The Akkadian Empire (2)

Posted: November 24, 2016 in Ancient Near Eastern History, History


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.


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