Oldest Start-up? First Company in Anatolia Founded 4000 Years Ago

In the venerable expanse of Kültepe, a remarkable revelation has illuminated the primordial genesis of trade in Anatolia. A cuneiform tablet, dating back four millennia, has unveiled that the region’s inaugural enterprise was established by a consortium of twelve associates with an initial endowment of 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of gold. This momentous discovery provides an exhaustive chronicle of nascent commercial endeavors and the intricate economic system fashioned by the Assyrian mercantile colonies.

Situated a mere 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the modern metropolis of Kayseri in contemporary Turkey, Kültepe, also known as Kanesh, was a pivotal nexus of commerce during the Assyrian epoch. Over seven decades of excavations in this ancient city have yielded more than 20,000 cuneiform tablets, offering a rich repository of information about the commercial life of the era.

Unveiling Kültepe’s Commercial Genesis

Professor Dr. Fikri Kulakoğlu, the principal excavator at Kültepe, underscores the significance of these tablets in deciphering the economic and societal intricacies of the period, as reported by Anatolian Archaeology. The tablets, predominantly centered on commercial exchanges, meticulously document everything from caravan expenses to intricate debt and credit relationships, underscoring Kültepe’s eminence as a bustling trade hub.

This similar 4,000-year-old cuneiform clay tablet found in Kültepe, records a caravan account. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Additional novel inscriptions translated from the Kültepe cuneiform trove include the earliest known diagnosis of infertility and discourses on women’s rights.

The unearthing of the tablet delineating Anatolia’s first company is especially remarkable. It reveals that the enterprise, initiated with 15 kilograms of gold, comprised twelve partners who contributed varying quantities of gold. The operations were administered by a merchant named Amur Ishtar, who stewarded the capital for twelve years, with profits apportioned such that one-third was distributed among the partners.

The Intricacies of Primeval Business Practices

A salient feature of the company’s operations, as divulged by the tablet, is the meticulous record-keeping and legal structures in place. All transactions were sealed and documented in the presence of witnesses, ensuring transparency and accountability. The company’s deed delineated terms for capital withdrawal, stipulating that any partner wishing to withdraw their share before the conclusion of the twelve-year term would receive silver instead of gold, incurring a loss. This clause was presumably instituted to ensure the company’s capital stability and longevity.

“These tablets date to the period following the 1950s BC, which marks the advent of writing in Anatolia,” elucidated Professor Kulakoğlu.

“This is, unequivocally, the first proclamation of a company in Anatolia, essentially a corporate deed. It appears here for the first time in Anatolia.”

A Window into Early Anatolian Commerce

The establishment of the first company in Kültepe not only underscores the sophisticated level of economic organization achieved by the Assyrian trade colonies but also accentuates Kültepe’s strategic significance as a commercial hub. The city’s location rendered it a crucial center for trade routes, facilitating the interchange of goods, culture, and ideas among various civilizations.

The comprehensive records unearthed in Kültepe provide a rare window into the economic practices and legal frameworks of ancient Anatolian society. They reveal a community that esteemed structured commerce, legal accountability, and intricate financial transactions. These insights significantly enrich our understanding of early economic history and the evolution of commercial enterprises.

The revelation of Anatolia’s first company, founded 4000 years ago in Kültepe with a capital of 15 kilograms of gold, offers a captivating glimpse into the origins of business and commerce in the region. The meticulous records preserved on cuneiform tablets not only document the economic activities of the time but also highlight the advanced level of organization and legal frameworks that underpinned ancient trade practices.

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