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Akkadian Empire

The Akkadian Empire, founded in western Asia, was Semitic and was the world's first empire. Semitic princes had already established themselves at Kish, and a long inscription has been discovered at Susa by J. de Morgan, belonging to one of them, Manishtushu, who like Lugal-zaggisi was a contemporary of Uru-duggina . Another Semitic ruler of Kis of the same period was Alusarsid (or Urumus) who "subdued Elam and Barahs." But the fame of these early establishers of Semitic supremacy was far eclipsed by that of Sargon of Akkad and his son, Naram-Sin. The date of Sargon is placed by modern scholars around 2300 BC (by Nabonidus at 3800 BC).

Sargon was the son of Itti-Bel , and a legend related how he had been born in concealment and set adrift in an ark of bulrushes on the waters of the Euphrates. Here he was rescued and brought up by "Akki the husbandman"; but the day arrived at length when his true origin became known. The crown of Babylonia was set upon his head and he entered upon a career of foreign conquest. Four times he invaded Syria and Palestine, and spent three years in thoroughly subduing the countries of "the west," and in uniting them with Babylonia "into a single empire." Images of himself were erected on the shores of the Mediterranean in token of his victories, and cities and palaces were built at home out of the spoils of the conquered lands. Elam and the northern part of Mesopotamia were also subjugated, and rebellions were put down both in Kazalla and in Babylonia itself. Contract tablets have been found dated in the years of the campaigns against Palestine and Sarlak, king of Gutium or Kurdistan, and copper is mentioned as being brought from Magan or the Sinai peninsula.

Sargon's grandson and successor, Naram-Sin, followed up the successes of his father by marching into Magan, whose king he took captive. He assumed the imperial title of "King Naram-Sin," of the four zones, and, like his father, was addressed as a god. He is even called "the god of Agade" (Akkad), reminding us of the divine honours claimed by the Pharaohs of Egypt, whose territory now adjoined that of Babylonia. A finely executed bas relief, representing Naram-Sin, and bearing a striking resemblance to early Egyptian art in many of its features, has been found at Diarbekr . Babylonian art, however, had already attained a high degree of excellence; two seal cylinders of the time of Sargon are among the most beautiful specimens of the gem-cutter's art ever discovered. The empire was bound together by roads, along which there was a regular postal service; and clay seals, which took the place of stamps, are now in the Louvre bearing the names of Sargon and his son. A cadastral survey seems also to have been instituted, and one of the documents relating to it states that a certain Uru-Malik, whose name appears to indicate his Canaanitish origin, was governor of the land of the Amorites, as Syria and Palestine were called by the Babylonians. It is probable that the first collection of astronomical observations and terrestrial omens was made for a library established by Sargon.

Bingani-sar-ali was the son of Naram-Sin, but we do not yet know whether he followed his father on the throne. Another son was high-priest of the city of Tutu, and in the name of his daughter, Lipus-Eaum, a priestess of Sin, some scholars have seen that of the Hebrew deity Yahweh. The Babylonian god Ea, however, is more likely to be meant.

The fall of Sargon's empire seems to have been as sudden as its rise but not much is known about this period. From the fall of Akkad till around 2100 BC there is much that is still dark. The seat of supreme power in Babylonia was shifted southwards to Ur and it is generally assumed that two dynasties reigned at Ur and claimed suzerainty over the other Babylonian states. A relatively well known king from that period is Gudea. King Gudea was a great builder, and the materials for his buildings and statues were brought from all parts of western Asia, cedar wood from the Amanus mountains, quarried stones from Lebanon, copper from northern Arabia, gold and precious stones from the desert between Palestine and Egypt, dolerite from Magan (the Sinai peninsula) and timber from Dilmun in the Persian Gulf. Some of his statues, now in the Louvre, are carved out of Sinaitic dolerite, and on the lap of one of them (statue E) is the plan of his palace, with the scale of measurement attached. Six of the statues bore special names, and offerings were made to them as to the statues of the gods. Gudea claims to have conquered Anshanin and Elam. He was succeeded by his son Ur-Ningirsu.

The period between 2100 BC and 2000 BC is sometimes called the Neo-Sumerian Renaissance . Urnammu (originally a general) founded the Ur-III dynasty. This dynasty was Semitic, not Sumerian. Though documents were still written in Sumerian it had become by that time a dead language like Latin later would be in Medieval Europe. The power of these kings extended to the Mediterranean, and we possess a large number of contemporary monuments in the shape of contracts and similar business documents, as well as chronological tables, which belong to their reigns.

After the fall of the dynasty by an Elamite invasion in 2004 BC, Babylonia passed under foreign influence. This period is called Old Babylonian and lasted from 2000 BC until 1600 BC. During the first centuries of this period kings and people in high position often had Amorite names, (a semi-nomadic people from the West) and supreme power rested at Isin. The city of Babylon was given hegemony over Mesopotamia by king Hammurabi (1792 BC - 1750 BC).

The first decades of his reign were relatively peaceful. In the 30th year of his reign Hammurabi crushed an invading army consisting of Elamite and other forces in a decisive battle and drove them out of Babylonia. The next two years were occupied in adding Larsa and Yamutbal to his dominion, and in forming Babylonia into a single monarchy centred on Babylon. A great literary revival followed the recovery of Babylonian independence, and the rule of Babylon was obeyed as far as the shores of the Mediterranean. Vast numbers of contract tablets, dated in the reigns of Hammurabi and other kings of the dynasty, have been discovered, as well as autograph letters of the kings themselves, more especially of Hammurabi. Among the latter is one ordering the dispatch of 240 soldiers from Assyria and Situllum, a proof that Assyria was at the time a Babylonian dependency. Constant intercourse was kept up between Babylonia and the West, Babylonian officials and troops passing to Syria and Canaan, while "Amorite" colonists were established in Babylonia for the purposes of trade. One of these Amorites, Abi-ramu or Abram by name, is the father of a witness to a deed dated in the reign of Hammurabi's grandfather. Ammiditana, the great-grandson of Hammurabi, still entitles himself "king of the land of the Amorites," and both his father and son bear the Canaanitish (and south Arabian) names of Abèsukh or Abishua and Ammi-zadok.

One of the most important works of this "First Dynasty of Babylon," as it was called by the native historians, was the compilation of a code of laws. This was made by order of Hammurabi after the expulsion of the Elamites and the settlement of his kingdom. A copy of the Code has been found at Susa by J. de Morgan and is now in the Louvre. The last king of the dynasty was Samsu-Ditana, the son of Ammizadok . He was followed by a dynasty of 11 Sumerian kings, who are said to have reigned for 368 years, a number which must be much exaggerated. As yet the name of only one of them has been found in a contemporary document. They were overthrown and Babylonia was conquered by Kassites or Kossaeans from the mountains of Elam, with whom Samsu-Iluna had already come into conflict in his 6th year. The Kassite dynasty was founded by Kandis, Gandis or Gaddas (about 1600 BC), and lasted for 576 years. Under this foreign dominion, which offers a striking analogy to the contemporary rule of the Hyksos in Egypt, Babylonia lost its empire over western Asia. Syria and Palestine became independent, and the high-priests of Assur made themselves kings of Assyria. The divine attributes with which the Semitic kings of Babylonia had been invested disappeared at the same time; the title of "god" is never given to a Kassite sovereign. However, Babylon remained the capital of the kingdom and the holy city of western Asia, where the priests were all-powerful, and the right to the inheritance of the old Babylonian empire could alone be conferred.

See also: Babylonia and Assyria

Last updated: 05-07-2005 18:09:11
Last updated: 05-07-2005 18:09:53