Cultures > Akkadian Empire

Akkadian Empire

Background

The Akkadian Empire was a Semitic based empire established by Sargon the Great around the city of Akkad in Mesopotamia. The Akkadian Empire eventually saw the unification of all the Semitic speaking people and the ancient Sumerians under one rule. In fact one of the great mysteries in history features the lost city of Akkad. That means no archaeologist has been able to uncover the real remains of the city due to a few factors. The Akkadian Empire and Sumer are important to understand because they directly led to the development of the later civilizations of Assyria and Babylonia respectively.

Akkadian Empire - Akkadian Empire Territories Map

Akkadian Empire Territories Map

It is very important to note the development of the Akkadian and the Sumerian languages throughout their interconnected histories. By studying the prevalence of certain types of language in certain aspects of life, it can be determined the increasing and declining influence of specific cultural groups throughout the cities of the empire.

Origins

The origins of the city of Akkad are not well known, much like that of Sumer. This is because the implements of writing had not been developed upon the creation of the first cities. Later histories of the Akkadian Empire are written in both the native Akkadian language and the Sumerian cuneiform language as well. There is another aspect that makes uncovering the ancient Akkadian origins hard. That is the location of the city of Akkad is still lost to history despite many archaeologists efforts. When it was destroyed by the invading Gutium it was razed to the ground and never rebuilt.

The Akkadians were bolstered by the continued arrival of Akkadian Semites from the Ubaid culture in northern Mesopotamia. The Ubaid pastoralists were initially nomadic but began to settle in the cities and made great fighters. This has led some researchers to believe that the city of Akkad existed before the Semitic pastoralists settled there and they simple restored the abandoned or depopulated city.

Dating the Akkadians is very hard however, by 3000 BCE there had developed a unique bilingual interaction between the Sumerians and the Akkadians so can infer their influence. This was in fact one of the first known instances of bilingualism that developed in the ancient world so they probably existed for a little longer than that. The great period of Akkadian influence is known to have existed between 2350 BCE and 2050 BC by many researchers. The transition lines during this period are very contentious between historians who even disagree on the dates by hundreds years.

Akkadian Dynasty

Sargon the Great

What is known is that the first known king of Akkad was known as Sargon the Great, also known as Sargon of Akkad. While stories of his origins are mixed, his system of government was to become the regional standard that would be the basis for many centuries to come. It is widely believed that Sargon simply restored the city of Akkad around 2334 and ruled till around 2279 BCE.

People - Sargon the Great

Sargon the Great

According to the scribes of Sargon the Great his empire extended from the Persian Gulf through modern day Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and even parts of Asia Minor and the Mediterranean Sea. While many historians and researchers debate the real scope of his empire (some of these may have been tribute states) it is known that this was the first official multi-nation empire in history.

While it is characteristic of many of the rulers of the ancient period to attribute their rule to divinity, it is believed that Sargon was initially irrigation or canal worker who commanded a large group of workers. These workers could have easily been turned into the first soldiers as the city of Akkad set its eyes on foreign conquest.

Sumer

The other regional power at the time was Sumer that existed in southern Mesopotamia. Thus it was obvious that if the city state of Akkad was going to establish itself it needed to take out the largest city-state of Sumer which happened to be Uruk. Sargon successfully managed to defeat the Sumerian priest-king of Lugal-Zage-Si in the Battle of Uruk. The winning of this decisive battle led to the Akkadian acquisition of Sumer territory. Lugal-Zage-Si was noted for beginning a process of unification of the disparate tribes and groups under a single cultural banner.

Sargon adopted this tradition on the larger scale of his empire in order to make his own dynasty stronger. This is why there appears to have been much collaboration between the Sumerians and the Akkadians during this period as the massive city-state of Uruk simply was outsourced for the Akkadians. In fact, the earliest records of Sargon coincide with the first historical writings of him which suggest that the Semitic Akkadians did not have a written language and merely acquired it through their interactions with the Sumerians. When they conquering their empire they gained their scribes which is why scholarly and religious texts continue to be written in Sumerian long after their empire had collapsed.

Through this process Sargon was able to consolidate his empire and establish a unified culture that would come to dominate within its territories. After conquering Uruk and the influence of Sumer, Sargon set upon one of the earliest conquests of domination as he intended to march North, East, South and West conquering all in his path. In doing his he succeeded in conquering Elam and then eventually all the way to the Mediterranean. After his conquests the Akkadian Empire was stabilized and a Golden Age occurred which allowed the arts, literature, science, agriculture and religion to all advance and flourish.

Akkadian Golden Age

Under Sargon the Great life in ancient Mesopotamia flourished. There was political stability within the borders of the empire which led to the massive improvements of public works projects such as roads, canals and other irrigation projects essential to life in a desert. Under Sargon the Akkadian Empire was bound together by a series of roads which also included one of the world's first postal services. Back then clay seals and cuneiform were used instead of stamps though. This system of roads would allow Sargon's armies to move quickly between territories and also facilitated cultural diffusion throughout the wider region.

In order to maintain his grasp over the empire, Sargon had to install trusted men throughout the various city-states of the region. That is because nations as we see them now did not exist back then. Usually each city-state retained its own sphere of influence and was either directly conquered or was able to keep its original leadership by paying tribute. These men became the first governors as we now know them and were able to direct influence over 65 different cities in the region. Sargon also placed his daughter Enheduanna as the High Priestess of Inanna at Ur which was a very respected religious position within society.

This means he was able to influence the cultural and religious affairs that dominated the city-states of Sumer such as Uruk and Ur from his capital seat in Akkad. Sargon ruled for about fifty-six years whereupon he was succeeded by his son Rimush who reigned from 2279-2271 BCE.

Rimush

Rimush tried to follow his fathers policies but he was not the man of power his father was. Upon the death of Sargon many of the city-states rebelled and Rimush was forced to spend the first years of his reign consolidating power. After managing to restore order in Mesopotamia he successfully campaigned to reclaim Elam which had also rebelled.

Rimush ruled for a short nine years, with many researchers speculating that his brother Manishtusu murdered him in order to ascend to the throne. When Rimush died this is exactly what happened and Manishtusu was again forced to consolidate power as various city-states rebelled due to the political instability in the capital.

Manishtusu

Manishtusu attempted to increase trade, especially long distance within the empire. His influence was thought to have gone through Egypt and even into parts of Sudan. He also created massive public works projects such as the Temple of Ishtar at the city of Nineveh.

Manishtusu's death is also very mysterious, with historians not really knowing how that one occurred as well. He was succeeded by his son Naram-Sin who reigned from 2261 BCE to 2224 BCE. It seems a common theme in this region but when Naram-Sin took power he was forced to put down rebellions from the largely autonomous city-states as well before he could really govern the empire.

Naram-Sin

However, under Naram-Sin the Akkadian Empire was able to expand its borders even more than under Sargon and during his thirty-six years as King the empire flourished once again. Naram-Sin was able to maintain internal stability, increase trade, public works projects and was also able to launch foreign military campaigns. Some reports suggests skirmishes on the outskirts of Egypt.

It is thought that Naram-Sin represented the height of the Akkadian Empire. He died peacefully it appears and was succeeded by his son Shar-Kali-Sharri who reigned from 2223-2198 BCE. After the death of Naram-Sin the Akkadian Empire began to experience a gradual decline before its violent end.

Shar-Kali-Sharri

Shar-Kali-Sharri, like his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather was forced to suppress internal rebellions before he was able to rule. However, he was much less successful in this regard than his ancestors and he was unable to maintain internal order and the security of the borders of the empire. Despite his best effort and military campaigns he was not able to protect the Akkadian Empire from collapse both internally and externally and after his death there appears to be a period of anarchy and lack of written history suggesting a period of increased chaos.

Shar-Kali-Sharri was forced to wage a near countless war against invading Elamites, Amorites and Gutians, the latter of which is really credited with decimating the Akkadian Empire. The Ammorites appear to have migrated to southern Mesopotamia where they would establish the later civilization of Babylonia.

Collapse

The collapse of the Akkadian Empire also coincided with a period of widespread famine which would have forced the communities living in the mountains to come down in search of food. These Gutium invaders would disrupt the security of merchants of weaken the empire so internal rebellions could no longer be put down. There were two more kings that followed Shar-Kali-Sharri, Dudu and Shu-Turul however they were only able to rule the territory around the city of Akkad itself and are hardly ever mentioned in connection with the Akkadian Empire. It appears that all of the autonomous city-states reverted to their own rule and left the city of Akkad ripe for invasion.

As for the eventual destruction of the city of Akkad, it is a mystery. No one knows where it is, when it happened, how it happened or even what happened. All we know is that there existed a great empire, in fact the first one in the world and then it collapsed and led to a period of dark ages that would last until the rise of the Third Dynasty of Ur in 2112 BCE. The northern portion of the Akkadian Empire would eventually become what is known as the civilization of Assyria, and the southern portion of the Akkadian Empire and previously known as Sumer would become the civilization of Babylonia.

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