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Dear David Graeber,
When you came to Japan in 2008 for participating in the 34th G8 summit held in the town of Toyako, you said that you have difficulty gaining access to works in the Japanese language, I’ve heard. Meanwhile, most major theoretical works written in the western languages are translated almost immediately into Japanese, as your major work Debt_ was in November in 2016. Reading it enthusiastically, I agreed definitely with your idea of rejecting as a wild fancy the thought on which the fundamental human rights are based that we can bargain with the universe, and organized a study circle to learn more about your ideas from your book. Among those who participated in the circle, most managers of my cooperative readily accepted your idea, while some leftist activists didn’t understand it, unfortunately.
Now I would like to send you my questions about your arguments on the origins of money. Shiro Yoji, a Japanese economist, developed in his book Money in History (2012, in Japanese) the theory that they could be traced back to credit, which Keynes propounded, virtually borrowing Mitchell-Innes’. On the basis of Keynes’, Yoji criticized Marx’s theory on money, taking into account the studies by Western anthropologists after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Before his book was published, since the treatises in it had been published from 2003 to 2008 in the bulletin of the Economic Faculty of Saga University, I had collected literatures on the Orient, including the code of Hammurabi, to examine his treatises, trying to prepare an article for criticizing his ideas.
It was, after having difficulty of inaugurating it, when, having a chance of reading two books by Japanese researchers of Orient history in 2015 and 2016 respectively, I was just beginning to write my article that the Japanese translation of your Debt was published. So I made up my mind, as if I had been lying in ambush, to work on examining your theory on the origins of money, instead of criticizing Yoji’s.
The two were: Between Mesopotamia and Indus (Dec. 2015) by Ken Goto and The Origins of the Cities (Mar. 2016) by Tatsundo Koizumi. Goto recollects that it was the exhibition of “The Four Civilizations” held in Tokyo in 2000 that spurred his study to advance and that it led him to reconsider in the ancient interstate contexts his own knowledge he had accumulated of some other civilizations than the Four. The investigation for explaining the exchange routes was launched by him. I thought I’d like to restore on the basis of his achievements Marx’s theory on the origins of money.
Marxist scholars had been the majority in the academic circles of economy in Japan, but all those scholars completely lost their authority after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and neo-liberalist economists have been rampant since. Japanese Marxist economists have, however, left their academic achievements on the world-wide scale about the value of commodity, and credit, as long as the studies of Marx’s Kapital are concerned. For this reason and other, I am planning to open my Face Book and home page in the English language to let these achievements known to the world outside Japan. First, I will soon put up my articles, such as ‘A Letter to Frederic Lordon’ and ‘On Debt Economy’, which are my introductory interpretation of Marx’s theory of the value of commodity and of credit respectively.
Now, I would like you to read my questions of your theory on the origins of money.
My questions about Graeber’s theory on the origins of money in his Debt
Chapter 1 Money had been generated before urbanization
1. Graeber’s idea of the origines of money
In Chapter two, the myth of barter, Graeber criticizes as a myth the general explanations that were advocated by Adam Smith and that are described in the today’s textbooks of economy. His criticism is based on the analysis of Mesopotamian economy. Supposing that, now that cuneiform characters and hieroglyphics have been deciphered today, the beginning of economic history should be dated to 3500 B.C., instead of 800 B.C., to which Adam Smith dated it, Graeber argues about Mesopotamian economy. I would like to cite here a rather long passage of his:
… As it happens, we know a great deal about Mesopotamia, since the vast majority of cuneiform documents were financial in nature.
The Sumerian economy was dominated by vast temple and palace complexes. These were often staffed by thousands: priests and officials, craftspeople who worked in their industrial workshops, farmers and shepherds who worked their considerable estates. Even though ancient Sumer was usually divided into a large number of independent city-states, by the time the curtain goes up on Mesopotamian civilization around 3500, temple administrators already appear to have developed a single, uniform system of accountancy — one that is in some ways still with us, actually, because it’s to the Sumerians that we owe such things as the dozen or the 24-hour day. The basic monetary unit was the silver shekel. One shekel’s weight in silver was established as the equivalent of one gur, or bushel of barley. A shekel was subdivided into 60 minas, corresponding to one portion of barley — on the principle that there were 30 days in a month, and Temple workers received two rations of barley every day. It’s easy to see that “money" in this sense is in no way the product of commercial transactions. It was invented virtually by bureaucrats in order to keep track of resources and move things back and forth between departments.
Temple bureaucrats used the system to calculate debts (rents, fees, loans . . .) in silver. Silver was, effectively, money. And it did indeed circulate in the form of unworked chunks, "rude bars" as Smith had put it. In this he was right. But it was almost the only part of his account that was right. One reason was that silver did not circulate very much. Most of it just sat around in Temple and Palace treasuries, some of which remained, carefully guarded, in the same place for literally thousands of years. It would have been easy enough to standardize the ingots, stamp them, create some authoritative system to guarantee their purity. The technology existed. Yet no one saw any particular need to do so. One reason was that while debts were calculated in silver, they did not have to be paid in silver — in fact, they could be paid in more or less anything one had around. Peasants who owed money to the Temple or Palace, or to some Temple or Palace official, seem to have settled their debts mostly in barley, which is why fixing the ratio of silver to barley was so important. But it was perfectly acceptable to show up with goats, or furniture, or lapis lazuli. Temples and Palaces were huge industrial operations — they could find a use for almost anything.
In the marketplaces that cropped up in Mesopotamian cities, prices were also calculated in silver, and the prices of commodities that weren’t entirely controlled by the Temples and Palaces would tend to fluctuate according to supply and demand. But even here, such evidence as we have suggests that most transactions were based on credit. Merchants (who sometimes worked for the Temples, sometimes operated independently) were among the few people who did, often, actually use silver in transactions; but even they mostly did much of their dealings on credit, and ordinary people buying beer from "ale women," or local innkeepers, once again, did so by running up a tab, to be settled at harvest time in barley or anything they might have had at hand.
At this point, just about every aspect of the conventional story of the origins of money lay in rubble. (pp. 38-40)
Since cuneiform characters were deciphered, studies on Mesopotamian economy have rapidly developed. Since the famous code of Hammurabi has been translated into Japanese, and since we have numerous Japanese literatures on it already, we can, not being an anthropologist, examine this argument of his. His main opinion of the origins of money is thus: “money" was invented virtually by bureaucrats in order to keep track of resources and move things back and forth between departments.
Let us examine the validity of the idea of his.
2. The outline of Mesopotamian civilization before urbanization
(1) The divisions of the times and civilizations in each district
5300 – 3500 B.C. Ubaid
3500 – 3100 B.C. Uruk
3100 B.C. Jemdet Nasr
2800 B.C. Sumerian Early Dynastic Period
1792 B.C. The enthronement of the king
The gulf of Arabian Peninsula
4500 B.C. Ubaid culture
3000 B.C. Hafit culture
2800 B.C. Umm al-Nar culture
4500 B.C. Tchoga=Miche
4000 B.C. SusaⅠ
3500 B.C. SusaⅡ
5000 B.C. : Introduction of the technology of irrigation
Villages of about 1,000 people formed
ca 3300 B.C. : The first city appearing in Uruk
Construction of cities spreading — Uruk World System
3100 B.C. : The system collapsed and Jemdet Nasr rising
ca 2800 B.C. : Sumerian Early Dynastic Period
1792 B.C. : The enthronement of the king Hammurabi
(Whereas Ubaid existed as long as 1,800 years, Uruk did only for 400 years, which appears to have been a time of upheaval.)
(2) How was the villages before urbanization?
Here we will look over Mesopotamian civilization before the cities were formed. Let us cite from “World History 1 – The origin of human race and the ancient Orient” published in the Japanese language, and see how the villages appear to have been like.
Around 5000 B.C., Samara culture prevailed in the plain on the upper reaches of the Tigris. The remains called Choga Mami, which exist in Zagros Mountains in the east district of Iraq, are supposed to have formed a village, within an area of 6 hectors, of one thousand of people, who cultivated two kinds of wheat, two kinds of barley, and linen, while raising cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs.
On the west of Samara culture, Harafian culture infiltrated, where colored earthenware was produced.
Along with the rapid development of the mountain areas, some peasants began to go into the plain of South Mesopotamia, which established Ubaid culture. (World History 1, pp. 90-1)
In the Ubaid period, from 5300 B.C. up to 3500 B.C., which is subdivided into four periods, there was no city arising, probably because population growth brought about new villages. During the 50 century B.C., which means that from 5000 B.C. to 4001 B.C., the technology of irrigation was introduced, with the result that around 3500 B.C., earthenware began to be produced with a potter’s wheel. And a new fashion of earthenware suddenly took place of the old, when the Uruk period started.
In the Uruk period, from 3500 too 3100 B.C., the city was born, supposedly around 3300 B.C.. This time we’ll look on the periods preceding that of the formation of the cities.
3. The origin of the city
What Graeber’s arguments on Mesopotamia is all about is city-states. Before the formation of them, however, people must have exchanged commodities frequently between the communities, though this can only be proved through excavation since what matters belongs in fact to the pre-character era before 3200 B.C..
In his book The Origins of the Cities, published in the Japanese language in 2016, Tatsundo Koizumi investigates the process of the formation of the cities. His significant description of the origins of the cities in its introduction, the two oldest cities in the world, in which he deals with Uruk and with ‘Habuba Kabirasud’, an imitation of the former, is worth introducing here because it is very suggestive when we think of those of money.
First of all, he selects the ten items from the arguments of urban revolution by V. G. Childe, from which he has taken the principles of his investigation of the formation of the cities:
1. large scale villages and the concentration of population
2. Specialists who don’t belong to the primary sector of industry: craftsmen, carriers, merchants, officials, priests, etc.)
3. Tax payment in kind from surplus products
4. Monuments like temples where surplus products gather
5. The ruling classes that engage exclusively in intellectual labor.
6. The system of recording in letters.
7. Calendar, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy
8. Artistic expressions
9. The acquisition of raw materials and Luxuries depending on long-distance trade
10. Craftsmen maintained by the ruling classes
Supported by Childe’s idea, Koizumi hypothesizes in his study of the process of the formation of the cities that the city can be said to form itself when city planning, administrative organs and a faculty of rites exist all together, defining an assemblage of people lacking all of the three as a general village and one having some of them as an urban village.
Whereas Uruk, the oldest city in the world, was born 5,300 years ago, urbanization dates back 2,000 more years before.
From among the general villages developing in the Ubaid period 7,000 years ago emerged villages that had begun to be urbanized. In the Uruk period, 6,000 years ago, some villages appeared that were mostly urban, leading to the birth of the cities in the second half of the period, 5,300 years ago. (ibid, 21)
The remains of those rituals that characterized the society in the Ubaid period show, he argues, no sign of class society. The culture of the Ubaid period ceased to exist abruptly, and the next period, Uruk, gave birth to the cities. His theory of this birth seems to be rather idiosyncratic.
In the second half of the urbanizing stages, changes were brought about by ‘strangers’ coming to the villages that held plenty of surplus food. (ibid, 22)
Instead of accepting an idea that a general or an urban village naturally formed itself into a city, he emphasizes that it was only when those who had lived along the coast, forced to move by the withdrawal of the coastline caused by the warming along with the climate change, began to live among its native people as ‘strangers’ in Uruk, which was itself an urban village already, that formed a city. Radical urbanization seems, he states, to have taken place, for it is confirmed that the developments of the town had been changing along with the migration of people that started in the end of the Ubaid period (about 6,200 years ago). (ibid, 70)
The transgression of the Persian Gulf brought about a submerged zone or caused the deterioration of the function of desalinization in the cultivated fields of the Mesopotamian lowlands spreading over the Sumerian districts, the local people abandoning the fields. As a result, those living in the alluvial low plain were compelled to migrate, turning into ‘strangers’ 6,000 years ago, and drawn into those villages full of surplus food. The movement of these people incited, it is supposed, radical urbanization to take place in some particular villages. (ibid, 74)
On top of the interpretation of the formation of the cities, he argues on duplicate cities. Let us move on to it, then. It was because silver mines were developed, he explains, that a duplicate city, ‘Habuba Kabirasud’ was built, at much the same time as the formation of a city-state in Uruk, on the upper reaches of the Euphrates, as far as 900 kilometers from Uruk. ‘Habuba Kabirasud’ was situated where easy access was given to the mine, and provided with a waterway through which to carry the products of silver to the city Uruk.
The importance of silver had become more remarkable in the Bronze Age, about 5,000 years ago. This can be confirmed by the fact that the words ‘the warehouse of silver’ were described on the board of clay that has been unearthed from the remains of Ur in the Sumerian district, and the products of silver, including unaccomplished ones, were put in storage in a temple of Tell Agrab remains. In the areas of Mesopotamia, urban villages had grown one after another into cities by the beginning of the Bronze Age, resulting in the rapid increase of governments in number to around 20 that could be called a city, which had conflicted with one another. Hence the city-states that claimed to control some realms of territory in their own right.
It has become known to us that, during those years, from 5,100 to 4,300 ago, when each of the city-states defended its own territory, the weight of silver, its value acknowledged, had become the standard when things were bartered. About 4,300 years ago, the city-states of Mesopotamia were united by the Akkadian dynasty. As city-states were united into the territorial state, the weight of silver, ‘shekel’, became fixed as a mesure in exchange, with ‘the silver ingot ring’, one of the oldest money in the world, used, even though not generally.
From my point of view, Habuba Kabirasud, in the second period of Uruk, was a city that was built deliberately for the development and transportation of silver. …… The historical process of ancient West Asia in which cities were born, city-states conflicted with one another, and they were united into the territorial state was, it may be argued, oriented by the encounter with silver. It was inseparably related to the life of the cities in ancient West Asia; to possess it meant to hold political power. _(ibid, 26)
Though theorists may hold various interpretations of how silver ingot rings were used, it appears that silver was used as a measure of value between communities and that it was valid as world money. Let us have a look on the trade courses around Mesopotamia in the period in which the cities were formed in Between Mesopotamia and Indus by Ken Goto (published in Japanese in 2015).
4. The trade courses in the period in which the cities were formed
(1) The outline of Goto’s theory
First, we’d like to confirm how the term millennium is used in archeology. Accurate dates are not known exactly about certain events in ancient history, and so historians divide the times by the unit of a thousand: 4th millennium B.C. means the times from 4000 to 3001 B.C., for example, and, therefore, the 21st century is described in this fashion as 3rd millennium.
Goto raises a question over the fact that the four ancient great civilizations have been studied separately and that almost no attention has been paid to other civilizations surrounding them or the trades between them.
The origins of ancient civilizations have been studied mostly in these aspects: the rapid growth of productivity through irrigation cultivation; the accumulation of surplus products made possible by the growth; the centralization of labor force that made the accumulation possible; and establishment of social and political hierarchy. Previous studies seem to have almost consistently explained the process of these civilizations being formed as historical events characteristic to the communities concerned. Nevertheless, they don’t provide us, it is felt to me, with sufficient explanations of why those civilizations, or urban societies, were inevitably raised in the areas concerned and of what the urban hierarchy was established for. (Ken Goto’s Between Mesopotamia and Indus, 12)
From this point of view, Goto tries to explain the networks of trading in the times of the cities being formed by studying the earthenware unearthed from the remains.
There is evidence that those materials that were produced in remote places and transported from there were seen in certain communities in Mesopotamia around when, or even shortly before, civilization was established. …… The fact that those products were brought from distant places, like products of copper, gold, and lapis lazuli, makes me feel sure that the origins of the mesopotamian civilization should be explained through its strong ties to the areas outside it. In order to grasp them, it will be necessary, indeed, to cover what was going on the areas outside it, including, not its vicinities, but more remote places. (ibid, 12–3)
As is well known, in the southern part of Mesopotamia, where only irrigation cultivation, livestock farming and clay were featured, wood, stone, base metals like copper and tin, or precious metals and jewelry that were necessary for rulers were not produced.
Most of the products in farming communities of Mesopotamia were food or clothes. In the southern part of it, in particular, no other things were produced. The reason why the city rulers accumulated larger amounts of agricultural products than were needed for their own families was perhaps because they used those products in exchange for those goods produced in distant places which they needed. It was perhaps with those who held the necessities for the city life and who needed the agricultural products that Mesopotamia could offer in return that Mesopotamians traded. I suppose this inference of ours is true because those who were civilized enough to negotiate with them — if savage, it was impossible, perhaps — must have brought goods from some remote areas. Among the oldest documents of Mesopotamia that have ever been known to us, we find the description of the necessities being brought from the Iranian Plateau and the places around Sinus Arabicus. It was these two areas which served to maintain the early Mesopotamian civilization as sources of those goods that were impossible to produce within the realm of Mesopotamia. (ibid, 13)
When he thus tries to explain how the trades was between these two areas and Mesopotamia, Goto views as civilized some villages that frequently traded with it.
Though fragmental, the descriptions in the documents clearly indicate that those who brought the necessities to Mesopotamia belonged in the areas outside it, and that, from the third millennium B.C. to the second and after, the rulers of Mesopotamia managed to keep themselves related to them, whether peacefully or in warfare, making expeditions to the areas for trading or plunder. They seem to have formed, in any case, rather highly organized communities that served to supplement Mesopotamian agricultural ones with continuous supply of the necessities, and did function, in fact, as carriers of the products from distant places, whether by land or by sea.
The Iranian Plateau, which is situated on the east of Mesopotamia, has been known as one of the most famous vast arid areas. Since the Stone Ages, it had lacked fields that were suitable for cultivation, though it held agricultural villages sporadically, and therefore, through almost all the periods after, it could hardly permit the large population to subsist, as Mesopotamia did. Local people there were engaged, nomadic or semi-nomadic, more preferably in livestock farming than in agriculture. In the east side of the Arabian Peninsula, the opposite shore of it, far less fields suitable for cultivation, people had been nomadic inland, whereas engaged in piscatory on the shore. (ibid, 14)
Acknowledging that we are informed of almost nothing about the ancient remains on the Iranian shore, whereas rather much about those on the Arabian side, Goto attempts to explain as a civilization the networks of trading between those villages and Mesopotamia. What matters most here is, I suppose, to show the kinds of products carried through the course of trading. Let us see copper, first.
The rulers of Mesopotamia took advantage of what the Iranian Plateau and the shore of the Arabia Peninsula had in common: theses areas provided them with the necessities that were not produced within their own realm and permitted those goods to reach out to those who needed them. …… Let us exhibit some things that Mesopotamians needed which were not produced within the realm, which they might have longed to obtain. First of all, metals. One of them was copper, a base metal that the human race used in its earliest stages. The veins of copper that are relatively near to Mesopotamia are distributed in the Iranian Plateau and in the Omani Peninsula. It is also produced in Anatolia (Turk at present, called Asia Minor, also) , Cyprus (a. k. a Alasia), which lies in the east of the Mediterranean Sea and the Sinai Peninsula, which connects Asia and Africa. It is estimated that one of these communities from which Mesopotamia had imported copper and its processed goods for the longest years since its earliest stages of civilization was that around Sinus Arabicus, while, on the other hand, other raw materials had come from the Omani Peninsula. (ibid, 15)
Thus, he concludes that copper had been carried from the Omani Peninsula in the earliest stages.
In ancient times, the course on land was, of course, unfavorable for transporting something heavy like copper, whether in ore or in processed goods; the copper produced in the Omani Peninsula was carried by sea into Sinus Arabicus, distributed to the cities situated in the most southern part of Mesopotamia, such as Ur, Eridu, or Uruk. (ibid, 16)
And, after around 2000 B.C., the development of the Euphrates enabled Mesopotamians to make use of the copper produced in Anatolia or Cyprus and of wood and stone, brought by sea to the mouth of the river. Let us see precious metals, such as gold and silver, and jewelry, next.
Precious metals, such as gold and silver, were carried over from the Iranian Plateau and from the farther east areas via Iran. And jewelry and precious stones were represented by lapis lazuli, agate, camelian, pearl, malachite, and ivory, the first two of which were brought to the southern part of Mesopotamia from Iran and its vicinities, and the last three of which from the places around Sinus Arabicus. (ibid, 16-7)
Goto contends that it is impossible to study the Mesopotamian civilization without regard to its relations to the areas around when examining the courses through which the products were traded which were necessary for urbanizing the southern part of Mesopotamia.
We have to see the rise and fall of the ancient civilizations developed, not just on the Iranian Plateau and Sinus Arabicus, but in Central Asia and the basin of the Indus, geographically far beyond them. (ibid, 17)
Now let us introduce his explanations further, as long as they are concerned with our challenge to the analysis of the historical formation of money.
(2) The courses around Sinus Arabicus — the fall of ‘Semi-Ubaid culture’ and Ubaid culture
According to Goto’s theory, people in the Ubaid period, which preceded the Uruk period, and in which the cities were formed, were engaged in trading, and therefore Ubaid ware has been discovered in the remains around Sinus Arabicus.
The culture of agriculture prospering in Mesopotamia on the eve of the formation of civilization is called Ubaid culture. It began around 6000 B.C., and irrigation technology was introduced to it in the fifth millennium B.C.. Through controlling the water of the Euphrates, owing to the technology, Mesopotamia began to enjoy higher productivity. Villages there developed to the extent that they turned to what could be called cities both in scale and in quality. Characteristic to this period of culture in Mesopotamia is Ubaid ware, which was made with a potter’s wheel, of inferior make without crests, or refined with ones.
Ubaid ware refined with crests made in Mesopotamia has been unearthed in the remains of the culture in the period of the New Stone Age, which exist along Sinus Arabicus. Let us call the culure semi-Ubaid culture and the remains semi-Ubaid remains. (ibid, 24-25)
“The total number of Semi-Ubaid remains”, so he calls, “is about fifty, as long as we reckon the ones that are known to us at present” (ibid, 50), and, on the other hand, “Ubaid culture in Mesopotamia already enjoyed the necessities, such as base and precious metals, jewelry, and precious stones, that produced in the remote places, and, therefore, some Ubaid people must have been engaged in providing Mesopotamians with those goods.” (ibid, 28)
Ubaid culture collapsed all of a sudden, however.
Ubaid communities in Mesopotamia dismantled all of a sudden around 4000 B.C., Uruk culture, which was different in quality than before, established itself soon after, although it has not yet been made clear whether or not a quite different people brought with it that culture. Around 3600 B.C., when the flourishing Uruk culture was just in the period of transition to the latter period, the earliest cities were formed: Uruk in the southern part of Mesopotamia; and Tepe Gawra in the northern part of it. The area of Uruk, the largest city, was 70 to 100 hectors, with quite a number of the second largest cities being formed mainly in the southern part. It had indeed taken a considerable length of time to prepare for it, but human race began to enjoy a new era, one of urban civilization.
It has been known to us that the products of metal were made use of in Uruk culture. While toward the end of the Ubaid period the products of copper and gold seem to have been used sometimes, those of copper, gold and silver were generally used in the Uruk period. With the rise of urban civilization, the transportation of the necessities from outside the realm, which had started in a smaller scale before, became more habitual and more organized. It was at the later stage of the Uruk period that the descriptions in the pictogram from Uruk, the oldest way of writing, were inaugurated. This stage of history is termed the original character-life in literature history. (ibid, 32)
Contrary to the people in the Ubaid period who were engaged in trading themselves, the Uruk people began to colonize the areas around, which is thought to have been the process in which an urban type of economic activity was prevailing among Mesopotamian urban villages since the cities had been formed in this period — a process which is known as an expansion of Uruk culture and which Guillermo Algaze describes as Uruk World System. Goto summarizes it thus:
First, (A) Uruk colonized the Elam district, one of the adjoining areas, attempting to maintain the courses of transporting the necessities. Next, (B) it began to colonize the upper reaches of the Tigris and the Euphrates, placing small-scale outposts. Furthermore, (C) developing the upper reaches of the Euphrates in particular, it placed large-scale colonial cities in which Uruk culture was prevalent. Lastly, (D) it placed outposts in northern Mesopotamia and southwestern Iran, attempting to procure the courses of transporting via the district. (ibid, 33)
This time, instead of observing the Uruk period, let us look into the courses of trading before the period.
(3) The courses of transporting via the Iranian Plateau
Goto tries to explain the courses of transporting via the Iranian Plateau, observing the excavations from the remains of Susa.
The remains of Susa is quite important for us. They are large-scale ones, lying on the hillside on the left bank of the Shaur River, running along the Karkheh River, where people resided from the fifth millennium B.C. to the thirteenth century A.D. (ibid, 38)
SusaⅠperiod ranges from the fifth to the fourth millennium B.C., which coincided with the Ubaid period of Mesopotamia.
The fact that lots of stamps have been unearthed from the remains of the second half of theⅠperiod, with their types diverse, suggests that there existed in the first half of the fourth millennium B.C. the central city in the Elam district that was in relationship to certain cities in other areas. (ibid, 39)
This kind of stamps is supposed to be used when a contract was made; they seem to have been used when a bag or a container, for instance, into which commodities in exchange were put was sealed with clay. Among those things that have been unearthed from the remains, in addition, are the products of copper metallurgy.
Copper metallurgy was inaugurated in the districts of both Elam (Susiane) and Fars districts in this period, and therefore southwestern Iran was culturally more advanced, it may be argued, than southern Mesopotamia, if seen simply in this respect. (ibid, 39)
SusaⅡperiod is “supposed to have ranged from 3500 to 3100 B.C., which coincided with the Uruk period in southern Mesopotamia” (ibid, 39). In this period, the earthenware produced in Susa had begun to take a Mesopotamian form, a feature that marked an expansion of Uruk culture, which we mentioned above.
The traces of Uruk culture having expanded in Susa in the Elam district, never seen in Sinus Arabicus, suggests that it was in Iran that the courses of transporting goods to the state of Uruk were first built. …… Geographical limitations of transporting goods from the Iranian Plateau to southern Mesopotamia inevitably required the courses via Susa. It was, therefore, believed to be a spot where the large amount of goods was brought together, no matter what people lived there in SusaⅡperiod. (ibid, 40)
During theⅡperiod, Susa was culturally dominated by Uruk, but it seems to have begun to diverge from Mesopotamia in cultural domains during the Ⅲ period (from 3100 to 2900 B.C.). The documents written in proto-Elamite scripts have been unearthed from the remains of this period of Susa, which coincided with the Jemdet Nasr period of Mesopotamia, that is, the second half of its proto-writing period. Goto explains these documents as follows:
The existence of these documents suggests that the days dawned on to Mesopotamia and the Iranian Plateau almost at the same time when things had to be recorded in letters. This was never of coincidence, of course.
Before the board of clay, bullae and accounting tokens, which are cubic tools for accounting and recording, are supposed to have been used both in Susa and in Mesopotamia. Bullae were hollow ball-like clay envelopes, so small that they may be seated on a palm, that contained other smaller tokens that identified the quantity and types of goods being recorded, with signs representing what was contained in them inscribed on their surface while still soft. Used as symbols for real things when contracts were made for trading goods, they are seen as an original form of the documents on clay boards. It has been well-known that pictographs were first inscribed on the clay boards and that soon after cuneiform characters began to be substituted for them. …… It is reported that decimal notation, which Mesopotamians never knew, was used in a measuring system described in some documents in the Proto-Elamite period. (ibid, 41)
This period is dated about one thousand years before the code of Hammurabi was edited. His hypothesis of the necessity of using letters stemming originally from contracts to be made when trading goods is worth trusting.
The geographical distributions of these documents in the Proto-Elamite period suggest that there existed networks of cities, with Susa at the center of them, over the Iranian Plateau around 3000 B.C. These networks we call Proto-Elamite civilization, the first urban civilization in the history of Iran, developing on the Plateau, which constituted the state of Iran, the contemporary counterpart of Mesopotamia in the Jemdet Nasr period. The networks may have stemmed from some parts of the ones within which Uruk strived after the goods from remote areas, namely, Uruk World System, and therefore have been so much influenced culturally by Uruk that urban civilization could be molded for the first time on the Plateau. Even more important, however, is the fact that it was, not of Mesopotamians, but of those living on the Iranian Plateau, whose native language was Proto-Elamite, that they were under control.
Yet it seems that, as early as during Susa Ⅲ B period, the power of Iranians over Susa became deteriorated. The cultural features of Susa were replaced by those of Mesopotamia; most of the earthenware used there was replaced by that which belonged to the type peculiar to Sumerian Early DynasticⅠPeriod, whereas the number of documents in Proto-Elamite decreased. This can be understandable if we assume that Proto-Elamite civilization was falling down in this period. (ibid, 42)
In summary, he shows that urbanization of the villages on the Iranian Plateau was completed through the networks around Susa of trading across the Plateau after the cities had been built in Uruk, while, on the other hand, the development of trading through urbanization stimulated the letters for recording things to proliferate.
(4) The courses along Sinus Arabicus afterwards — the Hafit period
As Goto states, contrary to Ubaid people, Mesopotamians were not used to trading by sea. The Mesopotamian ware has been unearthed, however, from Hafit Assemblage in the Omani Peninsula. He terms this prosperous period of the city that has left traces in this remains as the Hafit period, estimating that it ranged from 3100 to 2800 B.C. It matters, then, what kind of people the Hafit were. He conjectures as follows:
The style of pottery characteristic to the Aceramic Age for the Omani Peninsula seems to have begun to develop as southeastern Iranian traditions of making pottery were abruptly transplanted there toward the end of the fourth millennium B.C., most probably because Tepe Yahya, a proto-Elamite city-state, incorporated the peninsula into its territory, sending its people into the peninsula as immigrants. This meant, precisely, an attempt of colonization, the aim of which was to develop copper mines. Among those immigrants were included, it is estimated, mining engineers and pottery craftsmen, with the lesser number of peasants. (ibid, 58)
The shortest distance between the two lands that constitute the shores of the Arabian Sea must have allowed Iran to colonize the peninsula.
The rulers of Tepe Yahya colonized the Omani peninsula in order to develop copper mines, so that the peninsula and Sinus Arabicus became integrated into the vast economic areas within Mesopotamia and the Iranian Plateau, constituting in effect parts of Proto-Elamite civilization. For that matter, as it seems to have been almost impossible that they had known in advance exactly where such resources were buried in the peninsula lying across the sea from Iran, they must have dispatched there a certain kind of persons to search for them. So, they may have sent to other remote areas to carry out researches on underground resources. (ibid, 59)
Since, in ancient times, human beings that had been born for the first time in Africa and that had spread over the world must have been well prepared to emigrate, contrary to modern men who are confined within the national boundary, and therefore learned, having acquired la pensée sauvage, as Levi-Strauss called it, through observing and utilizing nature. After a mine had been discovered, it may have been quite easy for ancient people to detect other mines in places that showed similar geographical features.
This colonization by the rulers led to the development of sea routes. According to Goto’s explanation, those who were called Khaleeji were people engaged in trading that had originally been fishermen. He explains:
Those Iranians on the Plateau who were engaged in trading were, perhaps, familiar with ways of communicating with unknown people, like foreign languages and arithmetic, and with economic affairs those vast areas around. So, Arabian fishermen may have been transformed into early Khaleeji through cooperation or competition between them and the Iranians. (ibid, 63)
Goto explains how Umm al-Nar culture was developed, in which the trades around Sinus Arabicus were inaugurated.
What led Umm al-Nar culture, then, to enter into the stage of civilization? This question would be answered by explaining the conditions under which were the vast areas, including Iran and the valley of the Indus. Among others, the development of the sea routes within the Arabian Sea led them to connect with the networks of trading on land and the formation of Indus Valley civilization led to the development of a new sea route from within the Arabian Sea to the mouth of the Indus. (ibid, 111)
While regarding the Ubaid ware discovered in the remains of the villages that existed around 4500 B.C. along Sinus Arabicus, he concludes that the sea route was extended to the mouth of the Indus because the Omani peninsula was colonized, 1,500 years later, by the rulers of the cities in the Proto-Elamite period.
In the Omani peninsula, where providing other areas with copper products had been a traditional way of trading, was built Umm al-Nar civilization, in order to export to more distant places certain semi-products of that copper mined there. Thus, after the establishment of Indus Valley civilization, it actually became a joint of three civilizations or areas: Mesopotamia, Trans-Elam and Indus. (ibid, 139)
Thus, since the Ubaid period, which had existed long before urbanization, the courses of trading across the Iranian Plateau and along Sinus Arabicus had been formed, through which commodities were traded between communities, and the trades became more prosperous after urbanization.
Chapter 2 The Generation of World Money
(1) A working hypothesis
In his analysis of ancient Mesopotamian economy, Graeber seems to have ignored trades between city-states and between nomadic peoples and city-states. Silver transformed itself into world money, and was used within communities as money for account or measure of value. In city-states as well, which were established more than a thousand years later than world money had been formed, it was used as measure of value (or money for account). It doesn’t follow, therefore, that money for account was invented by bureaucrats of the city-states.
Graeber contends that money originated in the city-states of Mesopotamia from credit, being caught in a trap of that fantastic form of value which appears as real to our everyday senses, since the value forms transcend sensuousness. But, rather, it was because universal equivalents that had been formed through exchange of goods between those communities which had existed before the formation of city-states were fixed finally onto a precious metal and because this functioned as measure of value that money and the system of credit were able to be formed and to function in the city-states of Mesopotamia.
From the start, money emerged as world money, which was, not a symbol, namely, a product of human imagination, but a product of the development of commodity exchange between communities. This development working upon the communities and city-states of Mesopotamia, where markets were still undeveloped, world money began to function as measure of value, with the result that it was seen as a symbol. Because they were underdeveloped, the values of individual commodities were expressed as official prices by interstate standards. Conspicuous in the code of Hammurabi, on the other hand, is the incredibly large amount of money for compensations for damages. This suggests that these compensations may have played a larger role in economy than the real exchange of commodities. Graeber’s notion of money as an adjuster between the relations of people is, I suppose, not wrong in this respect.
(2) Marx’s theory of the origins of money
In Marx’s Capital, we see a passage as follows:
The exchange of commodities begins where communities have their boundaries, at their points of contact with other communities, or with members of the latter. However, as soon as products have become commodities in the external relations of a community, they also, by reaction, become commodities in the internal life of the community. Their quantitative exchange-relation is at first determined purely by chance. They become exchangeable through the mutual desire of their owners to alienate them. In the meantime, the need for others’ objects of utility gradually establishes itself. The constant repetition of exchange makes it a normal social process. In the course of time, therefore, at least some part of the products must be produced intentionally for the purpose of exchange. From that moment the distinction between the usefulness of things for direct consumption and their usefulness in exchange becomes firmly established. Their use-value becomes distinguished from their exchange-value. On the other hand, the quantitative proportion in which the things are exchangeable becomes dependent on their production itself. Custom fixes their values at definite magnitudes.
In the direct exchange of products, each commodity is a direct means of exchange to its owner, and an equivalent to those who do not possess it, although only in so far as it has use-value for them. At this stage, therefore, the articles exchanged do not acquire a value-form independent of their own use-value, or of the individual needs of the exchangers. The need for this form first develops with the increase in the number and variety of the commodities entering into the process of exchange. The problem and the means for its solution arise simultaneously. Commercial intercourse, in which the owners of commodities exchange and compare their articles with various other articles, never takes place unless different kinds of commodities belonging to different owners are exchanged for, and equated as values with, one single further kind of commodity. This further commodity, by becoming the equivalent of various other commodities, directly acquires the form of a universal or social equivalent, if only within narrow limits. The universal equivalent form comes and goes with the momentary social contacts which call it into existence. It is transiently attached to this or that commodity in alternation. But with the development of exchange it fixes itself firmly and exclusively onto particular kinds of commodity, i.e. it crystalizes out into the money-form. The particular kind of commodity to which it sticks is at first a matter of accident. Nevertheless there are two circumstances which are by and large decisive. The money-form comes to be attached either to the most important articles of exchange from outside, which are in fact the primitive and spontaneous forms of manifestation of the exchange-value of local products, or to the object of utility which forms the chief element of indigenous alienable wealth, for example cattle. Nomadic peoples are the first to develop the money-form, because all their worldly possessions are in a movable and therefore directly alienable form, and because their mode of life, by continually bringing them into contact with foreign communities, encourages the exchange of products. Men have often made man himself into the primitive material of money, in the shape of the slave, but they have never done this with the land and soil. Such an idea could only arise in a bourgeois society, and one which was already well developed. (Penguin edition, 102-5)
Even though it may be based on the anthropological knowledge prevalent before cuneiform was deciphered, this seems to be appropriate for the trades in Mesopotamia in the period of pre-urbanization. This I will investigate further from now onward.
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