The Akkadian Empire was the first ancient empire of Mesopotamia after the long-lived civilization of Sumer. It was centered in the city of Akkad and its surrounding region. It reached its political peak between the 24th and 22nd centuries BC.
The Bible refers to Akkad in Genesis 10:10-12, which states: “The beginning of his [Nimrod’s] kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.
The Akkadian period is generally dated to 2334–2154 BC. The short-chronology dates of 2270–2083 BC are now considered less likely. It was preceded by the Early Dynastic Period of Mesopotamia.
The relative order of Akkadian kings is clear, while noting that the Ur III version of the Sumerian King List inverts the order of Rimush and Manishtushu.
The Akkadian Empire takes its name from the region and the city of Akkad, both of which were localized in the general confluence area of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Among these is at least one text predating the reign of Sargon.
Sargon was claimed to be the son of La’ibum or Itti-Bel, a humble gardener, and possibly a hierodule, or priestess to Ishtar or Inanna.
Trade extended from the silver mines of Anatolia to the lapis lazuli mines in modern Afghanistan, the cedars of Lebanon and the copper of Magan. The empire’s breadbasket was the rain-fed agricultural system and a chain of fortresses was built to control the imperial wheat production.
Sargon had crushed opposition even at old age, and had to reconquer the cities of Ur, Umma, Adab, Lagash, Der, and Kazallu from rebellious ensis. Rimush introduced mass slaughter and large scale destruction of the Sumerian city-states.
Rimush’s elder brother, Manishtushu (2269–2255 BC) succeeded him. The latter seems to have fought a sea battle against 32 kings who had gathered against him and took control of their pre-Arab country.
Manishtushu’s son and successor, Naram-Sin (2254–2218 BC), assumed the imperial title “King Nar am-Sin, king of the four-quarters” He was also for the first time in Sumerian culture, addressed as “the god of Agade” (Akkad).
Armanum is sometimes identified with a Syrian kingdom mentioned in the tablets of Ebla as Armi, whose location is also debated. Naram-Sin also recorded the Akkadian conquest of E Bla as well as Armanum and its king.
Lugal-ushumgal, governor (ensi) of Lagash, circa 2230-2210 BC, was a collaborator of the Akkadian Empire, as was Meskigal, ruler of Adab.
The Akkadian empire of Akkad likely fell in the 22nd century BC, within 180 years of its founding. The region’s political structure may have reverted to the status quo ante of local governance by city-states.
The Akkadian government formed a “classical standard” with which all future Mesopotamian states compared themselves. Traditionally, the ensi was the highest functionary of the Sumerian city-states.
The population of Akkad, like nearly all pre-modern states, was dependent on the agricultural systems of the region.
The spread of the Akkadian state as far as the Taurus Mountains, the “cedars” of Lebanon, and the copper deposits of Magan was largely motivated by the goal of securing control over these imports. Sargon was the first Mesopotamian ruler to make an explicit reference to the region of Meluhha.
In art, there was a great emphasis on the kings of the dynasty, alongside much that continued earlier Sumerian art. Little architecture remains, but the seals show a “grim world of cruel conflict, of danger and uncertainty”.
The Akkadians used visual arts as a vehicle of ideology. They developed a new style for cylinder seals by reusing traditional animal decorations. The figures also became more sculptural and naturalistic.
During the 3rd millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians. Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary, and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the 1st century AD.
Sumerian literature continued in rich development during the Akkadian period. Her known works include hymns to the goddess Inanna, the Exaltation of Inanna and In-nin sa-gur-ra.
The fall of Akkad was due to Naram-Sin’s attack upon the city of Nippur. When prompted by a pair of inauspicious oracles, the king sacked the E-kur temple, supposedly protected by the god Enlil, head of the pantheon.
The copper Bassetki Statue, cast with the lost wax method, testifies to the high level of skill that craftsmen achieved during the Akkadian period.