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Mesopotamian Trade Routes & Transportation

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Mesopotamians used land and water routes to reach their trading destinations. Explore how Mesopotamians traveled to and from their markets, including journeying in camel caravans, boats, and using wheeled conveyances to transport goods and people. Updated: 01/11/2022

Trade Routes & Transportation

Meet Assurnasirpal. Yes, his name is unpronounceable. But that's because Assurnasirpal is an ancient Mesopotamian merchant. You didn't expect him to be called Bob, did you? Assurnasirpal is going to be kind enough to tell us what kinds of trade routes, passages and ways used with some frequency to allow for commerce between different places, and transportation, means of traveling, he uses to make some gold coin in this lesson.

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  • 0:04 Trade Routes & Transportation
  • 0:35 Water Routes & Transportation
  • 2:03 Land Routes & Transportation
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Water Routes & Transportation

Assurnasirpal wants to let us in on a little secret. If you want to make a killing out here, you have got to rely on water to transport your goods. Not just any water, either. Specifically, he tells us the best trade routes rely on the two main rivers of ancient Mesopotamia, the Tigris and Euphrates.

These are like the major highways in a country, except they're water-highways. Assurnasirpal says that, thanks to them, and their sub-rivers, canals, lakes, bays, and lagoons, you can reach almost every major place you need to get to. Just expect traffic. Literally. These rivers and canals can be crowded with ships and boats.

Ships and boats rarely used sails because the winds blew in an unsuitable manner on the two rivers. Instead, oars and poles were used to push boats here and there. Both male and female slaves could be found working on these vessels. But don't expect to sail right on through. The rivers had checkpoints that required a permit. So make sure to get that ahead of time to avoid unnecessary delays.

So where would you want to go to make a killing? Assurnasirpal says you should head over to the ports in Lagash and Umma to sell timber in southern Mesopotamia. If you want to stock up on copper to sell elsewhere, head on over to Magan. If you'd like to trade things like gold, copper, and pearls then make a stop in Dilmun.

Land Routes & Transportation

In case the city you need to get to isn't near any water, then a land route is your best option. For travel purposes, you could buy or hire one of the following:

  • Human porters
  • Mules and donkeys to serve as draft or pack animals
  • Camels as pack animals
  • Wheeled vehicles, like wagons and carts
  • Sledges

Assurnasirpal immediately tells us that you want to avoid the wheeled vehicles if you can. The roads around Mesopotamia are unpaved and it can be pretty muddy in a lot of places in ancient Mesopotamia, so the wheels get stuck and break down left and right.

Instead, he says, stick to the sledges, which are like large sleds on runners, as they can navigate the terrain a bit better, or use the so-called 'royal roads' if you want to avoid major potholes. These roads are maintained by the government specifically so people can quickly move between one location and another with as few obstacles as possible. These roads even had rest areas for travelers to spend the night.

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