Sunday, January 9, 2011

“When the creditor demands it...” – 3,800 year old tablets from Larsa, in Iraq, tell tale of ancient tycoon

Blue cities represent Larsa controlled or allied. Red represents
the city of Babylon, its enemy.
View Larsa - ca. 3,800 years ago in a larger map

A picture of Larsa published in 1912. Today most of the city has either
been excavated or looted.

He served one of the longest reigning kings in history, bought up real estate like there was no tomorrow and – oh yes – at times did business under the authority of the sun god Shamash.
His name was Abum-waqar and thanks to new research by Professor Karljürgen Feuerherm, of Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo Canada, we now know his story. “It took me basically a decade to work through this stuff,” Feuerherm said at a recent lecture in Toronto.
There are more than 200 tablets that show this man’s dealings. Most were dug up by looters in the early 20th century and are now located all over the world – with Yale University holding the lions share.  Many of them have never appeared in scholarly publications before, much less in popular media.
From the tablets we know that he lived nearly 3,800 years ago in a city named Larsa, located in southern Iraq. At that time it was ruled by Rim-Sin, a home-grown king who reigned for nearly 60 years – one of the longest recorded kingships in history. During his rule Larsa exerted influence over its neighbours, even going so far as to conquer Uruk and Isin, major cities located nearby.  
Unfortunately for Rim-Sin he met an unceremonious end when a rival of his, the Babylonian king Hammurabi, defeated him in battle, took him prisoner and sacked his city.
Who was Abum-waqar?
Abum-waqar was a “tamkar” a person whom we might think of as a businessman – albeit a well connected one.
“He’s involved with the Temple of the Sun God, he’s also involved with the palace, he’s involved with all these other tamkars and various other people,” said Professor Feuerherm.
At times he would act as an agent of the state, being entrusted to distribute goods to select individuals throughout the city. “This guy, right off the bat, was being entrusted with all these huge quantities of things,” said Feuerherm.
Examples of the stuff he distributed include food, precious metals (such as gold), garments, anointing oils, coloured pastes (white, black, yellow and red), bitumen, copper, tin and even millstones. “One gets the impression that he was well trusted – he got to hand out an awful lot of stuff.”
And in return he was handsomely rewarded. Records show that he received numerous goods including sesame, barley, vegetables, sheep and even Elamite textiles. “I don’t know much about textiles, but Elam is (on) the other side of the mountains,” said Feuerherm.
Abum-waqar appears to have been highly thought of by royal officials. At one point he was called on to play a role at the funeral of the king’s daughter, a woman named Damiqtum.
A tablet said that he was to provide
24 sheep for the funerary offering of Damiqtum daughter of the king, wife of Ali-banisu, over a one year period...
For which a sealed document was prepared for Abum-waqar and Apil-Kubi...
(Translation by Karljürgen Feuerherm)
It is not known when exactly this funeral took place.
Service to the temple
The tablets show that Abum-waqar also served Larsa’s temple – with his work being done in the name of the sun god Shamash (also spelled as Samas).
1 mina of silver for a (business) partnership – Sin-gatum has taken receipt of it from Samas and Abu-Waqar.
When the creditor demands it, he will pay the silver and its profit...
(Translation by Karljürgen Feuerherm)
“In four cases we have transactions where silver was handed out by Shamash and Abum Waqar – Shamash is the sun god, the city god of Larsa,” said Feuerherm. “It’s a very interesting partnership – when was the last time you and god handed out anything to anybody?”
Feuerherm believes that at times the temple gave out loans to people in need, and used Abum-waqar as an agent. Since the money was from the temple the name of the sun god had to be used in the agreement. “The temples were the closest equivalent we have to banks that would extend loans.”
Prisoners of war
The tablets reveal that on the odd occasion Abum-waqar dealt with prisoners of war. As a tamkar, a sort of businessman, he was capable of moving from state to state – making him a good person to make a prisoner exchange.
Two of the tablets refer to a man named “Iakunum” who was
A prisoner (of war) from Balamun ... brought back from a campaign against Babylon
The guard-
Han[ded him over] to Abu-waqar the merc[hant] for guarding.
This ended badly, with Iakunum dying. The second tablet reads-
Dead: Iakunum ... in the campaign against Zazaia, whom Ili-iddinam brought back
(All translations by Karljürgen Feuerherm)
The tablet doesn’t say how he died. He might have met his end through war injuries. It appears some of the tamkars (not Abum-waqar) informed Iakunum’s family of his death.
“Buy, buy, buy”
The tablets show that in his personal business dealings Abum-waqar was the Mr. Monopoly of his time, buying up an incredible amount of real estate. “It’s buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, over about 22 years or so,” said Feuerherm.
Nine of his real estate transactions were residential – meaning land located within the city. Another 10 pertain to agrarian land – such as orchards. He only sold land on one occasion and that was a “lot with nothing on it.”
Abum-waqar wasn’t the only person in Larsa doing this. Archaeological excavations show that in the northeast section of Larsa there was a group of people who owned some incredibly large houses.
Feuerherm pointed out that the largest house in the city of Ur was 170 square meters. On the other hand the average size house in northeast Larsa was 534 square meters – three times the size. “It’s only average, there are bigger ones than that.”
It appears what happened is that the tamkars, including Abum-waqar, were involved in the ancient equivalent of gentrification. 

They “bought up all the properties, knocked them all down and built these big things with lots of space in between.” The money they made from dealing with the palace, the temple and their private businesses financed these buying sprees.
Meanwhile those with a low income were stuck living in the city centre, close to Larsa’s cooking ovens and the heat and smoke that they bring.
This trend of the tamkars buying up real estate continued until around the 32nd year of Rim-Sin’s reign. After that it ends abruptly. “98 percent of all the sales and purchases we have are prior to year 32 and two percent for after,” said Feuerherm. The reason for this appears to be quite simple.
“They stopped buying real estate when they bought it all – there was nothing left.” Things in Larsa entered a static phase, there were few real estate deals and the poor, those without land, were stuck in the city centre.
“It would have been interesting to see what would have happened down the road,” said Feuerherm. However around year 60 of Rim-Sin’s reign “Hammurabi came and sacked the place.”
Personal life
We don’t know much about Abum-waqar’s personal life. The tablets focus on his public dealings and rarely mention anything personal. From what Feuerherm can tell his father’s name was Iddin-Erra and the name of one of his grandfathers was Aattani.
Feuerherm said that there is a “high likelihood” that Aattani was from Ur. His name appears in several documents that are from that city. Also it makes sense that he would have moved from Ur to Larsa. About two centuries before Abum-Waqar’s time, Ur had been a major power in itself, controlling a swath of territory across southern Iraq. However the city had fallen into decline, while Larsa’s power was on the rise.
Another bit of personal information we know is that Abum-waqar had a brother named Silli-Ahua and a son named Watar-Samas. The three of them did business extensively. Sadly, this included involvement in the slave trade.
½ mina of silver, corre[ct] weight, which had been given to Abum-waqar, merchant, for the purchase of slaves
Delivery of Silli-Ahua brother of Abum-waqar, and Watar-Samas his son, a portion of the arrears which had been turned over to Marersetim for collection...  
(Translation by Karljürgen Feuerherm)
The death of Abum-waqar
We don’t know how Abum-waqar died or if he lived to see Hammurabi sack his home city of Larsa.  
His last deal is recorded in the 50th year of Rim-Sin’s reign, about 10 years before the Babylonian king attacked the city. 
This last tablet discussed animals that Abum-waqar was taking care of. They had become sick, and had to be written off. After that he disappears from the public record forever. By this time he likely would have been in his 60’s, quite an old age for someone in the ancient world.
He had been “visible in government records for 44 years,” said Feuerherm, a lengthy amount of service for a man who was well regarded for having the ability to get the job done.


  1. All this about a business man yet not one word on Jesus from during his life time. This was almost twice as long ago too. Tells you something.

  2. The stupidity of Christians continues to amaze me!
    Did ole Mark above not bother to read the date of this article's findings, or does he think that people who lived more than a thousand years before Jesus was born spent their time writing about Him?
    ...stupid Christians.


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