Mesopotamian Trade Products & Economy

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson describes the essentials of the ancient Mesopotamian trade economy. You're also going to learn some of the specific products and places that were involved in this trade.

Modern Trade

The entire world relies on trade. In the U.S. we get fine wine from France and cheap clothing from China. The U.S., in turn, exports things like military hardware to nations around the world. The ancient Mesopotamians weren't any different. They had some products to give and some which they needed to get. This lesson is going to go over these ancient people's trade products (imported and exported) as well as the basics of their trade economy.

Trade Economy in General

Ancient Mesopotamia was a region that now comprises portions of Syria, Turkey and Iraq. By far and away, their trade economy depended on its major waterways. Like we use container ships to send goods from one continent to another across an ocean, the ancient Mesopotamians relied on boats that sailed up and down the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. These rivers were also connected to canals, smaller rivers, lakes and marshes where boats could sail through to deliver or pick up trade goods.

And like any trade economy imposes fees and tariffs, the ancient Mesopotamians did much the same. If you were a merchant back then, you could expect to pay fees to obtain permits to sail through one area or another. There were literally checkpoints set up on rivers to ensure you had these permits. You could also expect to pay a fee to dock somewhere. And, you could definitely expect to pay a duty or tariff when you crossed into a new territory.

Of course, people didn't just send things over water. They also traded over land. Likewise, such merchants would pay tariffs and duties. They would haul their trade products using human porters, camels, sledges and wagons pulled by draft animals.

The ancient Mesopotamians traded amongst themselves but they also had the ability to sail around the Middle East and in the Mediterranean in order to buy and sell their products. There is some speculation they even made it all the way around Africa.

Ancient Mesopotamians traded with East Africans, Egyptians, Indians, as well as other Middle Eastern nations like those in Afghanistan, Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.

Specific Trade Products

So what did they trade with them? Well, it kind of depends on whom they traded with. Some goods were readily available in one place but not another. For example, elephants and apes were imported from India in general. Melukkha (the Indus valley), would send black wood like ebony as well as ivory, gold and gemstones to ancient Mesopotamia.

Magan, now Oman, would export copper, diorite stone, ivory, ochre pigment and semiprecious stones to ancient Mesopotamia.

Gold, ivory, pearls, copper, lapis lazuli, dates and onions were traded with Dilmun, what is believed to be Bahrain today.

In turn, the ancient Mesopotamians exported plenty of their own goods, depending on which part of Mesopotamia we're talking about. The city of Ashur (in Iraq) would export textiles. Syria exported timber, olive oil, wine, wood, textiles and various crafts.

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