Karum (trade post)

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Central Anatolia during the karum-period

Karum is the name given to ancient Assyrian trade posts[1] in Anatolia, Turkey from 20th to 18th centuries BC. The main centre of karum trading was at the ancient town of Kanesh.

Assyrian settlements[edit]

Letter from Assyria to karum Kanesh concerning the trade in precious metals. 1850-1700 BC. Walters Museum (click on image for more info)

Early references to karum come from the Ebla tablets; in particular, a vizier known as Ebrium concluded the earliest treaty fully known to archaeology, known variously as the "Treaty between Ebla and Aššur" or the "Treaty with Abarsal" (scholars have disputed whether the text refers to Aššur or to Abarsal, an unknown location). In either case, the other city contracted to establish karum in Eblaite territory (Syria), among other things.

Sargon the Great, who likely destroyed Ebla soon after this, is said in a much later Hittite account to have invaded Anatolia to punish Nurdaggal the king of Burushanda for mistreating the Akkadian and Assyrian merchant class in the karums there. However, this is not given the weight of a contemporary source.

During the second millennium BC, Anatolia was under the sovereignty of Hatti city states and, later, the Hittites. By 1960 BC, Assyrian merchants had established the Karum[2]—small colonial settlements next to Anatolian cities—which paid taxes to the rulers of the cities.[3] There were also smaller trade stations which were called mabartum. The number of karum and mabartum was probably around twenty. Among them were Kültepe (Kanesh in antiquity), in modern Kayseri Province; Alişar Hüyük (Ankuva (?) in antiquity), in modern Yozgat Province; and Boğazköy (Hattusash in antiquity) in modern Çorum Province. ( However, Alişar Hüyük was probably a mabartum.) But after the establishment of the Hittite Empire, the karum disappeared from Anatolian history.


Trade patterns of karums

In the second millennium BC, money was not yet invented, and Assyrian merchants used gold for wholesale trade and silver for retail trade. Gold was considered eight times more valuable than silver. But there was one more metal, amutum, which was even more valuable than gold. Amutum is thought to be the newly discovered iron and was forty times more valuable than silver. The most important Anatolian export was copper, and the Assyrian merchants sold tin and clothing to Anatolia.[4]


The name Karum is given to an upscale shopping mall in Çankaya district of modern day Ankara, Turkey. This is a reference to the presence of karums in Asia minor, since the very early days of history.[5] Another mall in Bilkent district of modern day Ankara, Turkey is also given the name Ankuva. This is also a reference to archaeological findings, of various karums in Central Anatolia region.


  1. ^ Britannica On line
  2. ^ Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi, Ankara,ISBN 975-7523-00-3
  3. ^ Seton Lloyd : Ancient Turkey ( Translation: Ender Verinlioğlu) Tubitak, Ankara, 1998 ISBN 975-405-084-7 p 18-19
  4. ^ Ekrem Akurgal: Anadolu Kültür Tarihi,Tubitak, Ankara,2000 ISBN 975-403-107-X p 40-41
  5. ^ http://www.karum.com.tr