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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Silk Roads: a Mathematical Model

  • Author(s): Malkov, Artemy S
  • et al.

This paper concerns the mathematical modeling of historical processes; specifically, the temporal dynamics of the Silk Roads described by formal spatial equations. Historical data indicate that the location of the trade routes known as the Silk Roads varied dramatically from epoch to epoch. These changes arose from a number of causes—population oscillations, economic trends, diseases, and warfare—all of which affected the Silk Roads’ geographical location in different eras, and also determined their rise and demise in each epoch. Mathematical simulation predicting the Silk Roads’ location in each epoch could help to distinguish the most significant determinants of their fluctuations and to estimate where and when these factors were especially prominent. In this paper, we examine the hypothesis considered by Jeremy Bentley (1993), who suggested that one of the most important causes of the Silk Roads’ prosperity was the development of large-scale empires across Eurasia. Empires stimulate the exchange of commodities for the rise of supply-and-demand of bulk and prestige goods, construct roads and related infrastructure that encourage trade, and bring stability to vast areas. The model takes these processes into account and demonstrates that oscillations of the Silk Roads’ activities were induced by the rise and fall of large empires such as the Roman, Parthian, and Mongol empires, as well as the Han and Tang dynasties. Its ultimate demise might have been due to the rise of European maritime shipping, which increased ocean trade at the expense of overland, Eurasian routes.

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