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The Great Sargon of Akkad and the Ancient Akkadian Empire

Updated on November 12, 2015

The Akkadian Empire

This shows the location of the Akkadian Empire.
This shows the location of the Akkadian Empire.

Akkad

The first known reference to the Akkadian Empire or its capital city, Akkad, is in Genesis 10:10, where the city of Akkad is known as Accad. The meaning of the name of the city is unknown.

  • Genesis 10:10 – And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.

Since then, Mesopotamian cuneiform texts from the time of the Akkadian empire, either 2350-2170 or 2230-2050 BCE depending on the chronology you are following, have been found that refer to the city of Akkad a total of 160 times.

Although contemporary textual sources confirm the existence of this great city, its location is unknown by scholars today. It is known that it was near the ancient cities of Kish and Babylon. Older theories put it on the Euphrates river, but recent theories have favored a location closer to the Tigris. Some identify Akkad with the modern city of Tell ed-Der.

Sargon of Akkad

Sargon of Akkad or Sargon the Great was the founder of the Dynasty of Akkad. He was originally referred to as Sargon I, until records of an Assyrian king who was known as Sargon I were unearthed. Sargon of Akkad started as the cup-bearer or the official in charge of the wine, for the King Ur-Zabba of Kish.

Eventually, he raised a coup against the king in 2334 BCE, and overtook the city. (Some sources say he killed the king.) He then overtook Uruk and dismantled its walls. Next, he pursued his enemies to Ur and then to Lagash, the Persian Gulf and Umma.

After Sumer, he appointed a court of 5,400 people he knew would be loyal and may have constituted the army with which he travelled throughout the Sumerian empire. (The army had at least 5,000 men) He demanded lodging and support from the cities he visited and expanded his empire to include large parts of Mesopotamia, and parts of Iran, Asia Minor and Syria. When funds were short, he seized control of trade routes to collect taxes and raise funds. He was so successful that he managed to build his capital city, Akkad, into the most powerful and wealthiest city in the world.

The claim that Sargon founded Akkad has come into question recently as an enscription was found that mentions the place and is dated to the first year of Enshakushanna, a King of Uruk, who most-likely preceded Akkad.

According to a later Babylonian text, the Chronicle of Early Kings, in addition to Sumer, Sargon campaigned to bring the entire Fertile Crescent under his control as well.

The Fall of the Akkadian Empire

Upon Sargon’s death, his kingdom revolted. Most of the revolts were put down by his son, Rimush who succeeded his father as King. Rimush reigned for 9 years before being succeeded by Manishtushu, another of Sargon’s sons, who reigned for 15 years. Sargon’s empire fell about 2150 BCE due to internal rebellion and external conquests by the Guti from the Zagros mountains. The Akkadian Empire fell to the Guti after the reign of Naram-Sin. Because the Guti left few inscriptions they are not well understood. Eventually the Guti were overthrown by Utu-hengal of Uruk and the various city states vied for power. The city-state of Ur finally took control, founding the UR III Empire, which conquered the Sumerian region. Utu-hengal’s son, Shulgi, may have devised the Code of Ur-Nammu, one of the earliest law codes written.

Akkadian Religion

The main goddess of Akkad was Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, love, war and sex. Ishtar was also worshiped by the Assyrians and Babylonians in later times. She was identified with the main Sumerian goddess, Inanna. Inanna was a goddess of the moon to whom the Sumerians built a large ziggurat at Ur.

Sargon of Akkad in Literature

The story of Sargon’s life is given in the “Sargon Legend,” a Sumerian text that claims to describe the life of Sargon of Akkad. It records that for unknown reasons, Ur-Zabba appointed Akkad cup-bearer after a dream. Shortly after this, Ur-Zabba invites Sargon to discuss another dream of Sargon’s, involving the favor of the goddess Inanna and the goddess drowning Ur-Zabba. Frightened, Ur-Zabba orders Sargon murdered, but Inanna prevents it. After describing a second attempt on Sargon’s life by Ur-Zabba the text breaks off. The missing section is supposed to describe how Sargon becomes King.

Sargon is also a legendary figure in the Neo-Assyrian literature during the Early Iron Age. Fragments of a Sargon Birth Legend were found in the Library Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the neo-Assyrian empire. This legend dates back to the 7th Century BCE.

Head of an Akkadian Ruler

This is a life sized bronze sculpture of the head of an Akkadian ruler.  It was mutilated in antiquity.
This is a life sized bronze sculpture of the head of an Akkadian ruler. It was mutilated in antiquity.

Head of an Akkadian Ruler

Head of an Akkadian ruler, is a life-size bronze head in sharp detail with locks of hair, curled lips and a furrowed brow. It was mutilated by a violent attack in antiquity. Some believe it is a statue of Sargon, the founder of the Akkadian Empire.

The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin

The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin depicts the Akkadian victory over the Lullubi Mountain people who lived in the Eastern portion of Mesopotamia. It was made of pink limestone between 2254 and 2218 BCE. Naram-Sin was the great, great grandson of Sargon.

The stele is unique because the victory is not depicted in a square piece with clearly defined registers as was customary for art at the time. The king is depicted at the top of the scene wearing a horned hat, which symbolizes deity, as if the king had become a God through this conquer.

According to an inscription on the stele made by Shutruk-Nahhunte, an Elamite King, it was taken to Susa, Iran by Shutruk-Nahhunte, after he attacked Babylon, during the 12th century BCE, 1000 years after it was originally made.

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin

This is the victory Stele of Naram-Sin, great, great grandson of Sargon of Akkad, the founder of the Arkaddian Empire.
This is the victory Stele of Naram-Sin, great, great grandson of Sargon of Akkad, the founder of the Arkaddian Empire.

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    • kbdressman profile image
      Author

      kbdressman 2 years ago from Harlem, New York

      I'm glad you enjoyed it! I'm working on a series about all the major civilizations. I have several other articles on lesser known empires. I hope you'll check some of the others out as well!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Always interesting to hear about empires, once powerful, but little known today. It helps to 'fill in the gaps' between the more familiar civilisations such as the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, so thanks for this article.