Alternate History

Akkadian Empire (Grand Union)

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Akkadian Empire
Timeline: Grand Union
OTL equivalent: Akkadian Empire, with a few added Arabian port cities
2334–2165 BCE
Akkadian Empire Large GU.png
The Akkadian Empire at its height.
(and largest city)
Official languages Akkadian language
Demonym Akkadian
Government Absolute Monarchy
 -  Emperor of Akkad Sargon of Akkad (2334–2279 BC)
The Akkadian Empire was a former state in what is now the Babylonia province of Persia.

During the 3rd millennium BCE, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Semitic Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism. Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as a spoken language somewhere between the 3rd and the 2nd millennia BCE.

The Akkadian Empire reached its political peak between the 24th and 22nd centuries BCE, following the conquests by its founder Sargon of Akkad (2334–2279 BCE). Under Sargon and his successors, Akkadian language was briefly imposed on neighboring conquered states such as Elam. Akkad is sometimes regarded as the second empire in history, though there are earlier Sumerian claimants.


Pre-Sargonic Reign

The Akkadian Empire takes its name from the region and city of Akkad, both of which were localized in the general confluence area of the Tigris and Diyala Rivers. Although the city of Akkad has not yet been identified on the ground, it is known from various textual sources. Among these is at least one text pre-dating the reign of Sargon. Together with the fact that the name Akkad is of non-Akkadian origin, this suggests that the city of Akkad may have already been occupied in pre-Sargonic times.

Sargon of Akkad

Sargon of Akkad
Sargon of Akkad (Sharru-kin = "legitimate king", possibly a title he took on gaining power) defeated and captured Lugal-Zage-Si in the Battle of Uruk and conquered his empire. The earliest records in the Akkadian language date to the time 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. One legend related of Sargon in Assyrian times says that

"My mother was a changeling, my father I knew not. The brothers of my father loved the hills. My city is Azurpiranu (the wilderness herb fields), which is situated on the banks of the Euphrates. My changeling mother conceived me, in secret she bore me. She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lid. She cast me into the river which rose not over me. The river bore me up and carried me to Akki, the drawer of water. Akki, the drawer of water, took me as his son and reared me. Akki the drawer of water, appointed me as his gardener. While I was gardener Ishtar granted me her love, and for four and (fifty?) ... years I exercised kingship."

Later claims on behalf of Sargon, that his mother was an "entu" priestess (high priestess). The claims might have been made to ensure a descendancy of nobility, considering only a high placed family can be made such a position.

Originally a cupbearer (Rabshaqe) to a king of Kish with a Semitic name, Ur-Zababa, Sargon thus became a gardener, responsible for the task of clearing out irrigation canals. This gave him access to a disciplined corps of workers, who also may have served as his first soldiers. Displacing Ur-Zababa, Sargon was crowned king, and he entered upon a career of foreign conquest. Four times he invaded Syria and Canaan, and he spent three years thoroughly subduing the countries of "the west" to unite them with Mesopotamia "into a single empire."

However, Sargon took this process further, conquering many of the surrounding regions to create an empire that reached westward as far as the White Sea and perhaps Cyprus (Kaptara); northward as far as the mountains (a later Hittite text asserts he fought the Hattian king Nurdaggal of Burushanda, well into Anatolia); eastward over Elam; and as far south as Magan (Oman) — a region over which he reigned for purportedly 56 years, though only four "year-names" survive. He consolidated his dominion over his territories by replacing the earlier opposing rulers with noble citizens of Akkad, his native city where loyalty would thus be ensured. Trade extended from the silver mines of Anatolia to the lapis lazuli mines in Afghanistan, the cedars of Lebanon and the copper of Magan. This consolidation of the city-states of Sumer and Akkad reflected the growing economic and political power of Mesopotamia. The empire's breadbasket was the rain-fed agricultural system of northern Mesopotamia (Assyria) and a chain of fortresses was built to control the imperial wheat production.

Images of Sargon were erected on the shores of the White, in token of his victories, and cities and palaces were built at home with the spoils of the conquered lands. Elam and the northern part of Mesopotamia (Assyria/Subartu) were also subjugated, and rebellions in Sumer were put down. Contract tablets have been found dated in the years of the campaigns against Canaan and against Sarlak, king of Gutium. He also boasted of having subjugated the "four quarters" — the lands surrounding Akkad to the north (Assyria), the south (Sumer), the east (Elam) and the west (Martu). Some of the earliest historiographic texts (ABC 19, 20) suggest he rebuilt the city of Babylon (Bab-ilu) in its new location near Akkad.

Sargon, throughout his long life, showed special deference to the Sumerian deities, particularly Inanna (Ishtar), his patroness, and Zababa, the warrior god of Kish. He called himself "The anointed priest of Anu" and "the great ensi of Enlil" and his daughter, Enheduanna, was installed as priestess to Nanna at the temple in Ur.

Troubles multiplied toward the end of his reign. A later Babylonian text states;

"In his old age, all the lands revolted against him, and they besieged him in Akkad (the city)"...but "he went forth to battle and defeated them, he knocked them over and destroyed their vast army".

It refers to his campaign in "Elam", where he defeated a coalition army led by the King of Awan, where he forced the vanquished to become his vassals. Also shortly after, another revolt had been made;

"the Subartu (mountainous tribes of Assyria) the upper country—in their turn attacked, but they submitted to his arms, and Sargon settled their habitations, and he smote them grievously".

War with the Egyptians

The Egyptian-Akkadian War began over minor disputes in farmland, but grew to become the first major war in known history. The Pharaoh of Egypt at the time, Khafara I, was extremely interested in expansion in the lower Levantine area. However, the Emperor of the Akkadian Empire, Naram-Sin, did not like this. Naram-Sin had brought the Akkadian Empire to it's zenith, and would not let the ever-expanding Egyptian Empire get in the way of this.

The Akkadians built a small army, in order to check the larger army to the north and west. However, this would not be enough for the Akkadians. Eventually Naram-Sin and Khafara reached an agreement, and it seemed like peace would occur. However, the overload of Canaanites entering Akkadian territory, due to Egyptian slavery and racism was overwhelming, and Naram-Sin accused Egypt of being the cause of this. The Canaanites were quickly removed from the Akkadian Empire, but the spite for Egypt remained. After six months of disputes over farm land in what would one day become Syria, the Akkadians struck.

This was one of the worst decisions Naram-Sin would make in his time as emperor. Egypt won the first few battles and, angry at the Akkadians, began to go on the offensive. They quickly secured the disputed farmland, and sent armies into the northern part of the Akkadian Empire. These battles were some of the most deadly, with both sides suffering heavy casualties. However, the Akkadian armies were finally getting the defense they so desired, and were able to hold their ground for the last few battles. Egypt won the war, and ended up taking the northern sixth of the Akkadian Empire. Naram-Sin was also required to pay Egypt a large sum of gold, right out of his own coffers. Even though the Akkadians had their constituent empire mostly secure, Naram-Sin was willing to pay the war costs, to avoid more of his army dying. This signaled the beginning of the end for the young Akkadian Empire, and led to its demise less than a hundred years later.

Collapse of an Empire

The Empire of Akkad collapsed in 2154 BCE, within 180 years of its founding, ushering in a Dark Age period of regional decline that lasted until the rise of the Third Dynasty of Ur in 2112 BCE. By the end of the reign of Naram-Sin's son, Shar-kali-sharri (2217–2193 BCE), the empire had weakened. There was a period of anarchy between 2192 BCE and 2168 BCE. Shu-Durul (2168–2154 BCE) appears to have restored some centralized authority, however he was unable to prevent the empire eventually collapsing outright from the invasion of barbarian peoples from the Zagros Mountains known as the Gutians.

Little is known about the Gutian period, or how long it endured. Cuneiform sources suggest that the Gutians' administration showed little concern for maintaining agriculture, written records, or public safety; they reputedly released all farm animals to roam about Mesopotamia freely, and soon brought about famine and rocketing grain prices. The decline coincided with severe drought, possibly connected with climatic changes reaching all across the area from Egypt to Greece. The Sumerian king Ur-Nammu (2112–2095 BCE) cleared the Gutians from Mesopotamia during his reign.

It has recently been suggested that the regional decline at the end of the Akkadian period was associated with rapidly increasing aridity, and failing rainfall in the region of the Ancient Levant, caused by a global centennial-scale drought. Scholars have shown "Archaeological and soil-stratigraphic data define the origin, growth, and collapse of Subir, the third millennium rain-fed agriculture civilization of northern Mesopotamia on the Habur Plains of Syria. At 2200 BCE, a marked increase in aridity and wind circulation, subsequent to a volcanic eruption, induced a considerable degradation of land-use conditions. After four centuries of urban life, this abrupt climatic change evidently caused abandonment of Tell Leilan, regional desertion, and collapse of the Akkadian empire based in southern Mesopotamia. Synchronous collapse in adjacent regions suggests that the impact of the abrupt climatic change was extensive.". Scholars have also shown "there was an influence of the North Atlantic Oscillation on the stream flow of the Tigris and Euphrates at this time, which led to the collapse of the Akkadian Empire".

The Sumerian King List, describing the Akkadian Empire after the death of Shar-kali-shari, states:

"Who was king? Who was not king? Irgigi the king; Nanum, the king; Imi the king; Ilulu, the king—the four of them were kings but reigned only three years. Dudu reigned 21 years; Shu-Turul, the son of Dudu, reigned 15 years. ... Agade was defeated and its kingship carried off to Uruk. In Uruk, Ur-ningin reigned 7 years, Ur-gigir, son of Ur-ningin, reigned 6 years; Kuda reigned 6 years; Puzur-ili reigned 5 years, Ur-Utu reigned 6 years. Uruk was smitten with weapons and its kingship carried off by the Gutian hordes.

However, there are no known year-names or other archaeological evidence verifying any of these later kings of Akkad or Uruk, apart from a single artifact referencing king Dudu of Akkad. The named kings of Uruk may have been contemporaries of the last kings of Akkad, but in any event could not have been very prominent.

In the Gutian hordes, (first reigned) a nameless king; (then) Imta reigned 3 years as king; Shulme reigned 6 years; Elulumesh reigned 6 years; Inimbakesh reigned 5 years; Igeshuash reigned 6 years; Iarlagab reigned 15 years; Ibate reigned 3 years; ... reigned 3 years; Kurum rained 1 year; ... reigned 3 years; ... reigned 2 years; Iararum reigned 2 years; Ibranum reigned 1 year; Hablum reigned 2 years; Puzur-Sin son of Hablum reigned 7 years; Iarlaganda reigned 7 years; ... reigned 7 years; ... reigned 40 days. Total 21 kings reigned 91 years, 40 days."

Evidence from Tell Leilan in Northern Mesopotamia shows what may have happened. The site was abandoned soon after the city's massive walls were constructed, its temple rebuilt and its grain production reorganized. The debris, dust and sand that followed show no trace of human activity. Soil samples show fine wind-blown sand, no trace of earthworm activity, reduced rainfall and indications of a drier and windier climate. Evidence shows that skeleton-thin sheep and cattle died of drought, and up to 28,000 people abandoned the site, seeking wetter areas elsewhere. Tell Brak shrank in size by 75%. Trade collapsed. Nomadic herders such as the Amorites moved herds closer to reliable water suppliers, bringing them into conflict with Akkadian populations. This climate-induced collapse seems to have affected the whole of the Levant.

This collapse of rain-fed agriculture in the Upper Country meant the loss to southern Mesopotamia of the agrarian subsidies which had kept the Akkadian Empire solvent. Water levels within the Tigris and Euphrates fell 1.5 metres beneath the level of 2600 BCE, and although they stabilised for a time during the following Ur III period, rivalries between pastoralists and farmers increased. Attempts were undertaken to prevent the former from herding their flocks in agricultural lands, such as the building of a 180 km (112 mi) wall known as the "Repeller of the Amorites" between the Tigris and Euphrates under the Ur III ruler Shu-Sin. Such attempts led to increased political instability; meanwhile, severe depression occurred to re-establish demographic equilibrium with the less favorable climatic conditions.

The period between ca. 2112 BCE and 2004 BCE is known as the Ur III period. Documents again began to be written in Sumerian, although Sumerian was becoming a purely literary or liturgical language.

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