The Akkadian Empire Upward Sweep Kirk Lawrence



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The Akkadian Empire Upward Sweep

Kirk Lawrence



July 14, 2008
Recent scholarship on the origins of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia (ca 2350 BCE) has not differed much from the earlier, and in part, speculative positions held by the preeminent authors (e.g., Algaze, Liverani, Weiss, and Yoffee). There are two major reasons for this relative stasis: 1) the decades-long U.S. and Iraq conflict limited archaeological research, and may have destroyed unknown artifacts; and 2) the limited amount of written documentation from the period, and the difficulty in separating historical fact from myth and/or propaganda.
It is therefore not necessary to revise the position taken by Chase-Dunn et al in 2006 – the Akkadian upward sweep may have been initiated and/or facilitated by an ethnic revolt of the Semitic-speaking people against the Sumerian-speakers. The scholars essentially agree that the Akkadians had been pastoralists from the Arabian desert who migrated into the region in waves, probably climate-induced or influenced (Weiss et al , around the 3rd millennium. They settled in the central, around the city of Kish, and northern, present day Syria, parts of Mesopotamia but they also inhabited the southern section where the Sumerians were the majority. Liverani (2006) describes an ethnocentrism held by the “urban” Sumerians against the “nomadic” peoples, enflamed by fear of attack and migration from the latter. Yoffee (2005), taking a more sanguine view, asserting that the ethno-linguistic differences were not sources of serious conflict. The historical record is unclear on how much conflict, if any, existed between the two groups at the time of the Akkadian upward sweep, and it must be noted that over half a millennium had passed since the major Semitic migration into the region.
The Semitic pastoralists had probably been peripheral in the Mesopotamian world-system prior to their settlement in the 3rd Millennium. They area they settled in, centered around the city of Kish, was semi-peripheral to the Uruk-based southern region core, although that hegemony was largely replaced by internecine city-state conflict and then a measure of unification under Lugalzagesi in the south just prior to Sargon’s conquest of the area. Kish was an important trade node between the southern and northern areas (Steinkeller 1993) and was also, at least one of, the site that was granted divine kinship after the mythical flood; i.e., post-diluvium. So it is not incorrect to say that the Akkadian Empire was an example of the rise of a semi-peripheral marcher state. But the Semitic people didn’t simply ride in to the area and vanquish the core; instead, they settled in the area in waves over centuries and likely seized the opportunity to take control of a major, but semi-peripheral city-state when the advantage became theirs. It seems possible that Sargon may have become King of Kish by coup d’etat; although purely speculation, the story of his ascent to power in the city is shrouded in a legend in which Sargon, of meager beginnings and then a cupbearer to the king Ur-Zababa, was a usurper to the throne amidst a power struggle – an possibly an assassination attempt on his life by the king (Chevalas 2006: 84, 167; Cooper 1993: 18; Levin 2002). Powerlessness/subordination against the temple ruling elite may have been a factor as “a kind of revenge of those kin-based elites that had been set aside by the impersonal administration of the temple institution” (Liverani 2006: 75). Yoffee, by contrast, states that “Sargon forged the first pan-Mesopotamian state…having begun his ascent to power from the venerable city of Kish (which he had conquered)…[italics are mine] (Yoffee 2006: 142).
There is general agreement that the Akkadian Empire was more militant and territorially expansive than the city-states they conquered had been. Mann’s (1986) contention that advanced military technology was an important factor in the Akkadian rise cannot be dismissed but is not mentioned by the main Assyriologists that I read.
FOR THE FULL REPORT, SEE BELOW.
The Rise and Fall of the Akkadian Empire
Mesopotamia was an unbounded geographic area, but is in the Tigris and Euphrates alluvium, can be divided into northern, central, and southern regions, or upper and lower. The north consisted of the area in the Habur Plains in what is now Syria, the center was in central Iraq, the south near the Persian Gulf (Figure 1). Southern Mesopotamia in the latter part of the Early Dynastic period, ca. 2500-2350 BCE, was composed of multiple independent city-states each with their own capital and a hinterland of smaller population centers. Central Mesopotamia, by contrast, “formed a single territorial state or, perhaps more accurately, a single political configuration” (Steinkeller 1993: 117). The largest cities in each area were Tell Leilan in the north, Kish in the center, and Uruk in the south (Table 1). Kish was the center of a commercial network linking Upper and Lower Mesopotamia and was the defacto capital of central Mesopotamia (Steinkeller 1993). The central and southern city-states were engaged in regular internecine conflict over access to arable land and trade routes. While a degree of cultural unity existed across Mesopotamia, there was not a single unified political system under central control until the Akkadian Empire was formed in the late third millennium BCE (Yoffee 2006: 56-57).
According to Algaze (2005), prior to the Akkadian system, Mesopotamia had a world-system, a “complex, albeit loosely integrated, supraregional interaction system” (p. 5) broken into competing regions, centered in southern Mesopotamia (the largest settlements, population density, complexity), in the Tigris and Euphrates alluvium, in the Uruk period (4th millennium BCE). The Sumerian speaking people of the southern system colonized the Susiana plane in SW Iran and the SW Syrian plateau, to take advantage of abundant resources. Uruk enclaves and outposts were established at key points in the periphery of the S. Mespotamia Uruk system. Evidence exists for interaction/integration from similar pottery and other artifacts. The Susiana plane had some large settlements, Susa (25 ha) and Chogha Mish (18 ha), that “developed in ways that were increasingly analogous to those of the alluvial lowlands of southern Iraq (p. 11). But the Susiana Plane seems to have been politically independent of the SW Iraq system, and Susa and Chogha Mish politically independent of each other. By the end of the Uruk period, Chogha Mish had collapsed and Susa had a significant population reduction (p.18). In Syro-Mesopotamia, Tell Brak was very large in the Late Chalcolithic period, at least 65 hectares, up to 160 if you include the surrounding settlements (p. 138). Algaze (p.142) notes that the Late Chalcolithic period system was only a second-order level of complexity – large center surrounded by small village/hamlets. Tell al-Hawa is similar, both with less complexity than the southern Mesopotamia system in the same period (Middle Uruk in south). Three-tier settlement systems appear in the north only after contact with Uruk societies. Algaze notes that Warka, what I think must also called Warku, was four times larger than the second-tier of settlements, violating “Zipf’s Law” that states urban populations are ranked in tiers with each one double the size of the next (2005:141). Umma, and a site nearby called Umm al-Aqarib, both in S. Mesopotamia alluvium, are still being excavated, but Algaze thinks they will be the “missing” second-tier of settlements adhering to Zip’s Law (see #14 above). The estimate of 120 hectares is based on that formula, not on excavations. Tablets found in the sites proclaim the economic importance of Umma in the Late Uruk period, generating Algaze’s belief it may be second only to Warka in importance to the southern system (p.141).

But the competing city-states that emerged across S. Mesopotamia in the mid-to late 4th millennium “was the first time that the southern polities, both singly and in the aggregate, surpassed contemporary societies elsewhere in southwest Asia in terms of their scale and degree of internal differentiation, both social and economic” (Algaze 2005: ix). The fertility of the soil, water transport, technology of accounting and writing systems were all advantages the southern alluvium held over the peripheral areas (pp.147-149). It was during this time that societies in the alluvium engaged in “an intense process of expansion…[that] may be considered to represent the earliest well-attested example of the cyclical ‘momentum toward empire’” (Algaze 2005: 6). Algaze states that the Uruk Expansion in the 4th millennium could be the “Mesopotamia’s—and the world’s—first imperial venture” and “whether or not the Uruk phenomenon as Mespotamia’s first empire, it certainly was the world’s earliest ‘world system’(p. 145). Stein disagrees, providing a “distance-parity” model that argues that premodern control over socities drops off with distance due to transportation (p.146) The Uruk sites in the periphery were “gateways” located at nodes along exchange networks between core and periphery, raw materials or semiprocessed commodities from the periphery in exchange for fully processed goods from the core, to the benefit of the core (145). By world system, he means an assymetrical economic interaction across societies of varying complexity, DOL, technology, social control, administration (defn 145). The southern system also had settlements that were close enough in distance to facilitate daily contact, and cultural sharing, unlike the settlements on the Syro-Mesopotamian Plains (p.142). As the southern system rose, the northern fell, by the transition from the 4th to 3rd millennium the northern settlements had effectively disappeared and would not reappear until the second quarter of the third millennium. Warka reached 600 hectares at this time, and Al-Hiba in the eastern edge of the alluvium almost as large (p. 143).


The Akkadian Empire originated in the city of Kish in central Mesopotamia in the late 24th century BCE. It was created by Semitic-speaking people, growing through conquest to include Sumerian-speaking areas. There were differences between the social organization of the Semitic-speaking people that formed the Akkadian Empire in the center of the region and the Sumerian-speakers in the south. The Semites came from the Arabian desert, and were distinguished by their pastoral mode of production, kinship-based property structure, and tribal political organization, and settled mostly in the valley. The Sumerians, in contrast, lived in the delta, practiced irrigated agriculture, had a collective structure for labor and property, in a temple-guided system (Liverani 1993; Steinkeller 1993).
But the Semites did not migrate to the area and immediately conquer the existing system; instead, they had settled in Mesopotamia “well before Sargon [the first leader of the Akkadian Empire], since the beginning of the onomastic and linguistic documentation (Liverani 1993: 2-3). Steinkeller contends that around the beginning of the 3rd millennium BCE, the end of Uruk IV and through the Uruk III period [3300-2900 BCE], “there occurred, probably in several waves and over an extended period of time, a major intrusion of Semitic peoples into Syria and Upper Mesopotamia. One of these peoples, probably the ancestors of the Akkadians, migrated into the Diyala Region and northern Babylonia, eventually settling there and adopting the urban mode of life.” This immigration of Semitic people effectively ended the Uruk presence in the area as Semitic institutions were dominant during the Early Dynastic period [29th century BCE] (1993: 115-116).
The reason for the migration of the Semitic pastoralists from the desert is unclear, but follows a pattern of urbanization that occurred in the region during the 3rd millennium. It could have been caused by a changing climate as the region experienced severe aridity and century-long droughts that accelerating beginning around 3500 BCE, with a minimum of rainfall from 3200-2900 BCE and desertification of the Habur plains between 2200 and 1900 BCE. (Algaze 2001; Brooks 2006: 38; Fagan 2004; Weiss et al. 1993).
There is some evidence to suggest that the possibility that Semitic people were part of the Mesopotamian world-system prior to the beginning of the third millennium BCE. There was extensive Uruk colonization during the Late Uruk period throughout the area, including the area near to where the Semitic people migrated from, established at least in part to facilitate material exchange, particularly as a means to acquire prestige goods for elites (Algaze 2001; Liverani 2006; Weiss and Courty 1993: 132). For Algaze (2001), the Uruk informal empire was large and assymetrical, but this seems to be a minority viewpoint (Rothman 2001). Steinkeller (1993) disagrees with the intensity and reach of Uruk control, but he does contend that control over some areas was likely. Steinkeller also speculates that the Diyala area in which the Semitic people had settled was included in the Kish-based kingdom during the Early Dynastic period (1993: 119-120). But there is little evidence documenting the type of relationship that involved the Semitic pastoralists prior to their movement into the region, and it is unclear what resources they controlled, beyond sheep, that were valued by the core of the Mesopotamian system. Once they settled in the region, however, they were most likely in a semi-peripheral or peripheral position. Although Steinkeller’s assertion that “we have convincing evidence that the institutions of chattel slavery and villeinage had been known in northern Babylonia” during this period, there is no indication that Semitic people were involved (1993: 121).
There is also little documentation regarding their ascent to power once they arrived, beyond the story of Sargon, the originator and first leader of the Akkadian Empire, that is. Sargon’s tale is shrouded in legend and myth, some of which was created by his own administration or written centuries later. Scholars generally agree that Sargon came from the area around the city of Kish in central Mesopotamia. Kish was a city-state that formed upon the “merger” of independent villages, with an approximate size of 5.5km2 and a population of 60,000 during the second half of the 3rd millennium (Yoffee 2006: 43, 57). Sargon was of relatively meager beginnings and rose through the administration in the city of Kish. (Legend has Sargon as cupbearer to the king of Kish, Ur-Zababa) (Chevalas 2006: 84, 167, Levin 2002). Not being part of the royal family whose authority was divine, Sargon became king of Kish as a usurper to the throne, but how he took power is unspecified, although legend reveals a struggle for power between the king and the aspirant, and possibly an assassination attempt on Sargon by the Ur-Zababa, as told in the legend “Curse of Akkad” (Cooper 1993: 18; Levin 2002). (Liverani (2004: 96) notes that most protagonists in fairly tales from this time period were usurpers, rising to power outside of the normal route and coming from modest backgrounds). Powerlessness against the temple ruling elite may have been a factor as “a kind of revenge of those kin-based elites that had been set aside by the impersonal administration of the temple institution” (Liverani 2006: 75). Yoffee, by contrast, states that “Sargon forged the first pan-Mesopotamian state…having begun his ascent to power from the venerable city of Kish (which he had conquered)…[italics are mine] (Yoffee 2006: 142).
Having taken the city of Kish, Sargon—his taken name, meaning “True King”—conquered the southern Mesopotamian region that had been unified under Lugal-zagesi, the king of Umma who, around 2300 BCE, had gained hegemony by force or coalition building over the cities of Uruk, Ur, Umma, and Lagash (Steinkeller 1993). Sargon then went north, conquering Mari, Ebla, Ashur, and Nineveh, and pushing into Anatolia and the Mediterranean (Levin 2002). He may have had a standing army of around 5400 people (Van De Mieroop 2007: 64).

Source: Weiss et al. 1993b



Sargon moved his capital from the city of Kish to Akkad (also Agade) (location unknown) and proclaimed himself “King of Sumer and Akkad,” adding this to his previous title “King of Kish.” (King of Kish meant a divinely authorized ruler over all of Sumer and was distinct from the kingship of the city of Kish, although the city of Kish was one of the cities where kingship was lowered from heaven after the flood, according to the Sumerian King List). This title came to mean “king of everything,” changing to “King of the Four Corners of the Universe” during Sargon’s grandson Naram-Sin (Michalowski 1993: 88). Sargon was Semitic and adapted the Sumerian cuneiform script to his language, which became known as Akkadian (Levin 2002). Steinkeller (1993) contends that the central Mesopotamian region was a distinct cultural entity, Akkadian, differing from the south that was Sumerian, but Yoffee (1998, 2001) disagrees, seeing much integration of people as well as Akkadian being the official administrative language of the entire region. Liverani (1993) attributes the claims of ethno-linguistic conflicts to an earlier historical tradition, and minimizes their impact, stating that “the ethnic factor had a limited and indirect relevance on the organization of states, on their politics and mutual relationships” (p. 2).
But there was clearly ethnic disdain in the region between the people of the core and periphery. Liverani (2006) is worth quoting at length:
The most recurrent [mental maps] are those that contrast nomads to the sedentary people and the alluvium to the mountains. The pastoral people of the steppe (the Martu) and of the mountains (the Guti) are characterized by the very absence of the most basic traits of urban culture. They have no houses, they have not tombs, they do not know agriculture, and they do not know the rites of the cult. It is an ethnocentric vision that aims to strengthen the self-esteem of those living in a world that is culturally superior, but that is potentially threatened by the insistent and violent pressures of foreign peoples. (P. 65)
The core also clearly desired resources from the periphery, such as wood, metal, and stone, that were not available in the alluvium (ibid, 65-66).
Liverani points out that recent scholars contend that the Akkadian empire was not the first empire, that distinction could be applied to Uruk or Ebla in the Sumerian south prior to the Akkadian emergence. But “the originality of Akkad would consist in a “heroic” and warring kingship, quite different from the Sumerian idea of the ensi who administered in the god’s name the large farm that was the city-state” (1993: 4, see also Nissen 1993). Indeed, “for the first time, the power basis was created for large military actions against neighboring areas” (Nissen 1993: 97).
Sargon ruled for 56 years, followed by his sons Rimush and Manishtushu, and grandson Naram-Sin, and great grandson Shar-kali-shari. The Akkadian Empire was characterized by centralized administration, but the Akkadian empire did not change the settlement patterns or much else materially; instead, “Akkad was some kind of ideological super-structure” (Liverani 1993: 8). The fall of the Akkadian Empire is attributed to rebellions among the populace, often during royal transitions, led by local rulers and traditional elite that had retained power alongside the dynasty’s appointed officials in the subject city-states. As the Akkadian kings continued imperial adventures, domestic guerilla campaigns were conducted against dynastic control and the city-states refused to provide the funding demanded by the central government. (Yoffee 1998: 48-51; 2005: 142-144). The region also experienced severe aridity and century-long droughts that accelerating beginning around 3500 BCE, with a minimum of rainfall from 3200-2900 BCE and desertification of the Habur plains between 2200 and 1900 BCE. The decline of irrigation-dependent agricultural base, particularly in southern Mesopotamia, combined with dense urban populations that reduced flexibility, also contributed to the Akkadian collapse (Algaze 2001; Brooks 2006: 38; Fagan 2004; Weiss et al. 1993). Amidst internal disintegration, the Gutians (“the scorpions of the mountains” attacked Mesopotamia from the Zagros mountains effectively ending the Akkadian empire around 2200 BCE. A period of relative anarchy ensued as the city-states in the south struggled against the Gutians, attaining victory with the establishment of the third dynasty of Ur in 2100 BCE and the city-state (Yoffee 1998: 48-51; 2005: 142-144). Ur III only lasted for a century, as the southern city-states again gained independence and then struggled against each other for control over Nippur, the “symbol of preeminent power” in the south, a position occupied by Kish in central Mesopotamia. The region was united under Hammurabi “in a series of brilliant confederations and conquests” with Babylonia as its center, but disintegrated—accompanied by an increasingly ineffective but growing bureaucracy, revenue decreases, and agricultural intensification—and then fell under his son’s reign to a “marauding Hittite expeditionary force” from Anatolia in 1595 BCE. Power was then held by a “non-Babylonian ethno-linguistic group, the Kassites” (Yoffee 1979).
(Weiss et al. 1993b, claim that the collapse of the Akkadian Empire amid desertification forced people from the surrounding regions, those that were dependent upon Akkadian instituted and administered irrigation agriculture, such as the Hurrian-speaking people of Subir, and those otherwise rainfall-dependent and suffering from loss of production, such as the Gutians [they state from the Diyarbakr plains and not the Zagros mountains], to migrate into central and southern Mesopotamia. The seasonally migrating Amorites from the north, also moved further into the south, ultimately meeting the “Repeller of the Amorites” wall constructed during the Ur III dynasty).
Table 1: Mesopotamia City Sizes

City Name

Period

Area

Land

Population

Source

Tell Leilan

mid 6th-2nd Millennium

North

75-100 hectares max




Weiss et al. 1993

Kish

2500-2000

Central

5500 ha

60,000

Yoffee 2005

Uruk

3200 BCE

South

2500 ha

20,000

Yoffee 2005

Lagash

2500-2000 BCE

South

300,000 ha

120,000

Yoffee 2500

Sources:
Algaze, Guillermo. 2001. “The Prehistory of Imperialism: The Case of Uruk Period Mesopotamia.” Pp. 27-83 in Uruk Mesopotamia & Its Neighbors: Cross-Cultural Interactions in the Era of State Formation, edited by M. S. Rothman. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.


______. 2005. The Uruk World System: The Dynamics of Expansion of Early Mesopotamian Civilization, 2nd Ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Brooks, Nick. 2006. “Cultural Responses to Aridity in the Middle Holocene and Increased Social Complexity.” Quaternary International 151: 29-49.
Chavalas, ed. 2006. The Ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation.
Cooper, Jerrold S. 1993. “Paradigm and Propoganda: The Dynasty of Akkade in the 21st Century.” Pp. 11-23 in in Akkad, The First World Empire: Structure, Ideology, Traditions, edited by M. Liverani. Padova, Italy: Tipografia Poligrafica Moderna.
Fagan, Brian. 2004. The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization. New York: Basic Books.
Liverani, Mario. 1993. “Introduction.” Pp. 1-10 in Akkad, The First World Empire: Structure, Ideology, Traditions, edited by M. Liverani. Padova, Italy: Tipografia Poligrafica Moderna.
______. 2004. Myths and Politics in Ancient Near Eastern Historiography, edited and introduced by Zainab Bahrani and Marc Van De Mieroop. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
______. 2006. Uruk: The First City, edited and translated by Z. Bahrani and M. Van De Mieroop. London: Equinox.
Michalowski, Piotr. “Memory and Deed: The Historiography of the Political Expansion of the Akkad State.” Pp. 69-90 in Akkad, The First World Empire: Structure, Ideology, Traditions, edited by M. Liverani. Padova, Italy: Tipografia Poligrafica Moderna.
Nissen, Hans J. 1993. “Settlement Patterns and Material Culture of the Akkadian Period: Continuity and Discontinuity.” Pp. 91-106 in Akkad, The First World Empire: Structure, Ideology, Traditions, edited by M. Liverani. Padova, Italy: Tipografia Poligrafica Moderna.
Rothman, Mitchell S. 2001. “The Local and the Regional: An Introduction.” Pp. 3-26 in Uruk Mesopotamia & Its Neighbors: Cross-Cultural Interactions in the Era of State Formation, edited by M. S. Rothman. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.
Steinkeller, Piotr. 1993. “Early Political Developments in Mesopotamia and the Origins of the Sargonic Empire.” Pp. 107-129 in Akkad, The First World Empire: Structure, Ideology, Traditions, edited by M. Liverani. Padova, Italy: Tipografia Poligrafica Moderna.
Van De Mieroop. 2007. A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC. 2nd Edition. Blackwell.
Yoffee, Norman. 1979. “The Decline and Rise of Mesopotamian Civilization: An Ethnoarchaeological Perspective on the Evolution of Social Complexity.” American Antiquity 44(1): 5-35.
______. 1998. The Collapse of Ancient Mesopotamian States and Civilization. Pp. 44-68 in The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations, edited by Norman Yoffee and George L. Cowgill. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
______. 2006. Myths of the Archaic State: Evolution of the Earliest Cities, States, and Civilizations. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Weiss, Harvey and Marie-Agnès Courty. 1993a. “The Genesis and Collapse of the Akkadian Empire: The Accidental Refraction of Historical Law.” Pp. 131-155 in Akkad, The First World Empire: Structure, Ideology, Traditions, edited by M. Liverani. Padova, Italy: Tipografia Poligrafica Moderna.
Weiss, H., M.-A Courty, W. Wetterstrom, F. Guichard, L. Senior, R. Meadow, and A. Curnow. 1993b. “The Genesis and Collapse of Third Millennium North Mesopotamian Civilization.” Science 261(5124): 995-1004.

Yoffee. 1988. The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations.


Sargon rose to power in Kish, then built a new capital in Agade (aka Akkad). “Although arising to power as a usurper in the line of succession at Kish, Sargon was apparently not an outsider in the royal bureaucracy there” (46). Akkadian, a Semitic language, was made the official language in Mesopotamia under Sargon, but Sumerian remained in use, particularly in the south. “The conclusion is not that Akkadians were invaders in the land or that Akkadian was a new language on the Mesopotamian scene. Rather, when an administrative bureaucracy adopts a new official language, those who know the language are presented with new means of political and social mobility” (47).
Rebellions in the city-states loosely under Akkadian control, and of the “tribal” peoples in the periphery, were motivated by “political and social, not ethnic and linguistic, antagonisms.” “The resulting lack of attention to internal problems of centralization, combined with the increased demands to fund these foreign expeditions, eventually increased the centripetal tendencies among the city-states and also made the empire vulnerable on its flanks” (48).
After the fall of the Akkadian Empire, a period of decentralization occurred, to be recentralized as the Gutians (“the scorpion of the mountains” that had attempted to benefit from the fall of the Akkadians) were attacked by leaders from Uruk, leading to the Third Dynasty of Ur. It feel from bureaucratic weight and inability to tax resources to support itself. Also raids by the Elamites and Amorites, the latter having already been part of Mesopotamian society. “Amorites came to power in the Old Babylonian period, then, not as crude foreigners taking over power from defeated urbanites, but as relatively well organized forces whose leaders were fully urban…and able to take advantage of the flux in leadership in the aftermath of the Ur III collapse.” (51).

Chavalas, ed. 2006. The Ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation.


(Deemed historically suspect) Inscriptions describe Sargon as the son of a gardener, a cupbearer of Ur-Zababa (84, 167). Agade was defeated and kingship taken to Uruk which was later defeated and kinship taken to the “troops/land of Gutium” (84). Famine occurred at the end of Ur III (70).

Van De Mieroop. 2007. A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC. 2nd Edition. Blackwell.


Sargon is a commoner from Kish who “usurped power” in 2334 BCE. He defeated Lugalzagesi in the south, “who controlled Uruk, Umma, and several other southern cities.” Sargon may have had a standing army of 5400. (64).

Algaze, Guillermo. 2001. “The Prehistory of Imperialism: The Case of Uruk Period Mesopotamia.” Pp. 27-83 in Uruk Mesopotamia & Its Neighbors: Cross-Cultural Interactions in the Era of State Formation, edited by M. S. Rothman. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.


Brooks, Nick. 2006. “Cultural Responses to Aridity in the Middle Holocene and Increased Social Complexity.” Quaternary International 151: 29-49.
[Uruk] grew exponentially through the fourth millennium and achieved the extraordinary size of about 250 hectares by the end of the period” (32). Its growth coincided and was likely facilitated by a stable, drier climate that emerged around the 4th millennium BCE, stimulating canal building and bringing more agriculture on line. (Brooks 2006: 37-38). But Uruk lacked metals and timber, as well as prestige goods “that could be manipulated by emerging elites to legitimize and enhance their status” (37). Their primary export would have been dyed woolen textiles (52). “Uruk outposts at focal nodes of the network of preexisting trade routes across Upper Mesopotamia and the surrounding highlands indicate that they represent the world’s first colonial enterprise” (70). These were either established “in the midst of preexisting indigenous centers already exploiting coveted resources or controlling access to those resources. However, in areas where no such preexisting occupation had to be reckoned with, Uruk penetration could, and in some cases did, become a process of urban implantation” (39). Algaze argues that trade was the intial impetus for expansion, contra others who see it as a land grab to settle an expanding population that had been dislocated by sea-level and river course changes, although many trade posts turned into colonies (47-48, see also Brooks 2006: 37-38). “…the outposts functioned as mediators of exchange between Uruk and the peripheral societies” in which control of a node and restricted alternative markets gave Uruk traders a monopoly and the ability to dictate terms of trade with the peripheral communities (49). Uruk expansion “may have lasted as long as 400 to 500 years” but was uneven during that time, approx. 3600-3100 BCE (46). But it was not an empire. There were buffer zones between urban polities, probably because of conflict across the region. Uruk is just the largest city-state of many that are “surrounded by a hinterland of immediately dependent settlements providing both labor and essential agricultural and pastoral resources” (55-56).
The region grew cold and arid around 6000 BCE. Severe aridity and century-long droughts accelerating around 3500 BCE, a minimum of rainfall from 3200-2900 BCE, combined with dense populations, may have contributed to the Akkadian empire collapse around 2200 BCE. Similar conditions occurred in the Nile Valley in Egypt. Similar to Algaze, Brooks suggests that social complexity (including migration into densely packed areas amid regional differentiation, the “urban revolution”) was a response to environmental crises (Brooks 38).

Levin, Yigal. 2002. “Nimrod the Mighty, King of Kish, King of Sumer and Akkad.” Vetus Testamentum 52(3): 350-366.


The Sargon story from legend (primarily a Neo-Assyrian text) begins with his birth in Azipiranu (location unknown) on the Euphrates River, he arrived in the city of Kish hidden in a basket of rushes after being floated down the river by his mother, a priestess. He began his career as a cup-bearer to the king of the city of Kish, Ur-zababa. Possibly escaping assassination, Sargon became king (how is unclear) in the city of Kish, then expanded his rule to cover all of southern Mesopotamia by defeating Lugal-zagesi, who, around 2300 BCE, had united the cities of Uruk, Ur, Umma, and Lagash. Sargon then went north, conquering Mari, Ebla, Ashur, and Nineveh, and pushing into Anatolia and the Mediterranean. Sargon moved his capital from the city of Kish to Akkad (also Agade) (location unknown) and proclaimed himself “King of Sumer and Akkad,” adding this to his previous title “King of Kish.” (King of Kish meant a divinely authorized ruler over all of Sumer and was distinct from the kingship of the city of Kish, although the city of Kish was the place where kingship was lowered from heaven after the flood, according to the Sumerian King List). Sargon was Semitic and adapted the Sumerian cuneiform script to his language, which became known as Akkadian. He ruled for 56 years, followed by his sons Rimush and Manishtushu, and grandson Naram-Sin, and great grandson Shar-kali-shari, under whose reign the empire fell. Uruk regained independence and the Gutians invaded the region.
(See also Studevent-Hickman, Benjamin and Christopher Morgan. 2006. “Old Akkadian Period Texts.” Pp. 17-44 in The Ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation, edited by M. W. Chvalas. Malden, MA: Blackwell.)


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