The History of Silk

The history of silk goes back centuries ago and is interwoven with Chinese stories and myths. According to legend, the art of silkworm breeding was coincidentally discovered by empress Si-Ling-Chi, in 2690 B.C. Since then, the development of silk industry in China began. An art which remained secret for approximately 20 centuries. The export of silkworm eggs was strictly forbidden. Anyone disclosing the secrets of sericulture, faced a death sentence. Only the export of processed threads and fabric was allowed. Japan, India and Persia were commercial centers for exported silk. With the expeditions of Alexander the Great (4th century B.C.), silken fabric became known to the ancient Greeks. In fact, Alexander the Great himself sent bubbles to his teacher Aristotle in order to find out the secrets of silk, yet in vain. Since 100 B.C., Chinese merchants started exporting silk towards the Middle East and Europe. Traveling in caravans with camels and mules, they followed a network of paths, connected to oases. They stopped to rest at Caravan Saray on the way. On return to China, they carried luxury products, such as glass, precious stones as well as news from around the world. The Chinese merchants set off from the Chinese capital and ended up in Antioch, Middle East, having crossed the deserts and steppes of Central Asia. In Roman times, the imports of processed and unprocessed sinitic thread and readymade fabrics were continued. Sources testify to the fact that during this period silk was of great value, equal to that of precious stones and gold. The emperor used to wear an exclusively silk purple gown, while the state officers and some affluent civilians used to wear silken garments. In Europe, it was first imported in Byzantium, during the kingship of Iustinianus, where two monks, returning from a missionary travel to China in 554 A.C., carried silk cocoons hidden in their canes, as their export was forbidden.

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