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Friday, 16 September 2022

Sumer 5: The lost years and Sumer's last Empire

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Sumer 5


The lost years of the Gutian Dynasty

A time of suffering


To the Mesopotamians, the Gutians were a scourge, God's punishment visited upon the


Akkadians. 


"Nothing escaped their clutches, no one avoided their grasp. Messengers no longer traveled the highways, the courier's boat no longer passed along the rivers. Prisoners manned the watch. Brigands occupied the highways. The doors of the city gates of the Land lay dislodged in mud and all the foreign lands uttered bitter cries from the walls of their cities.

They were described as an unhappy people ‘who acted violently against the gods, people who the kingship of Sumer to the mountains took away, who Sumer with wickedness filled, who from one with a wife, his wife took away from him, who from one with a child, his child took away from him, who wickedness and violence produced within the country’.


Their raiding was said to interfere with agriculture, trade and the maintenance of the canals, worsening the effects of the crippling drought. 


This might have been true at first, but as soon as they began to rule Sumer rather than just pillage it, they would have needed to re-establish order and follow advice from their Sumerian subjects. Besides, they had their own likely smaller settlements in their own country, which we don't know much about. It is obvious that they were not as 'uncivlised' as they were painted. 

The earliest evidence of Gutian rule in Sumer came from a tablet of (Lugal) Annatum, a client king ruling Umma who had allegiance to Ba (lord)-Siûm, the second last Gutian ruler. Annatum, at least, seemed very happy with the situation. 



Dates and time periods

 

The period after the collapse of the Akkadian Empire has been described as a dark Age. The Gutian language had no written form.  The evidence we do have is scanty and contradictory. 

Adding to this is the inherent difficulty of dating ancient events.

The Sumerian year was 360 days with extra months added every four years to bring it in synch with solar events. Sumerian years were named according to some big event in the life of their ruler, such as  ‘the Year Sargon conquered Uruk’. Years may have varied between cities.  

The best attempts to reconcile ancient years depends on the cycles of Venus recorded in ancient Babylon, but this results in different chronologies varying by up to 64 years. Then these dates have to be extrapolated many centuries backwards which is a meticulous task in the face of scanty, sometimes confusing, evidence. 

Having ‘short’ and ‘middle chronologies’ can make sorting out any confusion difficult for the average reader. Many writers (myself included) don't always explain which system he or she is using. The middle is more conventional.


Puzur-Inshushinak


One of several examples of this confusion is the life of Puzur-Inshushinak , the great King of Susa whose life spanned the Gutian period. He was named 'calling the God Inshushinak',  He is thought  was said to begin as a client king of Shar-Kali-Sharri, the last Akkadian emperor.

He conducted a three year successful  campaign in the Zagreb region in 2110 BC on behalf of the Akkadians before declaring his independence in 2090 BC.  He then began to conquer the rest of Elam at the expense of the Akkadians as their empire weakened. 

The first problem we have with this is that Shar-Kali-Sharri's reign is thought to have ended about a hundred years before these dates. 


Also from Elamite and Neo-Sumerian records, Puzur-Inshushinak (if it was still him) is thought to have lived through till the time of Ur-Namma, the second Neo Sumerian Emperor. 

His living over what we believe was such a long period cannot be resolved with our current view of dates. 


Gutian control


The Gutians took over Adab and made it their capital most likely sometime towards the end of Shar-kali-sharri's (the fourth Akkadian Emperor's) reign (when things began to fall apart). 

This means that there was a period with Gutian rule overlapping with the last of the Akkadian Emperors (?) 29 years. 

After this, Uruk was strong enough to take Akkad and hold it for (?) 30 years. 

Other cities maintained their independence during this period. Lagash is one example of a city which gained independence when Shar-Kali-Sharri's Empire began to implode and it remained largely independent throughout the whole Gutian period until it was defeated by the emerging Neo-Sumerians, marking the end of its dynasty

During Gutian times, it entered into a golden age under its able énsi, Gudea. Interestingly, Gudea sent forth military campaigns into Elam. As he didn't campaign against the Gutians this suggested he had to some sort of accommodation with them, suggesting they were not as bad as claimed.


The time periods and sequence of events is most unclear but likely 60 years after establishing their base at Adab, the Gutians made a major push: overwhelming  Akkad, southern Sumer and Elam.

 

Just after this, in a deposition at the holy city of Nippur, one of their kings (Erridupizir) described himself as ‘the King of four quarters’ and says he was engaged in putting down rebellions in Simurrum the southern most  Hurrian city and its Lullubi allies. 

Some of the areas in the north of Mesopotamia were depopulated due to the catastrophic drought so this suggest he controlled a large empire. It was a phenomenal achievement for a race dismissed by Mesopotamians as having the 'intelligence of dogs', 'the appearance of monkeys' and a language which was a 'confused babble'.

 

 The Gutians were said to have 'destroyed'  Akkad perhaps around around 2083 BC. but Akkad had several client kings after this and the Gutians set up their main northern base somewhere in or near there. Presumably the old Akkadian capital wasn't completely destroyed.


From their two bases, they could send raiding parties by land or river canal and they weren’t above blocking water distribution or supplies to cities that opposed them. 

 

Local Sumerian dynasties continued. Some we know were client kings like Lugal-annatum of Umma and some had considerable independence like the rulers of Lagash. Many of those would pay tribute. It was the long standing system in Sumer under their lugals, as long as it wasn't as onerous as it had been in Akkadian times.


Competition from Susa

The Gutians, even at their height, were not unopposed. 

It is said that Puzur-Inshushinak of Susa (assuming it was him)  extended his territory at the expense of the dying Akkadian Empire to conquer all of Elam. He, like everyone else , was overwhelmed by the Gutians (during their major push) but towards the end of the Gutian period he began to take much of northern Sumer from Gutians including Eshnunna and Akkad and probably Akshak. 

According to the inscriptions of Ur-Namma, Puzur-Inshushinak then went on to numerous cities in central Mesopotamia. This left the Gutians holding Adab and a few surrounding towns, possibly isolated from their Gutian homeland by Elamite forces and maybe being pressed by them from the East.

It allowed Utu-hengal an easy victory over the Gutians who then agreed to leave Sumer.


The Neo (new) Sumerian Empire

(2112- 2004 BC) and the Sumerian renaissance

For the next eighty years there was a renaissance of Sumerian culture and power. 

Sumerian was still the language of religion, art and science and Akkadian remained the ‘Linga Franca’. Later kings took Akkadian names.


Utu-hengal of Uruk, and the start of the Neo-Sumerian Empire  

Utu-Hengal of Uruk is thought to have been a client king of the Gutians who rebelled as the Gutians weakened. 

His son in law, Ur-Nammu, the ensi of Ur, helped him conquer the rival city of Lagash which had grown in power and influence, marking the end of the Lagash dynasty. 

 Utu-Hengal then marched on Tirigan, the newly elected last Gutian ruler of Sumer.  Tirigan sent out envoys to sue for peace, but Ute- Hengal captured and bound them. 

As described in his victory stele, after much stopping to pray, he went on to have what

seemed an easy victory (using some sort of trap) around 2050 BC.
Tigran fled to a nearby settlement where he and his family were well treated until Utu-Hengal  demanded their surrender.   
Tirigan agreed to leave Sumer with his people in exchange for his freedom, showing just how weakened the once feared Gutians had become.

Utu-Hengal was then able to unite the rest of southern Sumer under his leadership, initiating the Neo-Sumerian Empire.

 The cumulative damage to Akkad from these multiple conquests was so severe that no one has been able to identify its ruins. Perhaps it was a fitting end to the brutal Akkadian period of history.

After uniting a large part of southern Sumer and evicting the Gutians, Utu-hengal began the process of rehabilitating Sumerians power, culture and infrastructure. In fact he died seven years later in an accident while inspecting a dam (or maybe he drowned while fishing).


Utu-hengal’s military achievements were exaggerated.

Utu-hengal was revered  by later generations of Mesopotamians who saw him as beginning the Neo-Sumerian Empire, a major Sumerian renaissance and the expulsion of the hated Gutians. 

While considerable poetic licence is expected on victory stelae over the Gutians Utu-hengal described himself as the ‘King of the four quarters of the world’ which he most definitely was not. He didn’t even have control of the Uri region which was held by the Elamites and his victory over the already defeated Gutians in Sumer was not as heroic as it may have been portrayed. 

Admittedly, like many Neo-Sumerian Emperors, he took even greater pride in the rehabilitation of Sumerian culture and infrastructure. He was particularly known for his piety and support of temples. 


Ur-Namma

The poem ‘The Death of Utu-hengal and descent into the underworld’ written shortly after his death suggests he was betrayed (presumably murdered) by his own men.  

His son in law, Ur-Namma, had to fight unarmed rivals from Uruk for the succession, confirming the possibility of a coup. Ur-Namma was victorious and took the 'kingship' to Ur so the Neo-Sumerian Empire is also called the third Dynasty of Ur (Ur  111). 

He then claimed to be the elder brother of the ancient hero Gilgamesh and hence a son of the Goddess Ninsun (of the wild cows), establishing his legitimacy. 

The Ur dynasty is not the only dynasty claiming descent from Ninsun, Gudea of lagash had made a similiar claim. 

Records from Ur-Namma's time emphasises his contributions to law, arts, culture, and infrastructure including the commencement of the great ziggurat at Ur.  

Ancient ziggurat at Ali Air Base Iraq
from hardnfast, Wiki

Less is known about his military activities but it was he that evicted the Elamites, taking  control of all of Sumer and pressing on to take control over Elam. He also conducted a devastating raid on the Gutian heartland. 

During his reign, brigands were cleared from the roads and pirates from the coasts. 

He formed an alliance with Mari to oppose the growing military threat posed by the Amorites.


The Neo-Sumerian Empire was not Sumer of old returned.

In the middle of the twentieth century it was commonly assumed that Ur-Namma’s  ‘Empire’ covered much of northern Mesopotamia and stretched as far as Byblos in Lebanon. 

Part of the confusion was caused by the scant mention of his military campaigns and because the Neo-Sumerians called foreign kings ‘énsi’ as opposed to their own emperor-king ( mostly called lugal which continued into Akkadian and Hittite, the Akkadian term for king was šarrum or Shah ). 

The title énsi was the same for client kings and governors and caused some early archaeologists assume that many independent kings were actually appointed from Ur.

Ur-Namma’s  most distant and northern-most city was likely Aššur (destined to become one of the Assyrian Empire’s capitals) . 

And, after a brave start, things were going to get  more difficult for the Neo-Sumerians.


There had been a period of slightly better climate but the drought recurred beginning around 2200 BC.  Southern Sumer, once the great food bowl and one of the most densely populated region on earth continued to lose land to salinisation and desertification.


The Neo-Sumerians tried to rehabilitate some of their failing cities and settlements by building temples and performing devotions, trying to regain the favour of the local Gods to ensure their blessings but despite  their best efforts, land loss continued and Eridu, the oldest of their great settlement (not the first to become a city) was the first to be abandoned.


And the ‘barbarian’ threat was far from ended. 

Ur-Namma who claimed to have ‘destroyed the Gutians’ by a punitive raids on their homeland, but the Gutians in their homeland proved to be a tougher proposition than evicting their last defeated remnants form Sumer.

Ur-Namma died on a later campaign against them (2095 BC) when his army was routed, leaving him isolated and out in the front


And the Gutians were not the only of the Zagros hill tribes to attack the Neo-Sumerians. Around 2088 and 2031 a vast confederation of Hill tribes from a little further north to the Gutians ‘rose like locusts’ to attack Sumer.  


But if the Gutians were the scourge of the Akkadians, it was the Amorites who were the scourge of the Neo-Sumerians.

The Hebrew name ‘Amorite’, the Akkadian Amurrūm (transliterated as MAR.TU)  and the Sumerian Tidnum all mean ‘westerners’.  They were related to the Arameans of later history and spoke an early version of Aramaic, a  language similar to Hebrew. 

In typical Sumerian fashion, the Neo-Sumerians dismissed them as herding barbarians.

The MAR.TU who know no grain.... The MAR.TU who know no house nor town, the boors of the mountains.... The MAR.TU who digs up truffles... who does not bend his knees (to cultivate the land), who eats raw meat, who has no house during his lifetime, who is not buried after death.

But this was a serious under-estimation. The Amorites a little bit further north were rebuilding settlements that had been destroyed or devastated by drought, including the once powerful city of Ebla after its destruction by Sargon. They were clearly civilised.


Shulgi, Ur-Namma’s  son (2094 – c. 2046 BC)

Shulgi was the greatest emperor  of the dynasty. He finished the great Ziggurat at Ur. He improved roads and his was the first empire to set up a system of inns along them. He is credited with standardising administrative processes, archival documentation, the tax system (including taxing temples)  and the national calendar. He improved the army with more specialisation.

Cylindrical seal of Shulgi, Louvre

Perhaps in line with the theme of exaggeration, he called himself a God and claimed he once ran between Nippur and Ur and back in the one day. A literary man, he spoke Elamite, Akkadian and Sumerian and wrote a long hymns to glorify himself, his manliness and his actions.

His reign started with a punitive raid on the Gutians and then, after enjoying seven years of relative peace, he was almost constantly at war. Details are sketchy. He retained control of Susa but other parts of Elam rebelled and he had to deal with the massive incursion of hill tribes across his Eastern Border. 

While he was in the East he decided to extend the Empire but even he needed multiple attempts to take the southern Hurrian strong hold city of Simurrum (and its neighbouring ally Lullubi).  Whether he took Nineveh and, if so, whether he managed to hold it is unclear but which he considered this greatest triumph. Admittedly Simurrum was virtually a city-fortress and stubbornly held, but it points to the weakness of even his reformed army.


He had managed to keep the peace in the north-west, for a while, despite immigration of Amorites southwards and  both Hurrians and Amorites began to appear in his army. Unfortunately towards the end of his reign, that the Amorites began to threaten Sumer.

Shulga, in some haste, tried to built a great (earthen) wall to try to keep them out. It was said to be 155 miles (250 kilometres) long. It was world’s first great wall built by a civilisation to keep barbarians.

According to one version, it was too long for Shulgi to man properly and was not anchored by natural barriers so the Amorites could simply walk around it. Whether this was true or not, or whether it wasn’t finished, it was clearly a measure of his desperation and it was ineffective. 


Amar-Sin and Shu-Sin

Shulgi was succeeded by his two sons both of whom used the Akkadian versions of their names. The first was Amar-Sin (2046-2037 BC), seemed to hold onto most of the Empire, but he is mainly recorded as campaigning in obscure so presumably unimportant places. The only ones that were recognisable were Urbilum (Erbil in northern Iraqi, Kurdistan region) and parts of Elam. It was he that unsuccessfully tried a building program to rehabilitate some of the failing Southern cities. 

Shu-Sin (2037  BC – 2028), his brother, also ruled for about 9 years and tried to stabilise his north-west region against the Hurrians and Amorites.  He sent an army from Aššur to conquer (or reconquer) as far as Nineveh but soon he was facing a full scale fight with the Amorites on the other flank.  He spent the rest of his time fortifying his southern cities and building his own great version of a(n earthen wall) around 2034 BC. It was called the Wall of Amurru after the Akkadian name for the Amorites. 

We don’t know the location of Shulga’s wall or whether it became part of the later  Amurru Wall. The Ammaru wall stretched from the Tigris and Euphrates and a little beyond on either side. It was a 170 miles (280 km) long. It was located a little to the south of Kish so really only protected the Southern most cities. The ruins of it can still be seen today north of Baghdad.


Ibbi-Sin,  the last Emperor.

 (2028–2004 BC)

Maybe the emperors of Ur were all a little crazy, claiming they were Gods related to the


  moon God, Sin. If so, Ibbi-Sin, Shu-Sin’s son was crazier than most. 

In the middle of the catastrophe engulfing his empire, Ibbi-Sin seemed more focused on religious rituals and the selection of priests. Probably, like many Sumerians, he was hoping the favour of the Gods would make his problems go away.

He then ordered more earthen fortifications to Ur and Nippur. On one, he claimed that the wall he had built was so imposing it would ‘make the lands secure and to make the highlanders and lowlanders bow down before him.’ How a mud-brick defensive wall around one city would strike fear into his enemies and unite his kingdom was never explained.

As the Amorites began over-running the countryside and capturing cities, other cities were declaring independence. Brigands roamed the roads. With the drought and chaos, grain prices were said to reach 60 times normal. Susa declared independence  (again) and turned hostile (again). 

Meanwhile, Shu-Sin proclaimed wondrous alliances and victories over the Amorites and Elamites. In one inscription “ … Ibbi-Suen, the king of Ur, overwhelmed Susa, Asamdun, and Awan like a storm, subdued them in a single day and seized the lords of their people …” 

A bit like Hitler in his final bunker, he had retreated into fantasy. In the end all he had was one impoverished city. 

Somewhere around 2004 BC the Elamites captured Ur and he died a prisoner.


The Dynasty of Isin, pretenders to the throne

Ibbi-Sin had at least one competent governor, Ishbi-Erra in the city Isin, 20 miles south of Nippur.  Ishbi-Erra got ready for what he saw coming by hoarding grain. Then he led his own army to have decisive victories over the Amorites and eventually reclaimed Ur and Uruk from the Elamites. 

For the next hundred years, his dynasty took on the trappings of Neo-Sumerian Emperors.

They were the most powerful of several independent Sumerian cities competing with places like Eshnunna, Aššur, Larsa and Lagash. 

Meanwhile the Amorites were only getting stronger in their new capital Babylon in the Uri region. The remains of Sumer was finally conquered by the famous Hammurabi. It was he that created the first Babylonian Empire and ended Sumerian power in Mesopotamia forever. 


Foot note 1: Abraham, the great patriarch

Abraham, descendent of Noah and the great Hebrew patriarch was said to be born in the ‘Ur of the Chaldeans’ but this was much later.  The (Iron Age) Chaldean dynasty of Babylon ruled Ur briefly from the late 7th century BC. 

Not long after them, Ur was finally abandoned.


Foot note 2: Iraq, salinisation and today

Through a sharp rise in population over the last fifty years and loss of productive land, Iraq is not alone in the region for going from an exporter to a net importer of food.

Many areas that were incredibly fertile in ancient times have long returned to desert. In more recent  times, 30% of irrigated land has gone out of production, and Iraq continues to lose 25 000 hectares per year. There are significantly low yields on another 70% of its irrigated lands. Many farmers are reliant on subsidies which were slowed due to government deficits and it is hard for them to compete with cheap imported food. 

Farming employs 20 % of the work force and contributes 3% to the GDP.

Iraq has also suffered a long period of war (s), turmoil, earlier sanctions, insurgency and ethnic violence. It is fortunate that it has oil and lots of it. While things are finally improving in the overall economy, attempts to improve local food production have not managed to gain a lot of traction yet.

 I hope you have enjoyed this final blog on the Incredible Sumerians. 

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Monday, 4 July 2022

Sumer part 4 The Brutal Akkadians

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Sumer 4

The Akkadian Empire (2334 – 2154 BC)

Arguably, there were some Sumerian Lugals who created short lived empires before Sargon but it is still Sargon who is most often credited with creating the world’s first Empire.

His conquests ushered in the Akkadian Period of Sumerian history.

Sargon of Akkad

We don't know Sargon's origin and we don't know his birthname. 

Sargon  (Šar-ru-um-ki-in) is Akkadian for ‘the king who established’.

In one legend he was described as the illegitimate child of a priestess who (a millennia before the time of the Moses story) sent him forth in a basket, with a woven lid and sealed with pitch, floating on the Euphrates river.

He was said to be found and adopted by a ‘drawer of water’ and become his ‘gardener’. It’s hard to know how humble these positions really were. Agriculture and water were the major resources for Mesopotamian cities and Sumerians delighted in their use of euphemisms.

Sargon then became the ‘cup bearer’ (meaning senior general) to the king of Kish, Ur-Zababa. He was also énsi of Akkad (possibly appointed by Ur-Zababa). 

When (Lugal)-Zage-Si of Uruk conquered Kish, Sargon rebelled.

In one legend (following on a dream of Sargon that Ur-Zababa would die) , Ur-Zababa kept sending him to Zage-Si to be killed but the two formed what would prove to be a temporary alliance.

After winning Kish and Babylon, Sargon headed south for a showdown with Zage-Si near the southern city of Uruk (around 2334 BC)

After defeating Zage-Si , he took him blindfolded and in a collar to the holy city of Nippur and humbled him before Enlil’s altar. He then went on to conquer city after city (by some accounts 34 cities) including Ur, Lagash and Uma, destroying their walls. It is possible that Zage-Si ‘s campaigns may have weakened some of these and centralised military power in Sumer, making them ripe for conquest.

After conquering all of Sumer, Sargon lead successful campaigns into Northern Mesopotamia, the Zagros mountains and Elam. He even conquered as far as Southern Anatolia and Northern Levant.

It was claimed he ruled for 55 years.

 A.  The Background to the Akkadian Empire 

To understand what happened during the Akkadian Empire, we have to know the changes that occurred in the previous period (the Early Dynastic Period) 

The Sumerians become more warlike

(As discussed in the last blog, and contrary to what is often said) Sumer seemed to be remarkably peaceful (internally) throughout most of its incredibly long history. 

Any battles that were fought did not involve great destruction of cities and infrastructure. 

The temple was the centre of Sumerian life, including city administration and grain storage. The cities and the lands around them (with their infrastructure) were sacred. They were thought to be the property of the Gods that had taken residence within the cities. 

Sumer was initially ruled by a theocracy who formed a government which, in some respects, extended beyond city walls to cult centres.

Most usually only one city had hegemony. Throughout the Uruk period this was Uruk which had the dominant culture of the region, which eventually extended well beyond Sumer.

 Around 3600 BC there is evidence of the destruction of a distant neighbour, Hamoukar, but that included a Sumerian trading enclave in the city so we don't know if the Sumerians were the aggressors. Besides this, it was outside Sumer.  

The Early Dynastic Period (after the great flood) began about 2900 BC. 

Hegemony was awarded by the priests at the holy city of Nippur, the cult centre for worship of Sumer's prime God, Enlil . 

Ruins of Enlil's temple ('Ekur') at Nippur.
The meeting place of the Gods
and where man was created

At first this was given to Kish, the strongest city of that time. Later, it returned to Uruk as that city recovered. 

 The syllabic form of cuneiform did not evolve until 2600 BC. Any inscriptions we have from before that is in the untranslated 'logographic' form, though we may recognise some of the kings names ( that continued in a special form through to later times)

The early part of the EDP is sometimes called the 'Heroic Age' because the only documents we have is legends written many, many, centuries later or the various forms of the Sumerian Kings lists that have rulers like Agga (Akka) of Kish ruling for 625 years. 

Sumerian kings (lugals or ensi) emerged from the theocracy. At first they were subject to the power of the temple and attended to more secular matters.

Eventually they began to be seen as their God's representative on earth. In one (later) poem when Gilgamesh of Uruk refused to supply workers to Kish, he captured Agga of Kish by glowing with a heavenly light and sowing confusion amongst the soldiers of Kish. After that (in this poem at least) Gilgamesh recognises Agga's seniority and the conflict was resolved peacefully.

As the ‘Early Dynastic Period’ ( EDP 2900–2350 BC) progressed, Sumer's kings grew in secular power. Sumerians began to build palaces and ornate tombs for them.

 Grave goods and artistic illustrations indicate increasing militarisation. 

The 'war' side of the 'standard of Ur' 26th century BC

Then their is mention of increasing conflicts outside of Sumer with Elam, Ararat and Gudam.'

Some time in the 26th century BC( 2600-2501 BC) Mesannepada of Ur is said to have taken the kingship from( Lugal Kitun of ) Uruk by force of arms. 

This was the beginning the first dynasty of Ur .

It is around 2450 BC, in the middle of the EDP, we find the first clearly documented battle between two Sumerian cities.

The fight between Lagash and Umma.

The conflict between Lagash and Umma was over a piece of land (as marked by an irrigation canal) that the neighbouring cities both claimed.  

When it first reached crisis point, in keeping with the long tradition, the two cities took it to mediation.  

Mesilim, the lugal of Kish, awarded the land to Nirgirsu, the God of Lagash (and hence to the people of Lagash).

He erected a stele to mark his decision and peace was obtained for a hundred years. Umma was supposed to pay rent for any part of this land that its farmers used, but their city remained discontented and the rent was rarely paid.

When it came to a head a hundred years later attitudes had changed. 

Ush, the  énsi of Umma simply marched his troops into the land and smashed Mesilim’s stele.

The Ensi of  Lagash, E-anna-tum, responded with force. His victory ( around 2450 BC) is recorded on the fragmented  ‘Stele of Vultures’. The army from Umma was totally routed with the slaughter of 3,600 soldiers. 

It was an unimaginable loss for that time. 

A typical Sumerian army of the time would be around 5,000. The énsi of the city would have about 700 professional soldiers both as a palace guard and to maintain order in the city; the rest would be a conscripted militia having to supply their own equipment. Some of them would be poorly equipped skirmishers. 

When Ush fled back to his city he was murdered by his own people, and his successor sued for peace.

Unfortunately, the border dispute was not really settled.

E-anna-tum’s successors (who had similar names to him) repelled two more attacks from Umma until a century later Lagash fell to (Lugal)-Zage-Si who (was initially from Umma and) was on his way to establishing his ill fated empire.

B.      New equipment and tactics

Understanding the extent of the slaughter

This battle marked a turning point in Sumerian society in many ways. Firstly, it indicated escalating violence. Secondly, it demonstrated an evolution in Sumerian military techniques and equipment.

We don’t know what E-anna-tum faced in his battle with Umma. We don’t know if he killed prisoners, but something seemed to be making his army much more effective, and horribly so for his enemies.

He didn’t stop there. He went on to conquer the Uri region and declare himself the king of Kish (which was still a prestigious title). 

He then campaigned in Elam , ‘destroying’ many cities including Susa.

He also defeated the powerful city of Mari in south eastern Syria, demanding tribute.

Incidentally, it is also sometime around this period that Uruk under (Lugal)-Kisalsi of Uruk (and Ur) battles with Girsu (Lagash) repeatedly. Kisalsi doesn't appear in the king's list but was an historical figure. One could speculate that Lagash, for a time, was maybe strong enough to challenge Uruk for hegemony or possibly Uruk was regaining control after the reign of E-anna-tum. 

The ‘Stele of Vultures’ suggests how E-anna-tum did it.  It shows the use of a tight phalanx of spearmen wearing helmets, primitive armour coats with the king riding in a chariot.

1.      The Phalanx

A phalanx fighting in formation, with a wall of (rectangular body-length) shields, is infinitely superior 

to a mob of warriors fighting individually (or what happens to one side if their shield wall breaks).

We don’t know if Umma used the phalanx as well but it was the phalanx (or the more successful use of it) with better equipped and trained soldiers that accounted for the devastating Lagash victory.

They also made some previous weapons ineffective.

2.      The use of copper helmets

The widespread use of copper helmets negated the killing power of the mace, making it virtually obsolete. Why copper? This was the early Bronze Age in the Middle East. Bronze, initially made with arsenic later with tin and sometimes some lead added, had started in Mesopotamia 3,500 BC 

Perhaps padded copper helmets had adequate (or even better) shock absorbing qualities for blunt trauma, and copper was more readily available than its alloys.

3.      Primitive armour

The soldiers also wore coats (perhaps boiled leather or perhaps wool) sewn with mini bossed-shields of bronze sewn all over them. This made the various long bladed cutting axes less effective.

4.      Axes evolving in response to the use of armour

The stele of vultures shows E-anna-tum using something in his left hand that might be a primitive form of ‘sickle sword’ the inside for hooking shields (and limbs) and the outside evolved from a long bladed axe (it could be a whip etc.).

To better penetrate armour, new axes evolved with narrow bladed (bronze) heads rivetted into the shaft. It was an innovation that would last for a couple of millennia.

5.      Sumerian bows rendered less effective

The early Sumerian bows had an estimated kill range of from 50 to 100 yards (an English long bow could achieve just short of 300 yards) . Armour and the phalanx formation with its shield wall, suddenly rendered them (and slings) much less effective, at least against the phalanx.

6.      The use of javelins

The Sumerians found an answer to this : lancers armed with throwing spears.

A javelin sticking out of a shield renders it useless until it can be removed.

The javelin has better penetrating power against leather and primitive armour and they were used with throwing thongs to increase their power and range.

And a strike by a lance is usually disabling, if not lethal.

A volley of lances would easily disrupt the phalanx’s formation, the Sumerian's super weapon.

If you can disrupt a phalanx’s formation and it becomes vulnerable.

7.      Primitive Chariots

E-anna-tum climbed off his chariot to lead his troops in battle.

Back then, even the nomads herded and fought on foot. They only used carts for transport.

‘Chariots’ back then were slower, clumsy affairs, more like battle wagons. And along with other many limitations, they were limited by terrain. One was found in Susa dating to E-anna-tum’s time but they were really only suitable on the plains or on roads. They would be useless in wooded hill country (like the  Gutian homeland and much of Elam).

Most had four wheels and high sides to protect the crew. They were pulled by four mules or donkeys (not horses which  Sumerians called ‘the foreign ass’). The Sumerians invented the rein ring which gave them some ability to steer, but had no ‘bit’ so the chariot pole was attached to wooden collars and head stalls for their donkeys.  

The Sumerians invented two wheeled chariots, but the early placement of the axle in the middle made them unstable if ever driven at speed.

They would be nowhere near the fast, manoeuvrable and devastating war machines of later history. Nor had the bigger and stronger horses needed to pull them been bred. 

They found most use as ‘fast’ land  couriers between cities, and for transporting nobles and commanders into (and perhaps away from) battle. 

8.      The use of throwing lances from chariots.

E-anna-tum seems to be holding a lance while he drives his chariot on the Stele of Vultures and has a quiver of more.

We don’t know a lot about the wider use of chariots at that  time, but the shift to lancers allowed at least one later king of Umma to develop an elite force of sixty chariots armed with lance-throwers, to attack the enemy phalanx.

It is somewhat speculative, but reasonable, to think that Lugal-Zagesi (of Umma and then Uruk) a century after E-anna-tum had a large force of lancers on foot with the addition of lancers on chariots as relatively mobile shock troops.

9.      Siege techniques

Only a score of years before Zagesi’s victory, (En) shag-kush-ana of Uruk lead a punitive raid into the north, destroying several cities (and leaving a destruction layer at Kish).

We don’t always know what the Sumerians mean when they say they ‘destroyed’ a city. Some seem to be a going concern not soon after wards. It is a translation usually of a terse comment and is prone to the hyperbole common on celebratory inscriptions. 

As a minimum, it must have involved looting and the removal of fortifications and maybe destruction of the palace.

What was visited on Kish, however, was enough to leave evidence in the archaeological record. It was permissible to ‘destroy’ a foreign city of heathens but this was the first time this level of destruction was visited by the Sumerians on a city in Sumer.

The scale of his activities in the Uri region might suggest more effective siege techniques. We know Sargon later attacked one city by tunneling under its walls , so he at least used sappers and had found some way to protect them from missiles from above.

 Shag kush ana’s raid also points to increasing racial tension between the ‘true’ Sumerians and their largest racial minority, the Semitic Akkadians in the north.

At the start of the EDP Kish was highly respected. Now we have the Akkadians raiding the Sumerian cities in the south and trying to wrest hegemony by force, followed by a deadly reprisal attack from the south.

Some Akkadian Innovations

1.      A professional army

Even before Sargon (2334–2279 BC) the number of professional soldiers in Sumer was increasing. 

Sargon developed a standing army of 5,400.

He also established ‘niskum’, an elite class of veterans probably equivalent to the old aga-ush lugai, or “royal soldiers.” They were given plots of land and allotments of fish and salt every three months.

While Sargon did not invent the phalanx, he was able to train his men better, including moving over uneven ground or fighting in the melee, and he wasn’t limited by the harvest and the usual fighting season.

2.      Did Akkadians have better bows?

In one illustration, Sargon’s grandson, Narām-Sîn, seems to be holding a composite bow.  

These were invented maybe around this time, by Asian nomads, before anyone fought on horseback. 

They were much harder to make with wood, sinew and horn glued and bound in layers. Their compact size was not their only advantage. Without going into later innovations in long bows, they had a draw weight as much as twice that of the simple bows of that time.

I should briefly mention that (despite what you may have read) flint was the preferred arrowhead for most of the bronze age. 

Making arrow heads in any number with bronze would have been impractical with the technology of the time. It would have required molten metal poured into a (single use)  mould (clay, sand etc ). Then you needed cold-metal hammering followed by careful filing to bring your arrow head into a point.

Flint arrow heads were far cheaper and easier to make. An archer could make his own with simple tools, if he so chose.

Even with this limitation, a compound bow would have enough penetrating power to pierce leather and armoured coats.  They would be a powerful counter to lancers with much greater range and rate of fire. And they could easily devastate the clumsy battle carts with their lancers and the animals that pulled them.

We don’t know for sure if what Naram-Sin held was a composite bow. 

Other illustrations show Akkadians using simple bows and recurved bows (another innovation), so we really don’t know which were their main bows.

C.      Life under the Akkadians

A Centralised Economy

The economy of Akkad was founded on the successful Sumerians which made it highly organised and somewhat centralised, with standardised vessels for grain and oil. Tax was paid in produce or labour. There were huge agricultural surpluses and plunder flooding into Akkad.

Sargon routinely destroyed city walls of those he defeated to prevent rebellion.

He sometimes appointed (Akkadian) governors in cities like Susa of Elam. 

It is not true, as some have said, that he did this routinely.

The Sumerian Kings list and records of subsequent rebellions show that he more often used the local rulers as client kings. Both governors and client kings would be called ‘énsi’ (there was only one lugal now), maybe this caused some confusion. 

He introduced Akkadian (an Eastern Semitic language) as the lingua franca throughout his empire, written in cuneiform.

Sumerian  remained the language of science and religion.

B. Sargon,  the darling of future Mesopotamians

Sargon was the darling of later generations. Like many conquerors, Sargon was destined to be viewed through 'rose coloured' glasses by subsequent generations who weren’t on the side of his victims .

The Southern Sumerians hated him with a passion.

The truth, a brutal regime

While there are limited contemporary records, we have later tablets that appear to be copied from original inscriptions and they paint a brutal  picture of Akkadian oppression.

In the battle for Uruk Sargon said he  “destroyed the city and tore down its walls” and (as he moved further south)  “... all the land … as far as the sea. he destroyed”.

He seemingly emptied the land of people, settlements and animals.

The Akkadians were efficient conquerors, but their merciless tactics engendered only hatred in their subjects at a time there was already friction between the Akkadians in the north and the native Sumerians in the South. 

Of course the Sumerians were not the only conquered people that hated them and their tactics.

In his old age Sargon faced a major rebellion. It was so large that he became besieged in Akkad. 

He responded with slaughter. After one battle alone he records “3,600 killed …20 heaps of men killed and buried. ,”

Civilians enslaved

Previously,  Sumerian civilians only became enslaved  because of debts or if they sold themselves or their children into slavery. Now they  were (like foreigners had already been) part of war booty. In fact, the name of Sargon’s wife was Ashlultum which means “I took you as spoil.”

 C. Sargon’s two sons Rimush and Manishtushu

Rimush, the butcher

The first of Sargon's two sons to rule was even more brutal.

He had to deal with almost constant rebellions and responded with a policy of terror.

"Rimuš, king of the world, in battle over Adab and Zabalum was victorious, and 15,718 men he struck down, and 14,576 captives he took ... Their cities he conquered, and their walls he destroyed. Further, from their two cities many men he expelled, and to annihilation he consigned them.”

Rimush introduced mass slaughter of not only soldiers but civilians. He visited large scale destruction on the Sumerian city-states, all meticulously recorded in sadistic detail.

In the end, a great many major Sumerian cities were destroyed, and Sumerian human losses were enormous

He was assassinated in a coup after a short reign, according to one legend by his brother Manishtushu.

His brother’s military exploits are poorly documented but he faced a continuation of the general revolts and extended control well into Elam and on either side of the Persian Gulf.

He was also assassinated by members of his own court, after a fifteen year reign.

D.     Naram-Sin 2254–2218 BC

The greatest Akkadian Emperor, a Curse and the Beginning of the End

Naram-Sin means ‘beloved of Sin’ (the Akkadian name for the moon God,  Nanna).

Naram-Sin (once thought to be Sargon)

He was Manishtushu 's son, Sargon’s grandson and Akkad’s greatest emperor.

Early on in his reign, he faced 'the great revolt'. It was (said to be) even larger than either of what his grandfather or uncles faced, a grand coalition of Southern and Northern cities lead by the lugals of Uruk and Kish, and the énsi of Nippur. It took him nine military expeditions to put it down.

To celebrate, he built a temple to himself and declared himself a God.

In the following  years triumph seemed to follow triumph. He already had control of Elam and had statues of himself erected there, but he went on to campaign in southern Anatolia and the Levant. 

The Empire under Naram-Sin (from Sémhur, Wiki)

How much 'hands on' control he had over these more distant regions is unclear, but he certainly demanded tribute.

It was under his reign that the Empire reached its greatest extent in land, power and wealth.

And yet later Mesopotamians believed his reign marked the beginning of the end for the Empire. 

Whether this was true or not, the multiple catastrophes  that were visited on the Empire began in his time and by late in his son's reign, the Empire was on borrowed time. 


The Curse of Agade (Akkad).

To the Sumerians, the Akkadians (for all their sins) were bringing down the wrath of the Gods upon them.

One legend applies to Sargon himself, but it was Naram-Sin, their greatest emperor, who was the most famous for being cursed.

Most the legends portray him as brave but a tragic, flawed, figure an object lesson on the dangers of hubris and refusal to listen to the Gods.

In the Cutha legend he ignores all portents and decides to battle a supernatural horde that were conquering the hinterlands. He famously asks "what lion practiced divination?”

He sends forth three great armies in three years and none return. While many other misfortunes reign down on his people he is plagued by despair and doubts, until finally he repents.

Ishtar then warns him that Enlil has a plan for these creatures to punish other evil do-ers. 

At the end, he is said to leave a stone tablet to both record the story and warn future rulers against his terrible folly .

He is more directly cursed in at least two other legends.

The ‘Curse of Agade' (Akkad), was written not too long after the Empire's fall.

It begins with how the Akkadians in Sargon’s time had induced Inanna to take residence in their city by building a lavish temple for her.

It continues in some detail about the wealth and blessings that she (and other Gods) bestowed on the city.

Suddenly the city loses favour with Enlil, the reasons are never explained except by “ (Enlil)  heard words from Ekur.” 

Ekur means ‘mountain house’ and was the dwelling place of the gods near the heavens. It was also specifically the name of Enlil’s  temple at Nippur, built on a hill.

Enlil then insists the other Gods desert the city, removing their gifts.

Naram-Sin never understands why he has lost the God's favour.

(If he asked his Sumerian subjects, I sure they could have explained in some detail.)

Finally, he declares war against the God Enlil, sacking the holy city, Nippur, and destroying Enlil's imposing hill-temple there. After that, he declares himself a God.

This results in him being given a terrible curse by a total of eight Gods.

It seems incredible that Naram-Sin might sack Nippur, the holiest city in Sumer. He spent some time building there, but it is recorded that his son spent many years restoring it, so maybe it's true, we don't know. 

In the much later 'Weidner Chronicle' (an early attempt at history written in Babylon in 500 BC) it was claimed  Naram-Sin destroyed the people of Babylon, so twice Murduk summoned the forces of Gutium against him. Marduk gave his kingship to the Gutian force. ... he (Marduk) destroyed his people by famine. From the rising of the sun unto the setting of the sun they opposed him and gave him no rest ...”.

Of course, this is a bit anachronistic, Babylon wasn't a great city at that time and its God, Nergal, had not yet risen to become the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon.

E.                     Shar-kali-shari , Naram-Sin’s son 

and an Empire in decline

More on what happened in a minute, but the ‘Curse of Agade’ is written in the form of the Mesopotamian  ‘naru’  literature. 

It uses an historical figure, usually a king, who describes legendary events in such compelling prose that for many it was initially thought to be autobiographical.

It also caused many to question what Naram-Sin could have possibly left for his son Shar-kali-shari (2217–2193 BC) after his string of misfortunes.

But ‘naru’ literature, like the Epic of Gilamesh or the Legend of Sargon, was not history.

Contemporary reports, suggest that the Empire was still very much a going concern in the early part of Shar-kali-shari’s reign. He started well enough. He had various victories over independent Elamite cities, rebelling Sumerians, the Amorites (north-western semitic people) and the Gutian barbarians.

He even made an expedition to the cedar forests to get wood for temples in Babylon and Nippur.

It was some time after these initial successes, disaster struck for the Empire Sargon created.

Fast forward and the sparse evidence we have shows him really struggling towards the end of his reign.

He cannot stop the raiding Gutians who are running off Sumer's cattle. 

Several southern cities have declared their independence and cities in Elam have not only declared their independence but are beginning to expand their territory at the Empire’s expense.  

Exactly when the Akkadian empire fell is uncertain. What followed after his death was several civil wars, with four emperor-kings in three years (including one énsi from Uruk) .

 By the time the dust settled, all that was left of the empire was a rump state holding Akkad and a few nearby cities.

 There was a modest renaissance under king Dudu 2189 BC – 2169  BC and his son, Shu-turul but the Empire was finished, they were to be the last independent kings of Akkad. Akkad would fall to Uruk a second time in 2154 BC, marking the official end of the world’s first Empire.

The Catastrophes that plagued the Empire.

1. Drought

The climate was dry during the last Glacial maximum. As the glaciers retreated there was a period where the world was warmer than today (the Atlantic Period) and overlapping that time there was a wet/fertile period for many parts of the world (6000-3500 BC).

For the moment it is best know as ‘the African humid period’ though it wasn’t confined to Africa and the Sahara. It also included many other areas important to mankind like the Eastern Mediterranean, North and East Africa, Southwest Asia and parts of North America.

Many deserts were smaller and irrigation in hot, dry, Sumer brought forth a fabulous bounty for its inhabitants.

Since that time, many of these regions have been slowly drying.

By the time of the Akkadian Empire, Sumer, which had been the ‘bread’ basket of a vast region was approaching the end of its most productive era.

There were shorter term fluctuations and the Akkadian Empire faced what was caused the ‘4.2-kiloyear event’.

 It is such a gentle term to describe what was a dreadful catastrophe for many regions, including Mesopotamia, the worst climatic event of the modern, Holocene period and lasting (with some variability) three centuries.

Some parts of the world escaped. Others suffered terrible floods but places like northern Africa, northern China, northern Iberia and the Middle East there was a catastrophic drought.

The Nile floods failed,  the old Kingdom of Egypt collapsed.

Sargon had already been forced to import (mostly rain-fed)  grain from the (Mediterranean) region in the far north of Mesopotamia to pay his army and large work force.

Late in the reign of Naram-Sin, the drought hit in its full fury.

There was widespread famine and depopulation.

Thriving cities such as Tell Leilan and Tel Brak in the far north-east of Syria became ghost towns for centuries, their farms became desert lands. Archeological investigations revealed many animals, even their earth worms, were unable to survive.

Southern Sumer was always arid and relied on her rivers, but with little rain or snow on the mountains her great rivers flowed poorly.

With increased evaporation, poor water-flow and a high water table, salinity rose in the water ways.

Water with a saline content worsened as it lay in the irrigation ditches or in the fields, but it was all they had to irrigate with, and the soil degraded.

The rich emotive language of ‘the Curse of Akkad (Agade)’ reflects what was a terrible calamity.

“For the first time ... the great agricultural tracts produced no grain, the inundated tracts produced no fish, the irrigated orchards produced neither syrup nor wine, the gathered clouds did not rain, the masgurum did not grow.”

Food prices sky rocketed

“... one shekel’s worth of oil was only one-half quart, one shekel’s worth of grain was only one-half quart. . . . such prices in ... all the cities! 

He who slept on the roof, died on the roof, he who slept in the house, had no burial, people were flailing at themselves from hunger.”

2. Trade and commerce dried up

On its canal bank tow-paths, the grass grew long. On its highways laid for wagons, the grass of mourning grew.”

3. Local revolts.

The Akkadians were deeply unpopular. All the Akkadian rulers faced revolts but, with famine stalking the land, discontent grew.  

Naram-Sin (in the early part of his reign) was said to face the ‘Great Revolt’ a massive coalition of enemies ‘…when the four quarters of the world revolted against me’.

4. Barbarians.

The drought forced the nomadic herders off their traditional lands into regions that had been traditionally occupied by sedentary farmers. They were better able to cope with drought and salinity because they could roam their herds over larger areas, taking advantage of whatever feed there was, and their numbers grew.

 Some sedentary farmers and townspeople hit the road to join them, or in search of food, and the numbers of nomads grew even more.

Nomads have the advantage of hit and run tactics in their raids. They could rustle cattle and other livestock or raid soft targets like isolated farms, trade caravans and smaller settlements and be gone before help could arrive.

A city might seem secure behind its walls, but it needs both farmers and trade to feed itself.

Civilisation, through the efficiency of specialisation and infrastructure, allows the land to support a far greater population than under a subsistence economy.

When this breaks down (in a catastrophic way) cities struggle for food. 

This, the drought, and the barbarian raids all had a dreadful multiplier effect on the famine.

A. Barbarians to the East, the Gutians

Almost directly to their East in the Zagros region of Iran was the homeland of the Gutians.

Not a lot is known about them. They had no written language and left no records. Their names suggest their language was not linked to any other known language. They were described as fair in appearance in contrast to the dark haired (possibly Dravidian) Sumerians.

They had been pacified by Sargon but they broke free and began raiding.  

In the curse of Agade, they were seen as ‘god’s scourge’, wicked and violent ...  (an) unhappy people unaware how to revere the gods, ignorant of the right cultic practices.

Even the great king Naram-Sin in the later part of his reign was hard put to repel them. 

More used to victory, he lost two of his battles against their army.

B. ‘Barbarians’ to the north, the Amorites

The (‘North Western Semitic’) Amorites likely came from (the Jebel Bishri mountains of) central Syria. 

They were originally nomadic herders and they prospered, spreading out across the fertile triangle, as far as Canaan and the northern part of Mesopotamia.

They would become much more important later in history, contributing to the fall of the Neo-Sumerians and the rise of Babylon and, after the Bronze Age Collapse, they would re-emerge as the (Iron Age) Aramean states and their Aramaic language would be come a local lingua franca.

The drought aided their herders but they also began settling in some of the devastated cities and towns in the north of Mesopotamia. 

Around 2250 BC they began rebuilding the once great (Eastern-Semitic) city of Ebla that had been destroyed by Sargon. So they were developing a power base in a region that was once controlled by the (Eastern-Semitic) Akkadians.

Still, the Amorites were mostly a problem for later.

The fall of Akkad

The drought, rebellion and the Gutians brought the once great Akkadian Empire to its knees. 

Eventually, Uruk defeated Akkad and ruled it for thirty years until the Gutians (2154 BC) over-ran the north, the South and Elam.

The Gutians set a base near Akkad, beginning the time known as the Gutian dynasty.


 I hope you have enjoyed this fourth blog on the Incredible Sumerians. 

Next  and final blog in this series :  The Sumerians 5: 

Ruled by Barbarians: (the Gutian Dynasty), the Renaissance (the Neo-Sumerian Empire) and pretenders to the throne (the Dynasty of Isin) .

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