What Diplomacy in the Ancient Near East Can Tell Us About Blockchain Technology
A blockchain is an institutional technology—a protocol—that allows for economic coordination between agents separated by boundaries of possible mistrust. Blockchains are not the only technology in history to have these characteristics. The paper looks at the role of the diplomatic protocol at the very beginning of human civilisation in the ancient near east. These two protocols—diplomatic and blockchain—have significant similarities. They were created to address to similar economic problems using similar mechanisms: a permanent record of past dealings, public and ritualistic verification of transactions, and game-theoretic mechanisms of reciprocity. The development of the diplomatic protocol allowed for the creation of the first international community and facilitated patterns of peaceful trade and exchange. Some questions about a generalised ‘protocol economics’ are drawn.
Alster, B. “A note on the Uriah Letter in the Sumarian Sargon Legend” Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie 77 169-73 (1987) https://doi.org/10.1515/zava.19220.127.116.11
Altman, A. “The Role of the ‘Historical Prologue’ in the Hittite Vassal Treaties: An Early Experiment in Securing Treaty Compliance”, Journal of the History of International Law 6.1 43-63 (2004) https://doi.org/10.1163/157180504773805838
Aste, T. "The Fair Cost of Bitcoin Proof of Work," SSRN (27 June 2016) https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2801048
Beckman, G. Hittite Diplomatic Texts. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press. (1999)
Berg, C., Davidson, S., Potts, J. “Blockchains industrialise trust,” SSRN (21 November 2017) https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3074070
Berg, C., Davidson, S., Potts, J. “Institutional Cryptoeconomics: A New Model for a New Century”, CoinDesk (16 September 2017) https://www.coindesk.com/institutional-cryptoeconomics/
Berg, C., Davidson, S., Potts, J. “The Blockchain Econmoy: a beginner’s guide to institutional cryptoeconomics,” Medium (27 September 2017) https://medium.com/@cryptoeconomics/the-blockchain-economy-a-beginners-guide-to-institutional-cryptoeconomics-64bf2f2beec4
Berg, C., Davidson, S., Potts, J. “The Institutional Economics of Identity” 16 SSRN (16 November 2017) https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3072823
Berg, C., Davidson, S., Potts, J. “What is a token?” Presentation at Crypto Economics Security Conference, Blockchain at Berkeley (2 October 2017) http://files.ozblogistan.com.au/sites/4/2017/10/03101044/What-is-a-token.pptx
Biggs, R. D. "Ebla Texts," in Freedman D. N. (Ed.) Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday 263-270 (1992)
Bliege Bird, R., Smith, E. A. “Signaling theory, strategic interaction, and symbolic capital,” Current Anthropology 46.2 222-248 (2005)
Buterin, V. “A Proof of Stake Design Philosophy” Medium (31 December 2016) https://medium.com/@VitalikButerin/a-proof-of-stake-design-philosophy-506585978d51
Catalini, C., Gans, J. S. "Some Simple Economics of the Blockchain" Rotman School of Management Working Paper No. 2874598 (2016) https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2874598
Coase, R. “The nature of the firm” Economica 4.16 386–405 (1937)
Coase, R. “The problem of social cost” Journal of Law and Economics 3 1–44 (1960)
Cohen, R. "All in the Family: Ancient near Eastern Diplomacy," International Negotiation 1.1 11–28 (1996) https://dx.doi.org/10.1086/508575
Cohen, S. Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (PhD thesis). University of Pennsylvania 38-39 (1974)
Cooper, J. S., Heimpel, W. "The Sumerian Sargon Legend," Journal of the American Oriental Society 103.1 67-82 (1983) https://doi.org/10.2307/601860
Costello, S. K., “Image, Memory and Ritual: Re-viewing the Antecedents of Writing,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 21.2 247-62 (2011)
Davidson, S., de Filippi, P., Potts, J. "Blockchains and the Economic Institutions of Capitalism" Journal of Institutional Economics (forthcoming)
Djankov, S., Glaeser, E., La Porta, R., Lopez-de-Silanes, F., Shleifer, A. “The New Comparative Economics,” Journal of Comparative Economics 31.4 595-619 (2003) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jce.2003.08.005
Foster, B. R. "Water under the Straw: Peace in Mesopotamia," in K. A. Raaflaub (Ed.) War and Peace in the Ancient World. Maldon, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing 66-80 (2007)
Güner, S., Druckman, D. "Identification of a Princess under Incomplete Information: An Amarna Story," Theory and Decision 48.4 383–407 (2000) https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005205315505
Iannaccone, L. R. “Sacrifice and Stigma: Reducing Free-riding in Cults, Communes, and Other Collectives,” Journal of Political Economy 100.2 271-291 (1992)
Jönsson, C. “Diplomatic Signaling in the Amarna Letters,” in R. Cohen, R. Westbrook (Eds.) Amarna Diplomacy: The Beginnings of International Relations Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press 191-204 (2000)
Jönsson, C., Hall, M. Essence of Diplomacy. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan (2005)
Kavanagh, D., Miscione, G. “Bitcoin and the Blockchain: A coup d’état in Digital Heterotopia?” in Critical Management Studies Conference. Leicester (2015) https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2624922
Kertzer, D. I. Ritual, Politics, and Power. New Haven and London: Yale University Press (1988)
Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. C. "To Write or Not to Write" in T. Potts, M. Roaf, D. Stein (Eds.) Culture through Objects: Ancient Near Eastern studies in honour of P. R. S. Moorey. Oxford: Griffith Institute, 59–75 (2003)
Liverani, M. International Relations in the Ancient near East, 1600-1100 BC. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan 124 (2001)
Matthews, R. “Writing (and Reading) as Material Practice: The world of cuneiform culture as an arena for investigation,” in K. E. Piquette, R. D. Whitehouse (Eds.) Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium London: Ubiquity Press 65-74 (2013)
Michalowski, P. "Sumerian Literature: An Overview," in J. Sasson (Ed.) Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. New York: Scribner 2284-85 (1995)
Michalowski, P., Reiner, E. Letters from Early Mesopotamia. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press (1993)
Morris, E. F. "Bowing and Scraping in the Ancient near East: An Investigation into Obsequiousness in the Amarna Letters," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 65.3 179-196 (2006)
Morris, E. F. "Bowing and Scraping in the Ancient near East: An Investigation into Obsequiousness in the Amarna Letters." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 65.3 179-196 (2006) https://doi.org/10.1086/508575
Pilkington, M. "Blockchain Technology: Principles and Applications," in F. Olleros and M. Zhegu (Eds.) Research Handbook on Digital Transformations. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar 225–253 (2015) https://dx.doi.org/10.4337/9781784717766.00019
Podany, A. H. Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient near East. New York: Oxford University Press 26-28 (2010)
Podany, A. H. “Preventing Rebellion Through the Creation of Symbolic Ties of Kinship,” in S. Richardson (Ed.) Rebellions and Peripheries in the Cuneiform World. Connecticut: American Oriental Society 47-74 (2010)
Reijers, W., O'Brolcháin, F., Haynes, P. “Governance in Blockchain Technologies & Social Contract Theories”, Ledger 1 134−151 (2016) https://dx.doi.org/10.5195/LEDGER.2016.62
Shea, W. H. "The Form and Significance of the Eblaite Letter to Hamazi," Oriens Antiquus 23 143-158 (1984)
Sosis, R. “Why aren’t we all Hutterites? Costly signaling theory and religious behavior,” Human Nature 14.2 91-127 (2003)
Williamson, O. The Economic Institutions of Capitalism. New York: Free Press (1985)
Williamson, O. “Transaction cost economics: the governance of contractual relations” Journal of Law and Economics 22.2 233–61 (1979)
Yermack, D. "Corporate Governance and Blockchains," Review of Finance 21.1 7–31 (2017) https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/rof/rfw074
Zaccagnini, C. "Ideological and Procedural Paradigms in Ancient near Eastern Long Distance Exchanges: The Case of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta," Altorientalische Forschungen 20.1 34-42 (1993) https://doi.org/10.1524/aofo.1918.104.22.168
Copyright (c) 2017 Chris Berg
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- The Author retains copyright in the Work, where the term “Work” shall include all digital objects that may result in subsequent electronic publication or distribution.
- Upon acceptance of the Work, the author shall grant to the Publisher the right of first publication of the Work.
- The Author shall grant to the Publisher and its agents the nonexclusive perpetual right and license to publish, archive, and make accessible the Work in whole or in part in all forms of media now or hereafter known under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License or its equivalent, which, for the avoidance of doubt, allows others to copy, distribute, and transmit the Work under the following conditions:
- Attribution—other users must attribute the Work in the manner specified by the author as indicated on the journal Web site;
- The Author is able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the nonexclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the Work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), as long as there is provided in the document an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post online a prepublication manuscript (but not the Publisher’s final formatted PDF version of the Work) in institutional repositories or on their Websites prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work. Any such posting made before acceptance and publication of the Work shall be updated upon publication to include a reference to the Publisher-assigned DOI (Digital Object Identifier) and a link to the online abstract for the final published Work in the Journal.
- Upon Publisher’s request, the Author agrees to furnish promptly to Publisher, at the Author’s own expense, written evidence of the permissions, licenses, and consents for use of third-party material included within the Work, except as determined by Publisher to be covered by the principles of Fair Use.
- The Author represents and warrants that:
- the Work is the Author’s original work;
- the Author has not transferred, and will not transfer, exclusive rights in the Work to any third party;
- the Work is not pending review or under consideration by another publisher;
- the Work has not previously been published;
- the Work contains no misrepresentation or infringement of the Work or property of other authors or third parties; and
- the Work contains no libel, invasion of privacy, or other unlawful matter.
- The Author agrees to indemnify and hold Publisher harmless from Author’s breach of the representations and warranties contained in Paragraph 6 above, as well as any claim or proceeding relating to Publisher’s use and publication of any content contained in the Work, including third-party content.
- The Author agrees to digitally sign the Publisher’s final formatted PDF version of the Work.
Revised 7/16/2018. Revision Description: Removed outdated link.