the ancient capital of Armenia and a key Silk Road city.

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