Akkad

There are several reasons for taking the year 2350 as a turning point in the history of Mesopotamia. For the first time, an empire arose on Mesopotamian soil. The driving force of that empire was the Akkadians, so called after the city of Akkad, which Sargon chose for his capital (it has not yet been identified but was presumably located on the Euphrates between Sippar and Kish). The name Akkad became synonymous with a population group that stood side by side with the Sumerians. Southern Mesopotamia became known as the “land of Sumer and Akkad”; Akkadian became the name of a language; and the arts rose to new heights. However, even this turning point was not the first time the Akkadians had emerged in history. Semites–whether Akkadians or a Semitic language group that had settled before them–may have had a part in the urbanization that took place at the end of the 4th millennium. The earliest Akkadian names and words occur in written sources of the 27th century. The names of several Akkadian scribes are found in the archives of Tall Abu Salabikh, near Nippur in central Babylonia, synchronous with those of Shuruppak (shortly after 2600). The Sumerian king list places the 1st dynasty of Kish, together with a series of kings bearing Akkadian names, immediately after the Flood. In Mari the Akkadian language was probably written from the very beginning. Thus, the founders of the dynasty of Akkad were presumably members of a people who had been familiar for centuries with Mesopotamian culture in all its forms.

Ascendancy of Akkad

Under Akkad, the Akkadian language acquired a literary prestige that made it the equal of Sumerian. Under the influence, perhaps, of an Akkadian garrison at Susa, it spread beyond the borders of Mesopotamia. After having employed for several centuries an indigenous script patterned after cuneiform writing, Elam adopted Mesopotamian script during the Akkadian period and with a few exceptions used it even when writing in Elamite rather than Sumerian or Akkadian. The so-called Old Akkadian manner of writing is extraordinarily appealing from the aesthetic point of view; as late as the Old Babylonian era it served as a model for monumental inscriptions. Similarly, the plastic and graphic arts, especially sculpture in the round, relief work, and cylinder seals, reached a high point of perfection.Thus the reign of the five kings of Akkad may be considered one of the most productive periods of Mesopotamian history. Although separatist forces opposed all unifying tendencies, Akkad brought about a broadening of political horizons and dimensions. The period of Akkad fascinated historiographers as did few other eras. Having contributed its share to the storehouse of legend, it has never disappeared from memory. With phrases such as “There will come a king of the four quarters of the earth,” liver omens (soothsaying done by analyzing the shape of a sheep’s liver) of the Old Babylonian period express the yearning for unity at a time when Babylonia had once again disintegrated into a dozen or more small states.

Sargon’s reign

According to the Sumerian king list, the first five rulers of Akkad (Sargon, Rimush, Manishtusu, Naram-Sin, and Shar-kali-sharri) ruled for a total of 142 years; Sargon alone ruled for 56. Although these figures cannot be checked, they are probably trustworthy, because the king list for Ur III, even if 250 years later, did transmit dates that proved to be accurate.

As stated in an annotation to his name in the king list, Sargon started out as a cupbearer to King Ur-Zababa of Kish. There is an Akkadian legend about Sargon, describing how he was exposed after birth, brought up by a gardener, and later beloved by the goddess Ishtar. Nevertheless, there are no historical data about his career. Yet it is feasible to assume that in his case a high court office served as springboard for a dynasty of his own. The original inscriptions of the kings of Akkad that have come down to posterity are brief, and their geographic distribution generally is more informative than is their content. The main sources for Sargon’s reign, with its high points and catastrophes, are copies made by Old Babylonian scribes in Nippur from the very extensive originals that presumably had been kept there. They are in part Akkadian, in part bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian texts. According to these texts, Sargon fought against the Sumerian cities of southern Babylonia, threw down city walls, took prisoner 50 ensis, and “cleansed his weapons in the sea.” He is also said to have captured Lugalzagesi of Uruk, the former ruler of Umma, who had vigorously attacked UruKAgina in Lagash, forcing his neck under a yoke and leading him thus to the gate of the god Enlil at Nippur. “Citizens of Akkad” filled the offices of ensi from the “nether sea” (the Persian Gulf) upward, which was perhaps a device used by Sargon to further his dynastic aims. Aside from the 34 battles fought in the south, Sargon also tells of conquests in northern Mesopotamia: Mari, Tuttul on the Balikh, where he venerated the god Dagan (Dagon), Ebla (Tall Mardikh in Syria), the “cedar forest” (Amanus or Lebanon), and the “silver mountains”; battles in Elam and the foothills of the Zagros are mentioned. Sargon also relates that ships from Meluhha (Indus region), Magan (possibly the coast of Oman), and Dilmun (Bahrain) made fast in the port of Akkad.

Impressive as they are at first sight, these reports have only a limited value because they cannot be arranged chronologically, and it is not known whether Sargon built a large empire. Akkadian tradition itself saw it in this light, however, and a learned treatise of the late 8th or the 7th century lists no fewer than 65 cities and lands belonging to that empire. Yet, even if Magan and Kapturu (Crete) are given as the eastern and western limits of the conquered territories, it is impossible to transpose this to the 3rd millennium.

Sargon appointed one of his daughters priestess of the moon god in Ur. She took the name of Enheduanna and was succeeded in the same office by Enmenanna, a daughter of Naram-Sin. Enheduanna must have been a very gifted woman; two Sumerian hymns by her have been preserved, and she is also said to have been instrumental in starting a collection of songs dedicated to the temples of Babylonia.Sargon died at a very old age. The inscriptions, also preserved only in copies, of his son Rimush are full of reports about battles fought in Sumer and Iran, just as if there had never been a Sargonic empire. It is not known in detail how rigorously Akkad wished to control the cities to the south and how much freedom had been left to them; but they presumably clung tenaciously to their inherited local autonomy. From a practical point of view, it was probably in any case impossible to organize an empire that would embrace all Mesopotamia.

Since the reports (i.e., copies of inscriptions) left by Manishtusu, Naram-Sin, and Shar-kali-sharri speak time and again of rebellions and victorious battles and since Rimush, Manishtusu, and Shar-kali-sharri are themselves said to have died violent deaths, the problem of what remained of Akkad’s greatness obtrudes. Wars and disturbances, the victory of one and the defeat of another, and even regicide constitute only some of the aspects suggested to us by the sources. Whenever they extended beyond the immediate Babylonian neighbourhood, the military campaigns of the Akkadian kings were dictated primarily by trade interests instead of being intended to serve the conquest and safeguarding of an empire. Akkad, or more precisely the king, needed merchandise, money, and gold in order to finance wars, buildings, and the system of administration that he had instituted.

On the other hand, the original inscriptions that have been found so far of a king like Naram-Sin are scattered at sites covering a distance of some 620 miles as the crow flies, following the Tigris downriver: Diyarbakr on the upper Tigris, Nineveh, Tall Birak (Tell Brak) on the upper Khabur River (which had an Akkadian fortress and garrison), Susa in Elam, as well as Marad, Puzrish-Dagan, Adab (Bismayah), Nippur, Ur, and Girsu in Babylonia. Even if all this was not part of an empire, it surely constituted an impressive sphere of influence.

Also to be considered are other facts that weigh more heavily than high-sounding reports of victories that cannot be verified. After the first kings of the dynasty had borne the title of king of Kish, Naram-Sin assumed the title “king of the four quarters of the earth”–that is, of the universe. As if he were in fact divine, he also had his name written with the cuneiform sign “god,” the divine determinative that was customarily used in front of the names of gods; furthermore, he assumed the title of “god of Akkad.” It is legitimate to ask whether the concept of deification may be used in the sense of elevation to a rank equal to that of the gods. At the very least it must be acknowledged that, in relation to his city and his subjects, the king saw himself in the role played by the local divinity as protector of the city and guarantor of its well-being. In contemporary judicial documents from Nippur, the oath is often taken “by Naram-Sin,” with a formula identical with that used in swearing by a divinity. Documents from Girsu contain Akkadian date formulas of the type “in the year in which Naram-Sin laid the foundations of the Enlil temple at Nippur and of the Inanna temple at Zabalam.” As evidenced by the dating procedures customary in Ur III and in the Old Babylonian period, the use of such formulas presupposes that the respective city acknowledged as its overlord the ruler whose name is invoked.

The end of the dynasty  and the Gutians

Of the kings after Shar-kali-sharri (c. 2217-c. 2193), only the names and a few brief inscriptions have survived. Quarrels arose over the succession, and the dynasty went under, although modern scholars know as little about the individual stages of this decline as about the rise of Akkad. Two factors contributed to its downfall: the invasion of the nomadic Amurrus (Amorites), called Martu by the Sumerians, from the northwest, and the infiltration of the Gutians, who came, apparently, from the region between the Tigris and the Zagros Mountains to the east. This argument, however, may be a vicious circle, as these invasions were provoked and facilitated by the very weakness of Akkad. In Ur III the Amorites, in part already sedentary, formed one ethnic component along with Sumerians and Akkadians. The Gutians, on the other hand, played only a temporary role, even if the memory of a Gutian dynasty persisted until the end of the 17th century BC. As a matter of fact, the wholly negative opinion that even some modern historians have of the Gutians is based solely on a few stereotyped statements by the Sumerians and Akkadians, especially on the victory inscription of Utu-hegal of Uruk (c. 2116-c. 2110). While Old Babylonian sources give the region between the Tigris and the Zagros Mountains as the home of the Gutians, these people probably also lived on the middle Euphrates during the 3rd millennium. According to the Sumerian king list, the Gutians held the “kingship” in southern Mesopotamia for about 100 years. It has long been recognized that there is no question of a whole century of undivided Gutian rule and that some 50 years of this rule coincided with the final half century of Akkad. From this period there has also been preserved a record of a “Gutian interpreter.” As it is altogether doubtful whether the Gutians had made any city of southern Mesopotamia their “capital” instead of controlling Babylonia more or less informally from outside, scholars cautiously refer to “viceroys” of this people. The Gutians have left no material records, and the original inscriptions about them are so scanty that no binding statements about them are possible.

The Gutians’ influence probably did not extend beyond Umma. The neighbouring state of Lagash enjoyed a century of complete independence, between Shar-kali-sharri and the beginning of Ur III, during which time it showed expansionist tendencies and had widely ranging trade connections. Of the ensi Gudea, a contemporary of Ur-Nammu of Ur III, there are extant writings, exclusively Sumerian in language, which are of inestimable value. He had the time, power, and means to carry out an extensive program of temple construction during his reign, and in a hymn divided into two parts and preserved in two clay cylinders 12 inches (30 centimetres) high he describes explicitly the reconstruction of Eninnu, the temple of the god Ningirsu. Comprising 1,363 lines, the text is second in length only to Eannatum’s Stele of Vultures among the literary works of the Sumerians up to that time. While Gudea forges a link, in his literary style, with his country’s pre-Sargonic period, his work also bears the unmistakable stamp of the period of Akkad. Thus, the regions that furnish him building materials reflect the geographic horizon of the empire of Akkad, and the ensi’s title “god of his city” recalls the “god of Akkad” (Naram-Sin). The building hymn contains interesting particulars about the work force deployed. “Levies” were organized in various parts of the country, and the city of Girsu itself “followed the ensi as though it were a single man.” Unfortunately lacking are synchronous administrative archives of sufficient length to provide less summarily compiled information about the social structure of Lagash at the beginning of the 3rd dynasty of Ur. After the great pre-Sargonic archives of the Baba temple at Girsu, only the various administrative archives of the kings of Ur III give a closer look at the functioning of a Mesopotamian state.

 

 

Sargon of Akkad built the first Middle Eastern Empire, at the time of the Egyptian VI Dynasty, embracing all of Sumeria and extending far up the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Sargon’s name, Sharru-kîn, which means “the king is legitimate,” is an almost sure indication that he wasn’t – the story of his royal birth but childhood among commoners is similar to the story of Moses in the Bible.

One of Sargon’s successors also had a significant name: Shar-kalli-sharri means “king of all kings.” Shortened to just “king of kings,” this later became a standard title for Assyrian and Persian monarchs. It even survived in Modern Persian as Shâhanshâh.

SARGON OF AKKAD was an ancient Mesopotamian ruler who  reigned approximately 2334-2279 BC, and was one of the earliest of the world’s great empire builders, conquering all of southern Mesopotamia as well as parts of Syria, Anatolia, and Elam (western Iran). He established the region’s first Semitic dynasty and was considered the founder of the Mesopotamian military tradition.

Sargon is known almost entirely from the legends and tales that followed his reputation through 2,000 years of cuneiform Mesopotamian history, and not from documents that were written during his lifetime. The lack of contemporary record is explained by the fact that the capital city of Agade, which he built, has never been located and excavated. It was destroyed at the end of the dynasty that Sargon founded and was never again inhabited, at least under the name of Agade.

According to a folktale, Sargon was a self-made man of humble origins; a gardener, having found him as a baby floating in a basket on the river, brought him up in his own calling. His father is unknown; his own name during his childhood is also unknown; his mother is said to have been a priestess in a town on the middle Euphrates. Rising, therefore, without the help of influential relations, he attained the post of cupbearer to the ruler of the city of Kish, in the north of the ancient land of Sumer. The event that brought him to supremacy was the defeat of Lugalzaggisi of Uruk (biblical Erech, in central Sumer). Lugalzaggisi had already united the city-states of Sumer by defeating each in turn and claimed to rule the lands not only of the Sumerian city-states but also those as far west as the Mediterranean. Thus, Sargon became king over all of southern Mesopotamia, the first great ruler for whom, rather than Sumerian, the Semitic tongue known as Akkadian was natural from birth, although some earlier kings with Semitic names are recorded in the Sumerian king list. Victory was ensured, however, only by numerous battles, since each city hoped to regain its independence from Lugalzaggisi without submitting to the new overlord. It may have been before these exploits, when he was gathering followers and an army, that Sargon named himself Sharru-kin (“Rightful King”) in support of an accession not achieved in an old-established city through hereditary succession. Historical records are still so meager, however, that there is a complete gap in information relating to this period.

Not content with dominating this area, his wish to secure favorable trade with Agade throughout the known world, together with an energetic temperament, led Sargon to defeat cities along the middle Euphrates to northern Syria and the silver-rich mountains of southern Anatolia. He also dominated Susa, capital city of the Elamites, in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran, where the only truly contemporary record of his reign has been uncovered. Such was his fame that some merchants in an Anatolian city, probably in central Turkey, begged him to intervene in a local quarrel, and, according to the legend, Sargon, with a band of warriors, made a fabulous journey to the still-unlocated city of Burushanda (Purshahanda), at the end of which little more than his appearance was needed to settle the dispute.

As the result of Sargon’s military prowess and ability to organize, as well as of the legacy of the Sumerian city-states that he had inherited by conquest and of previously existing trade of the old Sumerian city-states with other countries, commercial connections flourished with the Indus Valley, the coast of Oman, the islands and shores of the Persian Gulf, the lapis lazuli mines of Badakhshan, the cedars of Lebanon, the silver-rich Taurus Mountains, Cappadocia, Crete, and perhaps even Greece.

During Sargon’s rule Akkadian became adapted to the script that previously had been used in the Sumerian language, and the new spirit of calligraphy that is visible upon the clay tablets of this dynasty is also clearly seen on contemporary cylinder seals, with their beautifully arranged and executed scenes of mythology and festive life. Even if this new artistic feeling is not necessarily to be attributed directly to the personal influence of Sargon, it shows that, in his new capital, military and economic values were not alone important.

Because contemporary record is lacking, no sequence can be given for the events of his reign. Neither the number of years during which he lived nor the point in time at which he ruled can be fixed exactly; 2334 BC is now given as a date on which to hang the beginning of the dynasty of Agade, and, according to the Sumerian king list, he was king for 56 years.

2334 BC is now given as a date on which to hang the beginning of the dynasty of Agade, and, according to the Sumerian king list, he was king for 56 years.

The latter part of his reign was troubled with rebellions, which later literature ascribes, predictably enough, to sacrilegious acts that he is supposed to have committed; but this can be discounted as the standard cause assigned to all disasters by Sumerians and Akkadians alike. The troubles, in fact, were probably caused by the inability of one man, however energetic, to control so vast an empire without a developed and well-tried administration. There is no evidence to suggest that he was particularly harsh, nor that the Sumerians disliked him for being a Semite. The empire did not collapse totally, for Sargon’s successors were able to control their legacy, and later generations thought of him as being perhaps the greatest name in their history.

Attributing his success to the patronage of the goddess Ishtar, in whose honor Agade was erected, Sargon of Akkad became the first great empire builder. Two later Assyrian kings were named in his honor. Although the briefly recorded information of his predecessor Lugalzaggisi shows that expansion beyond the Sumerian homeland had already begun, later Mesopotamians looked to Sargon as the founder of the military tradition that runs through the history of their people.

 

 

Sargon’s reign

According to the Sumerian king list, the first five rulers of Akkad (Sargon, Rimush, Manishtusu, Naram-Sin, and Shar-kali-sharri) ruled for a total of 142 years; Sargon alone ruled for 56. Although these figures cannot be checked, they are probably trustworthy, because the king list for Ur III, even if 250 years later, did transmit dates that proved to be accurate.

As stated in an annotation to his name in the king list, Sargon started out as a cupbearer to King Ur-Zababa of Kish. There is an Akkadian legend about Sargon, describing how he was exposed after birth, brought up by a gardener, and later beloved by the goddess Ishtar. Nevertheless, there are no historical data about his career. Yet it is feasible to assume that in his case a high court office served as springboard for a dynasty of his own. The original inscriptions of the kings of Akkad that have come down to posterity are brief and their geographic distribution generally is more informative than is their content. The main sources for Sargon’s reign, with its high points and catastrophes, are copies made by Old Babylonian scribes in Nippur from the very extensive originals that presumably had been kept there. They are in part Akkadian, in part bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian texts. According to these texts, Sargon fought against the Sumerian cities of southern Babylonia, threw down city walls, took prisoner 50 ensis, and “cleansed his weapons in the sea.” He is also said to have captured Lugalzagesi of Uruk, the former ruler of Umma, who had vigorously attacked UruKAgina in Lagash, forcing his neck under a yoke and leading him thus to the gate of the god Enlil at Nippur. “Citizens of Akkad” filled the offices of ensi from the “nether sea” (the Persian Gulf) upward, which was perhaps a device used by Sargon to further his dynastic aims. Aside from the 34 battles fought in the south, Sargon also tells of conquests in northern Mesopotamia: Mari, Tuttul on the Balikh, where he venerated the god Dagan (Dagon), Ebla (Tall Mardikh in Syria), the “cedar forest” (Amanus or Lebanon), and the “silver mountains”; battles in Elam and the foothills of the Zagros are mentioned. Sargon also relates that ships from Meluhha (Indus region), Magan (possibly the coast of Oman), and Dilmun (Bahrain) made fast in the port of Akkad.

Impressive as they are at first sight, these reports have only a limited value because they cannot be arranged chronologically, and it is not known whether Sargon built a large empire. Akkadian tradition itself saw it in this light, however, and a learned treatise of the late 8th or the 7th century lists no fewer than 65 cities and lands belonging to that empire. Yet, even if Magan and Kapturu (Crete) are given as the eastern and western limits of the conquered territories, it is impossible to transpose this to the 3rd millennium.

Sargon appointed one of his daughters priestess of the moon god in Ur. She took the name of Enheduanna and was succeeded in the same office by Enmenanna, a daughter of Naram-Sin. Enheduanna must have been a very gifted woman; two Sumerian hymns by her have been preserved, and she is also said to have been instrumental in starting a collection of songs dedicated to the temples of Babylonia.

Sargon died at a very old age. The inscriptions, also preserved only in copies, of his son Rimush are full of reports about battles fought in Sumer and Iran, just as if there had never been a Sargonic empire. It is not known in detail how rigorously Akkad wished to control the cities to the south and how much freedom had been left to them; but they presumably clung tenaciously to their inherited local autonomy. From a practical point of view, it was probably in any case impossible to organize an empire that would embrace all Mesopotamia.

Since the reports (i.e., copies of inscriptions) left by Manishtusu, Naram-Sin, and Shar-kali-sharri speak time and again of rebellions and victorious battles and since Rimush, Manishtusu, and Shar-kali-sharri are themselves said to have died violent deaths, the problem of what remained of Akkad’s greatness obtrudes. Wars and disturbances, the victory of one and the defeat of another, and even regicide constitute only some of the aspects suggested to us by the sources. Whenever they extended beyond the immediate Babylonian neighbourhood, the military campaigns of the Akkadian kings were dictated primarily by trade interests instead of being intended to serve the conquest and safeguarding of an empire. Akkad, or more precisely the king, needed merchandise, money, and gold in order to finance wars, buildings, and the system of administration that he had instituted.

On the other hand, the original inscriptions that have been found so far of a king like Naram-Sin are scattered at sites covering a distance of some 620 miles as the crow flies, following the Tigris downriver: Diyarbakr on the upper Tigris, Nineveh, Tall Birak (Tell Brak) on the upper Khabur River (which had an Akkadian fortress and garrison), Susa in Elam, as well as Marad, Puzrish-Dagan, Adab (Bismayah), Nippur, Ur, and Girsu in Babylonia. Even if all this was not part of an empire, it surely constituted an impressive sphere of influence.

Also to be considered are other facts that weigh more heavily than high-sounding reports of victories that cannot be verified. After the first kings of the dynasty had borne the title of king of Kish, Naram-Sin assumed the title “king of the four quarters of the earth”–that is, of the universe. As if he were in fact divine, he also had his name written with the cuneiform sign “god,” the divine determinative that was customarily used in front of the names of gods; furthermore, he assumed the title of “god of Akkad.” It is legitimate to ask whether the concept of deification may be used in the sense of elevation to a rank equal to that of the gods. At the very least it must be acknowledged that, in relation to his city and his subjects, the king saw himself in the role played by the local divinity as protector of the city and guarantor of its well-being. In contemporary judicial documents from Nippur, the oath is often taken “by Naram-Sin,” with a formula identical with that used in swearing by a divinity. Documents from Girsu contain Akkadian date formulas of the type “in the year in which Naram-Sin laid the foundations of the Enlil temple at Nippur and of the Inanna temple at Zabalam.” As evidenced by the dating procedures customary in Ur III and in the Old Babylonian period, the use of such formulas presupposes that the respective city acknowledged as its overlord the ruler whose name is invoked.
Sargon’s empire, however, did not long survive this ambitiously named king, and it was followed by a Sumerian revival.
The III Dynasty of Ur was the last brilliant moment for the Sumerians, ruling the whole country as none of the earlier dynasties had. But the set of the tide was already obvious: The last three kings of Ur III already have names incorporating the Akkadian name of the moon god, Sîn, rather than the Sumerian name, Nanna. Sumer was being linguistically overwhelmed.

Babylon and Assyria became the heirs of it all. But we are too. The process of translation continued, since our own days of the week are translations, through Latin and Greek, of the Babylonian and ultimately Sumerian names of the planets.

Dynasty of Akkad

Sharru-kîn, Sargon 2334-2279 BC
Rimush 2278-2270 BC
Manishtusu 2269-2255 BC
Narâm-Sîn 2254-2218 BC
Shar-kalli-sharri 2217-2193 BC
interregnum, Guti invasion c. 2193 BC
Shu-Turul 2168-2154 BC

 

Akkadian period

Sargon of Akkad’s (reigned c. 2334-c. 2279 BC) unification of the Sumerian city-states and creation of a first Mesopotamian empire profoundly affected the art of his people, as well as their language and political thought. The increasingly large proportion of Semitic elements in the population were in the ascendancy, and their personal loyalty to Sargon and his successors replaced the regional patriotism of the old cities. The new conception of kingship thus engendered is reflected in artworks of secular grandeur, unprecedented in the god-fearing world of the Sumerians.

Architecture

One would indeed expect a similar change to be apparent in the character of contemporary architecture, and the fact that this is not so may be due to the paucity of excavated examples. It is known that the Sargonid dynasty had a hand in the reconstruction and extension of many Sumerian temples (for example, at Nippur) and that they built palaces with practical amenities (Tall al-Asmar) and powerful fortresses on their lines of imperial communication (Tell Brak, or Tall Birak at-Tahtani, Syria). The ruins of their buildings, however, are insufficient to suggest either changes in architectural style or structural innovations.

Sculpture

Two notable heads of Akkadian statues have survived: one in bronze and the other of stone. The bronze head of a king, wearing the wig-helmet of the old Sumerian rulers, is probably Sargon himself (Iraqi Museum). Though lacking its inlaid eyes and slightly damaged elsewhere, this head is rightly considered one of the great masterpieces of ancient art. The Akkadian head (Iraqi Museum) in stone, from Bismayah, Iraq (ancient Adab), suggests that portraiture in materials other than bronze had also progressed.

Where relief sculpture is concerned, an even greater accomplishment is evident in the famous Naram-Sin (Sargon’s grandson) stela (Louvre), on which a pattern of figures is ingeniously designed to express the abstract idea of conquest. Other stelae and the rock reliefs (which by their geographic situation bear witness to the extent of Akkadian conquest) show the carving of the period to be in the hands of less competent artists. Yet two striking fragments in the Iraqi Museum, which were found in the region of An-Nasiriyah, Iraq, once more provide evidence of the improvement in design and craftsmanship that had taken place since the days of the Sumerian dynasties. One of the fragments shows a procession of naked war prisoners, in which the anatomic details are well observed but skillfully subordinated to the rhythmical pattern required by the subject.

Some compensation for the paucity of surviving Akkadian sculptures is to be found in the varied and plentiful repertoire of contemporary cylinder seals. The Akkadian seal cutter’s craft reached a standard of perfection virtually unrivaled in later times. Where the aim of his Sumerian predecessor had been to produce an uninterrupted, closely woven design, the Akkadian seal cutter’s own preference was for clarity in the arrangement of a number of carefully spaced figures.

The Akkadian dynasty ended in disaster when the river valley was overrun by the mountain tribes of northern Iran. Of all the Mesopotamian cities, only Lagash appears somehow to have remained aloof from the conflict and, under its famous governor Gudea, to have successfully maintained the continuity of the Mesopotamian cultural tradition. In particular, the sculpture dating from this short interregnum (c. 2100 BC) seems to represent some sort of posthumous flowering of Sumerian genius. The well-known group of statues of the governor and other notables, discovered at the end of the 19th century, long remained the only criterion by which Sumerian art could be judged, and examples in the Louvre and British Museum are still greatly admired. The hard stone, usually diorite, is carved with obvious mastery and brought to a fine finish. Details are cleverly stylized, but the musculature is carefully studied, and the high quality of the carving makes the use of inlay unnecessary. The powerful impression of serene authority that these statues convey justifies their inclusion among the finest products of ancient Middle Eastern art.