The Caravan Spread in West Asia

            Any relation between regions, or specifically countries, is mainly guided by trade and commerce. Indo-West Asian economic relations, in this regard, have been on the top since the centuries ago.

Even during medieval period, interactions between the regions had no boundaries.

Although environment of ‘West Asian Sahara’ and ‘African Sub-Saharan’ regions were not comfortable for the trade across, but caravan land trade expeditions firmly found its route.

This trans-Saharan caravan trade and Mediterranean mercantile trade also established economic ties with subcontinent of India through ‘Silk Route’ and sea voyages respectively.

This regional interaction also contributed into cultural exchanges along with trade of produced goods, architecture, medicines, spices, weapons, and much more.

Trade and commerce have always been the center of civilization to be flourished evenly.

To follow the Silk Road is to follow a ghost. It flows through the heart of Asia, but it has officially vanished leaving behind the pattern of its restlessness: counterfeit boarders, unmapped peoples. The road forks and wanders wherever you are. It is not a single way, but many: a web of choices.

Colin Thubron, Shadow of the Silk Road

West Asia has always been rich in terms of culture and commerce. Besides, it’s diversified culture, the region possess a huge chunk of natural resources that made West Asia economically vibrant.

However, the domestication of animals contributed into efficiency across Arabia gave the birth to the ” Arabs” in antiquity.

The “Arabian Dromedary” (one humped camel) increased food access and later contributed to transportation at large, in acute dry desert.

Trade and commerce in West Asia during medieval period

Moreover, imperium system increased interconnection between various parts of ‘West Asia’.

Southern Arabia was emerged as the third power through imperium influences ( Roman Empire and Persian Empire) of religious and ethnic conflict prone establishments.

The “Bedouin” Arabs had a vibrant “Arabian culture” as they possess a highly portable form of artistic expressions – Poetry.

Pre-Islamic notions helped to shape Arabic language, literature, and culture of Arabs and hence, the thoughts and actions of Arab- speaking people now.

they were the first people to make India and its products known to the Roman world 


This apart, they developed a thriving of Armenia, Yemen, Egypt, and Syria with India sub-continent through voyage across Indian ocean.

Yemen, was situated as base and their main export crop was ” Frankincense” which was mainly used by pagan Romans.

The Mediterranean Trade

The long  routes were the communication highways of the ancient world.

Some of these trade routes had been in use for centuries, but by the beginning of first century A.D. merchants, diplomats, and travelers could cross ancient world form Britain and Spain in West to India and China in the east through the passage of red sea and Indian ocean.

The Mediterranean trade route served principally to transfer raw materials, foodstuffs .

luxury goods from areas with suppliers to others where they were in short supply. Some areas had a monopoly of certain materials or goods.

West Asia, for example, supplied Frankincense, medicines, arts and weapons to Europe, India and far east, wild spices and Silk were obtained from India and China respectively.

Cities along West Asian trade routes grow rich providing services to merchants and acting as international marketplaces.

Some like Palmira and Petra on the fringes of the Syrian desert flourished mainly as centers of trade and supplies of Merchant Caravans and policing the routes.

They also became cultural and artistic centers where people of different ethnic and cultural background could meet and intermingled.

Furthermore ,new inventions, religious beliefs, artistic styles, languages and social customs as well as goods and raw materials what transmitted by people moving one place to another to conduct business.

These connections are reflected, for example, in the scripture style of Gandhara (modern day Pakistan and Northern India) as well as Gaur (modern de France ) both influenced by Hellenistic styles, popularized by Romans.

The Caravan Trade

Caravan trade was a trade expedition mainly used in Arab desert areas. This trans- Saharan trade requires traveling across sub-Saharan Africa from the North African coast, to Europe and to the levant .

The peak of trade extended from 8th century until the early 18 century.

This unique type of trade was emerged roughly around 300 century. Expeditions were consisted of various clans, communities and small social groups and conducted by caravans of camels.

According to Ibn Battuta, the Explorer who accompanied one of the caravan, was the average size of 1000 camels, in fact some caravans were as large as 12000 camels, making it the world’s one of its kind of transportation access to trade.

Overland trade routes, during 6 century, from Syria and Yemen were subjected to Byzantine- Sassanid wars tended to divert trade from Western Arabia.

Mecca“, a religious Shrine, in 6 century emerged as major caravan station. Hence, as a passage of caravan, Mecca became the symbol of wealth and power.

However, soon after 6 century, despite The Falling demand for Frankincense, overland trade was gaining much importance as the soul and ‘Pirates of The Red Sea’ made selling comparatively risky.

The caravans would be guided by highly paid Berbers who know the desert and would ensure safe passage for their fellow desert nomads.

Hence the survival of caravans was precarious, would really on careful coordination. Oases were used as their stoppage as their rest place, so that water could be supplied.

The trade towards Indian subcontinent and Far East (China and Malaysia) were done through Silk route and mainly headed by caravans of Camels and horses.



The Arabs’ trade and commerce establishments were based upon land trade routes and canals even during medieval times. Indio-west Asian economic relations flourished because of both Mediterranean and caravan trade.

However, the caravan trade was on its peak till 18th century, and with the coming of modernization ,new ways have been developed to carry on with intense economic ties between these two regions.

Writing Pen

Tabrez Ahmad is a research scholar at the India Arab Cultural Centre. He did his M.Phil. from the Centre for West Asian Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia , New Delhi, India. He holds a master's degree in Arabic and African studies, from the School of Language, Literature, and Culture studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU), New Delhi, India. He also has a diploma in Urdu mass communication from JNU and has been an Urdu teacher at the American Institute of Indian Studies, Lucknow, India.

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