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Modern representation of Sargon of Akkad.

Sargon of Akkad: Familiar and Legendary Tales of a Famous Mesopotamian King

Sargon of Akkad was the founder of the Akkadian Empire, the first ancient Semitic-speaking empire of Mesopotamia. The empire was created through conquest, and Sargon’s rule was not limited to only Mesopotamian city states, but his power extended over parts of Elam (in modern day Iran), Syria, and Anatolia. Little is known about the king’s life, and much of what is told about him today is based on legends that were formed long after his death.

Bronze head of a king of the Old Akkadian dynasty, most likely representing either Naram-Sin or Sargon of Akkad. Unearthed in Nineveh (now in Iraq). In the National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad. (Public Domain)

Bronze head of a king of the Old Akkadian dynasty, most likely representing either Naram-Sin or Sargon of Akkad. Unearthed in Nineveh (now in Iraq). In the National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad. ( Public Domain )

A Familiar Story of Baskets and an Infant’s River Journey

The name Sargon is said to have been a Biblical translation of the Akkadian name ‘Sarru-kinu’, which may be translated into English as ‘The True King’. Sargon is reckoned to have reigned during the 23rd century BC, and his infancy story resembles that of the Biblical Moses, in that both of them were placed in reed baskets and left to float down a river. Whilst baby Moses floated down the Nile, Sargon floated down the Euphrates.

Sargon’s biological father remains a mystery, and his mother is said to have been a temple priestess, perhaps a sacred prostitute of Ishtar. In any case, the future founder of the Akkadian Empire was discovered by a gardener in the service of Ur-Zababa, the king of Kish.

"The Legend of Sargon (The Goddess Ishtar Appears to Sargon, the Gardener's Lad)" by the artist, Edwin J. Prittie. (The Commons)

"The Legend of Sargon (The Goddess Ishtar Appears to Sargon, the Gardener's Lad)" by the artist, Edwin J. Prittie. ( The Commons )

Sargon eventually became the cup-bearer of Ur-Zababa. Nevertheless, the king felt threatened by Sargon and tried to get rid of him. On one occasion, Ur-Zababa sent Sargon to Lugal-zage-si, the king of Uruk. Sargon was supposed to deliver a clay tablet to the king. Unbeknownst to him, however, that tablet contained a message requesting Lugal-zage-si to kill Sargon. The conspiracy was foiled, though it is unclear how.

Sargon was supposed to deliver a clay tablet to the king of Uruk. (LordGood/Deviant Art)

Sargon was supposed to deliver a clay tablet to the king of Uruk. (LordGood/ Deviant Art )

It is also uncertain how Sargon rose to power, but we do know that Lugal-zage-si submitted to him, was brought to Kish as a captive, and Uruk was captured by him. Additionally, Sargon succeeded in deposing Ur-Zababa and captured Kish as well.

Sargon of Akkad captured Uruk and Kish through unknown means. (Public Domain)

Sargon of Akkad captured Uruk and Kish through unknown means. ( Public Domain )

His Efficient and Expanding Empire

A large part of Sumer (southern Mesopotamia) was under the control of Uruk, and the defeat of Lugal-zage-si meant that Sargon was now the new ruler of the area. One of the things Sargon did was to establish an efficient bureaucracy. This was achieved by placing men he trusted in each Sumerian city to rule in his name.

In the meantime, Sargon continued expanding his empire. In the East, Sargon went to war, and defeated the Elamites, who inhabited what is today the western and southwestern part of Iran. In the West, Sargon conquered parts of Syria and Anatolia as well.

Sargon the Great. (Dave LaFontaine/CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Sargon the Great. (Dave LaFontaine/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

It is from a text known as the Epic of the King of the Battle that we hear of Sargon’s campaign in Anatolia, which was carried out following a request by his merchants there to protect them from the king of Purshahanda (a site yet to be identified). The text also states that Sargon crossed the Mediterranean and ended up in Cyprus.

The Legacy of Sargon of Akkad

One of the consequences of Sargon’s conquests was the facilitation of trade. Sargon controlled the cedar forests of Lebanon and the silver mines of Anatolia, which provided him with valuable raw material. These were used for trade in the Indus Valley Civilization, as well as civilizations in Oman and along the Gulf.

This, however, was not the only legacy of Sargon. The king is also remembered as one who established a society where the weak were protected. It seems that during his reign, no one in Sumer had to beg for food, whilst widows and orphans were protected.

Modern representation of Sargon of Akkad speaking with one of his subjects. (neutronboar/Deviant Art) 

Modern representation of Sargon of Akkad speaking with one of his subjects. (neutronboar/ Deviant Art )

Sargon is said to have died of natural causes, and was succeeded by his son, Rimush. The empire that he founded lasted for about a century and a half, and came to an end when it was displaced by the Gutian dynasty of Sumer during the 22nd century BC.

Top image: Modern representation of Sargon of Akkad. Source: EthicallyChallenged/ Deviant Art

By Wu Mingren

References

Dalley, S. M., 2017. Sargon. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sargon

Gill, N., 2017. Sargon. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/sargon-the-great-119970

HistoryOnTheNet, 2016. Sargon the Great, the Akkadian Emperor. Available at: https://www.historyonthenet.com/sargon-the-great-the-akkadian-emperor/

New World Encyclopedia, 2015. Sargon I. Available at: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Sargon_I

theancientneareast.com, 2015. Sargon the Great. Available at: http://theancientneareast.com/sargon-the-great/

www.thefamouspeople.com, 2018. Sargon of Akkad. Available at: https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/sargon-of-akkad-32972.php

Comments

Interesting that the storyline of a future hero/king being sent to deliver a message containing instructions to have the deliverer killed also occurs in Greek and Norse (Icelandic?) mythologies. Encrypted cosmic information, perhaps?

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