Sargon of Akkad
Sargon of Akkad

Sargon of Akkad
(2334 BC - 2279 BC)

Mesopotamian Emperor

The Life of Sargon of Akkad

Sargon of Akkad is the first historical leader who ruled a multi-ethnic state. In other words, he was the first emperor we know by name. He creating an empire that united all of Mesopotamia (now covered by the modern country of Iraq). He was an Akkadian (a Semitic people) and he conquered the dominant Sumerians.

The Akkadian version of Sargon's name is Sharru-kin, which means "the true king". He was known as Nimrod to the Hebrews.

Sargon of Arkad
Sargon of Akkad (Nineveh)

According to legend, Sargon was the son of a temple priestess. She gave birth to him in secret and placed him in a basket to float on the River Euphrates. Similar stories were later told about the Jewish prophet, Moses. The story continues that the orphan was adopted by a gardener called Akki who rescued him from the river. A later Babylonian text describes his birth and childhood:

"My mother was a changeling, my father I knew not. The brothers of my father loved the hills. My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the banks of the Euphrates. My changeling mother conceived me, in secret she bore me. She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lid. She cast me into the river which rose over me. The river bore me up and carried me to Akki, the drawer of water. Akki, the drawer of water, took me as his son and reared me. Akki, the drawer of water, appointed me as his gardener. While I was a gardener, Ishtar granted me her love, and for four and [?] years I exercised kingship. The black-headed people I ruled, I governed mighty mountains with chip-axes of bronze I conquered."

When he grew up, he entered the service of Ur-Zababa, the king of Kish and eventually usurped the thrown. He then managed to conquer nearby kingdoms beginning with Uruk. The ruling monarch, Lugal-anne-mundu, had conquered all the city states of Sumeria, so Sargon inherited a large kingdom.

Eventually all of Mesopotamia came under his rule. The empire stretched as far as Lebanon and Anatolia in the West, the Persian Gulf in the South and Elam (a Dravidian people) in the East and traded silver, cedar wood and lapis lazuli with the Indus Valley, the Arabian peninsula, Anatolia and Crete. There is even mention of a distant "Tin Country."

As in all empires, there were many uprisings, but Sargon crushed them, leading armies of chariots and spearmen into battle, as described in a Babylonian text:

"In his old age, all lands revolted against him, and they besieged Akkad. But Sargon went forth to battle and defeated them; he knocked them over and destroyed their vast army. Later, Subartu in their might attacked, but they submitted to his arms, and Sargon settled their habitations, and he smote them grievously."

Under Sargon's rule, Akkadian became the language of the region displacing the older Sumerian.

Sargon ruled for 56 years, and was succeeded by his son, Rimuc. He was quickly assassinated and the empire passed to Sargon's young grandson, Naram-Sin who was another able ruler expanding the empire to its maximum extent. Once he died the empire soon collapsed under invasion around 2100 BC, splitting into a number of small kingdoms.

Stele showing Naram-Sin in battle
Stele showing Naram-Sin in battle

Sargon's daughter, Enheduanna (born c 2300 BC), was a priestess and poet. She wrote over 40 hymns to the goddess Ishtar (known to the Sumerians as Inana, to the Greeks as Aphrodite and to the Romans as Venus). The goddess was widely worshipped in Mesopotamia appearing as a female with bow and arrow, a crown or holding a child, a precursor of the Christian Madonna. A Sumerian myth describes Inanna passing through seven gates of hell into the underworld.

The writings of Enheduanna make her the first author in history known by name. Her name means "The High Priestess [named] Ornament of the Sky". This is part of one of her hymns:

"Because of you, all had been ripped away even before the battle.
My Queen! With your strength a tooth can even crush flint!
Like an invasive storm you barge in.
With the howling storm you howl.
With Iskur you thunder.
With raging thunderstorm you do exhaust, while your own foot has never yet tired.

With the harp of laments one strikes up a song of lamentation
My Queen! The Anuna, the great gods,
Like terrified [13] bats, fluttered away from you to the top of the mounds of ruins.
They could not withstand your devastating glance.
They cannot stand up against the fright on your brow."

Calcite disk of Enheduanna (Ur)

The Akkadian Empire lasted between 2350 BC to 2150 BC and was very advanced politically. It was bound together by roads and a regular postal service, using clay seals as stamps. Surveys were conducted in the territories. Astronomical observations were made, written on clay tablets and kept in libraries, the largest being at Ninevah.

This essay is dedicated to the people of Mesopotamia (Iraq).

All images external copyright.

Books From and

KryssTal Related Pages

Inventions from the period that includes the Akkadian Empire.

Believe it or not, words from the Akkadian language of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires of Mesopotamia are still used in English today.

External Sargon of Akkad and Enheduanna Links

These links will open in a separate window

Sargon of Akkad
Wikipedia encyclopaedia's account.

Classical Akkad (2370-c. 2004)
Art from the Akkadian Empire (much of it from the now looted museum in Baghdad).

A site covering Enheduanna and her writings.