Akkadian Empire

The foundation of the Akkadian Empire, the first true empire in the history of mankind was laid by Sargon of Akkad. Sargon was the Cup-Bearer of Ur-Zababa, the king of Kish. There was a falling out, purportedly over a dream that Sargon had about drowning Ur-Zababa by  Inanna the goddess. Eventually Sargon usurps the power in Kish. Soon after, he attacks the Uruk and dismantles its legendary walls (Built by Gilgamesh). After the Battle of Uruk, Sargon brings Lugal-Zage-Si, the king of Uruk in a dog collar. One wonders how old the invention of dog collar is.

Bust of Sargon of Akkad or Naram-Sin of Akkad
Bust of Sargon of Akkad or Naram-Sin of Akkad

Sargon then went ahead and conquered the vast swath of land that was Mesopotamia. It is believed that Sargon was the inspiration behind the biblical hero and great hunter Nimrod. His rule lasted from 2270 BCE at age 30, to 2215 BCE, a staggering 56 years when the average lifespan was 26 years (Bronze Age). To keep things in perspective, Queen Elizabeth II has been ruling the commonwealth for more than 60 years now and she is one of the longest serving monarch. A reign of 55 years over the first empire almost 4300 years ago seems like a miracle. Emperor Ashoka, almost 2000 years after Sargon, ruled for 36 years and he was crowned at age of 36.

One of the prominent successor of Sargon was Naram-Sin, who like his Grandfather ruled for 56 years. He was the first Mesopotamian king to be God-King, perhaps inspired by the Egyptian Pharaohs. Naram-Sin was the king of Four Quarters, perhaps a title similar to Indian Chakravartin indicating the ruler of the whole world.

Akkadian tablets from the reign of naram-Sin writes that he traded with Magan, Dilmun and Meluhha. Magan is generally believed to be referring to modern day Oman while Dilmun with Bahrain or modern Iran. The identity of Meluhha is a hotly debated one with most consensus associating it with the Indus Valley Civilization. The Akkadian empire reached its zenith during Naram-Sin’s reign. After the death of Naram-Sin, raids by barbarian (?) Gutians and increased aridity resulted in the collapse of the Akkadian empire within 180 years of its founding.

Short Chronology gives the period of Akkadian Empire from 2270 BCE to 2129 BCE corresponding to the Middle Chronology of 2334 BCE to 2193 BCE. {Citation needed for this information :)}

Land of the Civilized Kings

Sumer, the land of the civilized kings or the native land, was perhaps the oldest civilization of the world. Sumer was the name given to these non-semitic civilzation by the semitic Akkadians. The Sumerian civilization lasted from the Ubaid period (c. 5300 BCE) till ca. 2334 BCE when they were absorbed by the Akkadian empire.

Arguably the oldest city in human history, Eridu, was established near the southern bank of Euphrates river south of Ur. Eridu was close to Persian gulf and near the mouth of Euphrates when it was established, but is considerably inland now due to millenia of silt accumulation. Enki, God of wisdom, magic, creation, mischief, the gatekeeper of Me (the gifts of civilization) was the patron God of Eridu. In a mythological story, similar to the Judeo-Christian creation myth, Enki eats fruits of forbidden plants resulting in creation of life and disease. Using clay and blood of Kingu (A rebel God) creates humans as servant of Gods. The first human thus created, Adapa, becomes the advisor to the first king of Eridu. Adapa refused the gift of immortality, albeit unknowingly, on the advice of Enki.

In parallel to the introduction of language in the biblical myth of Tower of Babel, Enki is credited with

Endowed with wisdom, the lord of Eridu

Changed the speech in their mouths, [brought] contention into it,

Into the speech of man that (until then) had been one.

It is believed that the location of the Tower of Babel was Eridu.

In the oldest of Middle Eastern deluge myth, older than the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enki helps mankind survive the great flood by advising Atrahasis to build a boat and take his family and animals on board. Atrahasis, after 7 days and nights of flood, sends a swallow, raven and a dove to check if there any land was visible. I do not need to point out how closely this matches with Noah’s flood.

In another of Enki’s myth, Enki gives the gift of Me to Inanna, the Goddess of love, fertility and warfare. Inanna was the patron goddess of Uruk. It perhaps indicated the shift of power from Eridu to Uruk and the rise of the Uruk period in the Sumerian history. Name of the modern country of Iraq is supposedly inspired by Uruk.

Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem which is the oldest surviving piece of literature, is based on the life of Gilgamesh who was the king of Uruk. The pic of Gilgamesh tells of a vile king Gilgamesh who later grieving for the death of his friend, Enidu, goes searching for immortality. The quest is predictably futile. The poem starts with Gilgamesh praising the walls that he has built around Uruk with the implication that he is proud of the great work that he has accomplished. The poem ends with the same praise of the wall, but this time the implication being that Gilgamesh has realized his mortality and thus believes that his work will outlast him and through it, he is immortal.

Sumer came under the Akkadian empire around 2334 BCE leading to the end of the distinct existence of the Sumerian civilization.

Emergence of Ancient Empires

Empires were the result of military conquests carried out over extended period of time sometimes spanning many generations. Empires encompassed vast territory not restricted to particular geographic zones. Empire were built on the struts of a strong military and was sustained by the tributes received from the conquered territories. Larger the territory, larger the military required to maintain control which required ever larger resources. This resulted in a selfsustaining engine of conquest which desired ever more expansion. This was limited by the problems of command and communication and logistics of the ancient world.

The empires consisted of an elite core group. They are mostly united by a common ethnic or geographic origin. The vast area to be governed required a well-oiled bureaucracy for tax collection and management. A standing army was required to put down the frequent rebellion. Legal code, communication and transport facility was also established. Due to the delay in communication and transport in the ancient world, a federated structure with autonomy to the regional governors was an imperative structure of governance. To avoid rival dynasty being established by these governors, Tiglath-Pileser III would make eunuchs as governors. To prevent the conquered people to rise up in revolt, emperors like Tiglath-Pileser III and Nebuchadnezzar II deported and scattered them across their empire.

Agricultural Revolution

Agriculture changed almost all the aspects of human life. It ensured an increase in population, better tools, tight knit family structure, increased trade  and specialization & division of labor.

Society: Increased food production resulted in rapid increase in population as the sustaining capacity of the same tract of land was increased. This resulted in the ability of the society to feed a larger population that consisted of significant number of people who do not participate directly in the food production. These individuals could accelerate the growth of humanity by becoming innovators, thinkers and even leaders. Variety of activities like pottery, weaving, stone and metal work, carpentry required a more rigorous division of labor. It led to a division of labor and specialization. It led to a ruling class who had control of the means of production. The ruling class included the priestly class that led to the rise of religion. Shortage of land lead to disputes and settling of previously uncultivated land.

Dietary pattern: Rise of agriculture resulted in a dramatic change in the dietary pattern. Early human beings relied mostly on meat, agriculture and domestication of livestock resulted in a more diversified diet. It increasingly consisted of cereals and vegetable foods. Domestication of animals added another element to the diet; that of milk and related products.

Sedentary way of life: Even though pre agriculture permanently settled sites have been identified, sedentary way of life was a direct consequence of agriculture. Agriculture is a seasonal activity. Thus the early farmers had to develop methods to ensure availability of food round the year. This led to development of grain storage pit and clay storage jars. More lasting housing replaced the portable and lightweight houses of the hunter gatherers. Rapid increase in population resulted in increased competitiveness that led to feeling of economic insecurity. This caused building of defensive structures like walls and towers around villages. People started living in ever increasing groups as larger groups provided greater security.  Greater group effort was needed to combat diseases, during harvest, building storage and defensive structures. Social mechanisms to control and prevent strife and tension had to be evolved. Early agricultural societies probably deferred to few individuals as arbiters of conflict. They were the precursors of tribal chieftains and kings. Dedicated fighting force was built up that led to increased warfare and territorial expansion.

Tools: Agricultural activities like clearing forests, plowing, harvesting, threshing to separate grains from the chaff and grinding the grains into required specialized tools. Technology was improved to make better tools. Material like Obsidian which provided a sharper edge and is harder than stone began to be used to make tools. These relatively rare material was used for trade and was a symbol of status.

Trade: Surplus food items were exchanged for nonperishable items like metal artifacts, pottery, obsidian. Obsidian tools have been found in regions that are thousands of miles away from the area where they naturally occur. This indicates an active trade and exchange of goods. Luxury items were obtained from far away regions and became a symbol of status. Exchange of good encouraged social ties and economic activity. The most important commodity exchanged were innovations and ideas. Improved method of making tool or even a new tool diffused over a larger area in relatively short span of time.

Beliefs: Agricultural societies have a natural affinity towards fertility cults. Fertility goddesses and a belief that they can be influenced by sacrifices, prayers came into being. Figurines of these goddesses were more common than their male counterpart who represented Sun, Rain, Sky. The religion was mostly concerned with ensuring a bountiful food production. Burial of dead became more elaborate.

Agriculture, thus, brought about profound changes in the human society. It changed how we lived, how we interacted with the society, what tools we used and even our beliefs.