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Old Assyrian private trade

Sources: 22 500 old Assyrian private tablets have been excavated for the greater part in the houses of the Assyrian merchants in the lower town of Kültepe, ancient Kaneš. There are also some 180 old Assyrian tablets excavated in two other Assyrian trade settlements in Anatolia: Boğazköy, ancient Hattuš, and Alişar, ancient Amkuwa. The twenty old Assyrian computation school exercises excavated at Aššur use the same weight system. All these sources date for the most part to the 19th century BC. A substantial part of them are already available on CDLI (here).

Scope: The old Assyrian metrology is attested thus both in Aššur and in the Assyrian trade settlements in Anatolia during the 19th and 18th centuries BC. Since the Assyrians were interested mainly by the trade in metals, the weight system is the most used among the merchants. Capacities, length and surfaces are rarely attested.


Metrological systems:

Units of weight
še ca. 0,05 g
↓ × 180
gin2 ca. 8,3 g
↓ × 60
ma-na ca. 500 g
↓ × 60
gun2 ca. 30 kg

When computing copper or wool in Anatolia, the unit gun2 was not always used ; instead quantities could be given in hundreds of ma-na.

Units of capacity

The capacity system was used to quantify any liquid (oil, beer) or some solids linked to food (grain, hazelnuts, etc.). It is built on measuring vessels of standard capacity. Measuring units are written syllabically, except when specified.

sila3, qûm oass_sila3.jpg - 0.85 l
↓ × 15
šaršarānu (15 sila3) - 12.5 l
↓× 2
dug, karpatum (2 šaršarānu ) oass_dug.jpg A jar 25 l
↓ × 4
naruqqum (4 dug) - A bag 100 l

The unit baneš/ ṣimdum (, also written ), equivalent of 30 sila3 could replace the dug/karpatum.

Another subdivision of the dug/ karpatum was the nabītum, however, its value is unkown (AKT 5:60).

There were other measuring vessels of standard capacity, as the mašqaltum of 1, 2 or 3 sila3, or as the kirrum, “a pitcher of beer” which capacity is unknown.

Units of length

Measuring units are written syllabically.

ubānum Finger
↓ × 15
ūṭum ½ cubit
↓ × 2
ammatum 1 cubit, ca. 50 cm
↓ × 21600
bērum -

Presumably in a parallel system we find the following measures:

idum “arm” approximately the same as the cubit?
kabistum foot 3/4 cubit or 22 1/2 fingers
Units of length

Only the unit šubtum is attested; it most probably equals the Babylonian sar = mušarum, measuring ca. 36m2

Numerical system:

Assyrian merchants use, to count object, a decimal additive system and not a sexagesimal system. Numbers 100 and 1000 are expressed with their nouns: meat and lim.

ištēn 1
↓ × 10
ešer 10
↓ × 10
me-at 100
↓ × 10
li-im 1000

Note that, in this decimal system, 60

1/6 1/4 1/3 1/2 2/3 5/6

Page prepared by CM
(digital version prepared by BG)

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old_assyrian_private_trade.txt · Last modified: 2016/04/11 22:18 by gombert
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