Mesopotamia exerted economic and political power over central Anatolia before the arrival of the Assyrians. During the third millennium BC the Arkadian King Sargon from Mesopotamia advanced into the heart of Anatolia to protect merchants from his country.

The beginning of the second millennium was a prosperous time for Anatolia. The Assyrians had learned of this region's riches and subsequently established trade centers called karums, meaning "port" or administrative center. Eventually at least thirteen karums were established as part of the Assyrians' extensive network of commercial activities, which spread from the Aegean Sea to the Indus valley. Trade between the people of Anatolia and the Assyrian merchants continued for about 150 years. The "Cappadocian tablets" reveal that the Assyrians were experienced traders who maintained daily business correspondence with their capital, Asur. Other documents such as trade agreements, receipts, wills, and marriage contracts were also found among the clay tablets.
Kultepe, known in ancient times as Kanesh, was the most important karum. Before the karum was fully developed houses identical in plan to those later built in the karum were built on the eastern edges of Kanesh.

The karum was a separate town outside and below the walled city itself, which overlooked it from its hilltop site. Two archaeological levels (Kanesh karum I b and II) have been found in this densely occupied site. They have been subjected to close scientific examination, with the result that the architecture, materials and fittings of these houses are known in detail. The second level of the karum covered a wide area and consisted of building complexes closely spaced together.