Akkadian Empire: The first Semitic-speaking empire of Mesopotamia

Map of Akkadian Empire

The Akkadian Empire, considered among the greatest empires in Mesopotamia, is believed to be stretched from the Persian Gulf through modern day Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Syria through the lower part of Asia Minor to the Mediterranean Sea and Cyprus. However, the Akkadian Empire followed a simple societal structure in which the king was the ultimate leader almost like a god and everyone else was suppose to serve him. For several thousand years, the empire became the sole political structure in this region of the world. The Akkadians ruled the entire Mesopotamian region for 141 years. More than 65 city states fell under the Akkadian rule at the height of their power.

Akkad and Sargon the Great

Akkad, the seat of the Akkadian Empire was founded by the Semitic conqueror Sargon in about 2300 BCE. Sargon united the various city-states in the region and extended his rule to encompass much of Mesopotamia.

Akkad, an ancient region which is now central Iraq was the northern division of ancient Babylonian civilization. The region was located where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are closest to each other. Unlike Sumer, which was composed of independent city-states, Akkad was a region whose cities were governed from a single capital city, called Agade. Agade was a city on the banks of Euphrates River between Sippar and Kish. Under Sargon, the influence of Akkad spread to encompass Sumer.

Sargon ruled his empire for 56 years. He developed the city with wealth collected from the cities that he conquered. It is believed that Sargon fought and won 34 battles across Mesopotamia and expanded his empire from present-day Iran in the east to Syria in the west, the Persian Gulf in the south, and into present-day Turkey in the north. He brought around 50 governors under his control. Sargon used his military skills to win territory for his empire. After defeating the king of the city-state of Uruk, Sargon gained control of almost all of Mesopotamia, including Sumer

Sargon also expanded trade beyond Mesopotamia. Apart from the capital city, Agade also became a cultural hub, with many temples and palaces. It was one of the richest and most powerful cities in the world.

Unlike other ruler, Sargon to keep control of his empire used many military as well as political strategies. He made his army destroy the walls of many cities so as to make it harder for conquered people to rebel. He demanded the loyalty of the governors of city-states. If these governors were disloyal, Sargon replaced them with his own men. Sargon also became the first king to declare that his sons rule after his death.

After Sargon, there were four more rulers namely Rimush, Manishtusu, Naram-Sin and Shar-Kali-Sharri who maintained the dynasty before it collapsed.

Culture and people of Akkad

Although, The Akkadians ruled Sumer, but the Sumerian culture survived and continued through the Akkadians. The Akkadians agriculture used the Sumerians’ irrigation techniques. They used Sumer’s system of cuneiform writing to record information. They even worshipped the same gods and goddesses, although they were called different names.

Religion stayed central to the social order, and kings continued to rule in the name of the gods.

The Akkadians had their own cultural achievements too. Over a period of time, Akkadian language replaced the Sumerian language. In art, they became well known for their skillful three-dimensional sculptures rather than relief works which were common in those days. Artisans also carved relief sculptures on stones which were called steles. Sculpture was the most popular art form in the Akkadian period. The most popular types of sculptures were heads alone, statues of humans or gods, and bas-reliefs of major historical events. These bas-relief sculptures were dedicated to honour the accomplishments of the military and of Akkadian kings in particular.

The creativity and detailing of cylinder seal cutters reached a major point during the Akkadian Empire. Akkadian seal cutters produced signature seals with carefully spaced figures drawn in great detail with near-perfect miniatures of human and animal figures.

Akkadian, the literary language that was written with the cuneiform system of writing developed under several Akkadian Kings is the oldest Semitic dialect still preserved.

The fall of the Akkadian Empire

Akkadian Empire under its ruler Sargon survived only a few generations, though it was followed over the next 1500 years by a number of famous empires. A pattern was established in Mesopotamia after the fall of the Akkadian Empire where a new city would gain power and established its power in the region only to fall when another city would rise to power. On the other hand, lack of natural barriers encouraged such rapid rise of empires and conquered by another as quickly as it rose.

During the time when Akkadians were struggling to stay in power, another cultural group from the east, the Elamites, began conquering parts of Mesopotamia. In about 2004 BCE, when the city of Ur was siege by the Elamites, the people were starving and in desperation opened the city gates. The Elamites showed no pity. They slaughtered the people, looted homes and temples, and celebrated their victory by destroying most of the city’s public buildings.

Sargon had hoped that Akkadian Empire will rule for a thousand years but the rulers after him found it difficult to rule such a large territory.  The empire grew weak making it more vulnerable to invasion. After about 200 years, Akkadian Empire fell to invaders from the north. It was followed over the next 1,500 years by a number of famous Near Eastern empires such as the Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, and Chaldeans continuing the pattern of urbanism, absolute rule, and imperialistic expansionism.


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