Mesopotamia: Arts and Gods in the Akkadian Empire

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Akkadian cylinder seals were one inch tall and when rolled out on clay tablet documents left a distinctive identifying image (used in lieu of a signature)

Episode 10: Akkadian Empire Arts and Gods

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

Third millenium BC clay tablets from Agade, the capitol of the Akkadian Empire, claim the city was as filled with gold and silver and that granaries were used to store copper, lead and slabs of lapis lazuli. Except for silver, these materials, along with tin and diorite (a mineral used in sculpture) were imported from Dilmun, in modern day Bahrain. Pearls, carnelian, silver, elephants, monkeys and water buffaloes were imported from the Indus Valley.

As animists, Akkadians believed all forces of nature (including non-living entities such as rocks) were alive and manifested as gods. All sculpture was focused around the gods and the royal family and most art was limited to jewelry, rich textiles, cylinder seals and other luxury goods for the ruling elite.

Sculpture became more naturalistic during this period, in part due to technological innovations that allowed sculptors to carve figures in wax to create a clay mold that could be filled with molten (arsenic)* bronze.

Akkadians believed their statues embodied a life force incorporating the essence of the subject’s soul. For this reason, the multiple statues kings erected in distant settlements were believed to have the same authority as the king himself. Many statues dating from the Empire are missing heads, as decapitating a statue was felt to destroy its power. Likewise praying to the statue of a god was comparable to praying to the god or goddess themselves.

Although most people were illiterate, creation myths and other god-related mythology related to the life of the gods began to be written down in Akkadia. Apprentice scribes learned to write by copying these myths in special schools.

The world’s first self-identified author, Enheduanna (daughter of King Sargon) dates from this time. A high priestess of the moon god, she wrote (and signed) hymns used in worship.

*With arsenic bronze, arsenic was added to copper instead of tin to make it harder and more durable.

Film can be viewed free with library card on Kanopy.

1 thought on “Mesopotamia: Arts and Gods in the Akkadian Empire

  1. Pingback: Mesopotamia: The Kingdom of Mittani | The Most Revolutionary Act

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