Byzantine and Russian icons, £15.99
Height: 6.600 cm (envelope)
Width: 5.800 cm
Room 54: Anatolia and Urartu
Clay tablet with a cuneiform letter and
Early Colony Period, around 1850 BC
From Kültepe, modern Turkey
A letter of complaint between brothers
This tablet is one of thousands found at the site of Kültepe (ancient Kanesh). They were all written by merchants who, from around 1900 BC, had come to Kanesh from the city of Ashur in Assyria and established a karum (trading centre). The karum at Kanesh is the best known but a number of other colonies were established across Anatolia.
The texts on the tablets, written in the Old Assyrian dialect of Akkadian, describe the Assyrians bringing textiles and tin to Anatolia on the backs of donkeys, and trading it with the locals for silver and gold. This letter is from Ashur-malik to his brother Ashur-idi complaining that, although winter has already come, he and his family have been left in Ashur without food, clothes or fuel. Lack of space obliged him to finish his letter on a small supplementary tablet. Often, as in this case, the tablet was encased in a clay envelope. These were sometimes inscribed with a summary of the contents and sealed by witnesses, using the traditional Mesopotamian cylinder seal rather than the local Anatolian stamp seal. Here the sender's seal shows figures approaching a seated king with a bull-man at the end of the scene.
Karum Kanesh was burnt down and then rebuilt before being permanently abandoned in around 1740 BC, perhaps during the political upheavals in Anatolia which witnessed the rise of the Hittites.
A. Khurt, The ancient Near East c. 3000- (London, Routledge, 1995)