How Trade Influenced Religious Beliefs (Term Paper)

I had to write a term paper for the World Religions class and introduce a topic not covered in the textbook.  Although the professor wanted an established topic, I find it tedious and meaningless to regurgitate someone else’s work.  I finally convinced my professor to allow me to write my paper on how trade and trade routes influenced religious beliefs.

To cover the topic of trade routes I wrote how the Silk Road had many similarities with the routes taken during empire expansions.  I also discussed how the master road builders, the Romans, expedited trade between nations that had never traded before.

I then used the similarities between Judaism and Zoroastrianism and events of the time to demonstrate how one religion could possibly influence another.

That being said, I now submit my term paper for your review…

The Importance of Trade Routes to Early Civilizations
A brief overview how ancient trade routes were of great importance not only to trade, but to the expansion of empires and the flow of beliefs from one area to another.


We all know that the expansion of empires assisted in spreading religious beliefs from one region to another as demonstrated by Greek deities worshipped by Romans or Christian beliefs found in Rome. This paper looks at the migration of religious beliefs through trade and travel along trade routes. The reason the trade routes were important and the logical reason for not only trading merchandise, but also trading thoughts and beliefs, is because the trade routes were established where they were because they provided food and water at intervals. By looking at not only how faiths migrated from one area to another, but also aspects of one religion showing up in another through trade routes, it creates an understanding of faiths, cultures, and peoples.

Even before the Common Era, maps were made of the known world and the travel routes one should take when travelling. Attachment 1, the Herodutus Map circa 450 BCE; and Attachment 2, the Erathosthenes Map circa 194 BCE show how knowledge of the rest of the world changed very little during 250 years. Just as the knowledge of the outside world did not change fast, the routes travelled did not change much either because of the reliability of the routes already established, or the lack of alternative routes.

Empire Expansion

During the period starting around 700 BCE, different empires expanded and contracted through battles. Attachment 3 shows the Assyrian Empire. This empire was the one responsible for dispersing the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel. Attachment 4 shows how where the Babylonian Empire expanded. It was Nebuchadnezzar II that took 10,000 Israelites into Babylon as slaves, but let them keep their beliefs, thus expanding Judaism outside its historical home in Israel. The Israelites began to return home after the Persian Empire overthrew the Babylonians but some of the Israelites remained in Babylon.  Attachment 5 shows where the Persian Empire started and how much it expanded from east to west during its reign. Attachment 6 shows the expansion of Alexander the Greats Empire and the route his army took during the expansion from the West to the East. During these expansions, each empire would not only spread the beliefs of the conquering army, but also pick up beliefs of the areas it defeated. After Alexander’s death, his generals all carved out territories for themselves to rule.

Approximately one hundred years later, the Roman Empire expanded around the Mediterranean but not into central Asia like the Persians and Alexander. The Romans did however, expand further north into Western Europe than their predecessors (see attachment 7). But they too used established routes for maintaining their empire.

Trade Expansion

As cities under one empire changed hands, the trade with other cities under that same empire became more common place. The roads these traders would use were the same ones that the armies used because they had established reliable food and water stops that would help assure that the traders could reach their final destination. These established trade routes became part of the Silk Road which eventually enabled trade between the Mediterranean and the Far East. These routes throughout Mediterranean and Western Asia can be viewed in Attachment 8.

As the Roman army expanded their territory into Western Europe, they had a practice to build roads to facilitate easier and faster travel to all parts of the realm. These roads, which many still exist today in Europe, were also available to any travelers, to include traders. Between roads, buildings and viaducts, the Romans proved to be master stone masons.

The Romans conquered England in 43 CE and remained as masters until 410 CE. As early as the first century CE traders and artisans bringing the story of Jesus and other deities arrived in England. However, it was not until the late 6th century CE that earnest efforts were made to convert English pagans to Christianity.

The Spread of Religious Ideas via Trade Routes


The first religious idea that may have spread through trade routes I will admit may be a long stretch; and that idea is fire as a sacred object. In pre-historic times when humans first recognized the benefits of fire, was more than likely before they were able to start a fire themselves. Fire afforded them light at night, heat when it was cold, a way to cook foods, and most importantly a sense of safety because of the instinctive fear of fire in animals. Since prehistoric man was mainly nomadic, he needed to take fire with him from one place to the next. If he lost the flame, he lost everything fire afforded him. Therefore, man had to learn how to keep fire always burning and controlled to afford transporting it in his nomadic lifestyle. To worship fire, the provider of a sense of safety, is reasonable thinking for early man.

To have fire still used in religious ceremonies may very well fall back to that pre-historic time. Many religions maintain a fire in the home. Others use fire in religious rites. Whether it is a funeral pyre, or a candle lit in memory of a loved one, or the colored smoke to signify the selection of the new pope, fire still holds an important place in religion.


The idea of a messiah coming from a virgin birth for not only Jews and Christians who have a common background, but also for Zoroaster, seemed eerily unrelated at first. I then created a timeline between Judaism and Zoroastrianism and the link became more feasible (attachment 9).

Over 100 years before the birth of Zoroaster, the Assyrians captured Israel and dispersed over 27,000 Israelites throughout Assyria. It is very feasible that many would have been sent to the capitol city of Nineveh which is approximately 600 miles from the birthplace of Zoroaster. About the time of Zoroaster’s birth in Rhages, Iran (Tehran), the Babylonians captured Israel and Judea. They exiled 10,000 Judeans to Babylon. Then, shortly after the death of Zoroaster, the Persians swept throughout the Middle East and occupied not only the area of Tehran, but also all of the previous Babylonian territory and the Assyrian’s territory.

The Prophet Isaiah foretold the birth of the Messiah through a virgin approximately the same time that the Assyrians dispersed the Israelites in 722 BCE. It is possible that the prophecies of Isaiah reached Rhages during Zoroaster’s life. It is also possible that Zoroaster’s claim to be born of a virgin was to give the appearance of fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.

To further cement this hypothesis, the commonalities between Zoroastrianism and Judaism are plentiful. The common beliefs between the two in angels, a monotheistic god, a devil, heaven and hell, a messiah, the apocalypse, sacred clothing, eternal life, and sacred texts seem too closely related to be coincidence.


Although we have no hard fast evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, in this superficial term paper, I have shown how through the expansion of empires the routes used to expand would lead to trade routes using the same avenues, or visa-versa. I have also given a couple examples that would indicate that one religion can and often does influence another. I would like to find further evidence, but when you show up to the scene about three millennium late it is difficult to find corroborating evidence.

I have also attached a chart showing commonalities between religions we have studied in this class. It is far from being complete for all religions, but it can visually support the claims made (see attachment 10).

For this post, I have not included all the attachments as it would be a royal pain to do so.

For this post, I have not included all the attachments as it would be a royal pain to do so.

As always with my work, I copyright all my original writings and reproduction of the work without my expressed permission is not allowable.  I did the work, if you want to use it, get permission and acknowledge it is not your effort.


About The Rural Iowegian

I am the Rural Iowegian of a published author and an award winning photographer. I use this space to speak my mind. God Bless.
This entry was posted in An Inconvenient God, Religion, Sociology, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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