By 3000 BC the Sumerians were engaged in commerce with distant neighbors as far away as India and Ethiopia. They exported their abundant agricultural produce and imported those things not available in Sumer such as gold and precious metals, jewels, stone and wood.
Many scholars think that the Sumerian economy was not free and was dominated and controlled by the temple (1016). But Kramer disagrees with this view and points out that the ordinary citizen was free to engage in trade, and feels that there was an active commerce with surrounding cities and nations.
Kramer writes: "By the third millenium B.C., there is good reason to believe that Sumerian culture and civilization had penetrated, at least to some extent, as far east as India and as far west as the Mediterranean, as far south as ancient Ethiopia and as far north as the Caspian (93). Sumerian influence, particularly at the religious and spiritual level, reached out for thousands of miles and in all directions (3611)."
"The Sumerians had accumulated no little information concerning foreign lands and alien peoples. Sumerian merchants roving far and wide by land and sea brought back with them reports of the strange places they visited and of the folk that inhabited them. So, too, no doubt, did the soldiers returning from successful military expeditions. Within the Sumerian cities themselves, there were considerable numbers of foreigners: soldiers captured in battle and brought back as slaves as well as freemen who had come to settle in the city for one reason or another. All in all, therefore, the Sumerian courtiers, administrators, priests, and teachers had considerable knowledge of foreign countries: their geographic location and physical features, their economic resources and political organization, their religious beliefs and practices, their social customs and moral tenets (3612)."
"Traveling merchants carried on a thriving trade from city to city and with surrounding states by land and sea ... The more industrious of the artisans and craftsmen sold their handmade products in the free town market, receiving payment either in kind or in 'money' (1012)."
Sumerian bards and poets sang of the metals and stones of "Aratta, a far off city state probably situated ... near the Caspian Sea (342). The imports from [a land called] Dilmun consisted of gold, copper and copper utensils, lapis lazuli, tables inlaid with ivory, "fisheyes" (perhaps pearls), ivory and ivory objects (combs, breastplates, and boxes as well as human and animal shaped figurines and end pieces for furniture), beads of semiprecious stones, dates, and onions (3601)."
"The animal commonly used for [transporting this commerce] was the donkey; the horse was apparently known in late Sumerian days but was never used extensively (1428)."