Export of Chinese silk to other different countries, including western countries, began in the fourth -fifth centuries B.C. During excavations of one of the tsar barrows of Pazirik in the Altai, the silk horse-cloth with embroidered phoenixes was found, which is related to the fifth century B.C. Silk cloths and fringe, sewn to woollen garments, were discovered in the burials, dating from the fourth-fifth centuries B.C., in the region of southern and western Europe.
Export of precious Chinese silk was greatly promoted by nomadic tribes of Sakas and Scythians, who provided with these wonderful goods the regions of Central Asia and Mediterranean countries.
At that very time Chinese silk was brought to India: this is proved by the word “sinapatto” — Chinese silk — used in the treatize “Artkhashastra” (that means “The Science of Politics”), which had been written in the fourth century B.C. However, the majority of investigators are inclined to believe, that the Great Silk Route at that time only began to originate and develop into the trade highway.
It was exactly in the middle of the second century B.C. when the Great Silk Route began to function as a regular diplomatic and commercial artery. This started in 138 B.C., when Prince Zhang-Jian, sent on his journey by the Emperor Wu-di, set out from the capital of Han to the unknown western countries, escorted by embassy caravan. Zhang-Jian returned back only thirteen years later. He managed to reach the territories of today’s Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and was the first man who passed through a direct way from the interior regions of China to the countries of Central Asia. Following this way, caravans, carrying silk, set out westwards; they returned with goods from Mediterranean countries, Near and Middle East as well as Central Asia.
Shortly after the trade between different countries passed into the hands of merchants from Sogd — the Central Asian country, situated in the valleys of Kashka- Darya and Zeravshan. The Sogdians had trade settlements in the towns of eastern Turkestan, belonging to the Tokhars, and in Chinese towns, such as Lanzhou, Dunhuang, Cltanang. For example, approximately one thousand Sogdians resided in Dunhuang. The Sogdians penetrated even to the ancient Japanese capital of Nara, where the Silk Route ended. There, in one of the temples, the old manuscript, written in Sogdian, is kept.
Karl Baipakov, “Along the Great Silk Road”, published by “Kramds—reklama”, 1991.