Why This 5000 Years Old Payslip Will Leave You Astonished? | Mesopotamia

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Welcome to another interesting episode of History and Mythology. In this blog, we are going to see the oldest payslip ever given to any employee by his employer and amazingly it is more than 5000 years old.

Have you ever thought that how people were compensated for their work in ancient times before the invention of currency? What was the ancient payroll system?

Many of you will think that they exchanged things for things with each other. This was the case in the stone age but you will be surprised by knowing the fact that people were using our beloved Beer for paying the compensation in ancient Mesopotamia five millennia ago.


As a Sumerian being progressed in agriculture during the period 8,000–7,500 BCE, Sumerian agriculturalists needed a method for keeping records of their animals and objects. For this, small tokens of clay were constructed and shaped by palms to represent certain animals and objects.


Dawn of Clay Tablet

As the clay tokens and bulla became difficult to store and handle, impressing the tokens on clay tablets became increasingly popular. Clay tablets were easier to store, neater to write on. Impressing the tokens on clay tablets was more efficient.

By using a stylus to record the impression on the clay tablet was more efficient and much faster. They could record more information than clay tokens. For instance, clay tablets could record not only “how many” but also “where, when, and how.” As a result, clay tokens and the Bullae became less favorable.

Fascinate about Sumerian Clay Tablets? Read These Clay Tablets

Oldest Payslip

Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, boasts a lasting legacy that relates to many of humanity’s ‘firsts’ and there are ample records that support this and among them pertains this Sumerian payslip a 5,000-year-old artifact originally belong from the city of Uruk (in modern-day Iraq).

Height: 9.40 cmThickness: 2.30 cmWidth: 6.87 cm

When clay tablet was in use at that time they were used like we use paper. People were using them to write each and everything whether it is record, poetry, shopping list. A few of the clay tablet covered by me in different articles are:

Inscribed with the ancient language of cuneiform, this oldest payslip dating from around 3300 BC which makes it the oldest payslip in the world, depicts a human head eating from a bowl and drinking from a conical vessel.

The bowl represents ‘ration’, while the conical glass alludes to the consumption of beer and more than just this human face, this ancient payslip also marked with scratches that basically record the quantity of beer assigned to each worker.

This ancient Mesopotamian artifact is the world’s oldest known payslip also explains, how the hierarchical system of workers and employers existed even five millenniums ago and they were possibly connected by the exchange of beer.

In other words, given the absence of a full-fledged currency system, the employers opted for ingenious methods of ‘paying’ their workers. And one of them was assigned the much-loved beverage of beer.

And even beyond Mesopotamia, the concept (and system) of paying beer to workers was also prevalent in ancient Egypt, circa 25th century BC. For example, around a total of 4-5 liters of beer were assigned daily to the laborers working on the Great Pyramid.


They were the first who started keeping written records and you won’t believe they recorded everything like, shopping lists, Administrative records, mathematical and medical records. While they were keeping all the records then there should not be any surprise if we find payslip or compensation record.

The most interesting part is, all-time favorite beverage Beer was the official method to pay the employees but a few one very interesting question still boggles my mind like, who negotiated this number of beer as payment for the employee? Was there any possibility of negotiation? Or it was just a hard and fast rule.

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