ARTICLE: GUL PULHAN
‘Foreword’ to Anatolia
As Anatolia’s oldest center of trade, located within the boundaries of Kayseri province, Kültepe is one place whose history is ‘written’ in the literal sense.
Known in the earliest times as Kanesh, the Kültepe ‘höyük’ or mound twenty kilometers east of Kayseri was one of the most powerful kingdoms in the region and the hub of an international trade network some five thousand years ago. The oldest written documents in Anatolia were unearthed here in the 1800s. Thanks to the deciphering of these texts in Old Assyrian cuneiform and to the excavations, begun in 1948 and continuing today, a wealth of information regarding the Assyrian merchants who founded a trading colony at Kültepe and the everyday life of the region has begun to illuminate the pre-Hittite political makeup of Anatolia.
Archaeological discoveries and excavations in the Middle East acquired momentum at the end of the 19th century. The researchers of that period had a number of different aims, such as acquiring archaeological artifacts of high aesthetic value for Europe’s major museums, determining the geography of the Bible, deciphering the languages of the ancient Near East, and collecting information for political purposes. They were also the pioneers of the archaeological investigations undertaken in the lands of the Ottoman Empire in those years when so-called ‘Cappadocian tablets’ (clay tablets with cuneiform inscriptions) were frequently sold on the European market for ancient artifacts. Th. G. Pinches, Ernst Chantre, Hugo Winckler and H. Grothe all engaged briefly in excavations at Kültepe to find the source of these tablets, which were known to come from Central Anatolia. But it was the Czech linguist Bedrich Hrozny, a contributor to the deciphering of Hittite, who finally succeeded in unravelling the mystery.
TWENTY THOUSAND TABLETS FOUND
Rumor has it that the villagers were deliberately sending the researchers who came to Kültepe to find the tablets to the upper parts of the mound, whereas the tablets came not from the summit, where the royal palace and other major administrative buildings were located, but rather from the quarter down below where the Assyrian traders had their houses. When Bedrich Hrozny’s driver, in a drunken lapse, happened to let this slip one day, it wasn’t long before Hrozny located some thousand tablets. In 1924 the German Assyriologist Benno Landsberger, who had worked with the tablets sold earlier in Europe, announced that the documents had come from a colony founded in Anatolia by Assyrian traders and that the name of the settlement was ‘Karum-Kanesh’, Karum meaning ‘port’ in Old Assyrian. Since as far back as 3000 BC, each of the Mesopotamian riverbank cities—those on the Euphrates in particular—had been a major port, and all barter, sales and commercial activity in general was carried out here. In time the word ‘karum’ came to mean ‘area of intensive commercial activity’ or ‘market place’.
Scholarly excavations of the Kültepe mound and the Assyrian trading colony in the Lower Town were undertaken by the Turkish Historical Society in 1948. Led by Tahsin Özgüç, a professor of archaeology at the Faculty of Languages, History and Geography of the University of Ankara, these excavations are continuing today. Some twenty thousand clay tablets have been unearthed until now, documenting an important Anatolian kingdom, and a settlement that dates back to the Early Bronze Age and survived right up to the end of the Roman Empire as well as a colony that was the scene of intensive commercial relations between Mesopotamia and Anatolia from 2000 to 1750 BC, and reflecting all the details of their history. Its intensive relations with Mesopotamia had an artistic impact on Kültepe as well, resulting in the production of a wide variety of pottery and seals in particular. The artifacts and tablets found in the Kültepe excavations are exhibited today in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations at Ankara and the Kayseri Archaeological Museum. The most recent and comprehensive book on the subject, ‘Kültepe’, was written by Professor Tahsin Özgüç and published by Yapı Kredi Publications in the summer of 2005.
THE FORERUNNER OF METAL COINAGE
Tin, wool textiles, gold and silver were the products of the long-distance caravan trade carried on by the great merchant families that lived in the Assyrian city-state in Northern Iraq at the beginning of the second millennium BC. Using donkey caravans, the Assyrian traders brought not only tin, which came in all probability from Afghanistan and was extremely valuable because it was found in only a few places in the world, but also luxurious woollen fabrics woven in the various cities of Mesopotamia to the hub of the Assyrian trade network at Kültepe in Anatolia. From here the goods were distributed to Boğazköy and other colonies such as Alişar and Acemhöyük. Although the Assyrians were also engaged in the copper trade in Anatolia, they took only gold and silver back to their own country, these two metals being marks of power among the administrative and elite classes of Mesopotamia, which was very poor in mineral resources.
The goods in question were either traded directly or their equivalents paid in units of silver. Silver, whose weight and value were standardized in small rings or bars, was thus the forerunner of the monetary system that would first emerge in Anatolia some 1300 years later in the Lydian Kingdom. A donkey carried approximately 65 kg of tin and 25 pieces of textiles, and one caravan consisted of around fifteen donkeys. Covering the thousand kilometers from Assyria to Kültepe took six or seven weeks. A caravan, or a large convoy of several caravans setting out together, would either follow the Southern Route, crossing the Euphrates at Birecik to reach Kayseri via Maraş, or choose the Northern Route which proceeded along the banks of the Tigris as far as Diyarbakır and from there via Malatya to Kültepe.
LOVE WRITTEN IN CLAY
The kings of Kanesh guaranteed the security of the Assyrian caravans and their precious cargo. In return for these commercial privileges granted to foreign traders, they gained advantages such as the right to impose taxes and to choose whatever they wanted from among the goods. As far as we can ascertain from the information provided by the clay tablets, however, these Assyrian traders had no political power in Anatolia, as their activities were limited exclusively to trade. In the administration of their colonies, they were attached to Assyria in both their law and their internal affairs. But this long-distance trade carried on by family firms was only possible as long as political stability reigned in Anatolia and Northern Mesopotamia. And indeed the disintegration of the Upper Mesopotamian Empire in Northern Mesopotamia together with the deepening power struggle among the Central Anatolia kingdoms around 1730 B.C. spelled the end of the trading system. As far as we know, the Assyrian traders never came back to Anatolia and the ones who stayed never returned home. But they did leave an indelible mark on the cultural history of Anatolia in the many letters, debt certificates, account records, commercial treaties and seals they inscribed in clay.
At Karum, for example, an Assyrian trader compelled to live far from home on account of his business rails against the loneliness of the merchant’s life: “Your father wrote to me that I should marry you. I have sent you a message and my men for your journey. I would ask that when you receive my tablet you show it to your father and come here with my men. I am all alone. I have no one by my side and no one to prepare my meals. If you don’t come here with my men, I am going to get married at Wahşuşana (a town near Niğde) to a girl from there. Make haste. Don’t you or my men be late. Come here.”
As the Kültepe excavations continue to surprise us with the highly developed level of life in the distant past and the immutability of human emotions, a question comes to mind.
Do today’s successful Kayseri merchants, I wonder, owe their legendary business acumen to their remote ancestors at Karum?
The visual materials are taken from the book ‘Kültepe’, published by Yapı Kredi Publications.