1. This has been so since ancient times, partly due to the geology of the area, which is mostly limestone and sandstone, with few deposits of metallic ore and other useful materials Ancient demands for obsidian (a black volcanic rock useful for making mirrors and tools) led to trade with Armenia to the north, while jade for cutting tools was broughtfrom Turkistan, and the precious stone lapis lazuli was imported from Afghanistan.
2. Records show merchant caravans and trading posts set up by the Sumerians in the surrounding mountains and deserts of Persia and Arabia, where they traded grain for raw materials, such as timber and stones, as well as for metals and gems.
3. In these shops differences of rank were blurred as artisans and masters labored side by side in the same modest establishment, were usually members of the same guild and religious sect, lived in the same neighborhoods, and often had assumed (or real) kinshiprelationships.
4. The growth of independent guilds was furthered by the fact that surplus was not a result of domestic craft production but resulted primarily from international trading; the government left working people to govern themselves, much as shepherds of tribal confederacies were left alone by their leaders.
5. In the multiplicity of small-scale local egalitarian or quasi-egalitarian organizations for fellowship, worship, and production that flourished in this laissez-faire environment, individuals could interact with one another within a community of harmony and ideological equality, following their own popularly elected leaders and governing themselves by shared consensus while minimizing distinctions of wealth and power.
6. As among tribespeople, personal relationships and a careful weighing of character have always been crucial in a mercantile economy with little regulation, where one's word is one's bond and where informal ties of trust cement together an international trade network.
7. Nor have merchants and artisans ever had much tolerance for aristocratic professions of moral superiority, favoring instead an egalitarian ethic of the open market, where steady hard work, the loyalty of one's fellows, and ntrepreneurial skill make all the difference.
8. The central state, though often very rich and very populous, was intrinsically fragile, since the development of new international trade routes could undermine the monetarybase and erode state power, as occurred when European seafarers circumvented Middle Eastern merchants after Vasco da Gama's voyage around Africa in the late fifteenth century opened up a southern route.