History of the Silkworm

The History of the Silkworm, also the story of Silk, goes back to ancient times in China. The most common tale on the origins of the Silkworm begins in 2640 B.C. when Si-Ling-Chi, a Chinese Empress was simply walking through her garden, when a ‘cocoon’ (of a Silkworm) dropped into her tea. Upon picking it up, she found the cocoon begun to unravel, forming a beautiful string of what is now known as ‘Silk’.

After looking for the origin of this cocoon, Ling-Chi studied the Mulberry tree above her, and couldn’t help but notice all of the small caterpillars (Silkworms) crawling around. She came to the conclusion that the Cocoon had come from the small caterpillars.

For 2500 years, the royal family of China had kept the secret of Silk to themselves. The material was sold to the rulers of the West, but the source of the shiny thread that made the material was not revealed. The penalty in China for revealing the true source of the shiny thread was in fact death!

Some very strange ideas were formulated as to the origin of Silk, such as; Silk came from the coloured petals of flowers in the Chinese desert, Silk was made of wondrously soft soil, Silk came from a spider-like animal that ate until it burst open and the Silk threads were found inside its body, and Silk came from the Silky fuzz on special leaves. These ideas seem far-fetched today — but in ancient times they were serious theories.

How did Silk come to be found by the rest of the world? Two poor monks told Emperor Justinian of Constantinople that they had learned the secret of Silk, after arriving back in Constantinople after travelling to China. Justinian sent them back to China to get some eggs and mulberry shoots for him, so that he too could raise Silkworms and create beautiful products made of Silk. The Monks returned many years later with the eggs and shoots hidden inside their hollowed-out walking sticks. Since Justinian was the emperor of Constantinople, a crossroads city, the secret soon spread throughout Europe. This trek the monks took, has now come to be known as the Silk Road, and this road was a major breaking point in what in now modern-day trade.