West Asian Economy in the Bronze Age
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West Asian Bronze Age

Tin ingots from Haifa
Bronze Age tin ingots
from a shipwreck near Haifa

May 2016 - When people first began to use bronze, about 3000 BC, they had to trade a lot more than they had before, because they needed tin to make the bronze. You don't find tin just anywhere. At first there was some tin in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), but they used that up pretty soon, and then to get more tin they had to trade with people in Afghanistan and India.

stone carving of men in boats poling logs in a river
People floating cedar logs down the
Euphrates in the Iron Age

Because by the Bronze Age people in West Asia had invented writing, we know more about what they were trading and where and how. The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is about a king who ruled in 2500 BC, describes how people from Sumer (modern Iraq) travelled all the way to Lebanon, on the Mediterranean coast, to get cedar wood for building. Probably the Sumerians floated the big logs down the Euphrates river to the Sumerian cities.

carving of man standing on a boat with crates, cow, etc.
Cylinder seal of a boat carrying wicker-and-wood crates,
a cow, and an enslaved woman - Uruk, ca. 2700 BC

Later on, around 1500 BC, Assyrian traders were going from Assyria (modern Iran) north-west to the Hittites (in modern Turkey) to sell cloth. Mainly men travelled with donkeys or on riverboats to the Hittite kingdom, while women stayed home and ran the business in Assyria. These men and women sent letters to each other with instructions about the business.

Learn by doing: writing in cuneiform
More about sailing and boats in West Asia
Dark Age economy in West Asia

Bibliography and further reading about West Asian trade in the Bronze Age:

Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture, by William H. Stiebing (2002). Expensive, and hard to read, but it's a good up to date account.

West Asian Economy - Dark Age

More about West Asia
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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