“Trade, Merchants, and the Lost Cities of the Bronze Age” by Dr. Kerem Cosar
Dr. Kerem Cosar
Department of Economics
University of Virginia
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 ravity 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.