Financial History 143 Fall 2022 - Page 26

THE ENTREPRENEURS Ancient Partners of Power https :// commons . wikimedia . org / w / index . php ? curid = 16931676

By Derek Lidow
Entrepreneurs were a respected and important part of Mesopotamian life , playing a critical role in the success of the first major civilization as agents of local and long-distance trade and exchange . A merchant class arose from these entrepreneurs supported by virtually every king of every city-state in the region .
The city-state of Uruk dominated Mesopotamia politically from 3700 to 3100 bc . Uruk ’ s location , near fertile bogs and navigable waterways , kept its citizens fed , but the landscape lacked other critical materials required for building the first major city . There was no local access to hardwood , stone , metals or beautiful minerals such as lapis lazuli , used by elites and temple priests for ornamentation to display their status and power .
Over this 600-year period , Uruk ’ s rulers tried to centrally manage its long-distance trade by creating dozens of fortified trading outposts to secure trade routes
Top : Indus Valley seals used for marking property ownership , circa 2500 – 1500 BC . Left : The stele of the Code of Hammurabi .
to obtain logs from present-day Lebanon and copper from northeastern Turkey . Archeological evidence shows that many of these forts were unwelcome and subsequently attacked by local populations . They required considerable resources to protect and maintain , resources the citystate could not afford given Uruk ’ s fast growth and need to defend itself from rivals that envied its power and prosperity and sought to emulate its tactics .
By 3100 bc , all Uruk ’ s trading outposts had been either destroyed or abandoned , so the ruling elite of the city-state tried a new strategy to maintain a flow of goods into the city . The rulers and city administrators began to invite citizens they knew and trusted to take individual responsibility for specific trade missions .
To induce traders to undertake their risky missions , administrators consigned to them the materials they could trade . The city owned a surplus of textiles and baskets that Uruk ’ s citizens had made and paid in tribute , a form of taxation . The city further incentivized traders with the opportunity to keep whatever profits they earned from their actions . It was up to the traders themselves to get as much copper or timber as they could in return for the baskets and textiles they were given on consignment . If they did not bring back the minimum amount , however , they
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