Sargon of Akkad

Definition

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 02 September 2009

Sargon of Akkad (also known as Sargon the Great and Sarru-Kan, meaning 'True King’) reigned in Mesopotamia from 2334 to 2279 BCE. He is equally famous today as the father of the great poet-priestess Enheduanna. He was born as an illegitimate son of a temple priestess of the goddess Innana and, according to the Sargon Legend (a cuneiform clay tablet purporting to be his biography) was set adrift by her in a basket on the Euphrates River where he was found by a man named Akki who was a gardener, perhaps in the Kingdom of Kish. He followed in his father’s trade and somehow became appointed Cup Bearer to Ur-Zababa, the King of Kish, who sent him to work for Lugalzagesi of Uruk, whom Sargon promptly overthrew. He then conquered Kish, became king and founded the city of Akkad (Agade). Sargon conquered the dominant Sumerians to forge the first great Semitic kingdom, the Akkadian Empire. His story was long known throughout Mesopotamia and he was considered the greatest man who had ever lived, celebrated in glorious tales down through the Persian Empire.

Ancient Mesopotamia (like ancient Greece) was dotted by many small city-states all of whom fought one another over fertile territory and water. Lugalzagesi of Uruk had marched through the land and conquered the city-states one by one, uniting all of them under his authority. When Sargon overthrew Lugalzagesi and seized power he gained an already united kingdom which he could use to advantage in military campaigns to, finally, establish the first empire over all of Mesopotamia.

After the defeat of Lugalzagesi, however, the city-states hardly accepted Sargon with grace and submission; they rebelled against their new ruler, and forced him to prove his legitimacy as king through military might. He traveled throughout Mesopotamia conquering one city-state after another and expanded his empire as far as Lebanon and the Taurus mountains of Turkey. He built the first city of Babylon and instituted military practices of combining different types of fighting forces which became standard down through the time of Alexander the Great.

Throughout his life Sargon would continue to encounter uprisings as city-states asserted their autonomy and rose against the empire. For the next three-thousand years the Babylonians would tell tales of the kings who rose against Sargon of Akkad and of his glorious victories, citing Sargon’s own words from his purported autobiography, “In my old age of 55, all the lands revolted against me, and they besieged me in Agade ‘but the old lion still had teeth and claws’, I went forth to battle and defeated them: I knocked them over and destroyed their vast army. Now, any king who wants to call himself my equal, wherever I went, let him go!”

According to the Sumerian king list, Sargon reigned for fifty-six years and was considered a popular and successful king. After his death, the empire passed to his son Rimush, who was forced to endure what his father had and put down the rebellions which contested his legitimacy. Rimush reigned for nine years and, when he died, the kingship passed to Sargon’s other son, Manishtusu. Though both sons ruled well, the height of the Akkadian Empire was realized under Sargon's grandson, Naram-Sin. During his reign, the empire grew and flourished beyond the boundaries even Sargon had envisioned. After his death, his son Shar-Kali-Sharri became ruler and, at this time, the empire began to unravel as city-states broke away to form their own independent kingdoms. Further, it has been suggested that climate change weakened the empire, already reeling from rebellions within and attacks by the Elamites and Ammorites from without, to the point of collapse. Soon after, the Gutians, an invading tribe from the Zagros Mountains, destroyed Akkad and toppled the teetering Akkadian Empire, ushering in a dark age for Mesopotamia.

Written by , published on under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.

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Timeline

Visual Timeline
  • 2334 BCE - 2279 BCE
    Sargon of Akkad (the Great) reigns over Mesopotamia and thus creates the world's first empire.
  • 2334 BCE - 2218 BCE
    The Akkadian Empire rules Sumer.
  • c. 2330 BCE
    Sargon of Akkad sacks Ur.
  • c. 2320 BCE
    Sargon of Akkad invades the Hattic region, fails to take Hattusa.
  • 2285 BCE - 2250 BCE
    Life of Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Akkad, and world's first author known by name.
  • c. 2083 BCE
    Fall of Akkad to the Gutians; the end of Akkadian Empire.
  • c. 2083 BCE - c. 2050 BCE
    The Dark Age of Mesopotamia.
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