What Diplomacy in the Ancient Near East Can Tell Us About the Blockchain

Working paper by Chris Berg

Abstract: In the new institutional economics of the blockchain, the blockchain is an institutional technology – a protocol – to coordinate exchange between groups that may have different technological and institutional capacities. Blockchain is not the only technology in history to have these characteristics. This paper looks at the role of the diplomatic protocol at the very beginning of human civilisation in the ancient near east. The 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.

Available at SSRN.