Kerem Coşar: Trade, Merchants, and the Lost Cities of the Bronze Age

CosarMarch 27
Monroe 120

We analyze a large dataset of commercial records produced by Assyrian merchants in the 19th Century BCE. Using the information collected from these records, we estimate a structural gravity model of long-distance trade in the Bronze Age. We use our structural gravity model to locate lost ancient cities. In many instances, our structural estimates confirm the conjectures of historians who follow different methodologies. In some instances, our estimates confirm one conjecture against others. Having structurally estimated ancient city sizes, we offer evidence in support of the hypothesis that large cities tend to emerge at the intersections of natural transport routes, as dictated by topography. We also document persistent patterns in the distribution of city sizes across four millennia, find a distance elasticity of trade in the Bronze Age close to modern estimates, and show suggestive evidence that the distribution of ancient city sizes, inferred from trade data, is well approximated by Zipf’s law.
Kerem Cosar is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia and a research affiliate of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and CESifo. He received his PhD at Penn State. His research focuses on international trade, economic geography and industrial organization.