Why Did Ancient, Medieval, And Early Modern People Travel?

2021-05-25 14:06:04
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Vanderbilt University
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Travel entails the geographical movement of people and animals from one place to another. Since time immemorial, travel has been a major activity for the people from place to place in search of food, shelter, land, religious fulfillment and other resources (physical, emotional and spiritual satisfaction). Specifically, travel had been used by ancient, medieval people as a way of finding and exploiting resources. This travel; in the medieval periods is the main focus of this essay. In the essay, the main motivations and reasons shall be highlighted. As shall be noted, the essay will focus on the religious reasons for travel that the medieval people had and shall also explore the trade activities that motivated the medieval people to travel. Additionally, there will be an exploration of the reasons that were aimed at acquiring food and better land for farming and other production activities.

The sole reason of travel for the medieval people mainly traded search for greener pastures. As Fagan Brian writes in his book, the traveling of communities was a common characteristic of the people since no particular community was self-sufficient. In this case, the travel was aimed at sharing the available food resources that were available in different geographic locations. As an example, Fagan (2008) talks of the scenario where the people would travel at Chaco in a bid to acquire food from other communities when there was a drought in their home regions. Hunger resulted from crop failure and it was a major cause of trade among communities. In such dry periods, the communities would strengthen their family ties and their intercommunity ties such that they would easily interact and come to good terms on how they would trade their available resources. This meant that the communities which had advantageous characteristics such as the availability of water; the presence of rivers and other water sources, would be prominent in the trade. For instance, the pueblos such as Chaco, Aztec above the Animas River, the Moctezuma Valley and the people in Mesa Verde were prominent in trade of food substances. According to Fagan 2008, the mentioned places, were densely populated settlements and lay close to more dependable water supplies.

There are much more evidence and documentation of trade activities being a core reason for travel in the medieval periods. For instance, Silk Road was a major trade route that foresaw the reasons for many travelers. To be specific, local trade was a major commerce practice along the Silk Road. Peddlers would move over small distances in a bid to exchange them merchandise with other traders and consumers. In the process of trade, it is good to notice that the peddlers were also engaged in religious interactions. With them, the peddlers would trail a group of believers who were mainly engaged in the transmission of beliefs among the people. The exchange of religious beliefs occurred as often as the traders visited new places in the particular trade destinations. The peddlers were a major tool of exchanging of beliefs among the communities that they came across. The other aspect that was closely related to the medieval Silk Road trade was the migration of people from one region to another. In this case, the peddlers brought with them migrants as they carried out their trade activities. The migrants were also a major channel of perpetrating trade and religious exchanges among the traders.

Pertaining the search of food and other necessities of life. The medieval established a trend of travel among the communities. The major reason being a response to climate change. As there developed a global crisis within various nations, the civilians of majorly affected regions frequently moved from place to place. The reasons were that they sort refuge from the hardships that they faced in their homelands. The occurrences of hardships were associated with drought and famine as there had been great effects of civilization for a lengthy period not less than 3,000 years. As was already mentioned earlier, trade in Chaco was mainly hinged on the need for searching for food especially in the places that have sufficient water resources. This also proves that people often moved from place to place so as to look for food products as there mainly was climate change in the world as a result of civilization that was already starting to happen and also due to other natural shortages of favorable farming conditions such as the lack of enough rainfall.

Focusing on religion, there has been lots of evidence that the movement of medieval from one region to another was also circled around religion. As already indicated from Hansen, the peddlers in the Silk Road trade were involved in the major exchange of beliefs in the respective places they visited for trade purposes. This motive of travel can be further supported by Karamustafa publication in which the Qalandars, travelers from the Dervish Groups in the Ottoman Empire (1450-1550), used to roam from one place to another as they spread their beliefs. They used to worship one of their own as they would a god. Their main identity being them walking naked and with no clothing at all. They would convert one into their belief system through striping those that they found their way. Their means of survival as they traveled in between places was the acquisition of alms from the people they found there. For instance, they would trick the inhabitants of a given place about a foreseen imminent danger awaiting it. As a result, they would implore their god (the old man among them whom they worship) to pray for the place so as they are it can pull through the oncoming menace. After coaxing the old man, the man now says a prayer to his god after which the people give him and his followers alms in thanksgiving. Though this was more of a way of acquiring wealth and riches from the credulous and ignorant civilians, there is a great aspect of religion associated with the travel. The roaming of this man and his followers was purely as a result of religious activities. This is a god proof of the religious motive of travel by the medieval people.

In addition to these examples, there exists the example of Enkidu, a religious man who is a character in The Epic Gilgamesh. The book has a record of poems from Mesopotamia which were written from the third dynasty of Ur and is mainly a record of religious happenings that occurred then. In this specific case, the harlot says to Enkidu that he is like a god. In this context, Enkidu is likened with the beasts of the wild since he wanders from place to place. The harlot wants to lead Enkidu the sacred temple in the Uruk-the-Town-Square. All these lead to the religious motives of traveling that were highly associated with the medieval.

In other instances, there is the aspect of religion is also a major perpetrator of travel by the medieval in the past times such as those from Mangalore. Here people travel from their homelands for the purpose of saying goodbye to a foregone person. praise be to God, plenty to have recourse to and be compensated with. Again, this is a religious model of travel that the medieval depict. They put God first in their travel. They are believing in saving lives with relevance to Gods will. As the quoted statement reveals and in the context of the poem that has been hinted out by the quote, the medieval considered having a personal relationship with God which gave them the obligation of traveling so as to illustrate the love that binds them, notably, based on religious grounds.

Albeit the relation of the following travel with respect for power and authority, the following is again a relevant example of how religion shaped travel from one region to another for the medieval people. The fact that the travelers in this context were answering the call of their Emperor who expressed his gratitude to the travelers. In this case, the travelers were a master and his disciples which again denotes the traveling of religious people. They were obligated to travel for more than four days so as to share their respect to the emperor. ...a hermit of the mountains, should come at your Majestys bidding was the will of Heaven. The relevance of this scenario is that the whole reason for traveling has a religious relevance. Again here, there is a reverence of God and protection and valuing of life. Much from the context confirms the being of religion in the medieval.


1.1: Hansen, Valerie. "Samarkand and Sogdian: Homeland of the Sogdians, the Silk Road Traders." The Silk Road: A New History. New York: Oxford University Press. 2012.

1.2: Gordon, Steward. "Pepper and Partnerships: Abraham bin Yiju, 1120-1160 CE." When Asia Was The World. Cambridge: De Capo Press, 2008.

1.3: George, Andrews, trans. "The Epic Gilgamesh." Penguin Group. 1999.

1.4: Karamustafa, Ahmet. "Dervish Groups in the Ottoman Empire, 1450-1550." God's Unruly Friend's: Dervish Groups in the Islamic Later Middle Period, 1200-1550. Oneworld Publications, 2006.

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2.5: Femandez-Armesto, Felipe. "Springing: The Maritime Turn of the Late Middle Ages and the Penetration of the Atlantic." Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration. New York, W. W. Horton, 2006.

3.1: Mosten, Ruth. "Week 16; Wrap-up." Presentation in Introduction to World History, Merced, CA, November, 2016.

4.1, 3.2: Mostem, Ruth. "Week 15; Crisis and Recovery." Presentation in Introduction to World History, Merced, CA, December, 2016.

3.3: Bowman, Rocco. "Qui Chuji, Mongol Ascendance and Transformation in Eurasia." Presentation in Introduction to World History, Merced, CA, November, n.d.Hansen, Valerie. "The Cosmopolitan Terminus of the Silk Road: Historical Chang'an, Modem Day Xi'an." Hansen, Valerie. The Silk Road: A New History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

4.2: Mostem, Ruth. "History 10 Week 9; Han Dynasty China and Imperial Rome." Presentation in Introduction to World History, Merced, CA, October, 2016.

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