When Was Silk Discovered?
The history of silk is very ancient, and no one knows for sure when it was discovered. But historians do know that silk was first used in China. There is a legend that a young Chinese empress named Hsi-Ling-Shi, Lei-Tzu discovered silk about 2640 B.C. There were many mulberry trees in her palace gardens.
One day, a silkworm cocoon accidentally dropped into a cup of hot tea she was drinking. When she tried to remove it, she discovered that shining threads could be unwound from the cocoon. For 3,000 years, the Chinese guarded the secret of making silk.
Silks were originally reserved for the Emperors of China for their own use and gifts to others, but spread gradually through Chinese culture and trade both geographically and socially, and then to many regions of Asia. Because of its texture and lustre, silk rapidly became a popular luxury fabric in the many areas accessible to Chinese merchants.
Silk was in great demand, and became a staple of pre-industrial international trade. The silk trade reached as far as the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa. This trade was so extensive that the major set of trade routes between Europe and Asia came to be known as the Silk Road.
The Emperors of China strove to keep knowledge of sericulture secret to maintain the Chinese monopoly. Nonetheless sericulture reached Korea with technological aid from China around 200 BC, the ancient Kingdom of Khotan by AD 50, and India by AD 140.
In the ancient era, silk from China was the most lucrative and sought-after luxury item traded across the Eurasian continent, and many civilizations, such as the ancient Persians, benefited economically from trade.