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2340 BC - 2135 BC - Akkadian

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In 2371 BC the Akkadians, a Semitic-speaking group who had been settling around the city of Babylon revolted against their Sumerian overlords and established a kingdom which united Sumeria and outlying lands for the first time under central authority. One of their number, Sargon, became the first great conqueror of history.

Sumer was conquered in approximately 2334 BC by Sargon I, king of the Semitic city of Akkad. Sargon was the world's first empire-builder, sending his troops as far as Egypt and Ethiopia. He attempted to establish a unified empire and to end the hostilities among the city-states. Sargon's rule introduced a new level of political organization that was characterized by an even more clear-cut separation between religious authority and secular authority. To ensure his supremacy, Sargon created the first conscripted army, a development related to the need to mobilize large numbers of laborers for irrigation and flood-control works. Akkadian strength was boosted by the invention of the composite bow, a new weapon made of strips of wood and horn. Despite their military prowess, Akkadian hegemony over southern Mesopotamia lasted only 200 years. Sargon's great-grandson was then overthrown by the Guti, a mountain people from the east.

The period from approximately 2900 to 2350 B.C. in southern Mesopotamia (Sumer) is known as the Early Dynastic. During this time, Sumer was divided politically between competing city-states, each controlled by a dynasty of rulers. The succeeding period (ca. 2350-2150 B.C.) is named after the city of Agade (or Akkad), whose Semitic monarchs united the region, bringing the rival Sumerian cities under their control by conquest.

The city of Agade itself has not so far been located, but it was probably founded before the time of Sargon (r. ca. 2340-2285 B.C.), the dynasty's first king. Sargon was succeeded by two of his sons, Rimush and Manishtushu, who consolidated the dynasty's hold on much of Mesopotamia. The Akkadian empire reached its apogee under Naram-Sin (r. ca. 2260-2223 B.C.), and there are references to campaigns against powerful states in the north, possibly including Ebla. At its greatest extent, the empire reached as far as Anatolia in the north, inner Iran in the east, Arabia in the south, and the Mediterranean in the west.

The ideology and power of the empire was reflected in art that first displayed strong cultural continuity with the Early Dynastic period. When fully developed, it came to be characterized by a profound new creativity that marks some of the peaks of artistic achievement in the history of the ancient world. A new emphasis on naturalism, expressed by sensitive modeling, is manifested in masterpieces of monumental stone relief sculpture. Although little large-scale art of the period remains, a huge corpus of finely carved Akkadian seals preserves a rich iconography illustrating interactions between man and the divine world.

Control of the empire was maintained under Naram-Sin's successor, Shar-kali-sharri (r. ca. 2223-2198 B.C.), though at the end of his reign there appears to have been a power struggle for the throne. A number of city rulers reestablished their independence in southern Mesopotamia, and the territory ruled over by the last kings of Agade (Dudu and Shu-Turul) had shrunk back to the region directly around the city.

Sargon of Accad, the ancient hero of the Semitic population of Chaldaea, founded the first Semitic empire in the country and established a great library in his capital city of Agade or Accad near Sippara. Tradition credits Sargon with being the "cup bearer" of the king of Kish, at a time when Kish was an important and powerful city in the northern part of lower Mesopotamia. The name Sargon is a modern reading of Sharru-ken ("the king is legitimate"). Usurping power and assuming for himself the title of king, Sargon went on to conquer southern Mesopotamia and lead military expeditions to conquer further east and north.

Beginning as a cup bearer to the Sumerian governor of Kish he led a revolt which made him king of Kish and a number of nearby cities. Quickly he attacked the warlike peoples in Assyria and Syria, winning their allegiance. Then he fell upon Southern Sumeria and captured all the cities there. Not yet content, he overran Elam and even reached the Eastern Mediterranean Coast, colonizing Lebanon. From his time the land of the two rivers was known to the ancients as Babylonia, in reference to the Sumerian city of Babylon from which Sargon established his empire.

On account of the publication of new and startling chronological material, a great deal was written on the subject of old Babylonian chronology during early years of the 20th Century. The discussion showed a marked tendency to cut down old figures. The late Babylonian king Nabuna'id still held his ground as the central figure in Babylonian chronology, only that the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. On the tide of his authority old Babylonian dates once soared to swindling heights; the undermining of his trustworthiness tended to make the very foundations swerve. The high-water mark was reached by placing Sargon I at 3800 BC. Eduard Meyer reached the low-water mark by placing him 2500 BC, and subsequently research lowered the reign of Sargon I to 2340-2285 BC.

The dating of Sargon's son Naram-Sin was at one time thought to be fixed by a passage in a cylinder of Nabonidos discovered in the ruins of the temple of the Sun-god at Sippara, and published in W.A.I., v. 64. The antiquarian zeal of Nabonidos led him to excavate among the foundations of the temple in the hope of finding the cylinder of Naram-Sin, who was known to have been the founder of it, and he tells us (col. ii. 56 seq.):-- "I sought for its old foundation-stone, and eighteen cubits deep, I dug into the ground, and the foundation-stone of Naram-Sin, the son of Sargon, which for 3200 years no king who had gone before me had seen, the Sun-god, the great lord of E-Babara, the temple of the seat of the goodness of his heart, let me see, even me." In the opinion, therefore, of Nabonidos, a king who had a passion for investigating the past records of his country, Naram-Sin reigned 3200 years before his own time, that is to say, about BC 3700. This number is now regarded as too old, as the reign of Sargon himself is dated to about 2300 BC, and that of Naram-Sin about 2250 BC.

The upshot of the activity of three rulers of unusual aggressiveness, Sargon, Rimush and Manishtusu, was a most striking advance of Semitic influence throughout the Euphrates Valley - an influence that became a permanent factor in the further development of political affairs. The Semitic rulers of Akkad and Kish took up the policy of extending in all directions their dominions left them as a legacy by Lugalzaggisi, but this ambition overvaulting itself became a source of weakness instead of strength. Manishtusu succeeded in keeping Elam under subjection and gave evidence of his control by dedicating a statue of himself to an Elamite god Naruti, but under his successor, Sharganisharri, the Elamites were strong enough to make an invasion of the Euphrates Valley, advancing as far as Opis, not far from Akkad, where they received a check.

Uruk headed a coalition of Sumerian forces which was likewise repulsed. Under Naram-Sin, the son of Sharganisharri, this disturbed condition reaches its climax, for he speaks of combinations of nine rulers and even of seventeen kings against him. No doubt he exaggerates when he declares that he faced an army of 90,000 men drawn up against him, and yet triumphal monuments of his reign, including one found far up in the north, not far from the source of the Tigris, leave no doubt of his far surpassing his father in military expeditions in all directions-against Elam in the east, against Subartu in the north, and the mountainous borders in the northeast, as well as against regions lying far to northwest and southwest. He thus merited, by bis achievements, the proud title of "King of the Four Quarters," which was equivalent to "King of the Universe," borne later by the Assyrian monarchs. NaramSin appears indeed to have surpassed all of his predecessors in opening up new fields of conquest, particularly to the northeast and to the southwest. His father had crossed arms with a strong mountainous group known as the Guti, and succeeded in capturing their king, Sharlak. It was left to the son, however, to follow up this movement by more systematic endeavors and on a larger scale to bring various of the groups in these distant, forbidding regions, so difficult of access, to subjection.

No less significant was his expedition to Magan, a distant land whence diorite was brought in large quantities for the manufacture of statues and large vessels. Occurring frequently by the side of Melucha, Magan and Melucha are probably designations of districts along the eastern coast of Arabia and the western coast of Africa. To have proceeded to such distant climes was an achievement hitherto without parallel. We thus obtain a view of the strength unfolded at this early period hy the Semitic settlements of the Euphrates Valley which makes the achievements of the Sumerians, even of a Lugalzaggisi, dwindle into comparative insignificance.

It would seem, however, that a decline began soon after the death of Naram-Sin, who appears to have been succeeded by a second Sharganisharri, of whom little is known. A period of internal disturbances set in, marked by a succession of four rulers within three years, so that, as the list of dynasties puts it, one could not tell "who was king and who was not king." It is Uruk, the Sumerian center which Lugalzaggisi raised to its highest glory, that succeeded in overthrowing the dynasty of Akkad after an existence of 197 years. The overthrow of so powerful a dynasty as that of Akkad must have affected the entire country; it was a signal for the older, once independent centers, to assert themselves. Among these centers were Lagash, profiting to a special degree by the growing weakness of Akkad, for there must have been preliminary symptoms of decay before the final catastrophe set in.

After a short but fruitful reign of some two centuries the area was invaded by the Guti, a nomadic tribe from the east. The regions to the north and particularly those groups in the mountainous district of the upper section of the Tigris not only regained their independence as the dynasty of Akkad approached its close, but one of these groups, the Guti, took their revenge for the humiliation inflicted upon them by Sharganisharri and Naram-Sin by making an incursion into the Euphrates Valley. For a period of about fifty years a Guti dynasty actually occupied the throne, presumably choosing Uruk as the seat of residence.

From 2143 BC, the barbarian Gutis sacked and pillaged the cities for thirty years until the Sumerians in 2112 B.C. revolted and reestablished rule under what came to be known as the Third Dynasty of Ur. This was one of the most creative periods in Sumerian art and literature, but lasted only until 2004 B.C. At this time quarrels between the cities caused the breakup of central control and Sumeria was the prey of invading Amorites from the west and Elamites from the East.

Such, then, was the sad result of the conflict between Sumerians and Semites for control on the one hand and of the ambitious efforts on the other, inaugurated by Lugalzaggisi and continued by Sargon, Sharganisharri and Naram-Sin to pass beyond the natural confines of the Euphrates Valley. The terror aroused by this northern foe, sweeping down upon the cultivated cities of the plain from their mountain homes with all the violence of an elemental force, must have been extreme.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:48:24 ZULU