Sargon of Akkad

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Sargon of Akkad ( ?? Šarru-kīnu ; also Sargon of Akkade) was from 2356 to 2300 BC. BC ( middle chronology ) or 2292 to 2236 BC BC ( short chronology ) King of Akkad .

Bronze head of a king found in Nineveh , depicting Sargon or his grandson Naram-Sin. The damage to the eye area took place in historical times.

With Sargon of Akkad a new era ( Akkad period ) begins in the history of Mesopotamia . Sargon of Akkad and his companions used a Semitic language and came from western countries. The founding of the empire signifies a “watershed” in Mesopotamia's history, as it was the first centrally administered empire that was ruled by the same ruling family for several generations. At the same time, like the later empires of the Babylonians and Assyrians, it was supported by a Semitic ruling class, while the older state structures were ruled by Sumerians . One expression of this social change is that the Semitic language is now used in large numbers for inscriptions, letters and documents, while in Mesopotamia its influence was previously limited to loanwords and proper names. From now on, the Semitic culture is an established factor in the entire "Mesopotamian"; even if the end of the Akkad Empire was followed by a Sumerian renaissance.

Life and domination

There is mainly legendary news about the life of Sargon before his time as ruler, which is not easily believable. The place of birth Azupiranu ("saffron city") mentioned in the Akkadian Sargon legend is probably a "speaking" name that plays with the abortive effect of saffron . There is no evidence of a city of this name anywhere else. According to the Sumerian King List , Sargon's father or foster father was a gardener. According to the list of kings as well as according to the Sumerian Sargon legend , Sargon was cupbearer of King Ur-Zababa of Kiš before he became king himself , which in the ancient oriental context, however, denotes a higher official rank. The Sumerian Sargon legend is about the fact that the goddess Inanna decided that Sargon should become king. Thus, omens appear that the cupbearer will replace the ruling ruler. All countermeasures that Ur-Zababa takes are thwarted by the goddess. The text is not completely preserved; but he must have reported that Sargon takes control of Ur-Zababa in place of Ur-Zababa.

According to later tradition, he was the illegitimate child of a priestess. In a similar way as it is reported about Moses , she put him out of fear in a box in the Euphrates . A gardener found him there and took him home.

The news that Sargon was not from a royal family is basically credible. As a Semite, he cannot have belonged to the leading circles in the Sumerian city-states. Whether he was actually cupbearer in Kisch and how he came to this position must remain open. If the relevant news is credible, he must have dethroned the Sumerian king Ur-Zababa. Subsequently, around 2334 BC. BC, he also defeated Lugalzagisi of Uruk , who at that time held the supremacy of several Sumerian city-states. It is no longer just legendary stories that report on this, but royal inscriptions from the time of Sargon, whereby it is not the sparse originals but the texts preserved in old Babylonian copies that are relevant. It says there:

“In the fight he [= Sargon, who speaks of himself here in third person] defeated Uruk, conquered the city. Lugalzaggesi, the king of Uruk, he captured in battle, and led him in a block of wood to the gate of the Enlil (temple) ”.

Sargon himself legitimized the forcibly appropriated rule with reference to divine election by the goddess of war Inanna / sem. Ishtar. At the same time he propagated it in his name. "Sargon" is the version of the Akkadian sharrum kin , taken from Biblical Hebrew ( Isa 20.1  EU ) , which in Old Akkadian is to be understood as a sentence name with the meaning "The ruler is legitimate". It seems plausible that the future king did not have this name from birth, but adopted it for legitimacy reasons after he came to power. Above all, the fact that the name is only documented by ruling rulers (Sargon of Akkad / Sargon I and Sargon II of Assyria) should be cited in favor of this declaration. It is denied by only a few, albeit weighty, voices.

The fact that Sargon wanted to create something new after his violent accession to power is evident from the fact that he did not set up his residence in an old important royal city, but moved it to the previously practically insignificant city of Akkad. The name of the city is attested in inscriptions even before Sargon, so that, contrary to an older view, probably corresponding to ancient Mesopotamian tradition, it cannot be regarded as its founder. It is not clear what reasons prompted him to move the residence. The city's location near major trade routes will have played a role. It is possible that Sargon was rooted there in terms of origin, so that he combined government headquarters and house power.

The royal inscriptions received by Sargon are primary sources from his time, but they should also be used with caution in the historical evaluation. These are propagandistic texts that initially represent an ideal of Sargon's rule, so the plausibility of the individual messages must be considered in each case. It must be checked in each individual case how firm Sargon's control actually was over an area that he claims to have conquered. Another problem is that the inscriptions do not give an overall impression of Sargon's rule, but rather offer “scraps of information” without chronological order.

The empire of the Sargon of Akkad (green)

Apart from the victory over Lugalzagesi, the inscriptions credibly show that Sargon fed a whole army of civil servants: 5400 men are said to have eaten their bread in front of him every day. The number 5400, like practically all figures in ancient oriental texts, is not to be taken literally, but is an expression of a large amount. Furthermore, according to the testimony of his inscriptions “from the upper sea to the lower sea”, that is from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, Sargon appointed “sons of Akkad” as governors. After that, relatives or shop stewards from Akkad or “by the grace of Akkad” were appointed as loyal local rulers (governors) in the individual areas. These appointments were probably intended to smash older structures of rule. Like the high number of civil servants fed by the king, this speaks in favor of establishing a central administration with the capital, Akkad. The fact that his territory actually extended from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf corresponds to an ideal already claimed by Lugalzagisi and can hardly be understood as an expression of political reality. He may have made expeditions to the area of ​​the central Euphrates ( Mari ) or to Syria ( Ebla ), but perhaps more as forays (Mesopotamia is an area poor in natural resources), but he will not have established a permanent rule there. Furthermore, the inscriptions testify that Sargon tried to strengthen the headquarters of Akkad by unloading ships that brought goods from distant countries, even from India (Meluhha), with the capital taking over the function of the Sumerian ports of the south should. To what extent Akkad actually overtook the Sumerian ports as a whole remains to be asked.

Family and establishment of a dynasty

Sargon's wife was Tašlultum , about whom little is known other than her name. The name roughly translates as "I took (you) as booty". According to a legend, Tashlultum was the former wife of Lugalzagesi. While this would be a coherent explanation of the name, it has not yet been proven.

Sargon founded the Old Akkadian dynasty, from which four successors emerged in three generations (Sargon's sons Rimuš and Maništušu , his grandson Naram-Sin , and his son Šar-kali-šarri ).

Sargon's daughter was the priestess En-hedu-anna , from whom important religious and literary texts have been preserved.

Afterlife in historical memory: Akkadian Sargon legend

Sargon was remembered as a pre-eminent ruler throughout ancient Mesopotamia. He was considered a model for later kings, and the divine veneration he enjoyed during the lifetime of his dynasty persisted into Persian times.

The esteem of Sargon by Akkad - in some ways comparable to that of Charlemagne in Europe - is by the way not limited to Mesopotamia: the memory of him was also held in high esteem by the Hittites in Asia Minor and was cultivated in narrative tradition in Akkadian and Hittite language. An important document, which was also found in Hittite-language fragments in Hattuša , is a story that is cited today under the title King of Battle . Thereafter, Sargon is said to have undertaken a campaign to Anatolia to come to the aid of Mesopotamian merchants living there. The King of Battle is an example of later Sargon tales that glorify Sargon of Akkad, but whose source value for the time of his reign is dubious. Sargon had founded an empire that had to be consolidated and organized against some resistance. In view of this - despite opinions to the contrary - it is hardly likely that he could have afforded such a long absence as a campaign in Anatolia would have required. Hence the assumption that the narrative is concerned with portraying Sargon as the ideal ruler, from the point of view of a later time when Mesopotamian merchants actually had trading posts in Anatolia. The king of the battle probably originated during the 18th century BC. The place of origin will be Mesopotamia, where the story was handed down until the Neo-Assyrian era.

In general, Sargon of Akkad seems to have been a great model for the Neo-Assyrian rulers (9th – 7th centuries BC); one of the most important of them, Sargon II of Assyria , even bore his name. In so-called "historical omina texts", which connect certain omens with a great royal achievement, achievements of Neo-Assyrian kings are represented as acts of the coffin; for example the crossing of the Mediterranean, which Sargon of Akkad certainly never undertook, but Sargon II of Assyria, of which a stele has been found in Cyprus, the Kition stele .

An important testimony to the historical afterlife of Sargon of Akkad is the legend of the birth of Sargon or - according to the language in which the text is written - the Akkadian Sargon legend . The text of the legend is preserved on clay tablets from the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh and a more recent tablet from Babylonia. According to a more recent German version, it reads:

“I am Sharrukin (= Sargon), the strong king, the king of Akkade. My mother was an outcast, I didn't know my father. My father's relatives live in the mountains. I was born in the city of Safran, which lies on the banks of the Euphrates. The mother received me and the outcast gave me secret birth. She put me in a basket made of reeds and sealed my openings with asphalt. She let me down on the river from which I could no longer climb myself. The river carried me, he brought me to Aqqi the water drawer. Aqqi the water scoop verily brought me up by immersing the bucket. Aqqi the Water Creator adopted me as his sonship, he truly raised me. Aqqi the water creator really put me into his gardening work. In my gardening work, the Ishtar really came to love me. (x?) Years I truly ruled the kings. I truly ruled and ruled the black-headed people. "

(The following is a list of Sargon's great achievements, which identify him as a role model for all future kings.)

This legend is clearly linked to the much older and historically reliable tradition, according to which Sargon of Akkad was not destined to be ruler from birth. According to the translation given above, his father came from the mountains - the cultured Mesopotamians regarded the mountainous people as uncivilized and sometimes predatory barbarians - his mother was an outcast. The characterization of the mother is usually translated differently, so that she was a priestess. The Akkadian word ( e-ni-tu or en-né-tu ) is not very clear. Older works definitely represent the new translation in the version cited above. The conception of a “priestess” (Akkadian: entu ) is primarily concerned with the problem of how a barbarian from the mountains should come into intimate contact with a priestess committed to virginity. This would be conceivable in the sense of rape or a cult offense. Then Sargon would be portrayed as the child of a crime. Whichever translation one chooses, however, the text clearly shows that Sargon was not destined to be ruler from birth. Rather, he came from socially remote or even dubious circumstances. But through the love of the goddess Ishtar he became king. The motif had already contained the Sumerian coffin legend . The other text, not quoted here, underlines its secondary legitimation by the fact that as a ruler he achieved achievements by which all later rulers should be measured. The legend is only documented on textual witnesses from the Neo-Assyrian period, i.e. from an epoch of particular high esteem for Sargon von Akkad. As far as the linguistic form is concerned, on the one hand there are no signs of an earlier origin, while on the other hand some language peculiarities fit into the Neo-Assyrian period. So everything speaks for the fact that the Akkadian Sargon legend was created in Neo-Assyrian times. So there is no source from the time of the historical Sargon von Akkade, but again a document of his afterlife. The origin of the legend can very likely be dated to the time of Sargon II of Assyria and belongs in the context of the need for legitimation of this king. The Akkadian Sargon legend has recently found the interest of biblical studies again after Eckart Otto renewed the thesis that the exposure story of Moses in Exodus 2, 1–10 was modeled on it.


Chronicle of the Early Kings (ABC 20) ,
On the Life and Rule of Sargon of Akkad

a) Royal inscriptions of Sargon of Akkad

  • Douglas R. Frayne: The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia . Early Periods II: Sargonic and Gutian Periods (2334–2113 BC), Toronto 1993 = abbreviated: RIME 2 .
  • Ignace Gelb , B. Kienast, The ancient Akkadian royal inscriptions of the third millennium BC Chr. , Freiburg Ancient Near Eastern Studies 7, Stuttgart 1990.

b) Sumerian King List

  • Willem H. Ph. Römer: The Sumerian King List , in: Otto Kaiser u. a. (Ed.), Texts from the Environment of the Old Testament (TUAT) I, Gütersloh 1982–85, 328–337.

c) Sumerian Sargon Legend

  • Veronika K. Afanas'eva: The Sumerian Sargon Epic . An attempt at an interpretation, in: Altorientalische Forschungen 14 (1987), 237-246.
  • Jerrold S. Cooper, Wolfgang Heimpel: The Sumerian Sargon Legend , in: Journal of the American Oriental Society 103 (1983), 67-82.

For afterlife

  • Karl Hecker: Sargon's birth legend , in: Otto Kaiser u. a. (Ed.), Texts from the environment of the Old Testament (TUAT). Supplementary delivery, Gütersloh 2001, 56f.
  • Brian Lewis: The Sargon Legend. A Study of the Akkadian Text and the tale of the hero who was exposed at birth. Cambridge (Mass.) 1980, 27-29.
  • Joan Goodnick Westenholz: Legends of the Kings of Akkade. The Texts , Mesopotamian Civilizations 7, Winona Lake (Ind.) 1997.


The deputy Carl Benjamin of the UK Independence Party was as YouTuber with the pseudonym Sargon of Akkad known.


About history

  • Dietz-Otto Edzard : History of Mesopotamia. From the Sumerians to Alexander the Great. CHBeck, Munich 2004, pp. 76–95 (on Akkade's empire; especially on Sargon, pp. 77–83).
  • Sabina Franke: Kings of Akkad: Sargon and Naram-Sin. In: Jack M. Sasson (Ed.): Civilizations of the Ancient Near East I / II, New York 2000, pp. 831-841.
  • Hans J. Nissen : Basic features of a history of the early period of the Middle East. 3rd edition, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1995, pp. 183-213.
  • Gebhard J. Selz : Sumerians and Akkadians. History, society, culture. CH Beck, Munich 2005, p. 63 ff.
  • Klaas R. Veenhof : History of the Old Orient up to the time of Alexander the Great (= floor plans for the Old Testament. Volume 11). Göttingen 2001, pp. 69-73.
  • Aage Westenholz: The Old Akkadian Period: History and Culture . In: Walther Sallaberger , Aage Westenholz: Mesopotamia. Akkade period and Ur-III period (= Orbis Biblicus Orientalis. Volume 160/3). Freiburg (Switzerland) a. a. 1999, pp. 16-117.

On the afterlife of Sargon from Akkade and the relationship between the Akkadian Sargon legend and the story of the exposure of Moses

  • Meik Gerhards: The exposure story of Moses. Studies of literary and editorial history on a key text of the non-priestly written Tetrateuch (= scientific studies of the Old and New Testament. Volume 109). Neukirchen-Vluyn 2006.
  • Amélie Kuhrt: Making history: Sargon of Agade and Cyrus the Great of Persia. In: Wouter FM Henkelman, Amélie Kuhrt (ed.): A Persian Perspective (= Achaemenid History. Volume XIII). Brill, Leiden 2003, pp. 347-361.
  • Eckart Otto : Moses and the Law. The figure of Moses as an alternative political theology to the neo-Assyrian royal ideology in the 7th century BC. Chr. In: Ders .: Mose. Egypt and the Old Testament (= Stuttgart Bible Studies ). Stuttgart 2000, pp. 43-83.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ So A. Kuhrt: Making history , p. 349 ("a watershed in Mesopotamian history").
  2. Cf. the translation by WHPh. Römer, in: TUAT I, 334.
  3. ^ Golo Mann & Alfred Heuss (eds.): Propylaen world history . Vol. 1: Prehistory, Early High Cultures. In Propylaen-Verlag Berlin a. a. 1961; 10 volumes. P. 547.
  4. On the inscriptions handed down by Sargon, cf. Yellow, Kienast: King's Inscriptions , pp. 62–66 (to the originals); P. 129 ff. (About the copies).
  5. Yellow, Kienast: Königsinsschriften , p. 160: Sargon C 1, lines 16-30.
  6. ^ So Edzard: Geschichte Mesopotamiens , p. 78; B. Lewis: Sargon-Legend , p. 30 ("the king is the true one"). The name breaks down into the following components: Sharrum is a noun meaning “ruler”, and the endless kin is a so-called “tripod” of the verb kânu - “to be firm / to be firm” with the meaning of “to be fixed / legitimized / true ".
  7. This explains A. West Wood: The Old Akkadian Period , p.31 the name part scharrum a "theophores", ie one relating to a God element. Therefore Sargon could very well have borne the name from birth. According to Edzard: Geschichte Mesopotamiens , p. 78, it is a common name "with which the eponymous parents wanted to honor the local king who ruled when their child was born". D. Frayne, in: RIME 2, 1993, 7 also considers the name to be a birth name and not a throne name.
  8. See on this Westenholz: The Old Akkadian Period , p. 34.
  9. Edzard: History of Mesopotamia , p. 79.
  10. See Gelb, Kienast: Königsinsschriften , p. 167.
  11. Yellow, Kienast: Königsinsschriften , p. 172 f.
  12. See yellow, Kienast: Königsinsschriften , p. 166
  13. It is mentioned in an original inscription from Sargon, cf. Yellow, Kienast: King's Inscriptions , p. 65.
  14. See also the list of the kings of Akkad and the article Akkad .
  15. Discussion of different versions of the story in: JG Westenholz: Legends of the Kings of Akkade , p. 102 ff.
  16. See also M. Gerhards: The Exposure History of Mose , pp. 163-165.
  17. E.g. “When the liver surrounds the gall bladder up to its complete enclosure - an omen of Sargon, who moved into the land of Elam under this sign and slain the men of Elam”; Gerhards: Exposure History , p. 165, note 83.
  18. On this, see Gerhards: Exposition history , pp. 168f.
  19. The translation according to: Gerhards: Suspension history , pp. 170–176 (there transcription of Akkadian, translation and commentary)
  20. ^ So among many other Heckers, in: TUAT Erg., 56.
  21. Cf. Gerhards: Exposure History , p. 171, note 117
  22. E. Otto: Mose und das Gesetz , pp. 49–59.
predecessor Office successor
- Great King of Akkad
2356–2300 BC Chr. / 2292–2236 BC Chr