Sargon of Akkad
Sargon of Akkad
Circa 2334 - circa 2279 b.c.e..
King of Akkad
Origins. Sargon, the first ruler of the Akkadian Dynasty, was of humble origin. The Sumerian King List says his father was a gardener and does not include his personal name. Another source says his father was a certain La’ibum, a name that may be associated with a skin disease. Sargon’s Birth Legend of uncertain origin, indicates that he never knew his father. According to this folktale, his mother, an entu (high) priestess, found it necessary to hide her infant. She set the child in a reed basket sealed with bitumen to make it watertight. The basket was placed in a river and floated away. Akki, a drawer of water, rescued the child and reared him as his son, teaching him to be a gardener who raised dates. The goddess Ishtar/ Inana took a liking to the boy and granted him her love.
The Cupbearer. According to a Sumerian tale, Sargon became the cupbearer to Ur-Zababa, king of the northern city of Kish. Ur-Zababa became frightened by his dreams. At that time Sargon also had a dream during which he groaned and gnawed the ground. Ur-Zababa heard about his cupbearer’s distress and addressed him: “Cupbearer, was a dream revealed to you in the night?” Sargon answered his king: “There was a young woman, who was as high as the heavens and as broad as the earth. She was firmly set as the base of a wall. For me, she drowned you in a great river, a river of blood.” Ur-Zababa ordered that Sargon be thrown into the chief smith’s molten bronze vat. But Sargon’s goddess, Inana, apprised him of the plot, and he apparently escaped, although the end of the story is fragmentary.
Rise to Kingship. Sargon’s name (Akkadian Sharru-kin) means “the king is legitimate,” suggesting that “Sargon” was not his birth name and that, in fact, he was a usurper. According to the Sumerian King List, Sargon built a new capital city at Agade and ruled there for the next fifty-five years. The site of Agade has yet to be discovered; some archaeologists speculate that it was located near modern-day Baghdad.
Conqueror. Sargon campaigned throughout the lands of Sumer and Akkad and beyond. In all, he claimed to have conquered to the west as far as the Mediterranean and to the northwest as far as central Anatolia to protect Akkadian trade routes. He penetrated northeast into Assyria, east into the lands of the Elamites, and south as far as Dilmun (modern Bahrain) in the Persian Gulf. In his later years revolts broke out, possibly under the leadership of Lugal-zagesi of Uruk. According to one legend Sargon crushed the revolts, attacked and laid waste the city of Uruk, destroyed its wall, defeated Lugal-zagesi and his fifty governors (the rulers of smaller Sumerian city-states), and took Lugal-zagesi prisoner, bringing him in a neck stock to the gate of Enlil. Sargon appointed local rulers from regions as far away as Mari on the upper Euphrates to ensis (city-state rulers) in Elam, all of whom served him as the king of the land. He also installed members of his family to high positions, most notably his daughter Enheduana as high priestess of the moon god at Ur. Other posts were filled by men who owed their primary allegiance to the king rather than to tribal or city loyalties. Sargon thus forged the first real empire in the ancient Near East, but intrigue and assassination prevailed in his royal court. Sar-gon’s sons were both murdered by their courtiers, and Shar-kali-sharri (circa 2217 - circa 2193 b.c.e..), his great-grandson, also met a violent end. Anarchy ensued at the end of the dynasty, and the King List asks, “Who was king; who was not king?”
Brian Lewis, The Sargon Legend: A Study of the Akkadian Text and the Tale of the Hero Who Was Exposed at Birth (Cambridge, Mass.: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1980).
Mario Liverani, ed., Akkad, the First World Empire: Structure, Ideology, Traditions (Padua: Sargon, 1993).