Religion Also Spread Along Silk Road Trade Routes
There is much evidence that shows the spread of material culture along the Silk Road, but the trading network also contributed to the movement of ideas and religion. There are many Buddhist temples along the path of the Silk Road, including the Kizil Thousand-Buddhas cave in Xinjiang, China. The Kizil location is considered to be the earliest Buddhist temple complex, dating back to between the third and eighth century.
Buddhism spread from India into China through trade contacts between the first and second century. By the end of the second century, Buddhist monks from India traveled to major Chinese cities where they worked to translate Buddhist texts into Chinese. By the fourth century, the Chinese government sent Buddhist monks to India to study the religion more closely at its source, and they helped facilitate the spread of Buddhism throughout China.
Built by the Tocharians, an Indo-European people who lived in the oasis cities near Xinjiang, the temple complex has 236 cave temples carved into the sides of the cliff. Most of the temples were looted, but many of the wall paintings remain intact. Some of the images were removed to museums all over Europe and Asia in the twentieth century. Historians have divided the paintings into categories, based on their influences.
The earliest paintings have Greek and Indian artistic influences, while later paintings have Persian artistic influences. The latest dated paintings, closer to the seventh and eighth centuries, are the only ones that include elements of Chinese artistic techniques. The Kizil Cave Complex provides evidence of the spread of Buddhism along the routes of the Silk Road and analyzing the paintings completed over multiple centuries can also help historians and archaeologists understand the movement of cultural and artistic ideas into China via the trade routes.