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300px|thumbnail|left|Bronze Head of an Akkadian Ruler Believed to Be Sargon or One of His Successors]]Few rulers in ancient Mesopotamia influenced the course of history more than Sargon I, also known as Sargon of Akkad (ruled ca. 2334-2279 BC). Rising to power from obscurity, from a city that has still not been located by archaeologists, Sargon led his people the Akkadians to conquer most of Mesopotamia, instituting a number of enduring changes in the process. Perhaps the most important, and certainly the most apparent, influence Sargon had on Mesopotamia was the introduction of the Akkadian language, which was still used over 2,000 after the king’s death. Sargon also influenced Mesopotamia in the shorter term by unifying the region under one dynasty and instituting changes to the religion and royal ideology that were followed by subsequent dynasties.
===The Origins of Sargon and the Akkadians===
Little is known about Sargon’s origins and the ancient written sources that chronicle his early life are more legends than historical texts. In the late third millennium BC, when Sargon came to power, Mesopotamia was a collection of several city-states ruled by numerous ethnicities that often spoke different languages. The Sumerians were the first dominant ethnic group in Mesopotamia and although they brought all the hallmarks of civilization to the region, such as writing, they were only able to place the southern part of Mesopotamia under their rule. After the Sumerians, Mesopotamia went back to competing city-states, which is how Sargon and the Akkadians came to power. Today, scholars are still unsure precisely where the ancient city of Akkad was located, sometimes spelled “Agade,” but it is believed to have been in the northern part of southern Mesopotamia. Sargon and his people spoke a Semitic language that is today known as Akkadian and the dynasty that Sargon initiated is known as the Akkadian Dynasty. <ref> Kuhrt, Amélie. <i>The Ancient Near East: c. 3000-330 BC.</i> (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 44</ref>
The only primary sources that shed any light on Sargon’s origins were written after his death and are usually laudatory legends. One legend states that Sargon was born along the Euphrates River to a high-priestess mother and a father he never knew. <ref> Pritchard, James B, ed. <i>Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.</i> 3rd ed. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 119</ref> Although the text offers little about Sargon’s family, the mention of the Euphrates River may indicate a general location of Akkad. Some modern scholars believe that Akkad was located in the vicinity of the city of Kish, due to Sargon often referring to himself as the “Son of Kish,” while others think that it was at the confluence of the Tigris and Diyala rivers. <ref> Kuhrt, p. 44</ref>
The manner in which Sargon came to rule over most of Mesopotamia was quite simple – he did it through warfare and by eliminating his most
powerful rival. Sometime while Sargon was apparently the King of Kish and Akkad, Lugalzagesi was the king of the powerful city of Uruk. Uruk had a long and illustrious history dating back to the Sumerians and the late fourth millennium BC and was still quite powerful in Sargon’s time. Lugalzagesi unified most of Mesopotamia under his rule, so when Sargon overthrew him he had a ready made empire in his hands. <ref> Kuhrt, pgs. 45-46<ref> A cuneiform historical text dated to the end of the Akkadian Dynasty describes how Sargon sieged Uruk and then took Lugalzagesi captive.
“Sargon, king of Agade, overseer of Ishtar, king of Kish, anointed priest of Anu, king of the country, great ensi of Enlil; he defeated Uruk and tore down its wall; in the battle with the inhabitants of Uruk he was victorious. Lugalzaggisi, king of Uruk, he captured in (this) battle, he brought him in a (dog) collar to the gate of Enlil. Sargon, king of Agade, was victorious in the battle with the inhabitants of Ur, the(ir) town he defeated and tore down its wall.” <ref> Pritchard, p. 267</ref>
Akkadian was the primary written language used in Mesopotamia long after Sargon’s death, but it also became the <i>lingua franca</i> of the greater Near East during the Late Bronze Age. By about the year 1500 BC, the most powerful kingdoms of the Near East – Egypt, Kassite Babylon, Mitanni, Assyria, and Hatti – all developed extensive trade networks and diplomatic ties.
In order to communicate, all of the major kingdoms, as well as the minor kingdoms that served as buffer states, wrote to each other in Akkadian. A cache of over 300 Akkadian diplomatic tablets were discovered in the Egyptian city of Tel el-Amarna (ancient Aketaten) in 1887. The letters reveal the details of this early global system that used Akkadian as the primary language. <ref> Moran, William L. <i>The Amarna Letters.</i> (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992), p. xiii</ref> Along with the Akkadian diplomatic letters discovered in Egypt, scores of Akkadian literature tablets have been discovered outside of Mesopotamia, including the Hittite capital of Hattusa, the Levant cities of Ugarit and Megiddo, and Amarna. The use of Akkadian eventually became so widespread that all of the original Mesopotamian myths were translated from Sumerian into Akkadian. <ref> Meiroop, p. 116</ref>
[[File: Empire_akkad.png|300px|thumbnail|left|The Extent of the Akkadian Empire]]
Sargon’s introduction of the Akkadian language to the greater Mesopotamian population may have been his most enduring influence on the region, but his quest to unify Mesopotamia under one king was his most immediate impact. Regions within Mesopotamia had been conquered and ruled over by a single ruler before Sargon, but he was the first to conquer most of Mesopotamia and hand the rule over to his successors, thereby creating the first trans-ethnic Mesopotamian dynasty. According to the Akkadian historical texts, Sargon’s empire was built on blood and with the help of an exceptionally large army for the period.
“Sargon, king of Kish, was victorious in 34 campaigns and
dismantled (all) the cities, as far as the shore of the sea. At the wharf of Agade he made moor ships from Meluhha, ships from Magan, (and) ships from Tilmun. Sargon, the king, prostrated (himself) in prayer before the god Dagan in Tutul (and) he gave (him) the Upper Region (i.e.) Mari, Iarmuti (and) Ibla as far as the Cedar Forest and the Silver Mountain. Enlil did not let anybody oppose Sargon, the king. 5,400 soldiers ate daily in his palace (lit.: presence).” <ref> Pritchard, p. 268</ref>
In the wake of his bold conquests, Sargon initiated new government reforms. He allowed the kings of the numerous city-states to stay in power nominally, but as governors who were expected to pay the Akkadians taxes, as well as manpower in time of war.
In terms of the bureaucracy, Sargon mandated that all methods of accounting, as well as weights and measures, be standardized, which helped to better integrate the economies of the many city-states into one imperial system. <ref> Mieroop, pgs. 64-65</ref>
Finally, Sargon of Akkad made some changes to Mesopotamian religion and ensured that other traditions that were established before him were continued. One of the most important religious moves he made, which was probably influenced by political considerations, was the installation of his daughter, Enheduanna, as the bride of the moon-god Nanna. As the bride, Enheduanna
preformed important religious rituals for the Nanna cult at the cult center in Ur. Although the office may have existed previously, its importance grew with Sargon’s patronage. <ref> Kuhrt, p. 50</ref> Sargon was a pious believer in the Mesopotamian pantheon, but he was also a shrewd leader who no doubt wanted to keep a close eye on the city of Uruk, which was the home of his one time rival. Sargon also carried on many of the traditions of Mesopotamian kingship, namely concerning his royal epithets and titulary. For example, he referred to himself as the “King of Kish” despite Akkad being his home city and he was also known as the “King of the Four Quarters,” which was an epithet that all later Mesopotamian kings used later in one form or another. <ref> Frankfort, Henri. <i>Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion As the Integration of Society and Nature.</i> (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pgs. 226-8</ref>
When all of the many great kings of ancient Mesopotamian history are considered, few can compare in their overall influence with Sargon of Akkad. Sargon took a previously unknown city-state to the pinnacle of power, creating a dynasty that affected Mesopotamia for centuries. Sargon did this through sheer force, unifying most Mesopotamia through war and then by initiating reforms to the government and religion. But the most enduring influence Sargon had on Mesopotamia was the introduction of the Akkadian language, which became the primary written language of ancient Mesopotamia and was for a time the <i>lingua franca</i> of the ancient Near East’s elite class. Truly, few individuals in ancient Mesopotamia were as influential as Sargon of Akkad.
[[Category: Ancient History]] [[Category: Ancient Mesopotamian History]] [[Category: Near East History]]