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Tablet Recording a Business Letter
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Tablet Recording a Business Letter

Description Conservation Exhibitions Provenance Inscription Credit
Description This square clay tablet is densely covered on all sides in a cuneiform text that was read from left to right. The tablet is a business transaction and details the trade of precious metals that occurred between Assyria and Kanesh. In the letter, Itur-ili in Assyria instructs Ennam-Ashur in Kanesh to acquire red gold, a type of gold with distinctive red coloration, and send it back to Assyria with his servant. Itur-ili additionally warns Ennam-Ashur of the treachery of dishonest men and the perils of succumbing to drink. Around 20,000 clay tablets dating to the 2nd millennium BCE have been discovered at Kültepe (ancient Kanesh), Turkey, which was near Kayseri (ancient Caesarea) where this tablet is said to have been found. During this period, Kanesh had a large commercial quarter and was part of a network of Assyrian trade colonies. Many tablets found at Kanesh are letters recording business transactions between Kanesh and Assyria in northern Mesopotamia. They were enclosed in clay envelopes and impressed with stamp or cylinder seals. These letters provide a glimpse into everyday life in the ancient Near East during the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE, illustrating complex economic and social interactions between Assyria and its colonies.
Date Description Narrative
  • Shrunken Treasures: Miniaturization in Books and Art. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 2009.
Provenance Dikran Kelekian, Paris and New York [date and mode of acquisition unknown] [said to be from Caesarea]; Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1913, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
Inscriptions [Translation from composite text of Cuneiform Digital Library, M. Trolle Larsen. Festschrift Lubor Matous. Edited by Blahoslav Hruška,and Géza Komoróczy. Budapest: Eotvos Lorand Tudomanyegytem, 1978.] From Itur-ilī / to Ennam-Aššur / say: 8 minas of tiri-silver / I gave you, / 8 minas of tiri-silver / under my seal Saḫarli / and Azu brought to you; / in all, 16 minas have come to you. / Why is it that / for yourself gold, / each shekel you made and [erasure at end of line] / you sent here, but [erasure at end of line] / to me nothing [erasure at end of line] /you sent? [erasure at end of line] / This is important: for / the 16 minas of silver red gold / for smelting / buy and with your servant / send to me! This is important: / a dishonest man / must not cheat you! To / drinking yourself / do not give! To white gold / your hand/ do not lift. / You may not know that white tin / is plentiful here. []
Credit Acquired by Henry Walters, 1913

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ca. 1840-1730 BCE (Assyrian Colony)
clay, hand made; impressed
Accession Number
H: 1 7/8 × W: 1 3/4 × D: 11/16 in. (4.8 × 4.4 × 1.7 cm)


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