When students complete this lesson, they should have gained a good understanding of the importance of trade to life in Babylonia. They should also understand how this influence extended to aspects of society not directly related to trade, such as religion, culture, and government.
In Old Babylonia, which lasted from 2000 BCE to 1600 BCE, trade touched virtually every aspect of life. Industries critical to trade—such as ship building—flourished. Trade benefited cities and kings through customs levies, which helped to support infrastructure like docks and canals. Trade also brought cultural items from distant lands, such as metalwork, pottery, and glassware.
Traders themselves were important to Babylonian culture, too, Podany says. They introduced a new level of individualism into the society, by introducing a sense that people could improve their lives through their own efforts. They were a link between Babylonia and the distant lands from which they came, bringing back new ideas to the local inhabitants.
The economy was based primarily on grain and wool, and the Babylonians developed early writing to record their transactions and keep track of the grain they bought, sold or traded. In time, bartering gave way to money, which was made of precious metals and was easier to manage than wheat or wool.
Class wasn’t rigid in Babylonia; the king and his royal line were on top, followed by priests of the many temples, and then commoners. Some commoners owned their land and could even become awilum, but most lived off the crop they grew, or were allotted a parcel of land by the temple for military service. Slaves belonged to the wardum class, and were often bought or enslaved through debt, if their families couldn’t pay a ransom.