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Akkadian Empire and the Third Dynasty of Ur

Akkadian Power

Rise of Sargon

In the service of the king of Kish (who was later killed in the course of the conquests of Lugalzagesi), there was a minor courtier, an Akkadian by origin-a commoner. He was destined to become one of the greatest creators of the empire in the Ancient East. According to later legend, he was a foundling: his mother let him, a newborn, along the Euphrates in a reed basket, the baby was picked up and brought up at the Kish court. After the defeat of Kish by the troops of Lugalzagesi, this courtier led a part of the Kish people and took refuge in the small town of Akkad, which lies in the Kish region. Here he declared himself king under the name of Sharrum-ken (Akkadian for “True King”, in the traditional modern translation-Sargon; 2316-2261 BC).

Map of the Akkadian Empire and the third Dynasty of Ur

Map of the Akkadian Empire and the third Dynasty of Ur

Sargon ruled by relying on all who were willing to serve him, and was guided by the principle of unlimited command, like almost all such leaders. Ordinary Sumerians flocked to him, seeing the prospect of rapid rise that traditional aristocratic society denied them. In the service of the new king, they expected to enrich themselves, advance and settle scores with the offenders, especially with the old nobility.

Sargon created a massive, lightly armed “people’s” army, including mobile units of archers, which had great advantages over the few and unwieldy heavy infantry of the Sumerian rulers, consisting of their war servants. The ruling elite of the kingdom of Sargon was built as a military pyramid under the sole unlimited authority of the king. Relying on this massive army, Sargon made his conquests.

The Conquests of Akkad

He first captured Upper Mesopotamia, and then offered Lugalzagesi an alliance sealed by a dynastic marriage. Having been refused, Sargon promptly defeated the army of Lugalzagesi, and executed him himself, and, according to legend, after 34 battles, conquered all of Sumer. Then he reached Asia Minor, Cyprus, Syria, Elam, and even more distant countries of Southern Iran, where he fought against the kingdom of Varakhshe.

Bronze head of King Sargon the

AncientThe bronze head of the king is most likely Sargon of Ancient noh, possibly Naram-Sin. Found in Nineveh. Height 30.5 cm.

The empire of Sargon (the so-called Akkadian power, after the name of the capital) with its dependent possessions stretched from Lake Tuz and the Taurus Mountains in Asia Minor to Baluchistan. It maintained direct links with Southern Anatolia in the west and Melukha-the Indus Valley-in the east. In terms of size, no one could surpass this power for another fifteen hundred years, before the creation of the Achaemenid Empire. Many prisoners of war added to the number of slaves and forced laborers in the state economy. Unlike Lugalzagesi, Sargon did not force other cities to recognize themselves as either the supreme suzerain-hegemon or their local nome lord, but simply annexed the conquered lands, thus creating the first centralized power in the history of Mesopotamia.

State structure

The power of Sargon, unlike all the previous Mesopotamian states, was a centralized despotism. The temple farms became part of the state, and the latter was at the complete unrestricted disposal of the king. The Nomes were stripped of any traditional autonomy and turned into ordinary provinces, the old apparatus of power was preserved, but their rulers (who were called only “ensi” – the only lugal was now Sargon) turned into de facto officials, entirely responsible to the king.

The councils of elders and the assemblies of the people ceased to exist as organs of authority, although Sargon conferred with his warriors. The number of state employees who were granted allotments was reduced, and those who worked for rations were increased. This increased the rate of state exploitation. Sargon’s successors even bought (in a” voluntary-compulsory ” manner) land from the communities at reduced prices, thereby expanding the state economy. The official language of the Sargon dynasty was not only Sumerian, but also Akkadian, which demonstrated the dynasty’s contempt for the principle of “noble tradition”.

The population as a whole (except for those who made up the military service class) gained almost nothing from Sargon’s victory. Inter-ethnic wars and the exploitation of the nobility were replaced by no less difficult long-distance campaigns and (for the first time) mass and large-scale conscription-tax exploitation of the entire population (except for the service elite) by a huge military-bureaucratic state.

Troubles in Akkad

Already in the last years of Sargon’s reign, rebellions of the nobility began, supported by the people (according to legend, Sargon was forced to hide from the rioters in the gutter). The successor of Sargon, Rimush, was killed by his own nobles (since it was probably impossible to be armed in the presence of the king, they beat him to death with heavy stone seals that they wore on their belts). Sargon’s successors suppressed revolts in Sumer itself, slaughtering entire cities and executing the surrendered by the thousands, and in distant dependent countries, but they failed to achieve stability.

Naramsuen’s reign. “The arrival of the Barbarians”.

Sargon’s grandson Naramsuen (2236-2200 BC) initially faced massive uprisings that engulfed the entire empire. Suppressing them, he made new conquests, and then gave up all the old, traditional titles (and thus the confirmation and approval of their priests) and called himself “king of the four cardinal directions” (i.e., the whole world). Subsequently, Naram-suen simply declared himself a god during his lifetime – more precisely, he organized a “popular will”: the residents of the capital at their meeting declared the king a god, and he “listened to them”. Henceforth, he was called “God Naramsuen, God of Akkade” as the main state patron god of the empire. This could not but cause a confrontation with the temples, especially with the temple of Enlil in Nippur.

Naramsuen Stele

The stele of Naramsuen, in which he appears as the victor of the Lullubeys of the Zagros Mountains. Limestone, ca. 2250 BC

At first, however, it seemed that Naramsuen’s power was not in danger. He achieved a never-before-seen power over the country; in particular, Ensi Naramsuen appointed ordinary officials or his relatives to the posts of ensi. However, soon Akkad was attacked from the north by previously unknown ” barbarians “(apparently, they were semi-nomadic Indo-Europeans from beyond the Caucasus), later known in the Mesopotamian tradition as” umman-manda “(prel.”the Manda army”). The meaning of this name is still unknown to us.

The Umman-Manda rallied the population of the Armenian Highlands and Zagros, in particular the Kuti and the Lullube mountaineers. Naramsuen, after several heavy defeats, finally crushed the “barbarians”, and their association collapsed. However, the Kuti Highlanders (the northeastern neighbors of the Mesopotamians), who had previously managed to join this association, resumed the war at their own risk under the leadership of elected tribal leaders. They captured the central regions of Mesopotamia, Naramsuen was able to expel them, but soon died in a war with them. Subsequently, his death, as well as the collapse of the empire that soon occurred, was seen as the punishment of the gods for their insane pride-a claim to divine status and for the ill-treatment of temples (in particular, his soldiers looted E-kur, the temple of Enlil in Nippur).

The collapse of Akkad and ethnic processes in Mesopotamia at the end of the third millennium BC. e. Naramsuen’s
successor Sharkalisharri restored Akkadian power in Upper Mesopotamia, but was eventually defeated by the Kuti. The Akkadian empire collapsed, and the Kuti tribal alliance established supreme authority over the nomes of Lower Mesopotamia (c. 2175 BC).

The country was devastated: the oppression of local elites was added to the oppression of foreigners-Kuti, to whom the local rulers of Sumer sent tribute. Only the rulers of Lagash, who relied on the Kuti, enjoyed the support of the Kuti and exercised the supreme administration of the other nomes on their behalf. Thus Lagash aroused such hatred in Lower Mesopotamia that when he was freed from the Kuti, he was brutally defeated, and the Lagash kings were removed from the later consolidated list of Sumerian rulers.

The head of Gudeus, ruler of Lagash

The head of Gudeus, ruler of Lagash. Diorite. Around 2120 BC.

Of the Lagash kings of the Kuti period, Gudea (2137-2117 BC) is best known to us by his inscriptions and statues.

Under him, a single temple farm of the god Nin-girsu was created and a grandiose temple of this god was built, for which even a special tax was established and a construction duty was introduced. Gudea traded with the Indus basin areas and fought with Elam.

During the Kuti period, great changes took place in Upper Mesopotamia, where a power vacuum was created after the collapse of the Akkadian empire under the Kuti attack. In the middle-2nd half of the XXII century BC, this vacuum was filled by Hurrians who penetrated here from the north, and Sutians who came from the south. Since then, they have formed the main population of Upper Mesopotamia. The Hurrians, in particular, assimilated the Subareans and inherited their name in Mesopotamian sources. Similarly, the Suti (among whom the tribal communities of the Suti proper, the Hanaeans, and others were distinguished) assimilated the Eblaites (northern Semites). The Mesopotamians transferred to the Sutians the name that was previously applied to the northern Semites – “amurru” (in modern terminology – Amorites). Therefore, the Suti of Exodus III and the following millennia are usually called amorites or Suti-amorites in science.

III Dynasty of Ur

Kuti rule collapsed under the blows of a popular uprising, raised by the fisherman Utuhengal, in 2109 BC. The rebels overthrew the local rulers, restoring a centralized power called the “Kingdom of Sumer and Akkad”; the official language was only Sumerian. Uruk became the capital of Utuhengal. However, Utuhengal unexpectedly drowned while exploring the canal, and was succeeded by one of his associates, Ur-Nammu, the governor of Ur, on whose territory the inspection was carried out. Upon his accession, Ur-Nammu did not move to Uruk, but simply transferred the capital of the state to “his” Ur. His dynasty is known as the third Dynasty of Ur.

Socio-economic relations

Ur-Nammu (2106-2094 BC) and his son Shulgi (2093-2046 BC) created a socio-economic system that had no analogues in the entire history of Mesopotamia. Almost all the land passed to the state and huge centralized farms were formed. Most of the population was turned into slave-type slaves (“gurushey”, dosl.” well done”, and” ngeme”, dosl.” slaves”), attached to these farms and working there for rations teams. In the state economy, both slaves-prisoners of war-and hired workers worked.

A significant part of all this labor force lived in inhumane conditions even at that time – in special camps. They worked seven days a week, receiving 1.5 liters of barley per day for a man and 0.75 liters for a woman. Some vegetable oil and wool were given out. We worked all day long. The death rate in such camps sometimes reached 25% per month. Skilled artisans, employees, and soldiers received large rations, and representatives of the bureaucracy received allotments.

A small part of the land was the private-communal sector, where there was massive ruin and debt enslavement (up to slavery) of the community members: rich neighbors, and especially officials, concentrated the land in their hands and dragged the community members into bondage. The kings of Ur tried half-hearted measures to stop this process, but without success: it was the inevitable downside of their own policy.

The rulers of Ur idolized themselves and relied on a huge bureaucratic apparatus necessary to manage an unprecedented state economy. The Ensigns were now moving freely from Nome to nome. The extent of bureaucratization is shown by the fact that in less than a century of the existence of this power, the officials of the third dynasty of Ur provided us with no less documentation than the rest of the history of Mesopotamia. Such centralization of the economy was doomed to extreme inefficiency, in the capital there was sometimes a shortage of grain, while in a small town its huge reserves accumulated.

Shulgi created a new ideology, enshrined in the famous “Sumerian King List”, brought together under him. The king deliberately falsified the entire history of Sumer, presenting it as an invariably unified state under the rule of a succession of successive dynasties, crowned by his own. The judicial authorities of Ur-Nammu and Shulgi were called upon to centralize and state legal relations, as well as the introduction of a royal court with enormous powers by the latter.

Wars of the Dynasty

Shulgi waged persistent wars of conquest, primarily in the mountains in the east (apparently due to the inertia of the struggle with the Kuti). The army of Ur was not very combat-ready, and Shulgi’s victories were mainly won in words: many times in a row for several years officially announced the complete defeat of such and such a mountain city, which continued to resist even after that. Even over those who recognized the power of Ur, it was not very strong, and it had to be supported by gifts, meetings “at the highest level”, dynastic marriages, etc.

The power of Ur included (with varying degrees of subordination) Upper and Lower Mesopotamia, Syria and parts of Phoenicia with Byblos, the Zagros Mountains, Elam, and even some areas lying east of Zagros towards the Caspian Sea (here the so-called su people became subjects of Ur). The supreme power over the kings and leaders in the East, especially the Hurrians and Elamites, had to be maintained by new punitive campaigns and marriages with representatives of local dynasties.

The fall of the third Dynasty of Ur

The end of the third dynasty of Ur came suddenly. The Suti-Amorites of the Syrian steppe, the Middle Euphrates, and Upper Mesopotamia, who had previously sometimes come into conflict with the authorities of the power, moved to its central regions around 2025 BC. Almost oblivious to their advance, the last king of Ur, Ibbisuen, tried by endless campaigns to bring the Elam into submission; the Amorites were expected to be held back by fortifications, but without success. The administration was falling apart, the workers of the state latifundia scattered and divided the land into plots, the Amorites surrounded the cities, cutting them off from the outside world. A famine began in southern Mesopotamia. Ibbisuen tried to save the capital from him by sending an official, Ishbi-Erra, to Isshin, where grain reserves had accumulated, to take it to Ur. Ishbi-Erra, taking control of Isshin, judged that whoever had grain was the king, and declared himself king in Isshin (2017 BC).

Chaos ensued: Ishbi-Erra, Ibbisuen, the Elamites with their allied “su people” and, finally, the Amorites faced each other in the struggle for Lower Mesopotamia. Around 2000 BC, it was all over: the Amorites spread to the Persian Gulf, recognizing the nominal power of Ishbi-Erra, the Elamites and the” people of su ” captured Ibbisuen and defeated the south of Mesopotamia with Ur, so that the genre of lamentations about the death of the country appeared, but did not gain a foothold here.

Changing socio-economic relations

Ishbi-Erra united Lower Mesopotamia under his supreme authority and tried to continue the tradition of the third dynasty of Ur, retaining the concept of royal power and the name “The Kingdom of Sumer and Akkad”. But there was a revolution in the social system: the large centralized farms that exploited brigade forced labor disappeared forever. The sector of the royal and temple land remained large, but now it was divided into small plots, on which individual small families sat, bearing corresponding obligations to the state. Henceforth, Mesopotamia was almost exclusively exploited by the owners or users of the land who farmed on it.

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