The Silk Road
The history of the region at this time is both obscure and somewhat confusing, being mostly found in fragmentary accounts and evidence of tribal movements of which we can say little for certain. However, the haziness of the period is thrown into relief by the evolution of the Silk Road, and the growth of international trade. In 138 BC, the Chinese Emperor Han Wu-di, threatened by the nomadic powers of Inner Asia to the north of his kingdom, sent a diplomatic mission under a courtier, Zhang Qian, to see if there were any powers in the far west with whom the Chinese could ally. Zhang Qian's journey took him from the ancient Chinese capital Xi'an into the depths of Central Asia and Afghanistan, and although he was unable to set up any alliance with the Central Asian Kingdoms, he brought back to Xi'an a wealth of information about these previously unknown areas. This, over the following years, allowed for the development of contacts and eventually regular trade between the great empires of the ancient world. By the beginning of the first century BC, embassies had been exchanged between China and Persia, and by the end of it, Chinese silk was well known in Rome.
The Silk Road, a wide, multi-branched network of caravan and trade routes, branches of which crossed modern-day Kazakh territory, began to evolve. Not only luxury merchandise of all varieties, but also religions, cultures and customs were exchanged along this network; for example, Greek art and religious motifs were taken up and echoed in nomadic artefacts of the steppe. The nomads themselves played a significant part in the trade, conducting caravans of merchandise between major centres, as well as trading their own produce from the steppe in urban mercantile centres such as Tashkent. In this way, despite the appearance of these more formalized routes of international trade, the pattern of life and coexistence between nomads and the settled population, had in essence not changed since the earliest period.