The Silk Road was a network of trade routes which connected the East and West, and was central to the economic, cultural, political, and religious interactions between these regions from the 2nd century BCE to the 18th century. The Silk Road primarily refers to the land routes connecting East Asia and Southeast Asia with South Asia, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and Southern Europe.

The Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in silk carried out along its length, beginning in the Han dynasty in China (207 BCE–220 CE). The Han dynasty expanded the Central Asian section of the trade routes around 114 BCE through the missions and explorations of the Chinese imperial envoy Zhang Qian, as well as several military conquests. The Chinese took great interest in the security of their trade products, and extended the Great Wall of China to ensure the protection of the trade route.

The Silk Road trade played a significant role in the development of the civilizations of China, Korea, Japan, the Indian subcontinent, Iran, Europe, the Horn of Africa and Arabia, opening long-distance political and economic relations between the civilizations. Though silk was the major trade item exported from China, many other goods and ideas were exchanged, including religions (especially Buddhism), syncretic philosophies, sciences, and technologies like paper and gunpowder. So in addition to economic trade, the Silk Road was a route for cultural trade among the civilizations along its network. Diseases, most notably plague, also spread along the Silk Road.