When the Romans were building out permanent roads, connecting the kingdoms under their purview around the Mediterranean, Christianity was rising and supplanting and threatening Roman hegemony. Rome was expanding as fast as it was changing. And not everything the Romans transported came with legionnaires. Rome was the worlds biggest buyer of foreign merchandise and technology. Oh yes, and the Chinese were also building roads. A 4000 mile long network of roads beginning in the Yangtze Valley and stretching to Cisalpine Gaul through Anatolia, the Levant, the Balkans, Central Europe all the way back to Korea. It also skeined south through Abyssinia, down through the west cost of Africa and all the way back through India. Known as the Silk Road, it was a trade route network created by Chinese and Arabs to join with the a East and open up Anatolia. Word on the road was that much money was to be made bringing the lucrative silk from China to the west and linen silver and gold from Rome east to China. Things like Roman Imperial authority, Christianity, trade and disease also were promulgated over these road networks.
Still, most Chinese and Arabs had no idea the Americas existed. That said, Christopher Columbus did something rather vital to the civilization of the world.
Seeking glory and riches, he essentially joined the east and the west. The Silk Road was connected by the Atlantic to the Americas, right smack dab into the trading routes of the Europeans, the exploring nations, the Chinese and the Africans.
Christopher Columbus negotiated a profit margin with Ferdinand and Isabella:
“that of all and every kind of merchandise, whether pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and other objects and merchandise whatsoever, of whatever kind, name and sort, which may be bought, bartered, discovered, acquired and obtained within the limits of the said Admiralty, Your Highnesses grant from now henceforth to the said Don Cristóbal [Christopher Columbus] … the tenth part of the whole, after deducting all the expenses which may be incurred therein.”
The opening of the Americas to trade with Europe and the East was probably the biggest economic news in history. It was the spark that led to the colonization of the new world, the greatest expansion of technology east to west and west to east. It put to rest the question of what does the whole world look like and what do other people look like and what do they have that we might want to trade for or die for. Now trade was beginning to enrich the lives of people across the world. Christopher Columbus was the accidental midwife to the world’s largest exchange network. Chinese were eating maize from Americas. So were Africans. Potatoes in the Andes grew In Ireland and Russia. And grasses, like Barley and Rye and Wheat began to feed people on both sides of the Atlantic. Sugar cane was a common grass cultivated in Asia 6000 years ago. Crusaders carried it home form the Mideast. Europe was hooked. Sugar plantations opened by Spanish in Americas brought pirates, other governments and copious pieces of gold doubloons.
It was the implementation of sugar as a cash crop that spikes the massive search for slaves off of the east coast of Africa.
When Christians in Europe were investing themselves into the replevin of the Holy lands from the Muslim interlopers, they unwittingly hastened the end of the Dark Ages. French knights returned not just with stories and the commensurate public blandishments, but with books. And algebra. And astronomy. And medicines. In a way, the parochial and brutal Christian culture in Europe was awakened from the Dark Ages by the intellectual property purloined by the Crusaders.
They brought back to Europe rice! coffee! dates! apricots! citrus fruits of all kinds, sugar, spices, mirrors, carpets, cotton, the compass, Arabic numerals, alembics, algebra, chemistry, water wheels, water clocks and chess.
Not bad for 174 bloody bloody years