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Ancient Assur: The City, its Traders, and its Commercial Network

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The ancient city of Assur was an important emporium and a central place in the trade between Mesopotamia and Anatolia during the nineteenth-eighteenth centuries BC. Its traders exported to Anatolia large quantities of tin and expensive woolen textiles, which were sold for silver and gold, shipped back to Assur. The traders, traveling with donkey caravans, used a network of colonies and trading stations, where they could live and work on the basis of treaties with the local rulers. After a description of Assur’s commercial role, the activities, organization and status of the traders are analyzed. First of those in Anatolia, with reference to the colonial system and the main Anatolian emporia. Next of those in Assur—“merchant-bankers”, investors (in joint-stock funds), wholesale dealers, and moneylenders—and their relations to the “City-Hall”, the economic and financial heart of Assur, and the “City-Assembly”, whose decisions and verdicts reveal elements of a commercial policy and attempts to promote its interests. While the city, whose trade covered a particular circuit of a much wider international network, also had to consider local and international interests, the “colonial” traders were more focused on financial profits, also via the local trade in copper and wool. But the tensions due to diverging interests were restricted and the Assyrians were able to maintain a stable, profitable and highly developed commercial system for more than two centuries.

Durant les dixneuvième et dix huitième siècles avant J.-C. la cité-état d’Assur fut un grand centre de commerce. Ses marchands exportaient des quantités d’étain et de laines de prix à l‘Anatolie, les y vendaient contre de l’or et de l’argent, et rentraient chez eux la bourse pleine d’argent. Des caravanes d’ânes, qui assuraient le transport, sillonnaient un réseau de colonies et de comptoirs. Les marchands assyriens pouvaient s’installer là-bas et y mener leur négoce grâce aux traités conclus entre les autorités assyriennes et les princes. La description de la fonction commerciale d’Assur est suivie d’une série d’analyses portant sur les activités des marchands, de leur organisation et de leur statut. Ce sujet cohérent nous mène d’abord en Anatolie pour regarder de près son système de colonies et ses principaux comptoirs. Ensuite à la ville d’Assur, avec ses ‘banquiers-commerçants’, ses investisseurs (des fonds remis aux sociétés commandites), ses commerçants de gros et ses prêteurs. Les relations entretenues par ces quatre groupes avec ‘l’hôtel de ville’ ‐ le cœur battant de l’économie et des finances d’Assur ‐, et ‘l’assemblée municipale’ sont explorées. Les décisions et les verdicts de cette assemblée retiennent notre attention parce qu’on y décèle des traces d’une politique commerciale et des tentatives d’avancer les intérêts commerciaux d’Assur. D’une part il fallait que la ville, dont les opérations commerciales s’étendaient sur un circuit distinct intégré au vaste réseau international, tenait compte aussi des intérêts locaux et internationaux. D’autre part les profits- y inclus ceux provenant du négoce anatolien de la laine et du cuivre ‐ étaitent le point de mire des ‘marchands-colons’. Néanmoins, les tensions dues à ces intérêts divergents étant limitées, durant plus de deux siècles les Assyriens surent maintenir un système de commerce stable, productif, et très sophistiqué.

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/content/journals/10.1163/002249910x12573963244205
2010-01-01
2017-02-20

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