Trading for tin
Trading for cedar wood
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. They went that far to get cedar wood for building.
Probably the Sumerians floated the big logs down the Euphrates river to the Sumerian cities. Like people all over the world – in Peru or California, Ethiopia or Chad – they used boats made of bundles of reeds tied together to move things on the river.
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.
Meanwhile, Assyrian women stayed home and ran the business in Assyria. These men and women sent letters to each other with instructions about the business. Other women were not so lucky – rich people often captured women and enslaved them to make them work all day spinning and weaving cloth in big factories.
Learn by doing: writing in cuneiform
More about sailing and boats in West Asia
Dark Age economy in West Asia
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.