Discussion paper

DP12408 Trade, Merchants and Lost Cities of the Bronze Age

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. Confronting our structural estimates for ancient city sizes to
modern data on population, income, and regional trade, we document persistent patterns in the
distribution of city sizes across four millennia, even after controlling for time-invariant geographic
attributes such as agricultural suitability. Finally, 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.


Cosar, K, T Chaney and A Hortacsu (2017), ‘DP12408 Trade, Merchants and Lost Cities of the Bronze Age‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 12408. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp12408