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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.
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 superiorto 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. ,”
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.
The Catastrophes that plagued the Empire.
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’.
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.
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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