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 sealed clay envelope contained a tablet documenting the discharge from debt for a silver loan owed to Ashur-taklaku (MMA 66.245.16a). The contents of the tablet was repeated on the envelope, perhaps in order to verify the decision regarding the loan repayment. Text on the envelope, read from left to right, must have been written after the original text was placed inside the case. Impressions of four different seals, appear on both sides and the edges of the case. On the front of the case, two cylinder seals featuring presentation scenes carved in an Anatolian style that emphasized features such as the large eyes of the figures were rolled out. One of these seals was inscribed with the name Ashur-taklaku, and demonstrates how Assyrian merchants adopted local styles. The reverse of the case contains two more impressions of cylinder seals carved in a visual hybrid that mixed elements, and offers further evidence for the cultural interaction between Anatolia and Assyria.
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. 93b, pp. 137-138, pl. 104; seal impressions: nos. 50, 57-59, pp. 185, 188-189, pls. 99-100, 104, 131-132, 151, 153-154.
Aruz, Joan. 2008. “Cuneiform Tablet Cases.” 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. 46b, p. 75.