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Some transaction references

This page lists a number of references to transactions of various kinds in the second millennium, in order to illustrate some typical points. These shed light on the account in Genesis 23 of Abraham negotiating with Ephron for a field, as well as other Old Testament passages. None of the quotations is intended to "prove" a specific point on their own - they are included to help build up a picture of how the ancient near east carried out trading and other negotiations in a time when value was assessed by equivalent weight of precious metals, well before coinage was invented.


  1. Dates of the references
  2. Texts from the Mari archive
  3. Texts from Ugarit
  4. Extracts from the Amarna letters

Dates of the references

The various references below may approximately be dated as follows, in both the conventional and New Chronology.

Transaction reference dates

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The Ur-nammu lawcode

If a man divorces his primary wife, he must pay (her) one mina of silver. If it is a (former) widow (whom) he divorces, he must pay (her) one-half mina of silver.

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The Lipit-Ishtar lawcode

If a man cut down a tree in the garden of (another) man, he shall pay one-half mina of silver.

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The Eshnunna lawcode

The wages of a hired man are 1 shekel of silver; his provender is 1 pan of barley. He shall work for one month.

If a man gives silver (as a loan) at face value, he shall receive the silver and its interest, one sixth (of a shekel) and [6 grain] per shekel.

If a man is hard up and sells his house, the owner of the house shall (be entitled to) redeem (it) whenever the purchaser (re)sells it.

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Texts from Mari

Ishbi-Erra to Ibbi-Suen about the purchase of grain
Say to Ibbi-Suen, my lord: this is what Icbi-Erra, your servant, says: You ordered me to travel to Isin and Kazallu to purchase grain. With grain reaching the exchange rate of one shekel of silver per gur, 20 talents of silver have been invested for the purchase of grain.

The king of Qatna to Ishmi-Dagan about the purchase of grain
Ishmi-Dagan was the successor of Shamshi-Adad of Assyria, and the older brother of Yasma'-Addu of Mari
The prices of these horses over here by us in Qatna was 600 shekels of silver, yet you sent me 20 minas of tin...

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Texts from Ugarit

From an unknown author
Note how the addition of interest on the loan between the two is disapproved by the sender
Speak to Muarihu the commissioner ... "He has acquired your servants from the hands of Hehea the Egyptian for 400 shekels of silver, but there are 140 shekels of my own money which are outstanding..." ... do not put interest (on a loan) between us. We are each of gentlemen.

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Extracts from the Amarna letters

RA31, Amenhotep III to Milkilu prince of Gezer
Deben (and the subdivision of 1 deben into 10 kidet) were used as a weight standard in Egypt. Pharaoh tallies the goods he is sending in deben. It is debatable whether the concubine price was intended to be quoted in shekels or kidet, though the former is preferred by the translators
Behold, I am sending you Hanya ... [a list of various goods] ... totalling 160 deben. Total: 40 concubines: the price of each concubine is 40 (shekels) of silver...

EA292, Ba'lu-shipti to Pharaoh
Ba'lu-shipti of Gezer, successor of Milkilu, is complaining to Akhenaten about the extortionate demands of Peya
From the mountains people are ransomed for 30 (shekels) of silver, but from Peya for 100 (shekels) of silver...