Industrial Espionage Fact #4.
The Great Silk Road’s Hidden Tale

Silk Secrets and Ancient Espionage: The Great Silk Road’s Hidden Tale

Industrial espionage boasts a storied history that stretches back to ancient times. In the 6th century, the Chinese tightly guarded their sericulture knowledge, elevating silk to a closely kept secret. Exporting silkworm caterpillars from China was forbidden under penalty of death, while raw silk, thread, finished fabric, and products held export privileges. The path these silk-laden treasures traversed earned renown as the Great Silk Road.

Unveil Coveted Secrets

Two monks present to the Byzantine emperor Justinian a sapling containing a silkworm Private Investigator TorontoEmperor Justinian I of the Byzantine Empire sought to unveil these coveted secrets, dispatching two Nestorian monks to China with a promise of a rich reward for retrieving silkworm caterpillars.

Although their fate remained unknown for a period, they re-emerged in 553-554 AD, appearing at the imperial court with empty hands and traveler’s staves. Emperor Justinian shattered the bamboo staffs, revealing silkworm eggs concealed within.

Within the palace, clandestine mulberry gardens and farms flourished, nurturing the raw silk essential to the empire’s textile production. Careful hands tended to the caterpillars, while state workshops and stores synthesized and sold silk products. Emperor Justinian’s decree established silk spinning as a state monopoly, solidifying the legacy of ancient espionage intertwined with the allure of silk along the illustrious Great Silk Road.

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