Posts Tagged ‘Akkadians’


By 2300 BCE, Sargon’s Empire stretched from the Eastern Mediterranean (modern day Lebanon, Syria and south-east Turkey) through the fertile crescent to Sumer and the Persian Gulf. We know little about the reigns of Rimush, who reigned for 8 years and his brother Manishtushu whose reign lasted 14 years. It is recorded that the difficulties of the later years of Sargon continued after his death. Rimush was assassinated by one of his courtiers and  there is one record that Manishtushu fought a sea battle against the fleets of 32 Kings. It is thought this naval encounter may have been in the Persian Gulf against Arab Kings. Like his brother he was assassinated in a palace coup. Naram-Sin, the son of Manishtushu, succeded to the throne in 2254. His name means ‘ the beloved of Sin’, the Akkadian Moon God. Like his grandfather, he also collected titles including King of Kings; King of the four quarters or corners of the universe and he who will be deified to join the gods. Unlike his predecessors who had been regarded as agents of the Gods, Naram-Sim was actually addressed as ‘ the God of Agade’.  During his reign he invaded Elam, on the eastern side of the Persian Gulf, central Turkey and pushed South into the Levant. But this was not just a period of conquest, it was also a period of growing administration. From this time we have the first records of tax, mostly levied against conquered people, to pay for the bureaucracy and the Army. We also have a number of ambitious building projects in both the Akkadian cities and in those of their subject peoples. The great Ziggurat at Ur probably dates from this period. This newfound Akkadian wealth may have been based upon benign climatic conditions, huge agricultural surpluses and the confiscation of the wealth of other peoples.The economy was highly planned which in turn produced the huge agricultural surpluses. Rations of grain and oil were distributed in standardised vessels made by the city’s potters. Taxes were paid in produce and labour on public projects, including city walls, temples, irrigation canals and waterways


The chief threat to the empire seemed to be from the peoples of the northern Zagros Mountains, the Lulubis and the Gutians. A campaign against the Lullabi led to the carving of the “Victory Stele of Naram-Sin”. The Victory Stele depicts him as a god-king climbing a mountain above his soldiers, and his enemies, the defeated Lullabi. Although the stele was broken off at the top when it was stolen and carried off by the Elamites, it still reveals the pride, glory, and divinity of Naram-Sin. The stele was found at Susa, and is now in the LOuvre Museum.

Hittite sources claim Naram-Sin of Akkad ventured into Anatolia, battling the Hittite and Hurrian kings.

Naram-Sin reigned for 36 years and was succeeded by his son Shar-kali-Sharri who in turn reigned for 24 years. On his death there are two years unaccounted for before his son Dudu is recorded as King. Dudu reigned for 20 years and was succeeded by his son Shu-durul.  Little is known about this period. The empires control on its territories does seem to have weakened with a number of reports of rebellion.

The Sumerian King List, describing the Akkadian Empire after the death of Shar-kali-shari, states:

Who was king? Who was not king? Irgigi the king; Nanum, the king; Imi the king; Ilulu, the king—the four of them were kings but reigned only three years. Dudu reigned 21 years; Shu-Turul, the son of Dudu, reigned 15 years. … Agade was defeated and its kingship carried off to Uruk.

The line of Sargon the Great came to an end with the invasion, in 2154, of the Gutians from the Zagros Mountains. We know they captured and sacked the Akkadian capital although after this they almost vanish from our history. They may have stayed in the Akkadian regions as they are mentioned again in the reign of the Sumerian King Ur-Nammamu, who reigned from 2112-2095 who is recorded as droving them from Mesopotamian lands, but this may also relate to another invasion from the Zagros.

The Curse of Akkad

One Mesopotamian myth, a historiographic poem entitled “The curse of Akkad: the Ekur avenged”, explains how the empire created by Sargon of Akkad fell and the city of Akkad was destroyed. The myth was written hundreds of years after the fall of Akkad and is the poet’s attempt to explain how the Gutians succeeded in conquering Sumer. After an opening passage describing the glory of Akkad before its destruction, the poem tells of how Naram-Sin angered the chief god Enlil by plundering the Ekur (Enlil’s temple in Nippur.) In his rage, Enlil summoned the Gutians down from the hills east of the Tigris, bringing plague, famine and death throughout Mesopotamia. Food prices became vastly inflated, with the poem stating that 1 lamb would buy only half a sila (about 425ml) of grain, half a sila of oil, or half a mina (about 250g) of wool. To prevent this destruction, eight of the gods decreed that the city of Akkad should be destroyed in order to spare the rest of Sumer and cursed it. This is exactly what happens, and the story ends with the poet writing of Akkad’s fate, mirroring the words of the gods’ curse earlier on:

For the first time since cities were built and founded,

The great agricultural tracts produced no grain,

The inundated tracts produced no ostriches,

The irrigated orchards produced neither wine nor syrup,

The gathered clouds did not rain, the masgurum did not grow.

At that time, one shekel’s worth of oil was only one-half quart,

One shekel’s worth of grain was only one-half quart. . . .

These sold at such prices in the markets of all the cities!

He who slept on the roof, died on the roof,

He who slept in the house, had no burial,

People were flailing at themselves from hunger

And later it concludes:

“Its canal boat towpaths grew nothing but weeds,
Its chariot roads grew nothing but the ‘wailing plant,’
Moreover, on its canal boat towpaths and landings,
No human being walks because of the wild goats, vermin, snakes, and mountain scorpions,
The plains where grew the heart-soothing plants, grew nothing but the ‘reed of tears,’
Akkad, instead of its sweet-flowing water, there flowed bitter water,
Who said “I would dwell in that city” found not a good dwelling place,
Who said “I would lie down in Akkad” found not a good sleeping place.”

There is of course one major problem with this account as it misses out the 24 year reign of Shar-kali-Sharri, the 2 year gap, the 20year reign of Dudu and the 15 years of  Shu-Turul by setting the destruction in the reign of Naram-Sin.

Sargon was regarded as a model ruler by Mesopotamian kings for some two millennia after his death. The Assyrian and Babylonian kings who based their later empires in Mesopotamia saw themselves as the heirs of Sargon’s empire. Sargon may indeed have introduced the notion of “empire” as understood in the later Assyrian period; the Neo-Assyrian Sargon Text, written in the first person, has Sargon challenging later rulers to “govern the black-haired people” (i.e. the population of Mesopotamia) as he did. SArgon I was a king of the  Assyrian period presumably named after Sargon of Akkad. An important source for “Sargonic heroes” in oral tradition in the later Bronze Age is a Hittite (15th century BC) record of a Hurro-Hittite song, which calls upon Sargon and his immediate successors as “deified kings” . Sargon IIwas a Neo-Assyrian king also named after Sargon of Akkad. Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidas, in the 6th century, showed great interest in the history of the Sargonid dynasty, and even conducted excavations of Sargon’s palaces and those of his successors.

Sargon of Akkad is sometimes identified as the first person in recorded history to rule over an empire (in the sense of the central government of a multi-ethnic territory). His rule also heralds the history of Semetic empires in the Ancient Near East, which, following the Neo-Sumarian interruption in 20th centuries BCE, lasted for close to fifteen centuries, including the history of Assyria and Babylonia up to the Achaemenid conquest in 539BCEnaramsin

The Akkadian empire despite being the first empire in the ANE and despite any problems it may have had with holding in check the desperate national groupings and factions contained within it was ultimately a stable and successful one. Of its 6 Kings, the shortest reign was 9 years, 4 reigned for over 20 years and two reigned for over 50 years. It I many ways set up what was to follow in the ANE. Its amalgamation of single-city states into a large corporate empire changed history.

Over the preceding years the fortunes of individual cities had waxed and waned. As one and then another gained a dominance over the others. However one mark of this era seems to have been that even if beaten in battle, the city states remained independent and although tribute and concessions may have been the price of defeat it seems that rarely was the independence of a city forfeited. They had the concept of over-king or King of Kings but each city-state remained an independent viable entity, but all of that was about to change.


The situation in the eastern fertile crescent started to change around the year 2340 BCE  when the Akkadian Empire began to take shape and grow. It takes its name from the region and city of Akkad, both of which were localised in the general confluence area of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Its policy showed a marked change from the preceding era as the Akkadians under their leader  Sargon began to take direct control over a number of the city states in the Sumerian region. We know little about Sargon’s background. He is referenced in the Sumerian King List and in much later Assyrian documents which were discovered in the Library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. In fact his name in Akkadian was Sarru-ukin or Sarru-ken. The name Sargon comes from the Hebrew or Aramaic version of the name of a much later Assyrian King, Sargon the second, who was named after his predecessor. The Akkadian name means ‘the established King’ or ‘the king who has established stability’ and is unlikely to have been his real name. As with many ancient regal names they seem to be more descriptions of kingly roles or titles than actual personal names. But for the purpose of this paper I will continue to use the name we are familiar with.

Sargon, according to the available sources, was born the son of a gardener, La’ibum and according to one 7th century Assyrian document, his mother was a priestess. He became the cupbearer to Ur-Zababa, the King of Kish, one of the Sumerian city states. Details of his early story are rather sparse – One Sumerian source records that after he had grown he went to Kish and Ur-Zababa appointed Sargon as his cup-bearer. One night Ur-Zababa invited Sargon to his chambers to discuss a dream of Sargon’s, involving the favour of the goddess Inanna and a vision of the drowning of Ur-Zababa by the goddess. Deeply frightened by the portents of this dream, Ur-Zababa orders Sargon murdered, but the Goddess Inanna prevented it. When Sargon returned to Ur-Zababa, the king became even more frightened and decided to send Sargon to the king of Uruk with a message on a clay tablet asking him to slay Sargon.  Unfortunately, the next section of the story which describes how Sargon came to be the ruler of Kish is missing, but from other sources it seems at some point he assassinated his master, recruited an army of Akkadians and proceeded to start to conquer the other cities of Sumer. He also had a liking for collecting titles: some were fairly straightforward – King of Kish; King of Sumer; King of Akkad, but others represented his connection to the gods: Ensi of Enlil, the God of winds or appointed of Auo, God of the heavens or Lord of the Universe.

At some date during his reign of around 55 years he moved the capital of his empire from Kish to the city of Akkad. There has been much discussion about where this city actually was and whether or not it pre-dated the arrival of Sargon or whether it was a new city built by Sargon. If it was a pre-existing city was it originally called Akkad or was it renamed. These are all questions to which there is no definite answer. The only clues are inscriptions that have been found claim that Sargon ‘built Babylon in front of Akkad’ or that Sargon ‘dug up the soil in the pit of Babylon and made a counterpart next to Agade’ but these were written much later in the time of the Neo-Assyrian empire. Although the location of the city of Akkad has not yet been identified, it is known from various textual sources. Among these is at least one text predating the reign of Sargon. This together with the fact that the name Akkad is of non-Akkadian origin, may suggest that the city of Akkad was already occupied in pre-Sargonic times.


Contemporary sources are rare. Two inscriptions can be seen in the Louve in Paris which are considered contemporary. In these, he is referred to as ‘ King of Akkad, overseer of Innana, King of Kish, anointed of Anu, King of the land, Governor of Enlil’. This description is also found on an inscription found at Nippur which celebrates the conquest of Uruk and the defeat of King Lugal-zagesi, whom Sargon, it informs us brought in a collar to the gate of Enlil. This is believed to have been one of the earliest victories as Sargon’s forces enlarged the boundaries of his new empire.

Sargon’s forces went on to conquer the city states of Ur, Ninmar, Umma, Mari and Elam. Ancient records claim he conquered more than 34 cities. A group of four Babylonian texts, known as the “Sargon Epos” show Sargon as a military commander asking the advice of a number of subordinates before going on campaign. The narrative of Sargon, the Conquering Hero is set at Sargon’s court, in a situation of crisis. Sargon addresses his warriors, praising the virtue of heroism, and a lecture by a courtier on the glory achieved by a champion of the army, a narrative relating a campaign of Sargon and a concluding oration by Sargon listing his conquests.

The narrative of King of Battle relates Sargon’s campaign, or perhaps a raid, against the Anatolian city of Purushanda in order to protect the rights of Akkadian merchants. Interestingly versions of this narrative have been found in both Hittite and Akkadian script. The narrative is anachronistic however, portraying  Sargon in a 19th-century setting. The same text mentions that Sargon crossed the Sea of the West (most likely the Mediterranian) and ended up in Kuppara, which some authors have interpreted as the Akkadian word for Keftiu, an ancient locale usually associated with Crete or Cyprus.

The Chronicle of Early Kings, which dates from around 1500 BCE tells us that:

He had neither rival nor equal. His splendour, over the lands it diffused. He crossed the sea in the east. In the eleventh year he conquered the western land to its farthest point. He brought it under one authority. He set up his statues there and ferried the west’s body across on barges. He stationed his court officials at intervals of five double hours and ruled in unity the tribes of the lands. He marched to Kazallu and turned Kazallu into a ruin heap, so that there was not even a perch for a bird left.

We know that his queen was called Tashlultum and he had a number of children including his son’s Rimush and Manishtushu, who would in turn inherit his throne and his daughter, Enheduannaa who became an important priestess

However, there was a flip side to the hero-myths of Sargon’s conquest, it also seems that this was not an easy empire to control. The Chronicle of Early Kings tells us ‘Afterward in his old age all the lands revolted against him, and they besieged him in Akkad; and Sargon went onward to battle and defeated them; he accomplished their overthrow, and their wide spreading host he destroyed. Afterward he attacked the land of Subartu in his might, and they submitted to his arms, and Sargon settled that revolt, and defeated them; he accomplished their overthrow, and their wide spreading host he destroyed, and he brought their possessions into Akkad. The soil from the trenches of Babylon he removed, and the boundaries of Akkad he made like those of Babylon. But because of the evil which he had committed, the great lord Marduk was angry, and he destroyed his people by famine. From the rising of the sun unto the setting of the sun they opposed him and gave him no rest.