THE EMPIRE OF SARGON
1. The Legend of Sargon
Sargon*, the mighty king, the king of Agade, am I. *(Sharru-kîn, 'the king is true')
My mother was a priestess*, my father I never knew. *(ênetu, high priestess)
The brothers of my father inhabited the hills.
My city is Azupiranu, lying on the bank of the Euphrates.
My priestess mother conceived me, in secret she gave birth to me.
She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she closed my door*. *(caulked my hatch)
She cast me into the river, but it did not overwhelm me.
The river bore me up and carried me to Akki the irrigator*. *(Aqqi the drawer of water).
Akki the irrigator lifted me out as he dipped his bucket.
Akki the irrigator took me as his son and reared me.
Akki the irrigator appointed me as his gardener.
While I was a gardener the goddess Ishtar showed me love. (cp. Hammurabi; Gilgamesh 6.1).
And for 55 years I exercised kingship.
The black-headed people I ruled, I governed.
Mighty mountains with axes of bronze I conquered.
The upper ranges I scaled, the lower ranges I traversed.
The sea* countries I circled three times. *(ti-amat)
Dilmun*was captured by my hand. . . . *(Bahrein?)
2. Statue Inscription of Sargon
Sargon king of Agade, overseer of Ishtar, king of Kish,
anointed priest of Anu, king of the land, great viceregent of Enlil.
The city Uruk he subjugated and its wall he tore down;
in the battle with the inhabitants of Uruk he was victorious;
Lugalzaggisi king of Uruk he captured in the battle,
and he brought him collared to the gate of Enlil.
Sargon king of Agade was victorious in the battle with the inhabitants of Ur;
the city he subjugated and its wall he tore down.
The town E-Ninmar he subjugated and its wall he tore down;
and all its territory from Lagash to the sea he subjugated;
his weapons he washed in the sea.
In the battle with the inhabitants of Umma he was victorious;
the city he subjugated and its wall he tore down.
Enlil permitted no one to oppose Sargon, king of the land;
Enlil gave him the territory between the Upper Sea* and the Lower Sea; *(Mediterranean Sea)
from the Lower Sea* onwards, natives of Agade are the governors. *(Persian Gulf)
The citizens of Mari and the inhabitants of Elam
are serving Sargon, king of the land.
Sargon, king of the lands of the earth, restored the city Kish;
he gave the people possession of it again.
Whoever damages this inscription, may Shamash make
him impotent and destroy his offspring.
Inscription on the pedestal of a statue of Sargon, king of the country. . . .
3. Statue Inscription of Sargon
Sargon king of Kish was victorious in thirty-four campaigns;
the city-walls he destroyed as far as the shore of the sea;
he caused to be moored at the wharf of Agade
ships from Melukha, and ships from Magan*, *(India?)
and ships from Tilmun*. *(Dilmun; perhaps Bahrein)
King Sargon prostrated himself in prayer before Dagan in Tutul;
and he gave him the upper region, including Mari, Iarmutu, and Ibla*,*(Ebla in Syria)(
as far as the Cedar Forest and the Silver Mountain.
Enlil permitted no one to oppose King Sargon.
Five thousand four hundred men eat daily in his presence.
Whoever destroys this inscription, may Anu destroy his name,
Enlil annihilate his offspring, and Inanna*. . . . *(Ishtar)
4. Chronicle of Sargon
Sargon , king of Agade, arose in the era of Ishtar,
and he had neither rival nor opponent.
He spread his awesome splendour over all lands.
He crossed the Sea in the East,
and in the eleventh year of his reign
his hand subdued the Country of the West in its full extent;
he united them under single government;
he set up his monuments in the West;
their booty he ferried over by raft.
He had his palace officials living around him for a distance of five leagues,
and he reigned supreme over all the world.
He marched against the country Razalla,
and turned Razalla into ruin-mounds and rubble-heaps;
his destruction left no place for a bird to perch.
Eventually, in his old age, all the lands revolted against him,
and they besieged him in Agade;
but Sargon came out to do battle and defeated them;
he utterly overthrew them and crushed their vast army.
Subsequently Subartu rose with its multitudes,
but it bowed to his military might, and Sargon settled their revolt;
he utterly overthrew them and crushed their vast army;
their possessions he brought into Agade.
He took soil from the sacred foundations of Babylon,
and made Agade into another Babylon.
Because of the evil he committed the great lord Marduk was angry,
and so he destroyed his people by famine. . . .
Sargon of Agade, ruler over Mesopotamia in the third millennium B.C.E., is usually credited with being the first king in world history to found an extensive empire. He conquered a collection of city-states, each with its own king and tutelary gods, and his dominions extended from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. Quite possibly he was not the very first emperor in history, but his achievement is still remarkable. The years of his reign are tentatively given at present as 2350-2295 or 2371-2316 B.C.E.
Sargon was an "Akkadian", rather than a Sumerian. His capital city was Akkad (Sumerian name Agade), and the name Akkad was also applied to the region where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers come closest together, between Assyria to the north and Sumer to the south. The Sumerians seem to have been the architects of settled civilisation in Mesopotamia, while the Akkadians stemmed from the Semitic tribes that lived in the desert, like the Arab Semites who were to come out of the Arabian desert some three thousand years later, after the death of Muhammad in the seventh century of the Christian Era.
The site of the city of Agade-Akkad has not yet been located, but it must be in the vicinity of the two great cities Babylon and Kish. One possibility is that it is buried near or under the modern capital of Iraq, namely Baghdad (on the Tigris River), north of Babylon (on the Euphrates River) and west of Kish (Christophe Wall-Romana, An Areal Location of Agade, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 49 (1990) 205-245). Notice that Sargon is sometimes "king of Kish" and sometimes "king of Agade" in the texts. He began his career as cupbearer to the Sumerian king Ur-Zababa of Kish. When this lord was assassinated by Lugalzaggesi, an ambitious Sumerian king of Uruk, Sargon retaliated by seizing the city of Uruk while its king was away on compaigns of conquest; he then went on to establish the empire that Lugalzaggesi had wished for himself. He first defeated Lugalzaggesi and his allies, and this victory gave him control over Sumer. After this "march to the sea" (the Persian Gulf), he swept up past Mari on the Euphrates and into the Taurus mountains opposite Cyprus, overrunning Syria.
Sargon is perhaps the Biblical Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12): "Nimrod was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter in the presence of Yahweh.... The beginning of his kingdom was Babel (Babylon), Erech (Uruk), and Akkad (Agade), all of them in the land of Shinar (Sumer). . . ."
The story of Sargon's birth has similarities with that of Moses in Egypt (Exodus 2:1-10): both had a secret birth and were consigned to a river in a reed basket. Sargon's mother was an enitum, which some scholars have translated as "a lowly woman"; but "priestess" is now the accepted rendering and in this case the reason for secrecy is not hard to guess. At the end of the Epic of Atrakhasis we hear of women in religious orders who were not to bear children. Akki the water-drawer or irrigator may have been a Semitic worker on the estates of the temple to which Sargon's mother was attached. For a recent study of the texts and parallels of the Legend of Sargon, see 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).
Sargon was loved by Ishtar, the goddess of love. In the Epic of Gilgamesh (6.1) the hero Gilgamesh rejects the love offered by Ishtar on account of her fickleness and the kiss of death or disaster she tended to give to her lovers; whereupon the goddess is roused to fierce pugnacity. Ishtar was a deity of love but also of war, and it was with the sign of Ishtar on his standards that Sargon marched forth to battle. Hammurabi, a later king of Babylon, likewise claimed Ishtar as his proctectress (see below, The Empire of Hammurabi).
Notice also that Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, intervened in Sargon's imperial affairs. Marduk, like the God of the Hebrew Bible, could be wrathful against his people when they perpetrated evil, and he could punish them with natural calamity, in this case famine. The actions of Enlil in the Epic of Atrakhasis may also be compared.
Sargon also offered worship to Dagân, a Semitic agricultural deity worshipped particularly at Tutul and Mari in northern Mesopotamia, and also in Syria and Palestine. Dagan (or Dagon) was the god of the Philistines in the time of Saul and David in the eleventh century B.C.E. (Dagon falls down before Yahweh in the prostrate position of a vassal before his lord, I Samuel 5:1-7).
The foreign sea trade of Sargon is impressive and interesting: ships from Melukha, Magan, and Dilmun were moored at the wharf of Agade. These places obviously lay within or beyond the Persian Gulf. At least one of them, if not all of them, could have been in India: the remarkable literate civilization of the Indus Valley was flourishing at that time. A recent attempt to decipher the mysterious Indus script is based on its similarity to the earliest form of Sumerian writing (J.V. Kinnier Wilson).
The name Dilmun is applied to a paradise region, in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology. In his book Looking for Dilmun (Pelican, 1972), the archaeologist Geoffrey Bibby argues that it was the island of Bahrein, on the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf. Hot and arid Bahrein is no paradise, but it has been from ancient times an entrepot for trade between Mesopotamia and ports further eastwards. It is also famous for its pearls. Sumerian documents record the cargo of Dilmun ships as "fish eyes" (probably pearls), ivory, gold, copper, and lapis lazuli. If Dilmun was in fact conquered by Sargon, as the Legend states, then it could hardly have been in India but must have been within the Persian Gulf.
At the Mediterranean end of Sargon's empire "the forest of cedars" stood where Lebanon is now. The city Ibla (or Ebla) was in Syria, and its ruins at Tell Mardikh have recently been excavated. Ebla turns out to be a remarkable Canaanite City, with temples dedicated to Dagan, Ashtar (Ishtar), Kamosh, and Rasap; and archives of many thousands of clay tablets, bearing cuneiform script and written in Sumerian and a Canaanite language related to Hebrew. Indeed one of its kings bore the name Ebrum, which resembles the name of Eber, the eponymous ancestor of the Hebrews (Genesis 10:21). From the archives we learn that this king was a contemporary of Sargon the Great; moreover he even claims to have exacted tribute from Akkad. Here perhaps was an empire to rival Sargon's, but it was destroyed by Naram-Sin of Akkad around 2250 B.C.E.
Editions and Translations
(1) The Legend of Sargon. This is found on three Assyrian copies (late and incomplete) and one late Babylon fragment, so the version above is a composite text.
L.W. King, Chronicles Concerning Early Babylonian Kings, II (London 1907), 87-96.
Brian Lewis, The Sargon Legend (Cambridge, Mass., 1980), 11-86.
(2) and (3) Statue Inscriptions of Sargon. The statues have not been found, but the two texts are included on a large tablet, containing copies of inscriptions on votive objects and statues set up in the temple Ekur in Nippur.
G.A. Barton, The Royal Inscriptions of Sumer and Akkad (New Haven 1929), 101-111.
A. Leo Oppenheim's translation in J. B. Pritchard (Ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 267-268.
(4) Chronicle of Sargon. This is part of a chronicle relating the outstanding deeds of various ancient rulers. It is preserved on a late tablet from Babylon.
King, Chronicles, II, 113-119.
Bronze head of a ruler of Akkad, possibly Sargon the Great.
This was found in the ruins of the Assyrian city Nineveh, near the Ishtar temple. The damage was possibly inflicted by the Medes, who conquered Nineveh in 612 BCE. Notice that the 'wounds' correspond to the punishment given to a pretender to the Median throne by King Darius II of Persia: 'I cut off his nose and ears and tongue, and put out one eye' (Bisitun inscription, column 2, paragraph 32). Evidently this was how the Medes and Persians treated rulers who would not submit.