Sea Routes

Part of the Traveling the Silk Road exhibition.

Trading by Sea

A painting of two people, each reaching into large round receptacles to extract smaller objects, while seeming to have a conversation.

While caravan merchants of the Silk Road risked their worldly assets transporting goods over mountains and deserts, other traders placed their bets on the sea. To reach China, ships sailing from Baghdad had to travel some 6,000 miles (9,600 kilometers). The voyage took about six months-yet this was considerably faster than overland travel, which could take as long as a year. Despite the peril of pirate attacks and shattering storms, sea trade expanded eventually overshadowed the caravan trade.

Across the Seas

In 851, an Arab traveler gave an account of the sea voyage from the Persian Gulf to Guangzihou, the Chinese port formerly known as Canton.

A Magnificent Exchange

Islamic merchants who traveled by sea contributed to the flow of ideas as they traded glass and other goods for Chinese decorated ceramics. In Arab and Persian households, clay pots with colorful glazes and fine white porcelain from Chinese kilns were especially prized. Over time, potters in both China and the Middle East developed new styles and techniques in response to the overseas trade.