In Naram-Sin, as king, is portrayed as larger

In this lesson, we explore the Akkadian empire of ancient Sumer. Possibly the first ’empire’ to ever exist in the ancient world, Akkadian kings dominated Sumer for over a century.

A Coup and the Beginning of Akkadian Civilization

When was the last time you got a promotion at work? Likely, it came because you did such an outstanding job that your contributions could no longer go unrewarded. Or perhaps you were promoted because of the failings of someone above you – a missed deadline, perpetual tardiness, or even just plain incompetence.

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In our ancient past, when kings and rulers exhibited weaker characteristics – similar in relation to those of your downfallen coworker – it could often lead to rebellion and even a major change in the administration of the state.Just such a coup fostered the beginning of the period of Akkadian civilization in ancient Sumer. In approximately 2350 B.

C., Sargon, who was merely the King of Kish’s cupbearer, came to power during a palace coup.

A Brief History of the Akkadian Empire

According to ancient texts, Sargon reigned for 56 years and solidified the Akkadian Empire that ruled over most of Sumer for over a century.

Sargon conquered all of Sumer and Mesopotamia and even led expeditions east into what is today Syria. Rather than rule from Kish, Sargon and his successors erected a new capital city, Akkad. The site of Akkad has yet to be found by historians and anthropologists.The Akkadians were the first to implement administrative practices that today we would find commonplace. The Akkadian kings were the first to impose a standard system of weights and measures across their empire, and they possibly created the first calendars that counted years numerically.The Akkadian civilization may have been the first true ’empire’ in the world, and revolutions and rebellions from the city-states they had conquered were frequent.

Historians surmise that having to put down these constant uprisings weakened the empire from within, making it vulnerable to attack by the time the Gutian people invaded from the West, likely between 2200 and 2150 B.C., and finally destroyed Akkadian power in the region.

Akkadian Culture and Artwork

Akkadian artwork advanced quickly under the prosperous rule of the early Akkadians. Advances in realism and a higher amount and quality of detail differentiate Akkadian period artwork from the works of earlier Sumer cultures.

The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, who was the third king of the Akkadian Empire and Sargon’s grandson, is a good example of these advances.

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin
Naram-Sins Victory Stele

The Victory Stele, erected to commemorate Naram-Sin’s military victory of the Lullubi mountain people, shows an incredible amount of detail and keen use of symbolism. Naram-Sin, as king, is portrayed as larger than the rest of the army, who themselves are portrayed marching up a mountain, and in a horned helmet to signify that he saw himself not just as a king but as a god on Earth.The Akkadians were followers of the ancient polytheistic Sumerian religion, and they specifically worshiped the powerful triumvirate of An, Enlil, and Enki.

In ancient Mesopotamia, most city-states adopted a specific deity as their city’s protector, and the imperial Akkadians were especially fond of Enlil, as he was seen as the king of the gods.

Lesson Summary

The period of Akkadian civilization in ancient Sumer started around 2350 B.C. when Sargon came to power through a coup. According to ancient texts, Sargon reigned for 56 years and conquered all of Sumer and Mesopotamia.

The Akkadians may have been the first empire in the world and suffered frequent uprisings from conquered regions.The Akkadians were the first to implement such administrative practices as weights and measures and numeric calendars. They also developed realistic and highly detailed artwork, such as the famous Victory Stele of Naram-Sin. And they practiced an ancient polytheistic Sumerian religion, with the ‘king of gods’ Enlil as their city’s protector deity.

Learning Outcomes

Absorb this lesson’s facts in preparation to:

  • Discuss the rise of the Akkadian civilization
  • List some of the advances brought about by Akkadian culture that are still used today
  • Provide information about Akkadian art and religious practices
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