The Silk Road is a network of land routes connecting Asia with the Mediterranean world and Russia. Approximately 4,000 miles in length, it traverses Central Asia along several parallel tracks. It is believed to have been founded around 2,000 years ago by the Han Dynasty in China. By the late medieval period in Europe, it was used to bring exotic consumer goods into the hands of Muslim traders in the Middle East and North Africa as well as the Byzantine, Persian, and Russian empires. During the Crusades, Europeans became well acquainted with the goods that had flowed along the route and became anxious to tap into the wealth. In the late thirteenth century, Venetian merchant Marco Polo spent twenty-four years traveling the full length of the road, and his published memoir enhanced European curiosity and avarice.

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