A 4,000-year old tale of trade and contraband I Curator’s Corner season 3 episode 9


Hello I’m Mathilde Touillon-Ricci I’m currently conducting research on cuneiform tablets here at the British Museum and welcome to my corner. I’m currently working on these old Assyrian tablets which date back to 4,000 years ago and were produced along the trading roads
between Anatolia and Assyria which would be modern-day Turkey and northern Iraq
respectively. When you were an old Assyrian trader and you would send your goods to be sold on the Anatolian market you would probably have to pay an export tax on departure an import tax upon arrival but also on the way you would have to pay duties and transit fees and probably tolls on the official trading routes so some traders would probably want to dodge taxes or at least to reduce the bill at the end of the journey. There were two ways of avoiding paying the tax and the duties was either hiding goods and avoid clearance or taking what the old Assyrians themselves called the narrow track So the narrow track was the smugglers route so it was not on the official trading route that was drawn from the trade agreements that the old Assyrians had with the Anatolian kingdoms they were passing through. But so the advantage of the narrow track was to avoid tolls and duties and check points on the way The inconveniences were manifold, they were dangerous routes were you could be exposed to bad weather because these roads would often be in the mountains and they would become more difficult to cross and also they could become unavailable when winter came It was also that you exposed yourself to highway thieves because you are not benefiting from the safety and security that is provided within trade agreements and you could also come across wild beasts. So all these letters do emanate from
individuals but then in the letters they are very focused on trade and for example there are no specifically politeness, salutations. So usually a typical header would be: From person one to person two say and then you just have the content of the letter and then no goodbye so there is no ‘hello my love, how do you do, I miss you’ it’s about ‘have you sent the textiles’ ‘yes I have’
‘have you received them’ ‘no I haven’t’ ‘how much will you sell them’ so it’s very
trade oriented which doesn’t mean that the old Assyrians were heartless
people is just that in these specific business letters we are looking today it’s very much about business and about instructions of either smuggling, not smuggling, asking the right price, so a very practical sensible trade spirit. Most of the records we have on old Assyrian contraband regards textiles and tin which were more widely available but probably also easier to smuggle because less rare and especially textiles it was, it’s a guess, but it was probably easier to hide than maybe metal or stone. In this letter, that is written by certain
Bazazu, to his trading partners Bazazu is calling off a smuggling operation but is nevertheless detailing how the smuggling would have taken place if it had. So in there Bazuzu is saying that if
the narrow track, which is the smuggler’s route is available then do take the narrow track if not then, please ask the transporters to gather the tin into small parcels and enter the town with the parcels hidden in their underwear so this is another way of hiding your goods from official clearance; the underwear. so yep! I have arranged here tablets from these characters involved in trade and in contraband. So we can see here two tablets from Pušu-ken which was the father in the family tree arrangement I’ve made here I’ve also placed so Lamašši who was
the wife of Pušu-ken and was in charge of making the textiles in Assyria to be sent to Anatolia and here we’ve got four children, we know about five children but we don’t have any tablets for the fifth one here at the British Museum. So here we’ve got two tablets from Sueyya, who was the son, including one which is very very touching. It’s a tablet written to his father Pušu-ken who is saying that he’s going to a scribal school and it’s touching because it’s a son who is living and growing up away from his father and he’s telling him about his school activity and also because Sueyya would have probably been quite young when writing this tablet. It’s also very interesting because this is the only mention that we have a direct mention from scribal teaching in the old Assyrian periods although we have some practice and school texts that are conserved but this is a very first hand record. Also here we’ve got letters from Bazazu, very trade-oriented letters and this one is interesting because it’s co-authored by the two brothers Sueyya and Bazazu so one of the things I’m looking at currently is trying to see how, to what extent I could identify whether it’s been written by the hand of Sueyya, by the hand of Bazazu or even by a third party’s hand, so this is work in progress. More and more because I’m looking at these letters which are first-person records of the past I’m becoming very very attached to all this
family and it’s like I’m just calling them by their names and I’m waiting to read the next tablets to see what is Bazazu saying so it’s one of the aspects I like about working with objects is that there there is all this knowledge but it’s not a cold knowledge it is a knowledge that is fed by the people who lived 4,000 years ago so yeah, this is just the fantastic bit of museum work. So I hope you enjoyed the stories about old Assyrian trade and contraband and if you want to know more please just visit
gallery 54 at the British Museum there are more Curator’s corner here on my left
and please why not subscribe to the British Museum’s YouTube channel-
it’s worth it!

100 thoughts on “A 4,000-year old tale of trade and contraband I Curator’s Corner season 3 episode 9

  1. Hello Muddah, hello Faddah
    Here I am at Camp Grenada
    Camp is very entertaining
    And they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining

  2. TRADE = dependency…regulations…taxes…duties…and eventually tensions & war.
    Grow what you eat…and manufacture what you need ( not want !!! ) and be FREE !
    What your discribing is AGORISM. Please research it…here is a great little vid…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TkFEi96xa8

  3. when Bazazu wrote of hiding tin in underwear, I wonder if tin
    was a euphamism that would have been recognized as meaning
    something else entirely by the intended reader, and no one else.

  4. I feel like the QWERTY is fairly ergonomic and I still don't like too much fluff in my work e-mails. It's easy for me to forgive someone for being terse if they have to press their messages out on a clay tablet.

  5. The curator is talking about the letters but not saying what is in them. No actual texts. I could talk about any people any country like that. This curator does not understand that she has to divulge what is not obvious. The interesting thing is the text not the existence itself. E.g. I could say: "The father of three sons in the Miraioy tribe in Busuzokuland wrote a letter to his sons about the birth of a third son." That is very uninteresting. I would like to know what exactly was written not that a letter existed.

  6. Smuggling metals inside textiles, maybe? Tin ratios for bronze would make a great black market on the trade routes of the time. Current black market ammo makers have similar profit margins. Ideology, not profit.

  7. We're these ever translated and made available to lay people? I would love to read the actual words of these people. Where can we find the translations online?

  8. So “mules” existed 4000 ya. I wonder if these people produced a theatre series called, “Banged (Locked) Up Abroad”?

  9. Everyone saying things haven't changed, Hillary never deleted a bunch of cunifourm tablets.

  10. I'm curious if the narrow track was illegal. Was it a "You can go this way, where we have good roads guaranteed to be passable, and protected from highway thieves, but you have to pay the taxes and tolls for those. Alternatively, go another way and you're on your own" or "This is the path agreed to by treaty and you have to take it, any other route is illegal"? The second would infer the existence of all sorts of other business, as one couldn't go to the authorities if one's shipment was lost to thieves, necessitating private protection and investigators should it be lost.

  11. Well…I'd be a smuggler back then for sure haha. If you're gonna stop me that many times on my trip, taking more and more of my money each time (which I assume is not a set amount, more like whatever they feel like taking from you) you better believe I'm the kind of guy who would spend every waking minute thinking of ways to get around it and cheat the system.

  12. Ok Mathilde, you are adorable. Your presentation was informative and I found the subject matter atypically humorous. I thank you.

  13. You pause and um way too much. It's as if English is not your first language. Maybe write up a script and practice it a few times before your next video.

  14. Wonderful video on an interesting subject. Looking forward to seeing more videos on subjects like this with Mathilde.

  15. I laughed so hard, but it should have been obvious. 5 minutes after we invented tax, we invented tax avoidance.

  16. Please fix your hair. This entire video, for me, was lost because of that strand of hair in your face.

  17. anybody with a hyphen in there name is an idiot, I know its brtian and the place is full of diversity hires hired just to fill up the quotas, but come on

  18. A lot of activities, such as smuggling and the drug trade etc, are timeless and the same in all ages. We don't get taught about most of it. For example, we are told Columbus discovered America by looking for a new better route to India for the Spice Trade. What they don't tell us is that one of the very main "Spices" Columbus and others were after was Opium

  19. Wasn't tin moved from Anatolia to Assyria, the opposite way? Or is Bizazu talking about avoiding the Assyrian authorities rather than the Hittite or Neo-Hittite authorities?

  20. Does she have an accent from something other than English? It's driving me mad because to my American ears it sounds like proper British English with just a hint of something else?

  21. If you ever wondered what happened to the daughter of „The Incredibles“

  22. Sure, the Assyrians were just lovely people 🙂

    "Their dismembered bodies I fed to the dogs, swine, wolves, and eagles, to the birds of

    heaven and the fish in the deep…. What was left of the feast of the dogs and swine, of

    their members which blocked the streets and filled the squares, I ordered them to remove

    from Babylon, Kutha and Sippar, and to cast them upon heaps.”

    “I cut their throats like lambs. I cut off their precious lives (as one cuts) a string. Like the

    many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon

    the wide earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of

    their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot, which brings low the wicked

    and the evil, were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I

    filled the plain, like grass. (Their) testicles I cut off, and tore out their privates like the

    seeds of cucumbers.”

    “In strife and conflict I besieged [and] conquered the city. I felled 3,000 of their fighting

    men with the sword … I captured many troops alive: I cut off of some their arms [and]

    hands; I cut off of others their noses, ears, [and] extremities. I gouged out the eyes of

    many troops. I made one pile of the living [and] one of heads. I hung their heads on trees

    around the city.”

  23. I’ll be honest. I watched this simply cos the girl look cute and sweet. Heard something tax something something something.

  24. mathilde has a very attractive smile and blush, and her passion for her subject is obvious.

  25. Politeness is a necessity in violent societies, I think no one was more polite than the people living in the wild west, so, since these people are not very polite, we can conclude they lived in a peaceful society?

    Anyhow, I would never bought anything from any of those traders, if they kept all their goods in their underwear, I will not touch it

  26. Now 4000 years later we’re still trying to dodge taxes, take narrow routes, or hide the merchandise….. nothing special thus. I am more interested in how the tablets were scribed, what material(s) were used? Why the different colors, etc…?

  27. You have to have balls of tin to actually take the Narrow Path and evade taxes like that

  28. We learn so much from the tablets, I'm so happy we can translate them now , thanks for this video.

  29. You need to have the Beetles singing Tax Man in the background. These little looks at these sort of letters brings people of the past so close.

  30. I'm very sad to tell you this, but that is Life cereal from the late 1950s. Those aren't actually letters, they are imperfections in one of the rollers. We run into this all the time. I'd suggest that you put it in a bowl of milk and have Mikey try it.

  31. I wonder if any of these people left descendants in the modern era, and if they are in the same line of work?

  32. In my best British voice, Mathilde, Mathilde Old girl, I find you absolutely Smashing !! Would you care to Shag?

  33. There is overwhelming evidence we've been lied to and deceived for millennia on a grand scale about almost everything by a group of "elites," 13 families, council of 300 et al.

    A huge tapestry of deceit, greed & secrecy, to control and keep the true nature of humanity from ourselves, our history, true origin, and keep us tied to debt, cause constant wars, confusion and tension for them to get more wealth, control and power over us until we and our descendants are eternally enslaved.

    From the Annunaki, Adamu, even our redacted and currupt bible, nibiru, monoatomic gold, religion, wars, Lincoln, Jackson, Garfield, JFK,  the federal reserve, USS Liberty,  giant skeletons, abduction/disappearances, pedophilia, PNAC, COFR, Tri Lat Comm to 911 and now the war on "terror." We ARE the terrorists. Let's stop these ridiculous, insane, self-created bankers wars!!!

    Wake up! Folks let's krush da kabal!!!

  34. Me:
    YouTube algorithm: here’s how Assyrian traders avoided tax four thousand years ago.

  35. "Two things are certain in this world: death and taxes."

    Assyrian traders: Hold my underwear.

  36. "…trading routes between Anatolia and Assyria…".
    4000 years ago there was Assyria, but no Anatolia.

  37. Did they date stamp the letters in any way? In any written correspondence I would have thought a conversational sequencing system would be important.

  38. It is interesting how the brevity of these tablets is like text messages or emails – work related messages are usually quite focussed. I've been loving the British Museum videos over the last couple of days. Please keep up this excellent work because we can't all come to the museum and few of us would learn so much detail as we meander around. A few days ago if you'd asked me if I'd like to go see some Cuneiform tablets I would have laughed & declined – now I am really far more likely now to come and see this stuff in person. 🙂

  39. Buzazu also mentioned that he did the narrow path to Kessel in under 12 parsecs.

  40. Thank you. That was very interesting and clearly explained. It's fascinating to think of the detailed records we have of activities so far back in time. Your English is excellent, by the way.

  41. Look at that… These people of that area invented writing, the wheel, and many other things used today, and what happened to them?! They get bombed, all get painted with the same brush as terrorists, and slapped with embargoes etc, by Europeans… Not to mention, get their artifacts pilfered even…

  42. Dude that looks like an ancient Iranian petrified frosted mini wheat with cuneiform embedded into its sugary side….. Making me hungry now bout to eat some cereal

  43. I love the “YEP” at 4:42. Sounds like one of her superiors decided to play a prank on a rather prudish conservative young lady who was not really prepared for what was written on the tablets and did her best to keep it together on camera (that and she got red as an apple).

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