Kultepe (Kanesh-Karum) in Central Anatolia, Turkey
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Kultepe

The first written sources of Anatolia

Best Time to Visit
April-June
September-November

Population
1,039,000

Airports
Kayseri Airport (24km)

Best Places to Stay
Cappadocia

As Anatolia’s oldest center of trade, located within the boundaries of Kayseri province, Kultepe is one place whose history is ‘written’ in the literal sense.

Known in the earliest times as Kanesh, the Kultepe ‘hoyuk’ or mound twenty kilometers east of Kayseri was one of the most powerful kingdoms in the region and the hub of an international trade network some five thousand years ago.

The oldest written documents in Anatolia were unearthed here in the 1800s. Thanks to the deciphering of these texts in Old Assyrian cuneiform and the excavations, begun in 1948 and continuing today, a wealth of information regarding the Assyrian merchants who founded a trading colony at Kultepe and the everyday life of the region has begun to illuminate the pre-Hittite political makeup of Anatolia.

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As Anatolia’s oldest center of trade, located within the boundaries of Kayseri province, Kultepe is one place whose history is ‘written’ in the literal sense.

Known in the earliest times as Kanesh, the Kultepe ‘hoyuk’ or mound twenty kilometers east of Kayseri was one of the most powerful kingdoms in the region and the hub of an international trade network some five thousand years ago.

The oldest written documents in Anatolia were unearthed here in the 1800s. Thanks to the deciphering of these texts in Old Assyrian cuneiform and the excavations, begun in 1948 and continuing today, a wealth of information regarding the Assyrian merchants who founded a trading colony at Kultepe and the everyday life of the region has begun to illuminate the pre-Hittite political makeup of Anatolia.

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Planning a trip to Kayseri soon? Answer this trip planner and get your FREE quotation within 24 hours.

At a Glance

20,000 Tablets

Metal Coinage

Love Letter

Tips & Etiquette

Archaeological discoveries and excavations in the Middle East acquired momentum at the end of the 19th century. The researchers of that period had several different aims, such as buying archaeological artifacts of high aesthetic value for Europe’s major museums, determining the geography of the Bible, deciphering the languages of the ancient Near East, and collecting information for political purposes.

They were also the pioneers of the archaeological investigations undertaken in the lands of the Ottoman Empire in those years when so-called ‘Cappadocian tablets’ (clay tablets with cuneiform inscriptions) were frequently sold on the European market for ancient artifacts.

Th. G. Pinches, Ernst Chantre, Hugo Winckler, and H. Grothe all engaged briefly in excavations at Kultepe to find the source of these tablets, which were known to come from Central Anatolia. But it was the Czech linguist Bedřich Hrozný, a contributor to the deciphering of Hittite, who finally succeeded in unraveling the mystery.

Rumor has it that the villagers were deliberately sending the researchers who came to Kultepe to find the tablets to the upper parts of the mound. In contrast, the tablets came not from the summit, where the royal palace and other significant administrative buildings were located, but rather from the quarter down below where the Assyrian traders had their houses. When Bedrich Hrozný’s driver, in a drunken lapse, happened to let this slip one day, it wasn’t long before Hrozný located some thousand tablets.

In 1924 the German Assyriologist Benno Landsberger, who had worked with the tablets sold earlier in Europe, announced that the documents had come from a colony founded in Anatolia by Assyrian traders and that the name of the settlement was ‘Karum-Kanesh’ (karum meaning ‘port’ in Old Assyrian).

Since as far back as 3000 BCE, each of the Mesopotamian riverbank cities—those on the Euphrates in particular—had been a strategical port, and all barter, sales, and commercial activity, in general, was carried out here. In time, the word ‘karum’ came to mean ‘area of intensive commercial activity’ or ‘market place’.

The Turkish Historical Society undertook scholarly excavations of the Kultepe mound and the Assyrian trading colony in the Lower Town in 1948. Led by Tahsin Ozguc, a professor of archaeology at the Faculty of Languages, History, and Geography of the University of Ankara, these excavations are continuing today.

Some twenty thousand clay tablets have been unearthed until now, documenting an extraordinary Anatolian kingdom. A settlement that dates back to the Early Bronze Age survived right up to the end of the Roman Empire as well as a colony that was the scene of intensive commercial relations between Mesopotamia and Anatolia from 2000 to 1750 BCE and reflecting all the details of their history.

Its intensive relations with Mesopotamia had an artistic impact on Kultepe as well, resulting in the production of a wide variety of pottery and seals in particular. The artifacts and tablets found in the Kultepe excavations are exhibited today in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations at Ankara and the Kayseri Archaeological Museum. The most recent and comprehensive book on the subject, ‘Kultepe’, was written by Professor Tahsin Ozguc and published by Yapi Kredi Publications in the summer of 2005.

Tin, wool textiles, gold, and silver were the products of the long-distance caravan trade carried on by the great merchant families that lived in the Assyrian city-state in Northern Iraq at the beginning of the second millennium BC. With camel and donkey caravans, the Assyrian traders brought not only tin, which came in all probability from Afghanistan and was extremely valuable because it was found in only a few places in the world but also luxurious woolen fabrics that were woven in the various cities of Mesopotamia to the hub of the Assyrian trade network at Kultepe in Anatolia.

From here, the goods were distributed to Bogazkoy and other colonies such as Alisar and Acemhoyuk. Although the Assyrians were also engaged in the copper trade in Anatolia, they took only gold and silver back to their own country, these two metals being marks of power among the ruling and elite classes of Mesopotamia, which was very poor in mineral resources.

The goods in question were either traded directly or their equivalents paid in units of silver. Silver, whose weight and the value was standardized in small rings or bars, was thus the forerunner of the monetary system that would first emerge in Anatolia some 1300 years later in the Lydian Kingdom. A donkey carried approximately 65 kg of tin and 25 pieces of textiles, and one caravan consisted of around fifteen donkeys. Covering a thousand kilometers from Assyria to Kultepe took six or seven weeks.

A caravan, or a large convoy of several caravans setting out together, would either follow the Southern Route, crossing the Euphrates at Birecik to reach Kayseri via Maras, or choose the Northern Route which proceeded along the banks of the Tigris as far as Diyarbakir and from there via Malatya to Kultepe.

The kings of Kanesh guaranteed the security of the Assyrian caravans and their precious cargo. In return for these commercial privileges granted to foreign traders, they gained advantages such as the right to impose taxes and to choose whatever they wanted from among the goods.

As far as we can ascertain from the information provided by the clay tablets; however, these Assyrian traders had no political power in Anatolia, as their activities were limited exclusively to trade. In the administration of their colonies, they were attached to Assyria in both their law and their internal affairs.

But this long-distance trade carried on by family firms was only possible as long as political stability reigned in Anatolia and Northern Mesopotamia. And indeed, the disintegration of the Upper Mesopotamian Empire in Northern Mesopotamia, together with the deepening power struggle among the Central Anatolia kingdoms around 1730 BCE, spelled the end of the trading system.

As far as we know, the Assyrian traders never came back to Anatolia, and the ones who stayed never returned home. But they did leave an indelible mark on the cultural history of Anatolia in the many letters, debt certificates, account records, commercial treaties, and seals they inscribed in clay.

At Karum, for example, an Assyrian trader compelled to live far from home on account of his business rails against the loneliness of the merchant’s life:

“Your father wrote to me that I should marry you. I have sent you a message and my men for your journey. I would ask that when you receive my tablet, you show it to your father and come here with my men. I am all alone. I have no one by my side and no one to prepare my meals. If you don’t come here with my men, I am going to get married at Wahsusana (a town near Nigde) to a girl from there. Make haste. Don’t you or my men be late. Come here.”

Since Kultepe is around 35 km away from the city center, it is best to get a private vehicle (a guided tour, taxi, or rental car) since public transportation does not get you there.

You should try the local kitchen. Kayseri is best known for its pastrami and manti (a type of dumpling). Since the population of the central city is more than other towns closeby, we will recommend some of the best restaurants in the area while you spend that extra time discovering the area.

Book a Private Guide for Kultepe

While we don’t have a specific package covering this unique visit, we can customize you a perfect day tour of Kayseri. Moreover, a visit to Kultepe is not complete without the Kayseri Archaeology Museum, where the clay tablets and other artifacts of Assyrian Trade Colonies, Early Hittites, Hellenistic Era, Roman, Persian, and Tabal.

Tours Near Kultepe

Where to Go Next

Since the early centuries, Kayseri has been a crossroads for many and not only geographically, but also historically, Anatolia is in the middle of everything. So, you can comfortably plan two weeks of vacations to visit chronologically different ancient sites once you are here.

Unique Landforms

Cappadocia

An Ancient Port City

Ephesus

Curative Waters

Pamukkale

St Tropez of Turkey

Bodrum

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