Babylonian Sources Of Exotic Raw Materials

Authored by: D. T. Potts

The Babylonian World

Print publication date:  August  2007
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415353465
eBook ISBN: 9780203946237
Adobe ISBN: 9781134261284


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‘Belonging to another country, foreign, alien ’. This is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines exotic. It is interesting to n ote th at the intrinsic worth of an object or resource plays no role in determining whether or not it is exotic. This is particularly apt in the case of ancient Babylonia since, for the most part, the goods we think of as exotic were not necessarily valuable, either in a financial sense (something of an oxymoron in discussing a pre-monetary economy) or in a functional sense (as in the case of something which was essential to a particular industry, timber being perhaps the most obvious exception). Rather, for the most part, the exotics which were imported played a symbolic role, imbuing their owner — whether a deity’s cult image in a temple, a merchant, or a member of a royal household — with a set of attributes capable of conveying messages to any discerning observers. The colour of a semi-precious stone, its religious aura and associations with specific deities; the distance travelled by a material; the hardships involved in its procurement; the status of the bearer — these and other overtones were undoubtedly heard and understood by those who witnessed the conspicuous display of materials which came to Mesopotamia from, in many cases, great distances.

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