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This similar 4,000-year-old cuneiform clay tablet found in Kültepe, records a caravan account. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

SCIENCE & TECH: Oldest Start-up? First Company in Anatolia Founded 4000 Years Ago

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An extraordinary discovery in Kültepe has shed light on the ancient origins of commerce in Anatolia. A 4000-year-old cuneiform tablet reveals that the first company in the region was founded by a group of twelve partners with an initial capital of 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of gold. This significant find provides a detailed account of early commercial activities and the sophisticated economic system established by the Assyrian trade colonies.

Kültepe, (also known as Kanesh) is located 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the city center of Kayseri in modern-day Turkey, and was a major hub of trade during the Assyrian period. Excavations in this ancient city, ongoing for 75 years, have unearthed over 20,000 cuneiform tablets, offering a wealth of information about the commercial life of the time.

Unveiling the Birth of Business in Kültepe

The head of excavations at Kültepe, Professor Dr. Fikri Kulakoğlu, emphasizes the importance of these tablets in understanding the economic and social dynamics of the period, reports Anatolian Archaeology. The tablets, which are primarily focused on commercial transactions, record everything from caravan expenditures to debt and credit relations, illustrating Kültepe’s role as a bustling trade center.

More novel writings translated from the Kültepe cuneiform tablets include the first known infertility diagnosis and tablets discussing women’s rights.

This similar 4,000-year-old cuneiform clay tablet found in Kültepe, records a caravan account. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The discovery of the tablet detailing the first company in Anatolia is particularly noteworthy. It shows that the company, founded with 15 kilograms of gold, had twelve partners who each contributed varying amounts of gold. The company’s operations were overseen by a merchant named Amur Ishtar, who managed the capital for twelve years. The profits were shared, with one third being distributed among the partners.

The Intricacies of Ancient Business Practices

One remarkable aspect of the company’s operations, as revealed by the tablet, is the detailed record-keeping and legal frameworks in place. All transactions were sealed and recorded in the presence of witnesses, ensuring transparency and accountability. The company’s deed also outlined terms for withdrawing capital. If a partner wished to withdraw their share before the end of the twelve-year term, they would receive silver instead of gold, incurring a loss. This clause was likely designed to ensure the stability and longevity of the company’s capital.

“The tablets found here date to the period after the 1950s BC, which is when writing first started in Anatolia,” explained Professor Kulakoğlu.

“Naturally, this is the first declaration of the first company in Anatolia, essentially a company deed. It appears here for the first time in Anatolia.”

A Glimpse into Early Anatolian Commerce

The establishment of the first company in Kültepe not only highlights the advanced level of economic organization achieved by the Assyrian trade colonies but also underscores the strategic importance of Kültepe as a commercial hub. The city’s location made it a key center for trade routes, facilitating the exchange of goods, culture, and ideas between various civilizations.

The detailed records found in Kültepe provide a rare glimpse into the economic practices and legal frameworks of ancient Anatolian society. They reveal a community that valued structured commerce, legal accountability, and sophisticated financial transactions. These insights contribute significantly to our understanding of early economic history and the development of commercial enterprises.

The discovery of the first company in Anatolia, founded 4000 years ago in Kültepe with a capital of 15 kilograms of gold, offers a fascinating look into the origins of business and commerce in the region. The meticulous records kept on cuneiform tablets not only document the economic activities of the time but also highlight the advanced level of organization and legal structures that underpinned ancient trade practices.

Top image: Aerial image of the excavations at Kültepe Kanesh, Anatolia.              Source: Keyseri Provincial Directorate of Culture & Tourism

By Gary Manners





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