In the Middle East, many people worshiped the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman pagan pantheon.
Others were followers of the old religion of Egypt, especially the cult of Isis and Osiris.
The religious beliefs of people along the Silk Road at the beginning of the 1st century BCE were very different from what they would later become.
When China defeated the nomadic Xiongnu confederation and pushed Chinese military control northwest as far as the Tarim Basin (in the 2nd century BCE), Buddhism was known in Central Asia but was not yet widespread in China nor had it reached elsewhere in East Asia.
Buddhism was the first of the great missionary faiths to take advantage of the mobility provided by the Silk Road to extend its reach far beyond its native ground.
From its origins in north eastern India, Buddhism had already spread into the lands that are now Pakistan and Afghanistan by the 1st century BCE.Generally speaking, religions are either proselytizing or non-proselytizing.That is, they either actively seek to recruit new members to the faith from outside the current membership group, or they do not.Christianity was still more than a century in the future.Daoism, in the strict sense of that term, connoting an organized religion with an ordained clergy and an established body of doctrine, would not appear in China for another three centuries.Missionaries of many faiths accompanied caravans on the Silk Road, consciously trying to expand the reach of their own religious persuasion and make converts to their faith.The dynamics of the spread of beliefs along the Silk Road involves a crucial, though little-remarked, difference between two fundamental types of religions.Buddhist merchants from those areas built temples and shrines along the Silk Road everywhere they went; the priests and monks who staffed those religious establishments preached to local populations and passing travelers, spreading the faith rapidly.Buddhism’s essential message—that earthly life is impermanent and full of suffering, but that the painful cycle of birth, death, and rebirth can be ended through Buddhist faith and practice—had wide appeal, and its universalism enabled it to cross boundaries of space, language, and ethnicity with ease.Religious belief is often one of the most important and deeply held aspects of personal identity, and people are reluctant to go where they cannot practice their own faith.Traders who used the Silk Road regularly therefore built shrines and temples of their own faiths wherever they went, in order to maintain their own beliefs and practices of worship while they were far from home.