Sunday, September 28, 2014

Akkad: The First Empire

Possible head of Sargon the Great
In rivers, human civilization dawned. In China, the major rivers of Huang Ho and Yangtze gave birth to human settlements. In India, the Indus provided the water needed to establish the first Indian settlements. In Africa, the Nile became the vein that provided blood to the rise of the Egyptian civilization. And in the Middle East, two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, gave life to Mesopotamia and made into what it was called the Fertile Crescent. And from this Fertile Crescent gave rise to the earliest empire that the world had seen, the Akkadian Empire.

The Akkadian Empire was the earliest recorded empire forge in human history. From the fertile lands given by the Tigris and Euphrates, it allowed a group of once obscure Semitic people to command an army to rise in power and expand its domain through the region. Its well-known founder, Sargon, and his successors presided over a vast empire centered at its capital, Agade or Akkad, where the name of their empire as well as their people derived. The Akkadian Empire faced challenges and rebellions until it finally fell after three generations after Sargon.

The rise of the Akkadian Empire began with the rise of its founder, Sargon. During the time of Sargon’s birth, Mesopotamia’s Fertile Crescent was occupied by the Sumerians in the south and the Semitic people to the north. The Sumerians flourished starting from about 3000 BCE. Several city-states rose to prominence like Ur, Lagash, and Umma. But, about 2300BCE, the Sumerian city-state of Uruk appeared to be the regional power. Uruk, under its ruler Lugalzagesi, expanded its territories, capturing neighboring city-states. On the same time, in the north, the Semitic people lived under several Sumerian city-states.

But, one man would shift the balance of power from the Sumerians to the Semitic speaking people. In the Sumerian city-sate of Kish, an official launched coup against the local ruler. This Semitic speaking official declared himself Sharru kenu or Sargon, which meant True King. Not much is known about Sargon. A legend told that during the time that Sargon was just a baby, he was discovered to be floating in the river, similar to the story of Moses. And like Moses, he led his people free from the shadows of Sumerians and made them visible to world history.

In 2334 BCE, he deposed the ruler of the city-state of Kush, declared himself ruler, and began the expansion of his domain. His 5,000 man army marched through major Sumerian city-states of Ur, Lagash, and Umma. Then, when given a chance, he met in the battlefield the superpower of the region, Uruk and it leader Lugalzagesi. Eventually, the result was a victory for Sargon. After the fall of his rival in Mesopotamia, he moved on and pushed until he reached the shorelines of the Persian Gulf, where he washed his bloody sword. Then, he moved on to the east and attack the city of Elam, which would become a thorn to the Empire. To the west, he continued his expansion to modern day Syria and Lebanon, acquiring sources of silver and the valuable cedar wood of the country. Upon his wake was destruction and terror for his enemies. City walls of states that fought him were tear down. Enemies were brutally killed.

His army was not like any other in Mesopotamia during Sargon’s time. Armies of city-state were made of conscripts. Meaning, their soldiers were only called on during times of need, either for defense or punitive expeditions. They were made of farmers and slaves. And because of this, the army had to be disbanded in order for its soldiers to work on their regular jobs. But Sargon’s army was different. It was a standing army. It did not need to disband on occasion. They were paid by the booties they get from every conquest. For this reason, plunders were usual in every victory of Sargon.

With his domain firm, Sargon moved on to administer it. After his conquest, he established his new capital. From Kish, he moved it to a new city called Agade or Akkad, near modern day Baghdad and the Euphrates River. From his capital city would be the name of his Empire and his dynasty, Akkad. Agade would later become a flourishing city and a center of trade, where traders came as far as Egypt and India. Meanwhile, in public administration, he did not follow the system of governance that prevailed during the time of the Sumerians. In Sumerian administration, rulers relied heavily on local noble families to serve as local officials. Sargon on the other hand deviated from this practice. He based appointing of governor on his will, whether because of merit or loyalty. Also, he began to spread the language of his origin. He spread Semitic language across the region, which later became dominant after a hundred years. People who fought against Sargon were sometimes migrated to another placed and forced to learn his people’s language, Akkad.

Sargon would rule until 2279 BCE when he died and succeeded by his Rimush. Sargon left his empire in a state of weakening. During his late years, rebellions sprung across the Empire. He, however, still succeeded in subduing them. And on the time of his death, his son Rimush had the task of asserting his leadership as well as the dominance and the stability of Akkadian rule in the Mesopotamia. Rimush on this task succeeded and died on 2270 BCE.

After the nine year reign of Rimush, he was succeeded by his brother, Manishtusu. He too also faced though challenges during the time of his enthronement. In the eastern part of the Empire, Elam was virtually independent after the time of instability on the wake of the sudden death of Rimush. The Elamites was only part of the Empire by name. The stand of Elam against Akkad threatened to disrupt Akkadian sources of bronze, which was needed for weapons manufacturing. And so, he led an expedition to once again subdue Elam and incorporate it to the Akkadian Empire. Other attributions to Manishtusu included his decision to begin the reconstruction of the famous Ishtar Temple in the city of Nineveh. In 2255 BCE, Manishtusu was assassinated by his own courtiers, beaten up by cylinder seals.

After the bloody end of the reign of Manishtusu, he was succeeded by his son, Naram-Sin. Naram-Sin would preside over another peak of Akkadian dominance and power. But at the start of his reign, rebellion also were rampant. Assyria and Syria were and rebellion. But his might, he managed to subdue them. Also, he defeated other enemies of the Empire. He defeated the Amorites. In the Persian Gulf, he vanquished the Magan. To the north, he also conquered the Hurrians. In the Zagros Mountains, he defeated the Lullabi. With his numerous victories, Naram-Sin dubbed himself the King of the Four Quarters and even to the extent that he was a God. The reign of Naram-Sin lasted until 2218 BCE.

After Naram-Sin, the reign of Shar-Kali-Sharri began. He was also showed brilliant military prowess. He repelled another Elamite incursion from the east. In the north, he also managed to end attacks from the Gutians of the Zagros Mountains. His victories was at its peak after he capture the Gutian King Asharlag. In other affairs, he was also credited with the construction of the temple of Enlil in Nippur.

After the reign of Naram-Sin, the Akkadian Empire suddenly fell in chaos. Rebellion sprung across the empire. Centralized government and the King failed to contain the situation. Then after the chaos, the final blow to the Akkadian Empire came from an enemy of a humiliated tribe from the Zagros Mountains, the Gutians. Some saw the fall of Akkad as a result of a curse. The curse was said to have been spelled during the reign of Naram-Sin. During one of his campaigns, a temple of the God Enlil was plundered and desecrated. As a result, after the death of his successor, the god Enlil sent the Gutians to avenge the destruction of his temple.

The legacy of the Akkad was that it became the first empire recorded in history. It showed that a group of people, with good leadership, could gain much land and power. From the foundation built by the Akkadians, other people and new Empires would rise. These empires would further develop humanity towards progress and development.

Grimbly. S. Encyclopedia of the Ancient World. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Leick, G. Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2010.

Strokes, J. (ed.). Encyclopedia of the People of Africa and the Middle East. New York: Facts on File, 2009.

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