Ancient Mesopotamia Economy

The idea and significance of money were first felt in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. The history of money in Mesopotamia civilization goes back to 2500 BC when the use of money began with the wealthy ones. 

Gradually, people of this civilization started realizing the significance of money. It led to trading which was made in a barter system. They exchanged one good in return for another product. Primary goods and services involved in the exchange process included bread, shoes, oil, bed, sheep, and repairing a house.

The trading went on for a while and was felt incomplete without the recording of the transactional details. As a result, the transactions and the accounts started being recorded in a clay cylinder seal. They used clay seals to record their daily accounting as paper and pen were not in use then.

They also used clay tokens to keep the record of the commodity. For instance, two jars of oil were shown by two tokens.

The recording in clay tokens is considered to have started before 3300 BC as the invention of a clay token was dated back to 3300 BC. 

Gradually, trading in the barter system became complicated and inconvenient as it was creating a problem on knowing the standard units of goods to be exchanged. It led to the necessity of a proper and standardized unit of exchange.

As a result, the standard unit of exchange in the form of barley and silver was developed. People used barley and silver to carry out any sorts of business transactions. 

They used silver rings before the invention of coin and used three primary goods which included grains, livestock, and human labour.

Merchants accepted barleys as the medium of exchange and deposited them. Also, while anyone was in need to procure barley, they had to deposit some as it is done in the loan process. 

Sumerian temples acted as banks where one storey from the temple was made an office for bank and accounting. 

Later, Babylonians developed the first commercial banking system around 3000 BC. People depositing gold had to pay the amount equal to the one-sixth of what is deposited.

The economy in this civilization started and prospered between 1900 BC and 900 BC and led to the extensive scale system of loans and credit.

During 2500 BC, Shekel became the standard currency. They were used in all business transactions and also for charging people as a penalty for breaking laws.

The transactions and the accounts in Mesopotamia started being recorded in a clay cylinder seal. They used clay seals to record their daily accounting #mesopotamia Click To Tweet

Accounting System in Mesopotamia:

accountancy clay Envelope Uruk period, 4000-3100 B.C.E
accountancy clay Envelope Uruk period, 4000-3100 B.C.E
Source: Wikimedia Common

Mesopotamia Civilization was the one to develop an accounting system which is still in use today. Every detail about the transaction including the date, goods, and name of the person involved. They also kept the tax records.

The office of the accountants was placed in the temples. They were assigned a particular storey inside of the temple to carry out their jobs. 

The accountants were honoured due to their roles and responsibilities. They recorded every single transaction, which made it easier to run the economic activity within and outside of civilization.

Crop Surplus in Mesopotamia :

Tigris River Flowing in Upper Mesopotamia
Tigris River Flowing in Upper Mesopotamia (Modern Days)
Source: Wikimedia Common

Mesopotamia civilization was also the first one to have a crop surplus. The major crops produced included barley, wheat, legumes, chickpeas, beans. Onions, melons, lettuce, and fruits.

Crop surplus led people to move forward to numerous jobs and occupations besides agriculture. 

A certain number of people did farming, whereas others were involved in art-making, building houses, working at temples, and doing some business.

They produced many trading goods by involving themselves into these new forms of occupations. The goods included pottery, baskets, textiles, wool, and cloth.

The crop surplus also led to the development of writing as people started focusing on recording business transactions. 

Many people began working as bookkeepers. It helped the trading system run smoothly due to the actual records kept by them.

Significant economic activity and economic goods in Mesopotamia:

Thriving Mesopotamia
Art by: JeffBrownGraphics

Agriculture was the main economic activity of this civilization. Almost every person was involved in producing tradeable agricultural products. 

Initially, the climate of this civilization was dull along with unfavourable soil. People started working together and came up with the idea of irrigation to solve the problem of unsuitable land.

Slowly, agriculture began to prosper and people started coming and working together. The amount of food supply encouraged people in building permanent houses.

The developments of permanent houses had a direct effect in the beginning of government. This whole process led to the formation of states, cities, and the first known empire. Akkadian empire is the first known empire in history.

The primary crops produced were cereals and barley. The principal crops varied based on the location, legumes and bate palms were found in the southern region and grapes in the north.

The whole of Mesopotamia civilization was divided into two agricultural regions: Southern region and Northern region. They were also known as the lower region and the upper region respectively.

The southern part was of Akkadians which later belonged to Babylonians. The land was dry and dull due to less rainfall. People had to survive depending upon agriculture and decided to create a favourable condition for agriculture.

Planning and ideas led to the invention of irrigation. Irrigation was invented around 6000 BC at Choga Mami. It was very important for the people of this region.

The irrigation in this region was supervised by the temple states. They cut canals to bring water to the required land. They also used numerous techniques and mechanisms to flourish agricultural activity.

The primary techniques and mechanisms used were noria and shadoof.  They were used during the first millennium BC.

The result of these mechanisms and strategies gave a commendable product return which helped in economic prosperity.

Similarly, the northern region belonged to Sumerians which later went to Assyrians. The land was fertile due to enough rainfall and had favourable soil for farming. 

People of this region did not see the importance of irrigation. They were fully dependent upon nature so they did not use irrigation. The result of this was not as expected and the product return was very less.

Apart from agriculture, people of this civilization involved themselves in numerous other jobs and occupations. The significant occupations included artisans, builders, metalworkers, fishing, and merchants.

Trades and Trading partners in Mesopotamia:

Trading in Mesopotamia

The Mesopotamia civilization traded numerous products, both agricultural and non-agricultural. The significant products traded to and from other countries included wool, cloth, jewels, oil grains, wine, grains, pottery, leather goods, baskets, ivory, pearls, stones, and metals.

Mesopotamia was good in plants and animal products but lacked metals, minerals, and stones. So, it was importing precious metals like gold, silver and semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli and carnelian. The importing of these metals, minerals, and stones started during ca.2600 BC.

The major civilization involved with Mesopotamia for the trade were Egypt, Indus Valley, Greece, Modern day Iran, Asia, Arabia, and India.

The trades were mostly made through water transportation. It was a cheaper and faster medium of transport. River Euphrates was used for trading as it had access to modern-day Syria and Anatolia and towards the gulf.

Besides the water route, camel, donkeys, and wheel carts were also used as the medium of transport.

Conclusion:

It was Mesopotamia Civilization who first felt and realized the importance of money and accounting. The Invention of both has made the lives of people now more accessible and efficient. 

People still follow the loan, paying off debt, and penalty rules that were first developed during the Mesopotamia Civilization although the medium of payment was different. 

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Cite this article as: Richard Marrison, "Ancient Mesopotamia Economy," in HistoryTen, May 7, 2020, https://historyten.com/mesopotamia/ancient-mesopotamia-economy/.
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