The Silk Road

2000 years ago, writes William Y. Willetts, magnificent Silks from China began to reach the wealthy families of Rome.

Two thousand years ago when, under the Emperor Augustus, Rome was settling down to an era of peace and plenty, and her commercial and ruling classes were acquiring a new taste for luxury, the magnificence of Chinese silk suddenly burst upon the Western world.

As a symbol of wealth and prestige, silk found an immediate and permanent market in all the cities of the Roman Empire; and later, when Rome herself declined, it served to accentuate the grave hieratic splendour of the Eastern Emperors at Byzantium.

Nothing like it had been seen before in the West; the wool and linen textiles of Syria, with their heavy tapestry patterns and deep oppressive purple dyes, must have appeared clumsy and laboured beside this strange new stuff, its swift cursive designs woven in an accurate repeating pattern throughout the entire web. Surely it was made by more than human hands alone?

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