The origins of business as we know it are deep as is the regulation that always surrounded business (though in successful societies never smothered it as it is beginning to do today). Two short extracts from Realpolitik, where the topic is covered in more depth on the ancient history of business and the jelly mould – regulation (today internal = Board, external = zillion regulators) – that shapes it.

“The earliest surviving written records of any sort are cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia ~3200BC by which time civilisations had demonstrably existed in that area for some two thousand years. Tablets were predominantly used for record keeping and the earliest records are, amazingly enough, about business transactions.15 We have an astonishing archive of 23,000 records from Old Assyria some four thousand years ago which show that much of what you use today as business elements existed then: merchants, contracts, markets, marketplaces, monetary exchange, money-lenders, return on capital, business law and regulation, jointly-owned business structures and partnerships. Indeed, with the exception of The Company and so-called Limited Liability, in terms of business pretty much everything existed long before records began…”


Starting with our oldest records in Mesopotamian much of what we might call regulation is contained within Hammurabi’s law code. A simple example of  ancient regulation – in this context laws covering business – would be weights and measures. These developed in early Mesopotamia and spread when rulers imposed them on conquered territory.

One type of regulation is economic – price controls:

221. If a physician set a broken bone for a man or cure his diseased bowels, the patient shall give five shekels of silver to the physician.

228. If a builder build a house for a man and complete it, (that man) shall give him two shekels of silver per SAR of house as his wage.

 239. If a man hire a boatman, he shall give him 6 gur of grainper year.

Another type of regulation is quality control – standards and penalties. Note the simplicity and clarity of the regulations:

108. If a wine-seller do not receive grain as the price of drink, but if she receive money by the great stone, or make the measure for drink smaller than the measure for corn, they shall call that wine seller to account, and they shall throw her into the water.

 233. If a builder build a house for a man and do not make its construction meet the requirements and a wall fall in, that builder shall strengthen that wall at his own expense.

 229. If a builder build a house for a man and do not make its construction firm, and the house which he has built collapse and cause the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death.

 Groups of businesses had “self-regulation” overseen by a State official. Over time the Old Assyrian merchant colony, the karum, came to have a degree of self-government led by an official known as wakil tamkari, the overseer of the merchants. This notion of “a community that retained a separate identity and had a degree of self-government” continued in one form or another, one country or another, eventually morphing into Medieval Guilds. Guilds were a community “with a degree of self-government” which oversaw (ie regulated) a trade or craft. Guilds morphed in turn into the V1 [Chartered] Company whose self-government (sic) led to our Boards today and was defined in their charter which in turn evolved into the V2’s [19thC “Company Law Company’s”] Articles of Association. V1 Companies, ChartCos, had a close tie to the State, if only because in their early days the Monarch was a Supreme Ruler and in later times Parliament. So we can say that from 1550–1844 (the creation of CoLawCo V2.0 and Companies House) ChartCos had “self-regulation” (their internal government had “Lawes” and governance procedures) overseen by the State qua Monarch or Parliament. Fast-forward to today and we see that whilst Companies still have parameters set by the State – in essence rules of the game – and a degree of self-government, the imposed rules are vast and there is not one wakil tamkari but 700 of them in this country alone before we start considering European and Global regulation.”