The Bronze Age Economy and Trade Top Ten Booklist

The Amarna Letters by William Moran

During the Bronze Age, the economies of the ancient Near East became linked to broader ancient Old World in Central Asia, India, and Europe through long-distance commerce. This trade helped facilitate emerging patterns of consumerism, entrepreneurial spirit, and the spread of the alphabet and other social ideas. The economy, however, seems alien to us as it was complex and had many aspects to it, spanning from elites in palaces and temples to common urban and nomadic households.

The Temple Economies

1. Lipiński, Edward, and Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (1970- ), eds. 1979. State and Temple Economy in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the International Conference Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 5-6. Leuven: Departement Oriëntalistiek.

While we often think of temples as being places of religion and nothing more, the reality is temples were foundational and if not critical to economic activity for many Bronze Age cities. Temples were places that held the identity of cities, where the local gods would be housed and worshiped. However, temples also controlled lands and had many people working for them, sometimes acting like land managers and renting or leasing their lands to be farmed. In addition, temples also controlled production of things, including beer and textiles. This required a lot of labor and temples were able to control this labor process, forming what amounted to be factories of workers.

Palaces and Trade 2. Moran, William L. 1992. The Amarna Letters Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

The book covers an interesting history in the Near East during the 14th century BC, when the city of Amarna briefly became the capital in Egypt during the reign of Akhenaten. This period saw a large number of correspondences between vassals and kings with the Egyptian court in the common language of Akkadian. The international correspondences between the kings of Babylon, Assyria, Mitanni, Hittites, and Cyprus demonstrate the gift exchanges and sending of goods between palaces and governments during this time.

Households and Daily Economy

3. Goddeeris, Anne. 2002. Economy and Society in Northern Babylonia in the Early Old Babylonian Period (ca. 2000-1800 BC) Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 109. Leuven ; Sterling, Va. : Leuven: Peeters ; Dép. Oosterse Studies.

The book looks at different aspects of the Babylonian economy, including on how key day-to-day aspects functioned. The emphasis is on how households managed their affairs, from loans, to marriages, litigations, and inheritance issues. Aspects of ownership and land, including in agriculture or other resources owned are presented.

Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia by Karen Rhea Nemet-Najat

4. Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea. 1998. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. The Greenwood Press “Daily Life through History” Series. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

The book deals with a wide range of topics about Mesopotamian society; however, one critical element is how households, including different gender and age roles, functioned in the larger economy and society of ancient Mesopotamia. We see that women, at least in Babylonia, were able to control land and wealth, including slaves. However, in other parts of Mesopotamia, particularly in northern Mesopotamia, it was more conservative and women held less power. This book provides knowledge on how people affected or were affected by the larger forces of the economy and larger society.

5. Porter, Anne. 2011. Mobile Pastoralism and the Formation of Near Eastern Civilizations: Weaving Together Society. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Nomadic pastoralism made a critical contribution to the Near East economy in the Bronze Age. Often tribal groups would create social connections, through marriage or blood ties, with urban dwellers. This gave urban dwellers and nomads the opportunity to either become nomadic or an urban dweller, while also helping to create social links critical for trade and exchange. Nomads often carried items across the Near East, such as textiles, while they also utilized goods found in cities such as agricultural products. This symbiotic relationship allowed both types of lifestyles, urbanism and nomadism, to thrive.

Trade Colonies

6. Barjamovic, Gojko. 2011. A Historical Geography of Anatolia in the Old Assyrian Colony Period. CNI Publications 38. Copenhagen: Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies, University of Copenhagen : Museum Tusculanum Press.

This book covers the Old Assyrian trade colonies, which dominated central Anatolia in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC. The book covers the geography of key colony sites and discusses the nature of trade across the geography, with caravans of textiles, silver, gold, and other commodities being traded. This period is critical to understanding how private households setup in colonies in foreign places and through multiple generations of families they maintained a long-distance trade connection that catalyzed commerce in northern Mesopotamia and Anatolia.

7. Larsen, M.T. 1967. Old Assyrian Caravan Procedures. PIHANS 22. Amsterdam: NINO.

This is a classic book that describes best how trade caravans function in the Old Assyrian Period (late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC), specifically the prices of commodities like wool and silver, itineraries of travel, and the types of investment that went into the trade. The Old Assyrian caravans helped defined what private enterprise looked like in the ancient Near East during the Bronze Age. We see network of families that navigated the politics of the Bronze Age to trade items across vast distances using donkey to carry the load. The trade ultimately linked Central Asia with Anatolia, exchanging tins, wool, textiles, gold, and other products.

The Ports and Seafaring

8. Wachsmann, Shelley. 2009. Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant. 2. print. Ed Rachal Foundation Nautical Archaeology Series. College Station, Tex: Texas A & M Univ. Press.

Seafaring made a major contribution to the Bronze Age economy in the Near East and broader Mediterranean. In addition to trade, seafaring also incorporated aspects of piracy and war that also formed aspects of the Bronze Age seafaring economies. Ships were designed to accommodate a variety of activities, including moving cargo or for speed for raiding. This book shows the types of shipping and their role in the Bronze Age Mediterranean.

Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant by Shelly Wachsman

9. Steel, Louise. 2013. Materiality and Consumption in the Bronze Age Mediterranean Routledge Studies in Archaeology v.8. New York: Routledge.

The Middle and Late Bronze Ages were ages of consumerism in many respects. We see heavy use of wine, olive oils, bronzes, perfumes, and other luxuries. The ports along the Levant, such as Byblos and Ugarit, played critical roles in trade network that brought luxury goods to a wide consumer market and also provide the produce of the region to other areas. While this had a benefit in commerce, this also provided the mechanism for the spread of the alphabet and intermingling of Near Eastern and Greek/Aegean ideas. Consumerism began to be more than simply something for the elites but the masses, what we might call the middle class, began to be active participants.

International Trade

10. Cline, Eric H. 1994. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: International Trade and the Late Bronze Age Aegean BAR International Series 591. Oxford: Tempus Reparatum.

The Late Bronze Age (c. 1500-1200 BC) was a period of international trade relations between the Mediterranean world and the Near East. The trade connected and saw the exchange of goods from Central Asia to the middle Mediterranean. The nexus of this trade was the Levantine coast where ships moved luxury goods such as ivory, perfumes, copper, tine, bronzes, glass, precious stones, wine, oils, and other objects. The Uluburun shipwreck is an example of the types of ships and contained the types of cargo exemplary of this trade.

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