The Life of Sargon of Akkad

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by Wikipedia
published on 18 January 2012

The story of Sargon's birth and childhood is given in the "Sargon legend", a Sumerian text purporting to be Sargon's biography. The extant versions are incomplete, but the surviving fragments name Sargon's father as La'ibum. After a lacuna, the text skips to Ur-Zababa, king of Kish, who awakens after a dream, the contents of which are not revealed on the surviving portion of the tablet. For unknown reasons, Ur-Zababa appoints Sargon as his cupbearer. Soon after this, Ur-Zababa invites Sargon to his chambers to discuss a dream of Sargon's, involving the favor of the goddess Inanna and the drowning of Ur-Zababa by the goddess. Deeply frightened, Ur-Zababa orders Sargon murdered by the hands of Beliš-tikal, the chief smith, but Inanna prevents it, demanding that Sargon stop at the gates because of his being "polluted with blood." When Sargon returns to Ur-Zababa, the king becomes frightened again, and decides to send Sargon to king Lugal-zage-si of Uruk with a message on a clay tablet asking him to slay Sargon. The legend breaks off at this point; presumably, the missing sections described how Sargon becomes king.

The Sumerian king list relates: "In Agade [Akkad], Sargon, whose father was a gardener, the cupbearer of Ur-Zababa, became king, the king of Agade, who built Agade; he ruled for 56 years." The claim that Sargon was the original founder of Akkad has come into question in recent years, with the discovery of an inscription mentioning the place and dated to the first year of Enshakushanna, who almost certainly preceded him. This claim of the king list had been the basis for earlier speculation by a number of scholars that Sargon was an inspiration for the Biblical figure of Nimrod. The Weidner Chronicle states that it was Sargon who built Babylon "in front of Akkad." The Chronicle of Early Kings likewise states that late in his reign, Sargon "dug up the soil of the pit of Babylon, and made a counterpart of Babylon next to Agade." More recently, some researchers have stated that those sources may refer to Sargon II of the Neo-Assyrian Empire rather than Sargon of Akkad.
Akkadian RulerFormation of the Akkadian Empire

After coming to power in Kish, Sargon soon attacked Uruk, which was ruled by Lugal-Zage-Si of Umma. He captured Uruk and dismantled its famous walls. The defenders seem to have fled the city, joining an army led by fifty ensis from the provinces. This Sumerian force fought two pitched battles against the Akkadians, as a result of which the remaining forces of Lugal-Zage-Si were routed. Lugal-Zage-Si himself was captured and brought to Nippur; Sargon inscribed on the pedestal of statue (preserved in a later tablet) that he brought Lugal-Zage-Si "in a dog collar to the gate of Enlil." Sargon pursued his enemies to Ur before moving eastwards to Lagash, to the Persian Gulf, and thence to Umma. He made a symbolic gesture of washing his weapons in the "lower sea" (Persian Gulf) to show that he had conquered Sumer in its entirety.

To help limit the chance of revolt in Sumer he appointed a court of 5,400 men to "share his table" (i.e., to administer his empire). These 5,400 men may have constituted Sargon's army. The governors chosen by Sargon to administer the main city-states of Sumer were Akkadians, not Sumerians. The Semitic Akkadian language became the lingua franca, the official language of inscriptions in all Mesopotamia, and of great influence far beyond. Sargon's empire maintained trade and diplomatic contacts with kingdoms around the Arabian Sea and elsewhere in the Near East. Sargon's inscriptions report that ships from Magan, Meluhha, and Dilmun, among other places, rode at anchor in his capital of Agade.

The former religious institutions of Sumer, already well-known and emulated by the Semites, were respected. Sumerian remained, in large part, the language of religion and Sargon and his successors were patrons of the Sumerian cults. Enheduanna, the author of several Akkadian hymns who is identified as Sargon's daughter, was made priestess of Nanna, the moon-god of Ur. Sargon styled himself "anointed priest of Anu" and "great ensi of Enlil".

Wars in the Northwest and East

Shortly after securing Sumer, Sargon embarked on a series of campaigns to subjugate the entire Fertile Crescent. According to the Chronicle of Early Kings, a later Babylonian historiographical text:

"[Sargon] had neither rival nor equal. His splendor, 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 booty 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."

Sargon captured Mari, Yarmuti, and Ebla as far as the Cedar Forest (Amanus) and the silver mountain (Taurus). The Akkadian Empire secured trade routes and supplies of wood and precious metals could be safely and freely floated down the Euphrates to Akkad.

In the east, Sargon defeated an invasion by the four leaders of Elam, led by the king of Awan. Their cities were sacked; the governors, viceroys and kings of Susa, Barhashe, and neighboring districts became vassals of Akkad, and the Akkadian language made the official language of international discourse. During Sargon's reign, Akkadian was standardized and adapted for use with the cuneiform script previously used in the Sumerian language. A style of calligraphy developed in which text on clay tablets and cylinder seals was arranged amidst scenes of mythology and ritual.Map of the Akkadian EmpireLater Reign

The text known as Epic of the King of the Battle depicts Sargon advancing deep into the heart of Anatolia to protect Akkadian and other Mesopotamian merchants from the exactions of the King of Burushanda (Purshahanda). The same text mentions that Sargon crossed the Sea of the West (Mediterranean Sea) and ended up in Kuppara.

Famine and war threatened Sargon's empire during the latter years of his reign. The Chronicle of Early Kings reports that revolts broke out throughout the area under the last years of his overlordship:

"Afterward in his [Sargon's] old age all the lands revolted against him, and they besieged him in Akkad; and Sargon went forth to battle and defeated them; he accomplished their overthrow, and their widespreading 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 widespreading 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."

Later literature proposes that the rebellions and other troubles of Sargon's latter reign were the result of sacrilegious acts committed by the king. Modern consensus is that the veracity of these claims are impossible to determine, as in ancient Mesopotamian literature disasters were often attributed to sacrilege inspiring divine wrath.


Sargon died, according to the short chronology, around 2215 BC. His empire immediately revolted upon hearing of the king's death. Most of the revolts were put down by his son and successor Rimush, who reigned for nine years and was followed by another of Sargon's sons, Manishtushu (who reigned for 15 years). Sargon was regarded as a model by Mesopotamian kings for some two millennia after his death. The Assyrian and Babylonian kings who based their empires in Mesopotamia saw themselves as the heirs of Sargon's empire. Kings such as Nabonidus (reigned 556–539 BC) showed great interest in the history of the Sargonid dynasty, and even conducted excavations of Sargon's palaces and those of his successors. Indeed, such later rulers may have been inspired by the king's conquests to embark on their own campaigns throughout the Middle East. The Neo-Assyrian Sargon text challenges his successors thus:

"The black-headed peoples [Sumerians] I ruled, I governed; mighty mountains with axes of bronze I destroyed. I ascended the upper mountains; I burst through the lower mountains. The country of the sea I besieged three times; Dilmun I captured. Unto the great Dur-ilu I went up, I ... I altered ... Whatsoever king shall be exalted after me, ... Let him rule, let him govern the black-headed peoples; mighty mountains with axes of bronze let him destroy; let him ascend the upper mountains, let him break through the lower mountains; the country of the sea let him besiege three times; Dilmun let him capture; To great Dur-ilu let him go up."

Stories of Sargon's power and that of his empire may have influenced the body of folklore that was later incorporated into the Bible. A number of scholars have speculated that Sargon may have been the inspiration for the biblical figure of Nimrod, who figures prominently in the Book of Genesis as well as in midrashic and Talmudic literature. The Bible mentions Akkad as being one of the first city-states of Nimrod's kingdom, but does not explicitly state that he built it.


The name of Sargon's primary wife Tashlultum and those of a number of his children are known to us. His daughter Enheduanna, who flourished during the late 24th and early 23rd centuries BC, was a priestess who composed ritual hymns. Many of her works, including her Exaltation of Inanna, were in use for centuries thereafter. Sargon was succeeded by his son, Rimush; after Rimush's death another son, Manishtushu, became king. Two other sons, Shu-Enlil (Ibarum) and Ilaba'is-takal (Abaish-Takal), are known.

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