Kültepe, the ancient city of Kanesh, was part of the network of trading settlements established in central Anatolia by merchants from Ashur (in Assyria in northern Mesopotamia) in the early second millennium B.C. Travelling long distances, and often living separately from their families, these merchants traded vast quantities of goods, primarily tin and textiles, for Anatolian copper and other materials. Although the merchants adopted many aspects of local Anatolian life, they brought with them Mesopotamian tools used to record transactions: cuneiform writing, clay tablets and envelopes, and cylinder seals. Using a simplified version of the elaborate cuneiform writing system, merchants tracked loans as well as business deals and disputes, and sent letters to families and business partners back in Ashur. At Kültepe, thousands of these texts stored in household archives were preserved when fire destroyed the city in ca. 1836 B.C. Because the tablets document the activities of Assyrian merchants, they provide a glimpse into the complex and sophisticated commercial interactions that took place in the Near East during the beginning of the second millennium B.C.
This tablet represents one such document and records court testimony describing an ownership dispute. In the cuneiform text, which reads from left to right, two merchants accuse each other of stealing valuables, including business documents. However, the verdict of the court is unknown. The tablet was contained in a clay envelope or case also in the Metropolitan’s collection (MMA 66.245.5b)
Adapted from, Art of the Ancient Near East: A Resource for Educators (2010)
Acquired by the Museum in 1966, gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Klejman, New York.
"Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 17, 2008–March 15, 2009.
Spar, Ira. 1988. Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Volume I: Tablets, Cones, and Bricks of the Third and Second Millennia B.C. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 84a, pp. 115-119, pls. 83-84, 137-138.
Spar, Ira and Joan Aruz. 2008. “Cuneiform Tablet and Case.” In Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C., exh. cat. edited by Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel, and Jean M. Evans. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 36a, pp. 73-74.
Aruz, Joan. 2009. "The "Universal Museum" and the Art of Exchange", in James R. Houghton et al., Philippe de Montebello and the Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1977-2008, p. 13, fig. 15.
Benzel, Kim, Sarah B. Graff, Yelena Rakic, and Edith W. Watts. 2010. Art of the Ancient Near East: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, image 13, pp. 76-77.