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
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.