Akkadian Empire: The World's First Empire

Delve Into Ancient History

Bronze Head of an Akkadian Ruler -- Possibly Sargon the Great
Bronze Head of an Akkadian Ruler -- Possibly Sargon of Akkad. [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AkkadianHead.jpg] Courtesy of Wikipedia

As far as we know, the world's first empire was formed in 2350 B.C.E. by Sargon the Great in Mesopotamia. Sargon's empire was called the Akkadian Empire, and it prospered during the historical age known as the Bronze Age.

Anthropologist Carla Sinopoli, who provides a useful definition of empire, lists the Akkadian Empire as among those lasting two centuries. Here is Sinopoli's definition of empire and imperialism:

"[A] territorially expansive and incorporative kind of state, involving relationships in which one state exercises control over other sociopolitical entities, and of imperialism as the process of creating and maintaining empires."

Here are more interesting facts about the Akkadian Empire.

Geographic Span

Sargon's empire included the Sumerian cities of the Tigris-Euphrates Delta in Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia consists of modern day Iraq, Kuwait, northeast Syria, and southeast Turkey. After taking control of these, Sargon went through modern day Syria to the Taurus Mountains near Cyprus.

The Akkadian Empire eventually also stretched across modern day Turkey, Iran, and Lebanon. Sargon is, less plausibly, said to have gone into Egypt, India, and Ethiopia. The Akkadian empire spanned approximately 800 miles.

Capital City

The capital of Sargon's empire was at Agade (Akkad). The city's precise location is not known for certain, but gave its name to the empire, Akkadian.

Sargon's Rule

Before Sargon ruled the Akkadian Empire, Mesopotamia was divided into north and south. The Akkadians, who spoke Akkadian, lived in the north. On the other hand, the Sumerians, who spoke Sumerian, lived in the south. In both regions, city-states existed and warred against each other. 

Sargon was initially the ruler of a city-state called Akkad.

But he had a vision to unite Mesopotamia under one ruler. In conquering Sumerian cities, the Akkadian Empire led to culture exchange and many people eventually became bilingual in both Akkadian and Sumerian. 

Under Sargon's rule, the Akkadian Empire was large and stable enough to introduce public services. The Akkadians developed the first postal system, constructed roads, improved irrigation systems, and advanced arts and the sciences.

Successors

Sargon established the idea that a ruler's son would become his successor, thus keeping power within the family name. For the most part, Akkadian kings ensured their power by installing their sons as city governors and their daughters as high priestesses of major gods. 

Thus, when Sargon died his son, Rimush, took over. Rimush had to deal with the rebellions after Sargon's death and was able to restore order before his death. After his short rule, Rimush was succeeded by his brother, Manishtusu. 

Manishtusu was known for increasing trade, constructing great architectural projects, and introducing land reform policies. He was succeeded by his son, Naram-Sin. Considered a great ruler, the Akkadian Empire reached its peak under Naram-Sin. 

The Akkadian Empire's final ruler was Shar-Kali-Sharri.

He was Naram-Sin's son and was unable to maintain order and deal with ulterior attacks.

Decline and End

The invasion of Gutians, barbarians from the Zagros Mountains, at a time when the Akkadian Empire was weak from a period of anarchy due to a power struggle over the throne led to the fall of the empire in 2150 B.C.E.

When the Akkadian Empire collapsed, a period of regional decline, famine, and drought followed. This lasted until the Third Dynasty of Ur took power around 2112 B.C.E. 

References and Further Readings

If you're interested in ancient history and the reign of the Akkadian Empire, here is a short list of articles to further inform you about this interesting topic.

"Sargon Unseated"
Saul N. Vitkus
The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Sep., 1976), pp. 114-117.

"How the Akkadian Empire Was Hung Out to Dry
Ann Gibbons
Science, New Series, Vol. 261, No. 5124 (Aug. 20, 1993), p. 985.

"In Search of the First Empires"
J. N. Postgate
Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 293 (Feb., 1994), pp. 1-13.

"The Archaeology of Empires"
Carla M. Sinopoli
Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 23 (1994), pp. 159-180