Friday, March 06, 2009

Sargon the Great

Bronze head of a Akkadian King possibly Sargon

1. Sargon, the mighty king, king of Akkadê am I,
2. My mother was an entum; my father I did not know;
3. The brother of my father dwelt in the mountain.
4. My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the bank of the Purattu [Euphrates],
5. My mother the entum conceived me, in secret she brought me forth.
6. She placed me in a basket of reeds; she closed my entrance with bitumen,
7. She cast me upon the rivers which did not overflow me.
8. The river carried me; it brought me to Akki, the irrigator.
9. Akki, the irrigator, in the goodness of his heart lifted me out,
10. Akki, the irrigator, as his own son brought me up;
11. Akki, the irrigator, as his gardener appointed me.
12. When I was a gardener the goddess Ishtar loved me,
13. And for four and … years I ruled the kingdom.
14. The black-headed peoples I ruled, I governed;
15. Mighty mountains with axes of bronze I destroyed (?).
16. I ascended the upper mountains;
17. I burst through the lower mountains.
18. The country of the sea I besieged three times;
19. Dilmun I captured (?).
20. Unto the great Dur-ilu I went up, I . . . . . . . . .
21 . . . . . . . . . .I altered. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
22. Whatsoever king shall be exalted after me,
23. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
24. Let him rule, let him govern the black-headed peoples;
25. Mighty mountains with axes of bronze let him destroy;
26. Let him ascend the upper mountains,
27. Let him break through the lower mountains;
28. The country of the sea let him besiege three times;
29. Dilmun let him capture;
30. To great Dur-ilu let him go up.2
Such is the piece of writing called The Legend of Sargon. Which a few centuries after the death of Sargon the Great illustrates the legends that had began to encrust his life.

Sargon the Great, (2334-2279 B.C.E.) or Sharru-kin, was ruler of the city of Kish and created, as far as we can tell, of the worlds first true empire.3

Sargon was apparently of humble origin one account says as follows:

Then Sargon -- his city was the city of ……, his father was La’ibum, his mother …… -- Sargon …… with happy heart. Since he was born …….4
Other accounts make him the son of a date grower. Other accounts give his father the name Akki. Although the later legend recorded in The Legend of Sargon make him a gardener and his home town the city of Azupiranu not to far from Kish. Somehow, we not sure how, he became the cup-bearer of Urzababa king of Kish in Babylonia and one of the most powerful cities in Babylonia. A version of events is has follows:

One day, after the evening had arrived and Sargon had brought the regular deliveries to the palace, Ur-Zababa was sleeping (and dreaming) in the holy bed-chamber, his holy residence. He realized what the dream was about, but did not put into words, did not discuss it with anyone. After Sargon had received the regular deliveries for the palace, Ur-Zababa appointed him cup bearer, putting him in charge of the drinks cupboard. Holy Inanna did not cease to stand by him.5
It appears that Urzababa was involved in efforts to get rid of Sargon.6 A document from a later time say:
In those days, writing on tablets certainly existed, but covering tablets with envelopes did not exist. King Urzababa wrote to Sargon, chosen of the gods, a tablet which would cause his own death, and dispatched it to Lugalzagesi in Uruk.7
These efforts failed and Sargon took the throne after disposing of, probably violently, of Urzababa. Apparently one of the first things he did was take the name Sharru-kin (Sargon) meaning righteous and / or legitimate ruler probably has a way of dealing with his patent usurpation of the throne of Kish. What Sargon’s “real” name was is unknown.8

The most powerful ruler that Sargon had to deal with next was Lugalzagesi king of Uruk, ruler of most of southern Babylonia and apparently involved in the plot to kill Sargon with Urzababa. An inscription from a later period records events as follows:

(Sargon, the king of Agade, the … of Inanna [Ishtar], king of Kish, anointed of Anu [sky-god], king) of lands, governor of Enil, [supreme Sumerian deity] conquered the city of Uruk and destroyed its walls. He challenged (the man of) Uruk in battle and took Lugalzagesi, the king of Uruk, prisoner in the course of the battle; he lead him in a wooden collar to the gate of Enil.

Sargon, king of Agade, challenged (the man of) Ur in a battle and defeated the city and destroyed its walls. He defeated E-Nin-kimara (town probably between Ur and Lagash) and destroyed its walls and conquered its land from Lagash to the sea. He washed his weapons in the sea. He challenged Umma in a battle (and defeated the city and destroyed its walls).

To Sargon, king of lands, Enil gave no rival: Enil gave him the Upper Sea and the Lower Sea. From the Lower Sea, citizens of Agade held the government. Mari and Elam were subject to Sargon, King of lands. Sargon, king of lands, restored Kish and made (its fugitive inhabitants re)occupy the city.9

Another record of the Reign of Sargon is the Sumerian King List which records the events of Sargon’s ascension has follows:
In Unug [Uruk], Lugalzagesi became king; he ruled for 25 (other ms. have 34) years. 1 king; he ruled for 25 (other ms. Have 34) years. Then Unug was defeated (other ms. Have Then the reign of Unug was abolished.) and the kingship was taken to Agade.
In Agade, Sargon, whose father was a gardener, the cup bearer of Urzababa, became king, the king of Agade, who built Agade (other ms. has Under whom Agade was built); he ruled for 56 (other ms. 55 or 54) years.10...  
 Mesopotamian Seal

Sargon built the first great ancient Royal city that of Agade. The location of which is unfortunately still unknown. He also instituted a system of royal governors to police and keep the subject kings under control. He also apparently began the process of greatly increasing the sanctity of the ruler. It appears for example that he claimed to be the lover of Ishtar (in Sumerian Inanna).11
It appears that alone with Royal Governors, (Ensi) Sargon established a system of garrisons with a permanent standing army. It appears that Sargon had generals (Sagina) under his command who were separate from the civil administration. There appear to have been bureaucratic staff and record keepers associated with the upkeep and maintenance along with the creation of a permanent bureaucracy, to organize the maintenance of the administrative structure of the empire and to ensure the payment of tribute.
As mentioned in the quotes above Sargon tried to ensure compliance with the Imperial will by among other things destroying the wall of cities he conquered so has to make rebellion far more difficult. The settling in place of a cadre of Royal officials also helped to ensure loyalty.
These officials were granted personal estates to both ensure their loyalty and to enable them to fulfill financially their duties. It appears that land was acquired by conquest and that the land owned by the previous dynasty of cities conquered was expropriated by Sargon for himself and his family.12
We know that some high officials owned great amounts of land for example one Mesag, who was Governor of Umma, held about 1,270 hectares of land.13 The governor was responsible for agriculture, distribution of the harvest, labour and draft animals, human labourers, sheep and goats, hunting and fishing, oils fats and perfumes and manufacturing, food production and commerce.
Some land was held directly for the king although in all cases the harvest was carefully monitored probably to make sure that the portion going to the king and his servants was fully paid up. Cargoes that went to Agade were carefully inspected and sealed to prevent tampering and theft. It appears that the system was designed to breakdown local loyalties and create an elite that would be loyal to the ruling dynasty, by creating a mass extended royal household.14
It appears for example from the archives found so far that such things as fishing and hunting were closely regulated with the royal governors distributing mass quantities of food stuffs as many as 60,000 at a time.15 Even the baking of bread and mass production of pottery was controlled by the governors along with carpenters and smiths also on the state ration list.
The records indicate a uniformity of governmental system across the empire. In some areas colonies of Mesopotamians were established and centres like Susa in Southern Iran) established to maintain control over conquered areas.16

This state certainly sounds very bureaucratic, authoritarian and frankly “statist”. I doubt however the people of Sargon’s empire would have made the distinction between public and private enterprise that we would make. Aside from Elam it appears that the empire of Sargon controlled Sumer, Assyria northern Mesopotamia, parts if not all of Syria and parts of Asia Minor. Later accounts would credit him with conquests in Crete and Egypt. Those are not likely to be true.17
It appears that Sargon by taking control of Kish had established himself in a very powerful position in that it appears that Kish dominated central Mesopotamia for centuries compared to the far more divided south. Also Kish may have had a more centralized, authoritarian kingship along with possibly sanctifying, sacralizing it more.18
It also appears that Sargon’s empire was likely the culmination of efforts to achieve the creation of empire based on efforts of his Sargon’s predecessors. Sargon, however, seems to have been vastly more successful.
Although Sargon established his rule through Akkadian governors over the largely Sumerian southern cities and used Akkadian, a Semitic language, as the language of administration it appears that there were little what we call ethnic hostility between the groups. What evidence we have seems to indicate that virtually every city state in central and Southern Babylonia at this time had both Semitic and Sumerian speakers and ethnic discord played little if any role in the politics of that time.19
In fact Sargon had his daughter Enheduanna made a priestess (Entum) of the Nanna, the moon god of the southern city of Ur. A position of considerable power and authority. Later centuries attributed a whole series of hymns in Sumerian to the goddess Inanna (Ishtar), who was her fathers personal deity and supposedly his lover, to her making her the first author in history who we can name. For hundreds of years after predominant Mesopotamian rulers would make one of their daughters the priestess of Nanna at Ur.20
Portrait of Enheduanna

We have samples of the hymns attributed to Enheduanna, for example:
“My own trial is not yet over, but a stranger sentence surrounds me as though it were my sentence. (complaint) To the radiant bed, I did not stretch out my hand. Nor did I reveal the words of Ningal to that ‘someone’ The radiant en-priestess of Nanna am I, (protest) My Queen, beloved of An, may your heart be calmed for me.
“you are even greater than your own mother, full of wisdom, foresight, queen over all lands, who allows existence too many, I now strike up your fate-determining song! All powerful divinity, suitable for the ME, that which you have said magnificently is the most powerful! Of unfathomable heart, oh highly driven woman, of radiant heart, your ME I will list for you now!”21
Sargon finally built the great royal city of Agade apparently with temple palaces to the various gods of Mesopotamia including, not surprisingly Ishtar (Inanna).22
Sargon reigned for c. 55 years towards the end of his reign a great revolt happened and as an ancient account say:
All the lands revolted against him, and they besieged him in Agade. …He went forth to battle and defeated them; he knocked them over and destroyed their vast army…Subartu [nomads] in their might attacked, but they submitted to his arms, and Sargon settled their inhabitants, and he smote them grievously.23
So Sargon was able to bequeath his empire to his successors and it reached its height under the reign of his grandson Naram-Sin. Shortly after Naram-Sin’s death it collapsed leaving to subsequent generations a myth of power and glory and of a series of “God-Kings”. 24

In a later Sumerian poem called The Curse of Agade, which denounces the corruption and pride of Agade and of Naram-Sin especially has leading to the Gods arranging the destruction of the city there is still this invocation of Agade during the reign of Sargon:
In those days the dwelling of Agade were filled with gold,
Its bright-shining houses were filled with silver,
Into its granaries were brought copper, lead (and) slabs of lapis lazuli,
Its silos bulged at the sides,
Its old women were endowed with counsel,
Its old men were endowed with eloquence,
Its young men were endowed with the “strength of weapons”,
Its little children were endowed with joyous hearts,
The nurse raised children of the governors, played on the algarsur instruments,
Inside the city (was full of) tigi music,
Outside it (was full of) reed pipe (and) zamzam music,
Its quay where the boats docked were all abustle,
All lands lived in security,
Their people witnessed (nothing but) happiness…25
 Head of Akkadian King
1. an Entum is a female cultic functionary of high status. See Kuhrt, Amelie, The Ancient Near East: c. 3000-330 BC, v. 1, Routledge, London, 1995, p. 58.
2. George A. Barton, Archaeology and The Bible, 3rd Ed., (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1920), p. 310. Prof. Arkenberg of Cal. Tech. has modernized the text. See Ancient History Source Book, Here. I have made a few more changes to the translation using other translations. Such as Legend of Sargon, at Here. See also translation in Pritchard, James B., Editor, The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts, v. 1, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1958, pp. 85-86.
3. Roux, Georges, Ancient Iraq, Penguin Books, London, 1992, pp. 151-155, 500, Saggs, H.W.F., The Greatness that was Babylon, New American Library, New York, 1962, pp. 66-68, Kuhrt, pp. 58-60, Yoffee, Norman, Myths of the Archaic State, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1005, pp. 142-144, Lloyd, Seton, The Archaeology of Mesopotamia, Revd. Edition, Thames and Hudson, London, 1984, pp. 137-138, Michalowski, Piotr, Memory and Deed, in Akkad The First World Empire, Ed. Liverani, Mario, Tipografia Poligafica Moderna, Padua, 1993, pp. 69-90.
4. See ETCSL, at Here
5. IBID.
6. Roux, pp. 152-153, Kuhrt, pp, 48-49. Urzbaba’s attempts to get rid of Sargon are given as follows in an ancient account:
After five or 10 days had passed, King Ur-Zababa …… and became frightened in his residence. Like a lion he urinated, sprinkling his legs, and the urine contained blood and pus. He was troubled, he was disturbed like a fish living in brackish water. 
It was then that the cup bearer of Ezina's wine-house, Sargon, lay down not to sleep, but lay down to dream. In the dream, holy Inanna drowned Ur-Zababa in a river of blood. The sleeping Sargon groaned and gnawed the ground. When King Ur-Zababa heard about this groaning, he was brought into the king's holy presence, Sargon was brought into the presence of Ur-Zababa (who said:) "Cupbearer, was a dream revealed to you in the night?" Sargon answered his king: "My king, this is my dream, which I will tell you about: 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 chewed his lips, he became seriously afraid. He spoke to ……, his chancellor: "My royal sister, holy Inanna, is going to change (?) my finger into a …… of blood; she will drown Sargon, the cup bearer, in the great river. Beliš-tikal, chief smith, man of my choosing, who can write tablets, I will give you orders, let my orders be carried out! Let my advice be followed! Now then, when the cupbearer has delivered my bronze hand-mirror (?) to you, in the E-sikil, the fated house, throw them (the mirror and Sargon) into the mould like statues." 
Beliš-tikal heeded his king's words and prepared the moulds in the E-sikil, the fated house. The king spoke to Sargon: "Go and deliver my bronze hand-mirror (?) to the chief smith!" Sargon left the palace of Ur-Zababa. Holy Inanna, however, did not cease to stand at his right hand side, and before he had come within five or 10 nindan of the E-sikil, the fated house, holy Inanna turned around toward him and blocked his way, (saying:) "The E-sikil is a holy house! No one polluted with blood should enter it!" Thus he met the chief smith of the king only at the gate of the fated house. After he delivered the king's bronze hand-mirror (?) to the chief smith, Beliš-tikal, the chief smith, …… and threw it into the mould like statues. 
After five or 10 days had passed, Sargon came into the presence of Ur-Zababa, his king; he came into the palace, firmly founded like a great mountain. King Ur-Zababa …… and became frightened in his residence. He realized what was it about, but did not put into words, did not discuss it with anyone. Ur-Zababa became frightened in the bed-chamber, his holy residence. He realized what was it about, but did not put into words, did not discuss it with anyone.
From ETCSL, at Here

7. Cooper, Jerrold S., Paradigm and Propaganda: The Dynasty of Akkade in the 21st Century, in Ed. Liverani, pp. 23, p. 18.
8. See Footnote 6.
9. Kuhrt, p. 49.
10. See ETCSL, at Here
11. See Footnote 3.
12. Foster, Benjamin R., Management and Administration in the Sargonic Period, in Ed. Liverani, pp. 25-39.
13. IBID. p. 29.
14. IBID. pp. 29-31.
15. IBID. pp. 31-32.
16. IBID. pp. 32-34.
17. See Footnote 3, Michalowski, Roux, Kuhrt.
18. Steinkeller, Piotr, Early Political Development in Mesopotamia and the Origins of the Sargonic Empire, in Ed. Liverani, pp. 107-129, at pp.118-121.
19. See Roux, pp. 146-155.
20. Kuhrt, p. 50, Roux p.153.
21 Enheduana, website Here
22. Roux. p. 152.
23, Roux, p. 155.
24 Roux, pp. 155-160, Kuhrt, pp. 50-55, Saggs, pp. 66-70.
25, Pritchard, James B., The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts, v. 2, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1975, p. 206.
Pierre Cloutier

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