Financial History 143 Fall 2022 - Page 27

were liable for the difference . The city charged the traders interest on the value of their consignment to ensure that they returned as quickly as possible .
The strategy worked so well that within a few generations , other Mesopotamian city-states copied this consignment trading system . Some merchants amassed significant assets and wealth independent of the ruling elite . Regional trading was so vigorous and important to the wellbeing of the culture that explicit rules were enacted in many city-states requiring entrepreneurs to document their contracts . They also had to keep written records to reasonably adjudicate the disputes that would inevitably arise . We ’ re fortunate to have found and translated many of these tablets .
Within a few generations of empowering independent traders , they began to write about their “ profit ,” or mas , which also meant “ interest ,” as in an extra payment in addition to the original loan . From that point forward , the archeological record is awash with tens of thousands of records of Mesopotamian entrepreneurs , describing what they produced or sold , how they acted and what they needed to do to capture this profit .
The system of using entrepreneurs to direct and control long-distance trade between city-states ( what today we would think of as the city-states ’ supply chains ) remained in place throughout the region until Alexander the Great took control around 2,000 years later . The records describe ancient Mesopotamia as a dynamic entrepreneurial culture that , in many ways , worked the same as Silicon Valley does today , as have many other entrepreneurial societies throughout time .
In this example , we see how the world ’ s oldest major civilization embraced and encouraged entrepreneurial behavior : Mesopotamian culture revolved around city-states ruled by ambitious kings who controlled territories poor in resources that were critical to the prosperity of their kingdoms and the support of their elites . These kings adopted a successful and resource-efficient strategy of forming , and then supporting , an entrepreneurial class independent of the ruling elite that innovated and mastered skills associated with all types of trade .
The Indus Valley civilization also had a thriving entrepreneurial culture . As the most geographically expansive and
Cuneiform tablet with caravan accounts , Kanesh , circa 1800 BC .
diverse culture on the planet in its heyday ( 2500 to 1900 bc ), it spanned the western Himalayan drainage basin , running 2,000 miles north to south and 500 miles west to east . Its two great cities , Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro , had the most advanced urban amenities of the time , including indoor plumbing and toilets .
The ubiquity and uniformity of their stone weights and measures show that they maintained set rules and regulations . They even produced standardized clay and stone seals that were used for marking property ownership . But how they governed themselves peacefully for such a long time remains a mystery . There are no records of large public buildings or showy palaces , nor is there evidence of any central warehouses where food would have been collected for redistribution . The daily lives of those cities ’ inhabitants also remain obscure . These mysteries are even more tantalizing because this civilization had a writing system that we have yet to decipher .
What we do know is that as early as 4000 bc , members of the Indus Valley civilization were traveling significant distances and climbing or descending considerable heights to exchange their surplus goods , manufactured or harvested , with others . The village of Mehrgarh , located about 100 miles north of Mohenjo-Daro , included a central market . There , archeologists have found extensive evidence
Metropolitan Museum of Art of foodstuffs and commodities grown or produced in distant parts of the region . Items from the highlands are very different from those of the lowlands or the seashore , and apparently some among the population were highly motivated and felt safe enough to travel extensively to acquire things they found unique , exotic or desirable .
The general population , not just elites , particularly valued high-quality pottery and jewelry in the form of beads and bangles . The cultural demand induced craftspeople to innovate and specialize to make their products more desirable , spurring the move of production from their homes to separate workshops as early as 3300 bc . Indus craftspeople developed a long list of remarkable technologies that enabled them to transform and manipulate materials to produce new colors and complex patterns in refined shapes and a wide variety of sizes . The most culturally prized objects , stoneware bangles for the arms and legs , were produced in neighborhoods surrounded by walls , and only in the two large cities . Due to this arrangement , it has been speculated that bangle producers wanted to protect their secret of producing unique ceramic lusters by firing them in tightly controlled atmospheres .
It is unknown whether the bangle makers were entrepreneurial , because their craft may have been controlled by some other group , perhaps a trade association , meaning that they may not have been selfdirected in their actions .
On the other hand , entrepreneurs were almost certainly among the Indus Valley pottery and bead producers . While they tended to congregate in neighborhoods , theirs were not closed off , and they could also be found in other cities and towns . They produced products that varied and used diverse techniques to make them .
There was no centralized control or standardized methodology . They were , by all accounts , self-directed , at least those who were not precisely and unthinkingly following the actions prescribed by their entrepreneurial ancestors .
Cuneiform tablets mention that at least a few Indus Valley traders made it all the way to Mesopotamia , which means they had contact with that region ’ s entrepreneurial traders . Persian Gulf traders of the time also would have been exposed to the entrepreneurial behavior of their Mesopotamian brethren and may have passed
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